An alternative to popular faith

For years, there has been increasing concern about our growing trade deficit, especially with China. But do trade deficits really benefit us?

China creates the goods/services we want and sends them here in exchange for dollars. The goods/services are scarce to China. Time, manpower and physical resources are necessary for their creation. By contrast, dollars are not scarce to the U.S. Our government has the unlimited power and authority to produce dollars, without using any resources, whatsoever. The press of a computer key sends billions of dollars from our government to anywhere. Lately, many have gone into our economy as a stimulus.

A trade deficit is an example of one country devoting great effort to creating scarce materials for another country in exchange for something that requires no effort by the other country. In that sense, China is our servant. They work, sweat and strain and use their valuable resources to create and ship to us the things we want, while we, hardly lifting a finger, ship dollars to them. Who has the better deal?

Obviously, for any given individual, the situation is different. None of us has the unlimited ability to create dollars. We have to work hard for our dollars. Dollars are scarce to each of us. But when we talk about trade deficits, we are talking about governments, and there the situation changes. Dollars are not scarce to the U.S. government.

To satisfy our desires, China could ship us every yard of cloth and every ounce of steel in their country; they could burn all their coal and oil; they could employ every man, woman and child in dismal sweatshops; they could empty their nation of all physical resources, and still we would have plenty of dollars to send to them, simply by touching a computer key.

This may be more easily understood by looking at Saudi Arabia, with whom we also have a trade deficit. One day, the Saudis will have sent us every drop of their oil, leaving their country a hollow, empty sand dune, while we blithely will go on producing dollars. Who has the better deal?

Of course, as monetarily sovereign nations, China and Saudi Arabia are able to create as much of their own money as they wish. They don’t need to work so hard to send us their precious resources in exchange for our money. But that’s a discussion for another posting.

Rodger Malcolm Mitchell