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Steven Pearlstein calls for direct action against mercantilism
Howard Richman, 6/30/2010

In a June 30 commentary (Steering U.S.-China economic relations toward a new normal) Washington Post business columnist Steven Pearlstein argues that we need to take real action now to end mercantilism, beginning with Chinese mercantilism. The entire commentary is worth reading. Here are just his action steps:

So if the urgent need is to rebalance the global economy by rebalancing the U.S.-China economic relationship, we are probably going to have to begin this process on our own. And that means establishing some sort of tariff regime that will increase the cost of imports not just from China, but other countries that keep their currencies artificially low, restrict the flow of capital or maintain significant barriers to imports of goods and services. The proceeds of those tariffs should be used to encourage exports in some fashion....

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Obama's G-20 Summit Setback -- we're published in American Thinker this morning
Howard Richman, 6/30/2010

We begin:

At his press conference following the June 25-26 Toronto meeting of the G-20 nations, President Obama claimed that the summit had been a success:

We came to Toronto with three specific goals-to make sure the global recovery is strong and durable; to continue reforming the financial system; and to address the range of global issues that affect our prosperity and security. And we made progress in each of these areas.

But in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal a few days before the meeting (Our Agenda for the G-20), Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner and National Economic Council Director Lawrence Summers revealed what the U.S. administration had hoped to accomplish. They wrote: "Stronger growth with solid job creation here in the U.S. depends on an expanding global economy." In other words, they wanted the G-20 to commit to an expansionary economic program so that U.S. exports would grow.

They wrote...

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Krugman: G-20 summit will continue the depression
Howard Richman, 6/28/2010

In his blog entry today, Paul Krugman realized, based upon the results of the G-20 meeting, that the world's governments are not going to run budget deficits to pull the world out of the depression. Here is a selection:

And this third depression will be primarily a failure of policy. Around the world — most recently at last weekend’s deeply discouraging G-20 meeting — governments are obsessing about inflation when the real threat is deflation, preaching the need for belt-tightening when the real problem is inadequate spending.

Krugman has almost figured it out. But he hasn't yet figured out that chronic trade deficit countries cannot afford to run huge budget deficits without risking bankruptcy....

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Bush and Obama's Economic Stimulus Attempts
Raymond Richman, 6/28/2010

The problem with the recovery and the reason we have 20 million unemployed is that the President and his economic advisors refuse to acknowledge the principal causes of the recession, the federal government’s policy of encouraging the banks and other lenders to make home loans on the basis of insufficient security and the federal government’s policy of tolerating the enormous trade deficits which have cost millions of good-paying factory jobs, caused wages to stagnate, and worsened the distribution of income.

The response of our economic planners in the Bush Administration was a $170 billion economic stimulus package which took the form of tax rebate checks of $500 per household. It had little or no stimulating effect. Nevertheless, the Obama administration came up with a similar gift to each householder with similar results. The Bush administration under Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson did come up with one successful program, the $700 billion fund, known by its initials TARP,    the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which saved the entire U.S. financial system from bankruptcy. The public thinks of it erroneously as a bailout. Instead of buying the troubled mortgages and derivatives from the banks, et. al., it lent enormous sums to the banks and insurance companies which urgently needed to raise cash or succumb to bankruptcy. Much of the money TARP lent has been paid back. But it did not create a single job except for new TARP bureaucracy. Unfortunately, the banks still have hundreds of billions of troubled mortgages. If the economy should dip again, TARP will once again have to come to the rescue. ...

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Geithner and Summers Make Their Economic Mistakes Transparent
Raymond Richman, 6/25/2010

In a joint op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (6-23-10) entitled “Our Agenda for the G-20”, Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers, Director of the National Economic Council revealed the administration’s economic agenda for economic recovery. The recovery, they write, depends on an expanding global economy: “Stronger growth with solid job creation here in the U.S. depends on an expanding global economy.”  One has to ask since when has the economy of the U.S. depended on a expanding global economy? Recent historical evidence suggests that the contrary is true; the growth of the world economy has depended on an expanding U.S. economy and U.S. trade deficits.  What the U.S. needs is reasonably balanced trade with the rest of the world. A growing world economy would be helpful so long as it is not one that grows at the expense of the American worker. 

