Archive for the 'Economic Growth' Category

Feb 05 2010

US Exports: the key to job creation? Obama thinks so…

Obamas Efforts To Boost Exports Face Hurdles : NPR

President Obama thinks the key to recovering the millions of American jobs lost during the recession lies in boosting exports to the rest of the world:

The plan sounds great. As we learn in AP and IB Economics, free trade leads to benefits for nations that choose to participate in it. Of course, promoting free trade will harm some industries and workers whose jobs end up being “off-shored” or “out-sourced” to countries with cheaper or more qualified labor; but Obama’s hope is that promoting free trade will result in a net gain of 2 million American jobs.

The goal of doubling US exports in 5 years, however, may be overly ambitious. According to the CIA World Factbook, the US is currently the fourth largest exporter in the world, sending just around $1 trillion worth of goods and services abroad in 2009, behind the EU with $1.9 trillion, China with $1.2 trillion and Germany with $1.18 trillion of exports. Obama’s goal to double US exports would propel the US to the single largest exporting nation in the world, putting it right around where the 27 nations of the European Union are today.

To achieve his goal, Obama proposals include three strategies for boosting demand and supply of US exports.

  • On the supply side he suggests continuing recent guarantees for payment by foreign buyers. Essentially such a scheme reduces the risks that often accompany international commerce, reducing the “costs” of exporting firms, which in essence increases the supply of exports from the US.
  • On the demand side the US must pressure China to revalue its currency. A stronger RMB (and a weaker dollar) will increase China’s demand for US goods and services.
  • Also on the demand side, the US should push through free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Columbia, which have encountered obstacles among US lawmakers who fear that more free trade may actually mean a loss of US jobs.

Free trade agreements, export payment guarantees and a weaker US dollar in China will help Obama reach his goal. Chances are, however, that it will ultimately be unattainable. Doubling US exports would propel the US to the top of the list of exporting countries, surpassing even China, today’s current leader, by $700 billion more than the country exported last year. The impact on US GDP would undoubtedly be enormous, adding upwards of  $1 trillion to the US economy.

Creating jobs through trade is controversial, as many Americans still believe trade is partially to blame for the loss of American jobs in recent years.

“The average voter in the U.S. has been pretty on the fence about whether they want more trade coming into the United States,” Slaughter says. “The income pressures that a lot of households have faced in recent years have sort of shifted that balance where more voters now are a lot more wary of globalization than they used to be.”

While his goal is lofty, Obama is on the right track towards growing the US economy and promoting job creation. Trade benefits Americans not just because it will increase demand for our goods and services abroad, but because it will lead to lower prices for many of the things we enjoy consuming at home, ultimately increasing real incomes in America while also creating jobs.

The graph below presents a simple explanation of how the above strategies can result in more jobs in US export industries.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does China manipulate the value of its currency? Why is such manipulation harmful to US exporters?
  2. How does a government payment guarantee for exporters actually reduce the costs of doing business for US exporting firms?
  3. Do you believe that more free trade agreements with countries like South Korea and Panama will create jobs or destroy jobs in the United States? Explain.

3 responses so far

Jan 29 2010

The “bottom billion”, aid, and strategies for achieving economic development

In IB Economics unit 5, Development Economics, several strategies for achieving improvements in the welfare of the world’s poorest people are investigated. Foreign aid has been one of the main focuses of economic development strategies over the last several decades. But is aid in the form of development loans and grants from international organizations and foreign governments always beneficial to those who receive it in the poorest countries (the bottom billion as described by development economist Paul Collier)?

In the discussion that follows, Paul Collier of Oxford and Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo argue that the developed world’s focus on aid to Africa, resulting in a trillion dollars in loans and grants over the last 50 years, has missed the mark and completely failed to achieve meaningful economic development. The focus must therefore shift to opening markets, improving governance, achieving security and creating jobs for the poorest people on the African continent. Watch the two videos below, and respond to the discussion questions that follow. [the time in the video where the question is discussed is in brackets]

Part 1:


Part 2:

Discussion Questions:

Part 1:

  1. What factors does Paul Collier point to that contribute to the “poverty traps” many African nations find themselves in? [3:07]
  2. What have the two main goals of foreign aid policy been over the last 50 years, according to Dambisa Moyo? [4:45]
  3. What are the “four horsemen of the African apocalypse?” How does Moyo think these four obstacles to development can best be overcome? [5:14]
  4. What is Paul Collier’s opinion of the role of free trade in promoting human and economic development in Africa? What does he think about Africa’s traditional dependence on primary products and commodities? [7:45]
  5. Before economic growth and development can occur, security must be achieved. Why is security, according to Collier, the number one obstacle to achieving meaningful development in Africa? [8:30]
  6. In a dissenting view, Dr. Jeffery Sachs argues for more aid to Africa. What types of aid does Sachs believe is absolutely crucial for Africa to continue to receive? [10:39]

