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.

America’s Sudden Energy Pivot

by John Brian Shannon

Earlier this year, President Barack Obama sent me a letter outlining the Administration’s energy goals. In it, he laid out his ambitious plans to decrease dependence on foreign oil imports, increase oil and gas exploration and extraction, lower the fuel prices paid by consumers and set historic fuel-efficiency standards for U.S. cars and trucks. Below is a short excerpt of the letter which you can read in full at johnbrianshannon.com

The White House, Washington

March 21, 2012

Dear John:

Thank you for writing.  I appreciate hearing from you, and I share the vision of millions of Americans who want to take control of our Nation’s energy future.  My Administration’s all-of-the-above energy strategy is about developing every source of American energy—a strategy aimed at saving families and businesses money at the pump by reducing our reliance on foreign oil, expanding oil and gas production, and positioning the United States as the global leader in clean energy.

The hard truth is there are no overnight solutions to our energy challenges.  The only way to deal with this problem is through a sustained, serious, all-of-the-above approach.  Under my Administration, American oil production is at its highest level in 8 years, and we are now less reliant on foreign oil than in any of the past 16 years.  We have more working oil and gas rigs than the rest of the world combined, and we have opened up millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration where appropriate and where it can be done safely.  My Administration has also approved dozens of new pipelines to move oil around, including from Canada, which will help create jobs and encourage more energy production.  Thanks to our Nation’s booming oil production, more efficient vehicles, and a world-class refining sector that last year was a net exporter for the first time in 60 years, we cut net imports by 10 percent—or a million barrels a day—in the last year alone.

Only eight months later, on November 12th, the International Energy Agency reported that the United States had suddenly moved from a country historically dependent on foreign oil, to a net exporter. But that is just the beginning. According to the IEA the United States will become the world’s largest oil producer by 2017 — surpassing even Saudi Arabia. Reuters said the IEA annual long-term report surprised top IEA analysts:

Energy developments in the United States are profound and their effect will be felt well beyond North America – and the energy sector”

“The recent rebound in US oil and gas production, driven by upstream technologies that are unlocking light tight oil and shale gas resources, is spurring economic activity – with less expensive gas and electricity prices giving industry a competitive edge.”

“The United States, which currently imports around 20 percent of its total energy needs, becomes all but self-sufficient in net terms – a dramatic reversal of the trend seen in most other energy importing countries.”

“The Chief Economist for the IEA said the US would far surpass Russia as the world’s largest gas producer by 2015 and become the world’s largest oil producer by 2017.”

Former President George W. Bush was completely right when he declared, “America, is addicted to oil.” Sadly, that has not changed. But instead of staying with the status-quo (perilously dependent on foreign oil) the Obama Administration decided early-on to keep billions of dollars of oil & gas investment, jobs, profits and other related economic activity here for the benefit of North Americans. And that, my friends — is historic change for the better.

JOHN BRIAN SHANNON

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Last Chance for the U.S. Economy!

by John Brian Shannon

This blog examines Canada‘s debt and deficit-cutting success of the 1990’s and early 2000’s which improved Canada’s credit rating, lowered borrowing costs for the government and when combined with a new 7% nation-wide Goods and Services tax (1990) allowed many job-creation projects to be funded which lessened the blow of the government’s (then) austerity program.

Read “How Canada Cut Its Deficits and Debt” — by former Prime Minister of Canada Paul Martin (prior to that he was Finance Minister) who famously took Canada from second-worst among the G-7 countries to the most stable economic performer in only a few short years. The above link takes you to a downloadable PDF document. It is a must-read for students of macroeconomics.

Paul Martin, 21st Prime Minister of Canada
Paul Martin, 21st Prime Minister of Canada (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Fiscal Turnaround

“When the Liberal Party took office, Canada’s deficit and debt were by far the worst among the G-7 but for one, and our level of foreign debt was the highest of the industrial world. Indeed, the Wall Street Journal had publicly dubbed Canada all but bankrupt. Four years later, our debt-to-GDP ratio was dropping like a stone. Our financial record was second to none and Canada’s deficit was no more.” — Paul Martin quote in The Magazine of International Economic Policy — The International Economy.

Many American friends of mine, are asking how the U.S. can solve its massive U.S. deficit and debt problems — problems which seem almost as insurmountable as going to the Moon was viewed in the early 1960’s.

The fact is, these problems have been solved in Canada and they can be solved in the United States. What has been lacking up until now, has been the will to act. Once elected, leaders who are empowered by their electorate to slay the twin dragons of debt and deficit could do so relatively quickly.

Some final advice from the Right Honourable Paul Martin former Prime Minister of Canada, the man most directly responsible for solving Canada’s historic debt and toxic deficit problem.

“The final lesson I would draw is that if deficit reduction is to be a priority, then it has to be a “national” priority.

When Canada’s debt ratio hit 70 percent, it was assumed by most economists that we had crossed the tipping point. The United States is there now, and the IMF projects that within eight years it will hit 115 percent. [!]

These are serious numbers, and yet the so-called deficit debate in the United States is not about the deficit at all. It’s about winners and losers.

One thing to remember from the Canadian experience it is that for deficit cleansing to succeed, there can be no winners while most people are losing. If deficit reduction is to gain public support, it requires a united effort—in other words, it must be a truly national exercise.” — Paul Martin quote in The Magazine of International Economic Policy — The International Economy.

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JOHN BRIAN SHANNON

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Let’s Just Blame the 47 Percent For Everything!

by John Brian Shannon

I was pleased to find Simon Johnson’s brilliant article in today’s edition of Project Syndicate, entitled; “Mitt and the Moochers” — the best summary of America’s economic situation that I have yet seen.

The psychology of the present paradigm is very odd indeed.

It approximates the following statement; Blame 47% of the population, the mostly blue-collar working people and taxpayers for the combined failures of the banksters, a few corporations and some inept government regulations — and then at length, when some of the 47% complain about getting blamed for a situation not of their creation, just default to calling them ‘victims’ in the pejorative sense of the word.

Oh, and let’s make the 47% pay to fix the damage they didn’t cause.

Those who were the first to benefit from the $12.8 trillion dollars of corporate welfare — are among the first ones to criticize 47% of Americans, most of whom;

“pay a great deal of tax on their earnings, property, and goods purchased. They also work hard to make a living in a country where median household income has declined to a level last seen in the mid-1990’s.” — Simon Johnson

In a general way, I take these developments as a sign that the formerly deep roots of American egalitarianism are getting shallower and we are now seeing the beginnings of a class-based society.

“the emergence of global megabanks was not a market outcome; these banks are government-sponsored and subsidized enterprises, propped up by taxpayers. (This is as true in Europe today as it is in the US.)” — Simon Johnson

All of the above are egregious enough in their own right. But what I take greatest offense at are those corporations which having made poor decisions, then line-up to receive billions of corporate welfare — whereby the government effectively rewards those organizations with heavy doses of cash for their poor performance — while corporations and companies which made good decisions all along are comparatively weakened.

It is a sure sign of the apocalypse, when corporations which invested in better decisions do not receive federal ‘reward’ money, but lesser performers do. No lasting good can come of this state of affairs… in fact, it is to weep.

John Brian Shannon

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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

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