World trade and U.S. trade declined substantially as a result of the recession. As the downward plunge ended and trade began to increase, recovering only a portion of their pre-recession level, U.S. exports and imports increased but the latter unfortunately grew faster than exports. In the most recent period for which data is available, January to April, 2010, our trade deficit increased compared to the same period in 2009 from $-118.9 billion to $-155.5 billion. Under World Trade Organization rules, the U.S. has the right impose trade barriers to bring its trade into reasonable balance.  We have not exercised this power. Geithner and Summers want the G-20 to do it.

They write the G-20 “must continue to work together to secure the global recovery it did so much to bring about.”  They are kidding, right? Except for the Asian countries, where is the global recovery they observed. With 17 million still unemployed or underemployed, the U.S. recovery cannot be said to have been secured. What country are they living in? What are they smoking?  At the G-20 meetings in London and Pittsburgh, the members talked a lot but   accomplished little or nothing. They did nothing to “ ensure that global demand is both strong and balanced.”...

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Seven Options for Tackling Trade with China
Howard Richman, 6/24/2010

In a June 23 commentary (Five Options for Tackling Trade with China), Bloomberg Businessweek's Economics Editor Peter Coy laid out five options for tackling trade with China. He included two options that would be effective:...

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Why is the Fed no longer effective?
Howard Richman, 6/23/2010

In a June 22 Seeking Alpha commentary (The Fed, the Yuan and the Failure of Diplomacy), Peter Morici accurately discussed U.S. economic history, pointing out the ineffectiveness of the Federal Reserve in recent years:

Fed policy is much less relevant to US growth and price stability than in the days of Fed chairman Paul Volcker (1979-1987), because China's yuan policy has substantially limited the importance of Fed interest rate decisions by severing the historic link between short interest rates - like the federal funds rate it targets - and long rates on mortgages, corporate bonds, and the securities banks use to finance lending on cars and credit cards.

He is thinking through the problem in the same way that we have been. As usual, he is way ahead of most of the economic profession, which is still living in a dreamworld in which unilateral free trade is a good policy.

But my father, son and I are actually still a bit ahead of Morici here. We are advocates of the economic philosophy called "monetarism." The founder of monetarism, Milton Friedman, was my father's dissertation advisor at the University of Chicago.

Back on December 4, 2008 (Keynesian borrowing won't solve our economic problems), we enunciated the general principles that should guide economic policy. We wrote:...

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Congress Is Responsible for This Recession; Not the Banks, Not Wall Street
Raymond Richman, 6/22/2010

A few days ago, in a bid to stem taxpayer losses for bad loans guaranteed by federal housing agencies Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac, Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn) proposed that borrowers be required to make a 5% down payment in order to qualify. His proposal was rejected 57-42 on a party-line vote.

The Senate and House are investigating the Banks and Wall Street for causing this recession but they should be investigating themselves....

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China riggles off the hook
Howard Richman, 6/22/2010

Yesterday the Chinese government let the yuan strengthen 0.4% vs. the dollar. The yuan-dollar exchange rate went from 6.83 yuan to the dollar to 6.79 and world stocks boomed. Then the Chinese government weakened the yuan back to 6.82 and world stocks may fall. Here's the relevant sentence from the Associated Press story:...

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Why is Washington's China rhetoric growing harsher?
Howard Richman, 6/20/2010

Chinese-business advisor Benjamin A. Shobert has an interesting commentary in the Asia Times which discusses the recent escalation of rhetoric in Washington about Chinese mercantilism. After quoting Senators Charles Schumer and Debbie Stebenow and Representatives Sandy Levin and Tim Ryan, he has an excellent insight into the cause of their increasingly harsh rhetoric:

Against the backdrop of a general economic frustration in the US, it is easy to miss that much of what lies beneath Washington's concerns is not simply Beijing's economic policy but a more general and caustic concern that how China was anticipated to evolve and embrace global rule sets and overall liberalize is not happening, which begs the political question of whether the sacrifice American workers are perceived to have made by opening their markets to China has, in fact, been worth it.

