America: Why the High Unemployment?

by John Brian Shannon

In 1970, of the 89,244 new cars and trucks sold in the U.S.A., 84.9% of them were built in North America, while only 15.1% of them were manufactured in other countries and shipped to this continent for purchase and registration.

In 2012, of the 14.4 million new cars and trucks sold in the U.S.A., 44.5% of them were built in North America, while imports accounted for 55.6% of registrations. Read here.

By any measure, this is an ongoing paradigm shift — which directly relates to American unemployment statistics since 1970.

A total of 15.4 million car and light truck sales are expected in the U.S. for calendar year 2013 — the best year since 2007. By 2014, U.S. sales are expected to reach 16 million, with imports continuing to increase their market share in the U.S.

Since the first Model T Ford rolled off the Dearborn, MI assembly line, millions of  workers have been employed by American automakers – including some workers who worked for the same company their entire career. Fathers who worked at Ford, GM or Chrysler from their childhood until retirement, found their sons and daughters good-paying jobs with their old employers. Unemployment in the 1945 – 1975 era was generally quite low — and that, in the midst of an economically damaging Cold War which negatively affected many parts of society including the unemployment rate, not incidentally.

Generally during the post-war boom, everybody worked, everybody earned a paycheque, and almost everybody contributed to the economy. About late 1973 or early 1974 this began to profoundly change in the United States and in the Western nations generally.

Not to blame the American auto manufacturers for the Arab Oil Embargo, as the Big Three had been assured of low petroleum prices by foreign governments and several domestic administrations — hence the big, V-8 powered cars of the era and their consequently-low MPG figures were popular with both manufacturers and consumers.

But American consumers are a fickle lot. Once the gas price shot upwards in the aftermath of the Arab Oil embargo, Datsun (now Nissan), Toyota and Honda nameplates began selling as fast as the ships could deliver them from Japan.

If only the foreign vehicles were of inferior quality! But they’re not. If only they used more fuel than their U.S. equivalents. But they don’t. The corporate fuel economy average for foreign and domestic makes still favours imported vehicles. Not by the wide margin it once did — and not that GM and Ford haven’t scored impressive MPG victories in some categories, because they have.

But, to put it bluntly, many employed Americans prefer their foreign-built cars. (“And those millions of now-chronically-unemployed Americans will just have to get by.”)

It’s not just cars and trucks either. Historically, most home electronics sold in the U.S.A. including televisions, smartphones and computers were also ‘Made in the U.S.A.’  — but not these days.

Most of the clothing, plastics and extruded metals purchased in the U.S. are now manufactured in Asian and Southeast Asian nations, where countries like Indonesia rely heavily on textile exports to us and other Western nations.

Much of the American conversation these days revolves around the old austerity vs. stimulus debate which reporters and op/ed journalists are required by their respective organizations to cover.

Meanwhile the 80-ton elephant in the room is the trillions of manufacturing dollars which have transferred from the West to Asia since 1970 — and the manufacturing jobs that have gone with them.

Looking Through the Wrong End of the Telescope Won’t Fix the Economy

by John Brian Shannon

Quick, think fast! Why is there a huge liquidity trap in America?

If you can answer that question, then you’re not ‘looking through the wrong end of the telescope’ blaming the symptoms, instead of the root causes of the present American economic problem. Which, some other people (not you and me) are probably doing right now.

Let’s call some of those people 2012 Republican politicians.

The present excess-liquidity situation has come about as a result of some economic policies of the United States, which gained traction during President Reagan’s first term in office. It was a different world then and the 40th President acted swiftly and responsibly to restart the U.S. economy. I quote the New York Times reportage of President Reagan’s inauguration speech.

He said “progress may be slow,” but his “first priorities” would be to “get government back within its means, and to lighten out punitive tax burden,” a reference to his campaign pledge to balance the Federal budget and cut personal taxes to 30 percent in three years. – The New York Times, quoting President Ronald Reagan’s inaugural speech of January 20, 1981.

Personal and corporate tax rates have dramatically fallen since then and the plan to cut the tax rates and add unprecedented billions of dollars of stimulus spending to the economy (much of it went to U.S. defense contractors) worked to grow the American economy and the economies of other Western nations, such as the UK, Canada and Spain. Yes, it was that much stimulus.

Cold War allies such as Canada, received generous NASA and U.S. defense-related contracts from the administration, which in turn helped to boost the economies of Western alliesthereby helping the U.S. economy.

How’s that?