Part 2:

  1. Collier makes the claim that aid may create “moral hazard” in Africa. What is moral hazard and how could reducing aid to African governments actually “force good governance”? [5:30]
  2. Is there any historic record of aid working? What strategies accompanied foreign aid that contributed to its greatest historical success? [8:10]
  3. What’s the main difference between Europe’s economic successful development during the second half of the 20th century and Africa’s unsuccessful experience during the same period? [9:00]

59 responses so far

Sep 14 2009

Step aside America, Switzerland is the new global leader in competitiveness

World Economic Forum – Latest Press Releases

The World Economic Forum, a group of researchers, leaders, educators, entrepreneurs and others with a vested interest in global economic performance, assembles an annual list of the world’s nations ranked according to “competitiveness”. This year, for the first time ever, the United States does not top this list, instead, Switzerland has been promoted to the status of global competitiveness leader.

What does this ranking really mean?

Competitive economies are those that have in place factors driving the productivity enhancements on which their present and future prosperity is built. A competitiveness-supporting economic environment can help national economies to weather business cycle downturns and ensure that the mechanisms enabling solid economic performance going into the future are in place.”

Competitivness means a nation posesses an evnvironment that leads to improvements in the productivity of its resources, most importantly labor. America, with record budget deficits, in the trillions of dollars, faces a future of tight budgets financed by government borrowing, which eventually means higher taxes and less ability for government to spend on public goods like education and health.

America’s demotion in the rankings is attributable to falling expectations about the country’s future growth potential rather than concerns about its current economic slowdown. Switzerland has also been in a recession for the last year, although due to targeted fiscal policies unemployment has remained low, near its level before the recession begain (around 4%).

The index used to rank countries is based on several factors:

The GCI is based on 12 pillars of competitiveness, providing a comprehensive picture of the competitiveness landscape in countries around the world at all stages of development. The pillars include Institutions, Infrastructure, Macroeconomic Stability, Health and Primary Education, Higher Education and Training, Goods Market Efficiency, Labour Market Efficiency, Financial Market Sophistication, Technological Readiness, Market Size, Business Sophistication, and Innovation.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can a nation’s labor productivity be improved by making policies aimed at improving three of the factors measured by the GCI identified above?
  2. How does America’s gigantic budget deficit ($1.8 trillion) threaten its future ability to provide its citizens with the “pillars” identified above?
  3. Does economic integration with the global economy improve or limit a country’s ability to achieve economic competitiveness? Explain your answer.

One response so far

Jun 10 2009

The almighty bond market: Niall Ferguson’s concerns about the US deficit explained

Harvard Economist Niall Ferguson appeared on CNN’s GPS with Fareed Zakaria over the weekend. Ferguson has stood out among mainstream economists lately in his opposition to the US fiscal stimulus package, an $880 billion experiment in expansionary Keynesian policy. While economists like Paul Krugman argue that Obama’s plan is not big enough to fill America’s “recessionary gap”, Ferguson warns that the long-run effects of current and future US budget deficits could lead the US towards economic collapse. This blog post will attempt to explain Ferguson’s views in a way that high school economics students can understand.

Government spending in the US is projected to exceed tax revenues by $1.9 trillion this year, and trillions more over the next four years. An excess of spending beyond tax revenue is known as a budget deficit, and must be paid for by government borrowing. Where does the government get the funds to finance its deficits? The bond market. The core of Ferguson’s concerns about the future stability of the United States economy is the situation in the market for US government bonds. According to Ferguson:

One consequence of this crisis has been an enormous explosion in government borrowing, and the US federal deficit… is going to be equivelant to 1.9 trillion dollars this year alone, which is equivelant to nearly 13% of GDP… this is an excessively large deficit, it can’t all be attributed to stimulus, and there’s a problem. The problem is that the bond market… is staring at an incoming tidal wave of new issuance… so the price of 10-year treasuries, the standard benchmark government bond… has taken quite a tumble in the past year, so long-term interest rates, as a result, have gone up by quite a lot. That poses a problem, since part of the project in the mind of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is to keep interest rates down

There’s a lot of information in Ferguson’s statements above. To better understand him, some graphs could come in handy. Below is a graphical representation of the US bond market, which is where the US government supplies bonds, which are purchased by the public, commercial banks, and foreigners. Keep in mind, the demanders of US bonds are the lenders to the US government, which is the borrower. The price of a bond represents the amount the government receives from its lenders from the issuance of a new bond certificate. The yield on a bond represents the interest the lender receives from the government. The lower the price of a bond, the higher the yield, the more attractive bonds are to investors. Additionally, the lower the price of bonds, the greater the yield, thus the greater the amount of interest the US government must pay to attract new lenders.

crowding-out_11

Ferguson says that the price of US bonds has “taken a tumble”. The increase of supply has lowered bond prices, increasing their attractiveness to investors who earn higher interest on the now cheaper bonds. Below we can see the impact of an increase in the quantity demanded for government bonds on the market for private investment.

crowding-out_3

Financial crowding-out can occur as a result of deficit financed government spending as the nation’s financial resources are diverted out of the private sector and into the public sector. Granted, during a recession the demand for loanable funds from firms for private investment may be so low that there is no crowding out, as explained by Paul Krugman here.