Then he descends into Marxist class warfare rhetoric, giving an alternative explanation:...

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Senate only passes a quarter of Obama's $266 billion stimulus
Howard Richman, 6/19/2010

Congress is starting to lose its enthusiasm for failing stimulus plans. Washington Post staff writer Lisa Montgomery reports (Election-year deficit fears stall Obama stimulus plan) that the Senate just recessed after only passing a quarter of President Obama's latest $266 billion stimulus plan:...

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Congress plans ineffective action against Chinese mercantilism
Howard Richman, 6/17/2010

Congress is giving the Obama administration until shortly after the upcoming G20 meeting. Then, if the Chinese do not strengthen the yuan and the administration continues to waffle, they plan to pass a bill that would probably lead to U.S. tariffs on many Chinese products. Here's a selection from a Business Week article which lays out the schedule:

June 16 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Congress will act if China fails to raise the value of its currency, the yuan, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Sander Levin said.

“Seven years of patience from the United States and the international community have run out,” Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said today at a hearing in Washington. After the Group of 20 world leaders meets this month, “if China does not act and the administration does not respond promptly thereafter, the Congress will act.”

There is bipartisan support for action:

“There is a clear and unified message this Congress would like to send to China and it is this: China is not acting in good faith and is aggressively engaged in a series of troubling and downright protectionist policies,” Michigan Representative Dave Camp, the top Republican on the panel, said today. China’s actions could “spur a breakdown in our relationship.”

But there is some division: American businesses are more worried about China's non-tariff barriers to American products, especially the catalogs published by the Chinese government which exclude American products from China's huge government-controlled sector. In November and December, the Chinese government threatened to exclude even those businesses producing in China if they didn't move their R&D and patents to China. Business Week briefly brings up this point:

Business representatives and lawyers said they were focused on China’s specific barriers to U.S. exports such as its indigenous innovation policy, not the exchange rate.

Congress should act, but it has the wrong goal....

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How the False Doctrine of "Free Trade" is Crippling the U.S. Economy.
Raymond Richman, 6/16/2010

It is no secret to our readers that the U.S. has been experiencing enormous growing chronic trade deficits for two decades that converted the U.S. from the world’s leading creditor to the world’s leading debtor. Our political leaders, Republicans and Democrats, and their advisers ignored the awful consequences of the growing trade deficits and they continue to do so. These deficits cost the U.S. millions of  well-paying industrial jobs to foreign competition. The workers who lost their jobs were forced to seek employment in other sectors of the economy. They found jobs at lower wages. Their competition for jobs depressed wages generally throughout the economy. The result has been wage stagnation and a worsening of the distribution of income observed in the U.S. during the past two decades.

On this site and in our book, Trading Away Our Future (Ideal Taxes Assn., 2008) we condemned the American economists’ infatuation with free trade, a legacy of Adam Smith’s 1776 criticism of mercantilism. Mercantilist practices – barriers to imports and subsidies to exports – are rightfully to be condemned but we find nothing in the economic literature that justifies free trade as an appropriate response to the mercantilist practices of our trading partners. To be sure, free trade is an appropriate policy between the states of the United States which enjoy a common currency, a common tariff, and the free flow of capital and labor as the U.S. Constitution obliges the states to do. The European Union Treaty of 1992 (Maastricht Treaty) obliges its member states to use a common currency and imposes common tariffs, and allows capital to flow freely among its members. But it lacks any obligation to allow the free flow of labor and makes no provision except budget austerity to balance trade. Thus, Germany experiences chronic trade surpluses while Greece, Portugal, and Spain experience chronic trade deficits. The latter countries are in difficulty because their debt is expressed in euros and they are unable to earn enough euros to service their debt. The U.S. has experienced  growing trade deficits for decades and would long ago have defaulted on its debt were it expressed in gold or foreign exchange rather than dollars which it can simply print. (Poor Greece, it cannot print euros). ...

