Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Conditions Where Trade Deficits May Not Be Harmful

When economists contend trade deficits are not harmful, they generally refer to explanations of comparative advantage. Buyers in the receiving country send the money back. A firm in America sends dollars for Brazilian sugarcane, and the Brazilian receivers use the money to buy stock in an American company. This may lead to profits leaving the U.S however as Americans may forfeit control. Although this is a form of capital account reinvestment, it may not be a liability on anyone in America.
Such payments to foreigners have intergenerational effects: by shifting the consumption schedule over time, some generations may gain and others lose. However, a trade deficit may incur consumption in the future if it is financed by profitable domestic investment, in excess of that paid on the net foreign debts. Similarly, an excess on the current account shifts consumption to future generations, unless it raises the value of the currency, deterring foreign investment.
However, trade inequalities are not natural given differences in productivity and consumption preferences. Trade deficits have often been associated with international competitiveness. Trade surpluses have been associated with policies that skew a country's activity towards externalities, resulting in lower standards. An example of an economy which has had a positive balance of trade was Japan in the 1990s.
Milton Friedman argued that trade deficits are not necessarily important as high exports raise the value of the currency, reducing aforementioned exports, and vise versa for imports, thus naturally removing trade deficits not due to investment. Milton Friedman's son, David D. Friedman, shares this view and cites the comparative advantage concepts of David Ricardo.