The U.S. Census Bureau reported Friday that the September trade deficit fell to an enormous, humgonous $36.4 billion, down $4.0 billion from and even more enormous and humongous $40.5 billion in August.
This does not represent a boom in job (and wealth)-creating exports. Exports were up only 0.6 percent because a “strong dollar’ means less worldwide demand for US exports. Imports were down 13 percent, and the big drop in imports likely represents a slowdown in US consumer spending.
In normal times a trade deficit of $36.4 billion in a single month would be met with outrage, headlines, speeches, torches and pitchforks. It represents a transfer of fulfillment of our economy’s “demand” out of the country at a time when we need jobs here. A trade deficit means factories close here, workers are laid off, they open “there,” the same goods come back to our country. But it is called “trade” because now the goods cross a border. And it is a trade deficit because more goods are coming in than are going out. Our economy has to borrow to make up the difference.
In these abnormal times we’re only getting the torches and pitchforks — also known as Trump voters, pissed off that their middle-class jobs have been replaced by low-paying jobs. The US has had a trade deficit since the late 1970s, when we were sold on “free trade” and “free markets” that benefit the 1% at the expense of the rest of us. Our economy has had to borrow every single year since then to make up that difference.
Throughout history ongoing unemployment, falling wages and economic despair opens people up to Trump’s brand of racist, xenophobic scapegoating appeal. And here we are.
In a time of full employment with jobs available everywhere and employers begging for employees, outsourcing production would be a good thing for the American economy and foreign workers. Companies are able to meet demand and the public is able to have their wants and needs satisfied. But since the late 1970s America’s policies have been rigged against full employment, in order to break the power of workers, create falling wages and strengthen political control by plutocrats. Trade deficits are part of that formulation.