But crowding out is not Ferguson’s only concern. The increase in interest rates caused by the US government’s issuance of new bonds could lead to a decrease in private investment in the US economy, inhibiting the nation’s long-run growth potential. But the bigger concern is one of America’s long-run economic stability. If the Obama administration does not put forth a viable plan for balancing its budget very soon, the demand for US government bonds could fall, which would further excacerbate the crowding-out effect, and eliminate the country’s ability to finance its government activities. In other words, such a loss of faith could plunge the United States into bankruptcy.

crowding-out_21

Fareed Zakaria asks Ferguson:

“Is it fair to say that this bad news, the fact that we can’t sell our debt as cheaply as we thought, overshadows all the good news that seems to be coming?”

Ferguson’s reply:

The green shoots that are out there (referring to the phrase economists and politicians have been using to describe the signs of recovery in the US economy) seem like tiny little weeds in the garden, and what’s coming in terms of the fiscal crisis in the United States is a far bigger and far worse story.

Finally Fareed asks the question everyone wants to know:”What the hell do we do?”

Ferguson:

One thing that can be done very quickly is for the president to give a speech to the American people and to the world explaining how the administration proposes to achieve stabilization of American public finance… the administration doesn’t have that long a honeymoon period, it has very little time in which it can introduce the American public to some harsh realities, particularly about entitlements and how much they are going to cost. If a signal could be sent really soon to the effect that the administration is serious about fiscal stabilization and isn’t planning on borrowing another $10 trillion between now and the end of the decade, then just conceivably markets could be reassured.

Ferguson is saying that only if the Obama administration begins taking serious steps towards balancing the US government’s budget can it hope to stave off an eventual loss of faith among America’s creditors (and thus a fall in demand for US bonds). It will be a while before tax revenues are high enough to finance the US budget. But if the country does not begin working towards such an end immediately, it may find itself unable to raise the funds to pay for such public goods as infrastructure, education, health care, national defense, medical research, as well as the wages of the millions of government employees. In other words, the US government could be bankrupt, and its downfall could mean the end of American economic power.

The power of the bond market should not be underestimated. America’s very future depends on continued faith in its financial stability and fiscal responsibility.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you think the US government has such a huge budget deficit this year? ($1.9 trillion) Previously, the largest budget deficit on record was only around $400 billion.
  2. How does the issuance of new bonds by the US government lead to less money being available to private households and firms?
  3. Do you think investors will ever totally lose faith in US government bonds? Why or why not?
  4. In what way is the government’s huge budget deficit a “tax on teenagers”? In other words, how will today’s teenagers end up suffering because of the federal budget deficit?

To learn more about the power of the bond market, watch Niall Ferguson’s documentary, The Ascent of Money. The section on the bond market can be viewed here:

100 responses so far

Feb 04 2009

Another insightful economic discsussion on the Daily Show: how to make fiscal stimulus work

I love this discussion between John Stewart and former director of the National Economics Council Lawrence Lindsey. Stewart pitches his own version of a fiscal stimulus package to the economist, and is surprised when Lindsey agrees with the plan.

I find Lindsey’s suggestion that a stimulus package should include subsidized mortgage rates to home owners fascinating. According to Lindsey, a homeowner with a $200,000 mortgage paying 6% interest on his loan would save $4,000 per year on interest payments if the government accommodated a refinanced rate of 4%. Millions of Americans currently struggling to meet all of their monthly debt obligations while continuing to put food on the table and participate in the consumer economy would benefit from such a scheme. In its current form, Obama’s stimulus package with its $150 billion or so in tax cuts will only put approximately $500 per year for two years into taxpayers’ pockets.

As a homeowner paying a 6% mortgage myself, I can personally say I’d prefer $4,000 in savings on my annual interest payments for the next 23 years (the time remaining on my mortgage) than I would $1000 in cash over the next two years. The mortgage relief plan would result in nearly $100,000 less in interest payments, freeing that income up to be spent on goods and services and contributing to real job creation.

And check out last night’s “moment of Zen”. While Obama’s stimulus package is not quite $1 trillion, it is darn close. Senator Mitch McConnell puts the vast size of the spending bill into perspective for us:

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