In November of 2004, the United States ran a fifty-four billion dollar trade deficit, translating to over 600 billion for the entire year. This deficit is a result of the disparity between the amount of goods that the US imports and the amount it exports. To equalize this deficit in its current account, the American government sells assets from its capital account, often to foreign investors. This phenomenon is seen as a serious threat to the success and continued growth of the nation’s economy, tied in with popular concerns that the United States is losing its competitive and dominant edge in global economics. The traditional economic theory employed to solve this problem calls for a return to mercantile protectionism, through use of tariffs and subsidies to drive up the price of imports and lower the price of exports. Running contrary to this is a second option: increasing domestic savings and lowering government spending. These theories both aim to decrease American dependence upon foreign imports and investment, and ultimately equalize the enormous trade deficit that currently exists.
A nation that possesses strong industry, a favorable trade balance, and a lack of dependency upon foreign states is optimum. This ideology is one that has been strongly advocated throughout America’s existence, by politicians from Alexander Hamilton to Pat Buchanan. When a nation faces a trade deficit, it means that competing states are producing more efficiently, and ultimately making profiting. Also, a deficit means that industry and jobs, which could exist domestically, are being “stolen” by foreign nations. According to mercantile policy, this is a zero-sum game; when a competitor is winning, we are losing. The United States faces this situation, having evolved from the world’s largest creditor nation during and following World War II to its current position as the world’s largest debtor. Because America imports much more than it exports, an additional 600 billion dollars is needed every year to balance the equation. This money is “borrowed” through the sale of government assets, sometimes to domestic investors, but increasingly to foreign ones. Many circumstances can be blamed for this situation: cheap foreign labor, foreign government subsidy, and closed foreign markets, among others. The question therefore arises: how to negate obstacle...
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...es currently does possess an enormous trade deficit, but the importance of this problem and the best means of solving it is a sharply debated issue. Clearly, while a return to protectionist policy would have some positive effects in the short run, it ultimately would undue the enormous growth that free international trade has caused for the US economy. The more moderate approach, of increasing domestic capital, reducing reliance upon foreign money and goods, and reducing government spending, deals with the situation much more effectively. A deficit is often times natural, especially in a wealthy country with a very strong economy, such as the US. Using these techniques, the negative aspects of the deficit can be overcome, while still ensuring the efficiency and affectivity of a liberal international trade system.
1. Griswold, Daniel. America’s Maligned and Misunderstood Trade Deficit, http://www.freetrade.org/pubs/pas/tpa-002.html
Balaam, David. Introduction to International Political Economy, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, Pearson Education, 2005.