James Pethokoukis

Politics and policy from inside Washington

Trust but verify, China edition

Dec 15, 2009 13:47 UTC

The words of #42 (RWR) came back to me when I read this in the NYT:

China, which last month for the first time publicly announced a target for reducing the rate of growth of its greenhouse gas emissions, is refusing to accept any kind of international monitoring of its emissions levels, according to negotiators and observers here. The United States is insisting that without stringent verification of China’s actions, it cannot support any deal

An offer China couldn’t refuse … or could it?

Nov 30, 2009 20:00 UTC

Dan Drezner on the trade deal he would offer the Chinese:

Hey, Wen, you’re right about the unfair tire tariffs and the like.  Let’s make a trade deal:  you allow the yuan to appreciate, say, 20% against the dollar over the next twelve months.  In return, we will announce a voluntary two-year moratorium on any new anti-dumping and escape clause measures targeted against Chinese imports.  What do you say?

China questions costs of U.S. healthcare reform

Nov 16, 2009 19:13 UTC

Guess what? It turns out the Chinese are kind of curious about how President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform plans would impact America’s huge fiscal deficit. Government officials are using his Asian trip as an opportunity to ask the White House questions. Detailed questions.

Boilerplate assurances that America won’t default on its debt or inflate the shortfall away are apparently not cutting it. Nor should they, when one owns nearly $2 trillion in assets denominated in the currency of a country about to double its national debt over the next decade.

Nothing happening in Washington today should give Beijing any comfort or confidence about what may happen tomorrow. Healthcare reform was originally promoted as a way to “bend the curve” on escalating entitlement costs, the major part of which is financing Medicare and Medicaid. That is looking more and more like an overpromised deliverable.

For instance, a new study from the U.S. government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services finds that the healthcare reform bill recently passed in the House of Representatives would increase healthcare spending to 21.3 percent of GDP by 2019 compared with 20.8 percent under current law. That’s bending the curve the wrong way. The study also questions the “long-term viability” of the $500 billion in Medicare cuts meant to help pay for expanded insurance coverage.

In addition, the CMS study gives a clearer cost estimate than the one provided by the Congressional Budget Office. According to the CBO, the 10-year cost of PelosiCare is $894 billion. But that analysis includes early years with little government spending, According to the CMS, the House approach would cost $1 trillion from 2013-2019, or some $140 billion a year when fully put into effect.

Few realists in Washington think any of the current reform plans make a significant dent in the long-term healthcare cost to government. Indeed, the Senate Budget Committee recently held hearing about creating a bipartisan commission to find solutions to America’s entitlements problems.

If healthcare reform really bent the curve, there would be a no need for such a commission to do Healthcare Reform 2.0.

The Chinese might want to keep up the questioning.

COMMENT

You got a point there. I never thought about it that way.

A China reality check

Oct 28, 2009 18:26 UTC

Thomas PM Barnett makes good sense, as usual:

Japan’s rise and decline should serve as a grim warning to China right now.

Japan got old, but China will get older faster. Japan kept its environment relatively clean, China is trashing its own. Japan built its manufacturing power on excellent goods, China is fly-by-night by comparison (reading a book on that now).

In sum, China has so many huge hidden deficits incurred during its rise, that I think it will suffer future stagnation that makes Japan’s seem tame, especially since China’s political system is so brittle and unimaginative.

I guess I’m just responding to all this China-will-rule-the-world vibe connected with the 60th b-day celebration. As soon as I read stuff like that, the Irish in me says you’re heading for a fall.

COMMENT

It’s kind of sad that people have to look to China for hope. It really is a terrible land, aside the wonderous construction projects that are meant to overpower the senses and confuse us. A land that feels it needs to make monuments to power really has none… they’re growth rates are completely doctored, corruption is open and rampant, the gov’t keeps the currency pegged artificially, and the gov’t uses the military to control the citizenry. Though it is little reported here, there are numerous regions of (essentially) open revolt in China, not to mention occupied land (Tibet) which spurs more defiance from the people. So while the coast cities may seem like a beacon to the future, the rest of the country is in chaos and in big trouble. So much for the Chinese miracle… the real miracle will be if they survive a sustained downturn in the American economy.

