NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 11, 2010

It was announced yesterday that the goods and services trade deficit widened to $40.29 billion in April with both exports and imports declining. 

The decline in exports and imports is a sign of a weak or weakening world economy.  The arithmetic, however, makes our growing trade deficit inevitable as long as our budget deficit is growing.  They are not independent of each other.  They are two parts of a zero-sum relationship, says Bob McTeer, former President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and a current Distinguished Fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis.

According to McTeer: 

  • Business and personal saving are not sufficient to offset the negative public saving, as measured by the budget deficit.
  • Those three forms of national saving fall short of national investment and have to be supplemented by an inflow of foreign saving.
  • Either that, or domestic investment must decline to match the lower national saving. 

The necessary counterpart to an inflow of foreign capital is a deficit in the current account -- the largest component of which is trade in goods and services.  This is why the growth in dis-saving as measured by the budget deficit necessarily draws in foreign saving to make up the difference.  In effect, the inflow of foreign capital is not financing our trade deficit; our trade deficit is financing the inflow of foreign capital necessary to make up for the growing budget deficit, explains McTeer. 

What's the good news?  Shrinking the budget deficit will help shrink the foreign trade deficit and vice versa.  Don't look for a smaller foreign-trade deficit to reduce the budget deficit any time soon, however, since the recent appreciation of the dollar will tend to widen the foreign deficit from the trade side.  A strong dollar right now is good for our pride, but bad for our economic recovery, says McTeer. 

Source: Robert McTeer, "The Trade Deficit Widens, As It Must," Forbes, June 10, 2010. 

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