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The Dangerous Absurdity of America’s Trade Wars

US President Donald Trump’s trade policies not only seek to improve America’s external balance, but also represent a misguided attempt to contain China and even to weaken Europe. Seen in this context, Trump’s misconceived trade wars are nearly as predictable as the macroeconomic imbalances they have so spectacularly failed to address.

NEW YORK – Don Quixote fought windmills. US President Donald Trump fights trade deficits. Both battles are absurd, but at least Quixote’s was tinged with idealism. Trump’s is drenched in enraged ignorance.

Last week, it was announced that the US international deficit on goods and services had widened to $621 billion, despite Trump’s promise that tough trade policies vis-à-vis Canada and Mexico, Europe, and China would slash the deficit. Trump believes the US trade deficit reflects unfair practices by America’s counterparts. He has vowed to end those unfair practices and negotiate fairer trade agreements with those countries.

Yet America’s trade deficit is not an indicator of unfair practices by others, and Trump’s negotiations will not reverse its growth. The deficit is, instead, a measure of macroeconomic imbalance, one that Trump’s own policies – especially the 2017 tax cut – have exacerbated. Its persistence – indeed, its widening – was wholly predictable by anyone who has gotten to the second week of an undergraduate course on international macroeconomics.

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