During Ronald Reagan’s terms in office, most cars and trucks registered in Canada were manufactured by U.S. corporations and the same held true for so-called ‘white goods’ (refrigerators, stoves, dishwashers, etc.) and large volumes of many other products — especially construction industry products and materials. Not to mention Canada’s purchase of 110 F-18’s in 1981.

When your allies have money, they place orders with U.S. corporations. When your allies don’t have enough money to purchase American goods and services, sales fall off dramatically.

Of course, there was much more to it than that. America was deep in the economic doldrums in 1980/81 and the American psyche was still reeling from the Vietnam War, a recession and a loss of American prestige following the dual shocks of the Arab Oil Embargo and the American hostages in Iran.

President Reagan stepped up and hit a ‘home-run’ every day for the U.S.A and got America to believe in itself again. The President authorized the Chrysler bailout, other bailouts and some exceptional mergers so that companies would not be forced to shut their doors and take all those middle-class jobs with them.

Economically speaking, by adding significant hundreds of billions of stimulus dollars to the U.S. economy (perhaps as much as 1 trillion dollars, depending on who is doing the counting) and lowering personal and corporate tax rates, the Reagan administration employed a two-pronged approach to foster growth in the American economy. And it worked.

Fast-forward to 2012. Trying to employ those same policies now when we have reached a state of diminishing returns on them (as there isn’t much left to cut without shutting down America) can only be called tinkering with the economy. Back in the 1980’s huge cuts in tax rates were possible and allowed a decade-long spending spree by American citizens and corporations.

Now that personal and corporate taxes are so low and have been for some time, there is no longer room for huge tax cuts of 10% or more. All the juice has been squeezed out of that lemon.

The policies which allowed huge growth in the 1980’s (mega-stimulus and tax cuts) were financed by running massive deficits which were never paid off — as President Reagan had responsibly promised would eventually happen.

When governments run obscene deficits designed to stimulate the economy during times of economic crisis it is an utterly logical thing to do. When successive governments don’t return to balanced budgets and don’t paydown the accumulated government debt during the ‘good times’ as John Maynard Keynes suggested, governments ability to assist in subsequent recessions are constrained (for a telling article on that, read here) – but this time around the constraint is the liquidity trap.

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Now we have people writing to members of Congress, to the media and to each other, asking for fixes to the symptoms of the economic problem, instead of the cause. It gets worse, we now have candidates for high office blaming the symptoms instead of the cause.

Why are we in a liquidity trap? The answer my friend, is right below.

A liquidity trap is a situation described in Keynesian economics in which injections of cash into the private banking system by a central bank fail to lower interest rates and hence fail to stimulate economic growth.

A liquidity trap is caused when people [or corporations] hoard cash because they expect an adverse event such as deflation, insufficient aggregate demand, or war. Signature characteristics of a liquidity trap are short-term interest rates that are near zero and fluctuations in the monetary base that fail to translate into fluctuations in general price levels. – Wikipedia

How can injections of cash into the private banking system by a central bank lower the interest rates when the interest rates are effectively zero?

What we are left with; The banks are full to the top with deposited money from individuals and corporations. There is low demand for goods and services. There is little demand for money to loan. There is little incentive for banks to loan money as there is presently such a small ‘spread’ between prime rate and mortgage rates. There is little room for personal and corporate tax rate cuts — as the largest cuts have already taken place over the past 30 years.

What all of this means is the government has little in the way of actual controls over the economy. When both major levers (monetary and fiscal) don’t work, all that is left is minor tinkering.

When two of the most important economic levers are temporarily out of order, we just can’t stand around blaming the symptoms or wishing for a better day. It is now the time to bring in other levers to spur the economy like a reasonable (export) tariff of say, 5-8% on all raw resource exports, such as petroleum (the U.S. is a net exporter of petroleum) coal, minerals and metals.

This would begin to add cash to the federal coffers from day one and every penny should be used to stimulate actual jobs.

The U.S. could hire 100,000 additional police as President Clinton once did – many of whom are still paying taxes and contributing to their local economies, by the way.

Also, more teachers, or teachers with higher credentials could be educating a better future workforce.

‘Shovel-ready’ national infrastructure programs could create jobs for out-of-work and under-employed labourers.

Want to create demand in the economy? Give a few million Americans jobs! Watch how much tax revenue is generated. Watch the sales of everything from work-appropriate clothing, to cars, gasoline, home appliances and so much more, skyrocket in less than a year and continue to contribute to the economy.