Posted by the Shah | Report as abusive

Popping the China Bubble

Oct 23, 2009 19:27 UTC

Good sense from Michael Auslin in The American:

Just like today with China, pundits, investors, and the media largely proclaimed that the Japanese party would go on forever. Today, the sophisticated management of the Chinese government is offered as proof that China will always experience growth (or if contraction, a soft landing). Back in the 1980s, Japanese companies were assumed to have discovered the secret to hyper-efficient production and thus endless profits, while the country’s bureaucrats were lauded as perfect macro-planners. Inefficiencies, protected industries, poor management, and a sclerotic bureaucracy were all ignored by those who wanted to believe the hype. Yet such weaknesses were exacerbated by a culture of excess that destroyed consumer reality. Once it took root in Japan, expectations changed permanently and traditional restraint was abandoned. The savings rate dropped, and people paid exorbitant amounts for new houses and cars. I remember watching as whole parties in Tokyo restaurants walked away from tables full of food that was ordered and then left to be thrown away. The economics fed and then followed the social disease. Eventually, the asset bubble burst and the whole edifice came crashing down.

COMMENT

Funny how when the Japanese are observed to be wasteful it gets some ink. Here in the states, we’ve been disgracefully wasteful for decades and every system in place encourages it. Never mind those old folk who actually remember the rationing of the 40s and the hunger of the depression. Those are the true conservatives,,not those money mad asses who claim the label these days.

Posted by Not Unemployed anymore | Report as abusive

Study: Blame China, not Wall Street, for Great Recession

Oct 21, 2009 19:02 UTC

This paper make a great case for blaming the Great Recession on the massive influx of cheap labor (and the continued weak yuan) into the global economy. Bad decisions on Wall Street didn’t help, but they are not the root cause:

The common wisdom is that cheap money and lax supervision of financial institutions led
to this financial crisis, and solving that crisis will take us out of the recession. In our view,
the financial crisis is just the symptom. The fundamental cause of the crisis is the huge
labor supply shock the world has experienced, not the glut in liquidity in money supply.

In what follows we argue that this huge and rapid increase in developed world’s labor
supply, triggered by geo-political events and technological innovations, is the major underlying
force that is affecting world events today. The inability of existing financial and legal
institutions in the US and abroad to cope with the events set off by this force is the reason for
the current great recession: The inability of emerging economies to absorb savings through
domestic investment and consumption caused by inadequate national financial markets and
difficulties in enforcing financial contracts through the legal system; the currency controls
motivated by immediate national objectives; the inability of the US economy to adjust to
the perverse incentives caused by huge moneys inflow leading to a break down of checks
and balances at various financial institutions, set the stage for the great recession. The
financial crisis was the first symptom.

COMMENT

Jim,
You come to LA and all you do is hang out with the elitist Don and don’t come visit us at IBD? Shame on you. Don’t tell me you are an elitist, too.
I mean, you are good, but you are not that good.
Brian Deagon

Posted by Brian | Report as abusive

More evidence of rising trade protectionism

Sep 24, 2009 13:44 UTC

As Reuters reports it:

The United Steelworkers union, fresh from persuading President Barack Obama to restrict tire imports from China, filed a new case Wednesday asking for duties on coated paper from both China and Indonesia. The action came just one day after Chinese President Hu Jintao complained to Obama about the tires decision in a meeting on the sidelines of a United Nations summit in New York. … The steelworkers union, which represents workers in a number of industries, sees itself in a battle against what it believes are unfair foreign trade practices that have led to the loss of millions of U.S. manufacturing jobs. They are joined in their latest trade case by paper manufacturers NewPage Corp of Miamisburg, Ohio; Appleton Coated LLC of Kimberly, Wisconsin; and Sappi Fine Paper North America of Boston, Massachusetts, which together employ about 6,000 union workers at paper mills in nine states. … Unlike the steelworkers’ petition in the tires case, this complaint will not land on Obama’s desk. Instead, the U.S. International Trade Commission, a U.S. federal agency, will have the final word on whether anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties will be imposed after an investigation by the U.S. Commerce Department.

