Blog - Views on the Economy and the World

Views on the Economy and the World

A blog by Jeffrey Frankel

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262 posts

I realize that compiling a list of one’s own past forecasts is self-indulgent.  But perhaps there are readers who will indulge me too, as I run through six predictions that – it seems to me – were mostly proven right this past year.

When President George H.W. Bush was laid to rest earlier this month, the remembrances appropriately remarked on his general decency and competence.  In public commentary, the encomiums tend to be followed by a “but.”  For journalists and historians, it is “but he was only a one-term president.”  He lost the election of 1992, in part because of the recession of 1990-91.  For members of his own political party, the “but” is, “but he broke with the legacy of Ronald Reagan and with his own ‘no new taxes’ pledge.”  They have always blamed his failure to win re-election on that perceived betrayal.

But President Bush’s mistake was making the anti-tax pledge in 1988 in the first place and sticking to it in the first part of his presidency. The 1990 reversal on fiscal policy set the stage for a decade of economic growth that eventually achieved budget surpluses.

After NAFTA

| Oct. 12, 2018

Donald Trump thinks he once again pulled off a smashing victory on October 1, delivering on his oft-repeated campaign promise to terminate NAFTA, “the worst trade deal ever,“ and replace it with something much newer and better.  One is tempted to say to oneself, “Let him think that.”  The US-Mexico-Canada Agreement may not be an improvement over the status quo, but at least it is an improvement over the end to free trade in North America which he had threatened.

The US Treasury is due in October to submit its biannual report to Congress on what countries, if any, are manipulating their currencies to gain unfair trade advantage.   President Trump has recently resumed the accusation against China  that he made during the election campaign.   “I think China’s manipulating their currency, absolutely. And I think the euro is being manipulated also,” he told Reuters.  He is apparently pressuring the Treasury directly in its deliberations.

Democrats are gearing up for the November mid-term elections, in which they hope to take back the US House of Representatives. Candidates are finding that the voters are not necessarily paying close attention to foreign affairs or even Trump scandals, and are more concerned about “pocketbook issues.” The conventional wisdom still stands: underlying the shock election of Mr Trump was the worry by the median household that it has been left behindby globalization and technological change and that the gains have been going to the rich instead.

President Trump enacted steel and aluminum tariffs in March, citing national security.  China is the intended target, as most other major suppliers were eventually exempted. On April 2, China retaliated by imposing tariffs on 128 American products (representing about $3 billion of trade), ranging from 15% on fruits to 25% on pork.  Trump April 3 announced 25% tariffs on another 1300 Chinese products [representing some $50 billion of trade], citing forced transfer of US technology and IPR. China on April 4 responded with plans for retaliatory 25% tariffs on 106 US exports -- including soybeans, autos, and airplanes -- to go into effect when the US tariffs do.  On April 5, the White House announced it was considering $100 billion of additional tariffs on China.

If these tariffs go ahead, yes, it is a trade war. How will it end?