People don’t want food stamps if they have a good-paying job. People don’t want welfare if they have a decent job. And people don’t want to burden social agencies when they can afford to live independently.

Looking through the right end of the telescope, there’s nothing but solutions in all directions. A moderate tariff on raw resource exports is a good place to start.

John Brian Shannon

ABOUT JOHN BRIAN SHANNON

I write about green energy, sustainable development and economics. My blogs appear in the Arabian Gazette, EcoPoint, EnergyBoom, Huffington Post, United Nations Development Programme, WACSI — and other quality publications.

“It is important to assist all levels of government and the business community to find sustainable ways forward for industry and consumers.”

Green Energy blog: http://johnbrianshannon.com
Economics blog: https://jbsnews.wordpress.com
Twitter: @JBSCanada

 

How Does China Do It?

by John Brian Shannon

Why do all the jobs keep going to China? Everyone wants to know.

The Western nations are short of jobs. At present, 150 million jobs have left Europe and North America over the past 40 years and have been relocated to Asia.

This trend has been in play for a few decades, but it began in earnest back in 1973 when the Arab Oil Embargo caused millions of Americans to purchase economical Japanese cars instead of Detroit’s offerings at the time – the thrilling but thirsty American gas guzzler.

Since that time, not only Japan but South Korea too have exported cars to the Western democracies by the millions. The market share of imported cars registered in 1960’s North America was microscopic but now sits at over 50%. China is now exporting cars worldwide and they are increasing their market share in Western nations.

That about covers the automotive market discussion.

But it is not the entire story. There are other factors at play some of which I will cover below and in future blogs. It’s a big topic… trust me.

For another example, when the West decides to design, engineer and build a new fighter plane at a cost of 100 billion U.S. dollars (a hypothetical number, just for comparison purposes) up to one-third of that money is diverted to corporate profit and doesn’t influence the final product.

When communist China decides to design, engineer and build a new fighter plane at a cost of the equivalent of 100 billion U.S. dollars (a hypothetical number, just for comparison purposes) all 100% of that investment goes towards the design, engineering and build quality of the fighter plane.

This is but one example which can be demonstrated many times over. It’s not just fighter jets. Every military ship, airplane, vehicle, guns, ammunition, along with civilian cars and trucks, industrial mining equipment, farm machinery, electronics, railway cars, locomotives and even the railway tracks can be built for less in China.

Communist corporations which do not have to make accommodations for profits have an advantage over ones that must make accommodations for profits. On the hypothetical American example above, 30% of 100 billion U.S. dollars is… drum roll please… 30 billion dollars! That is a lot of R&D money diverted to corporate profit from product testing, build quality – or marketing and advertising which almost always results in more sales.

Anything we can manufacture, China can manufacture at a lower cost when compared to the Western manufactured item. Thirty percent is just the beginning as some items can be manufactured for 1000% less than comparable products in Europe or North America.

During a telephone interview in February, a sitting Member of the Parliament of Canada told me that it is much cheaper for North American oil companies to dig up the tar sands in Alberta, Canada, transport that material to China for refining and then transport it back as finished products to North America.

It’s easy to do some quick math here. The Canadian Enbridge Northern Pipeline is projected to cost over 5 billion dollars if it gets built. The plan is to pipeline the material to Canada’s west coast (highly diluted with petroleum condensate) and ship it across the ocean to China where it can be refined into pure gasoline, motor oil, diesel fuel and other products normally made from conventional petroleum.

Super-tankers will pick up the tar sand/condensate mixture, which is called ‘dilbit’ once it is mixed together into a consistency which will flow through the pipeline system and transport it in that form to China, where new refineries are being built to receive the dilbit material. New Chinese oil refineries cost 1 – 2 billion Canadian dollars (equivalent), while new North American refineries with their higher land, construction, permitting, labour and emission control costs are estimated in the 12 billion Canadian dollar range – which is why no new refineries are planned for North America.

New SuezMax super-tankers cost between 500 and 900 million dollars a copy, depending on how many barrels of oil they carry and whether they are single-hulled ships or an infinitely safer design – the double-hulled super-tanker. Some super-tankers carry over 1 million barrels of toxic dilbit. Expect China to run 24 – 32 new super-tankers between the west coast of Canada and China 365 days per year.

After refining in China, SuezMax super-tankers will return the finished products to North America for distribution throughout the western United States and Canada’s western provinces.