Worried about how this sort of thing will affect the economy recovery both in the US and globally? Ed Yardeni is:

But what about Art Laffer’s warning about how rising taxes and protectionism could still cause another Great Depression?” …  He observed: “While Fed policy was undoubtedly important, it was not the primary cause of the Great Depression or the economy’s relapse in 1937. The Smoot-Hawley tariff of June 1930 was the catalyst that got the whole process going. It was the largest single increase in taxes on trade during peacetime and precipitated massive retaliation by foreign governments on U.S. products. Huge federal and state tax increases in 1932 followed the initial decline in the economy thus doubling down on the impact of Smoot-Hawley. There were additional large tax increases in 1936 and 1937 that were the proximate cause of the economy’s relapse in 1937.”

I completely agree with Art that the Smoot-Hawley tariff was the major cause of the Great Depression. So it is certainly disturbing to see the Obama Administration pander to the United Steelworkers by slapping a tariff on tires imported from China. This morning’s WSJ reports that three paper companies and the United Steelworkers filed an antidumping case Wednesday against China and Indonesia, making good on the union’s threat to protect other US industries after winning a recent trade decision against China. We’ve seen plenty of similar trade flare-ups in the past even during the Reagan and Bush Administrations. Nevertheless, they can spin out of control. More importantly, now is not a good time to resort to protectionism given that the global economic freefall earlier this year was mostly attributable to a collapse in exports as trade credits froze up.

A bigger and more likely threat to a sustainable recovery is the sun-setting of the Bush tax cuts after 2010. This will amount to a major tax increase that could send the economy back into a recession in 2011. I don’t think this will trip up the bull market any time soon. But it is likely to become a big issue by the second half of next year.

COMMENT

High taxes and restrictions in free trade are good for economic growth. Everybody knows that.

Posted by Tom Nail | Report as abusive

Obama risks trade war to help union allies

Sep 16, 2009 14:44 UTC

Has President Barack Obama thrown Big Labor under the bus? It sure might seem that way after watching his performance yesterday before two union audiences, G.M. workers in Lordstown, Ohio, and an AFL-CIO convention in Pittsburgh.

Both speeches were fiery, pro-union stem winders. Yet the president barely mentioned the top item on Big Labor’s 2009 political agenda, the Employee Free Choice Act. The legislation would require a company to recognize a union without a secret-ballot election once organizers submitted union cards signed by a majority of its workers. Unions believe it would increase unionization, which is probably a pretty good bet given how hard Corporate America is fighting the bill.

But the card check bill has struggled mightily on Capitol Hill and could clearly use a boost from the White House. Still, the president didn’t speak its name in Lordstown and devoted just a single sentence in Pittsburgh. Is that any way to treat the folks who poured tens of millions of dollars into Democratic campaigns last year?

Maybe not, but you didn’t hear any booing. Heck, there probably wasn’t even a slight grumble given the myriad ways Obama has already helped his union allies. His stimulus package helped prevent layoffs of many government union workers, while key provisions serve to prop up union wages on infrastructure projects. His restructuring of the American auto industry left the United Auto Workers with a majority stake of Chrysler and a fifth of General Motors for the price of relatively minor pay and benefit concessions. And his healthcare reform looks to bolster underfunded union retiree benefit plans, while avoiding taxes that would hit pricey union insurance packages.

Then, of course, there is Obama’s decision to impose a 35 percent tariff on imported tires from China, much applauded by Big Labor. As the AFL-CIO put it, “The trade decision was the president’s first down payment on his promise to more effectively enforce trade laws.”

Not only does the move directly hurt U.S. consumers, but it will certainly encourage more domestic industries, such as steel and apparel, to look to Washington for help. Even more dangerous than copycat protectionism: by blaming China for economic woes here at home, Obama risks rekindling anti-China efforts in Congress, such as pushing China to allow a renewed and rapid escalation in its currency. That is how you could get a full-blown trade war.

Hard truth: When it came time for Obama to choose between his political allies on one hand and America’s economic allies (and consumers) on the other, he chose the former this time.

And who knows, a slightly watered down card-check bill might still get passed by year end and signed by the president. In retrospect, Obama should have dumped his own Pittsburgh speech for that of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis who told the gathering that she “was proud and humbled to be your humble servant.”

Now that’s more like it.

COMMENT

I present products at trade shows all the time. I found that many small businesses are resentful when having to do a trade show where unions are involved.
Once I had to hook up the power to the lights on the booth. I called the electrical guy. He came down and called a rigger to come and tie the cable to the overhead beam. When the rigger arrived all these guys where standing around. I asked them, what is going on? The one guy told me that a supervisor had to be present before they could go ahead and do the job. So then a supervisor turns up after 55 minutes and within less than one minute the electrician pushes in the plug, the rigor ties the cable with a cable tie to the beam and I get charged three hundred Dollars for the job. It took three unions guys and one hour to plug in a electrical extension cable.
When complaining about the price to the show organizers response was that it is union labor and they have no control on the costs.
I suddenly realized why GM and many other American companies are in so much trouble.

Posted by Charles Hibberd | Report as abusive

Cap-and-trade has a China problem

Aug 10, 2009 15:58 UTC

(Lightly microblogging this week from The Great White North)

There is no way this passes US Senate unless it has a tariff that penalizes nations who are not capping climate emissions, such as India and China.  So not only would cap-and-trade create more taxes and regulation, it might spur a bout of protectionism. It is the gift that keeps on giving.

COMMENT

Exactly, and we ought to become protectionists, look at Europe and China they do it.

I bet you Obama will sell us out soon enough.

Posted by Ian | Report as abusive

Why the White House may be forced to get tough on China

Jul 29, 2009 14:00 UTC

Might America and China be headed toward a falling out over currency issues as U.S. unemployment worsens? The always superinsightful Andy Busch of BMO Capital Markets makes a helluva point here (bold is mine):

Under the Bush administration, the US Treasury had a clear policy of pressuring the Chinese to change their currency regime that kept the currency stable and generated massive US dollar reserve accumulation. This structure created the massive imbalances between the countries and created worries that situation was inherently unstable and dangerous.

Under the Obama administration, the US Treasury is not pressuring the Chinese and this was apparent during the meetings this week. President Barack Obama opened Monday’s discussions by declaring that the United States sought a new era of “cooperation, not confrontation” with China and that management of the U.S.-China relationship would be a major factor in defining the history of the 21st century according to AP.

This set the tone of the meetings to not upset the delicate fiscal and monetary paradigms that are in place. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner made no mention of the Chinese currency regime nor of the detrimental effect it continues to have on global imbalances.

The irony is that the Chinese are the ones publicly stating that there are major concerns with the United States and the way the Obama administration and Congress are running their finances. After the Monday talks had ended, Assistant Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao said, “We sincerely hope the U.S. fiscal deficit will be reduced, year after year….The Chinese government is a responsible government and first and foremost our responsibility is the Chinese people, so of course we are concerned about the security of the Chinese assets.”

So while the Chinese are sticking up for their workers, the US appears to be abandoning theirs. I wonder how long US manufacturers and US labor will continue to cooperate and not confront the Obama administration on this issue when unemployment breaches 10%?

COMMENT

…visualize this scene…

(grocery store, spoiled toddler Geithner wailing, writheing noodle legs, exasperated Chinese guardian)

“But I want you to float the Yuan! I won’t monetize the debt….I promise! You have to float the Yuan, you just have to!”

Posted by Hank Reardon | Report as abusive
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