Even with all these additional transportation costs and other activities – the gasoline, diesel and other products will cost 30% less than when compared to Canadian or American oil refineries performing the same refining operations here.

It remains to be seen whether the oil companies will pass along those cost savings to consumers.

John Brian Shannon writes about green energy, sustainable development and economics from British Columbia, Canada. His articles appear in the Arabian Gazette, EcoPoint Asia, EnergyBoom, Huffington Post, the United Nations Development Programme – and other quality publications.

John believes it is important to assist all levels of government and the business community to find sustainable ways forward for industry and consumers.

Check out his personal blog at: http://johnbrianshannon.com

Check out his economics blog at: https://jbsnews.wordpress.com

Follow John on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/#!/JBSCanada

Another Bank Bailout – MY COMMENT

by John Brian Shannon

MY COMMENT ON PROFESSOR PAUL KRUGMAN’S ARTICLE BEGINS…

The great sucking sound that everyone is hearing these days is the sound of capital leaving the Western economies by the billions – perhaps trillions of dollars – over the past few decades.

Money goes where the investments pay the best returns – and these days that means the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and other rapidly developing economies. As uncountable billions leave the Western economies, the jobs attached to those mega-billions go with them. Is it any wonder then, that some of the weaker Western economies have been in free-fall for some time? No, it is not.

A great deal of lamenting has been gone on in recent months – but the geomacro-economy has been changing and will continue to change as it reflects the new and evolving reality, for one simple reason – “If we continue to do what we have been doing, we can continue to expect the same results.”

And what is that result, exactly?

I quote Professor Paul Krugman – arguably the leading economist alive today: “An old routine plays out in Spain, with the banks getting help while the unemployed continue to suffer.” Read Professor Krugman’s excellent article here…

Bought anything lately that ISN’T Made in China? Clothing labels or manufacturing stampings could also read Made in India, Indonesia, or any number of other fast-growing economies.

Our consumers demand lower-priced goods and services, so foreign nations have gratefully fulfilled those requirements – effectively transferring Western wealth to third-world nations in huge, glorious gobs of U.S. and European bank notes!

It is said in China these days that one must watch the sky carefully for all the Manna falling from Heaven – which is falling in the form of chunks of gold large enough to take out entire city blocks!

Lest you think this is a recent development, it all started in earnest about 1973 shortly before the Arab Oil Embargo, when oil prices suddenly shot up and Detroit’s thunderous, but thrilling V8’s became unaffordable for millions of workers in nations used to interstate highways serving distant suburbs, spirited driving on the autobahn, and long summer vacations involving hundreds of miles of travel.

Japan at the time and still to this day, exports huge numbers of cars to the West and enjoys a growing market share of (mostly) fuel-efficient vehicles – and the ones that can’t boast good fuel economy, can certainly brag about outstanding reliability and brand-loyalty.

Since the 1990’s, South Korea, China, Indonesia, India and others have also stepped up to fulfill the wants and needs of American and European consumers with everything from home appliances and personal electronics, to tools, clothing and just about anything else you might purchase. Lower labour rates and production costs in Japan, then Korea and now, China, India and Indonesia, allowed more R&D spending, better products and lower prices for consumers and business alike.

Of course, those are all great things. It has been a decades-long bonanza for consumers, businesses and even the governments of the Western world are able to lower their costs by purchasing cheaper and often, more reliable goods from Asia.

American and European corporations have gladly followed this trend and contributed mightily to those developing nations attempting to service the wants and needs of Western consumers. If you doubt me on this – just do a Google search on Apple Computer for just one of many examples of U.S. companies which have elected to have their goods manufactured in China or other rapidly growing nations, instead of the U.S. Check Apple’s stock price in 1990 (mostly U.S. production) vs 2011 (mostly Chinese production). Impressive by any standard but not unusual, in fact, this Western-inspired trend is well established and continues to this day.

One day soon, there will be no manufacturing capacity in the U.S., Canada or Europe. It is dramatically cheaper to have it all done inside the BRIC countries and export those products to the West. Costs are so low, that shipping millions of products thousands of miles across entire oceans, becomes a tiny factor of the final price paid at U.S. or European cash-registers.

The “real price” of that huge manufacturing shift continues to play out in the daily media – higher Western unemployment rates, longer welfare rolls, lower domestic production, real-estate bubbles, bank failures, bank bailouts and so far, about one decade of destroyed dreams for families and small businesses.

But, man, did I get a great deal at the mall today!

Follow John Brian Shannon on Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/JBSCanada