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World needs US taxpayer bailout - but Atlas is about to Shrug
Howard Richman, 6/15/2010

Fred Bergsten of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a thinktank with close ties to the Obama administration, wrote a commentary for the Financial Times (New imbalances will threaten global recovery) which foresaw continuing world economic stagnation unless the US taxpayer bails out the world with increased deficit spending. Here is his reasoning:

Global imbalances are about to jump again. New estimates from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development suggest that the sharp decline in the exchange rate of the euro, along with tepid European growth, will produce eurozone surpluses of at least $300bn (€251bn, £208bn) annually within the next few years. The tightening of fiscal policies throughout Europe in response to the crisis, along with the new balanced budget amendment in Germany, will both depress domestic demand and require easier monetary policy that will weaken the euro further....

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Is the Chinese government moving against Taiwanese and Japanese corporations?
Howard Richman, 6/13/2010

Over the last month, strikes have broken out against many factories of Japanese and Taiwanese corporations in China, leading to huge wage increases. There have been many theories laid out as to why the strikes are occurring. For example, when Associated Press reported the story, they reported the following possible explanations:

Analysts said the recent labor actions were related specifically to job conditions and wages rather than any wider issues such as friction with Japan, which has at times prompted public outbursts against the Japanese in China....

Younger Chinese now seeking work in factories were raised in an era of relative plenty and have less tolerance for highly regimented factory living than older generations familiar with hunger, political unrest and poverty.

These theories do not explain why only Japanese and Taiwanese factories have been involved. Other articles have proposed that Japanese and Taiwanese factories pay lower wages than western factories or that Japanese and Taiwanese factories tend to employ workers from the same home towns, making worker unity more likely.

All of these explanations are indeed possible, but I have a different one. I suspect that the Chinese government is specifically targeting Japanese and Taiwanese factories in order to make them less competitive than Chinese-owned factories within the Chinese market as part of a foreign policy which is targeting these countries.

My theory is supported by the clear involvement of the Chinese Communist Party in permitting the strikes and controlling their message. The following comes from a report about Chinese unions put together by The Economist:...

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Are Data Problems Undermining U.S. Policymaking?
Jesse Richman, 6/11/2010

I recently recieved the following question:

"Interesting article... Is Manufacturing Going the Way of Agriculture? Manufacturing output may not actually be dropping in the USA even as employment in manufacturing is.  How accurate do you think their #s are?"

My response: The authors are quite right that manufacturing employment has dropped more than manufacturing output.  One explanation (presented as the only explanation in the article) would be that this is because productivity is increasing.  Hence, manufacturing employment is going the way of agriculture employment.  Few people work on farms anymore, but the U.S. still grows a lot of food because many of the farms that remain are extremely efficient and highly mechanized. 

There is one thing that gives me pause about these figures, however, and that is that the manufacturing output and the productivity figures both are probably distorted by increased outsourcing of component production... 

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After the Euro, Fluctuating Currencies
Raymond Richman, 6/10/2010

Edmund Conway reported in London’s The Sunday Telegraph June 5, 2010 that, in a survey he conducted of 25 leading “City” (the English equivalent of Wall Street) economists, “12 predicted that the euro would not survive in its current form this Parliamentary term, compared with eight who suspected it would. Five declared themselves undecided.” Our view is that the euro cannot be sustained any more than any system of fixed exchange rates can be sustained. Historically, no countries were able to maintain a fixed rate to gold so the Gold Standard had to give way to the gold exchange standard based on the U.S. dollar, which itself was revalued from $20 per ounce to $35, and then to no standard at all, the current system of relatively flexible exchange rates. We believe that the EU’s attempted Greek bailout may delay the demise of the euro but when and how the euro will be abandoned is uncertain. But it won’t be long. Even a fund twice or three times greater than the three-fourths of a trillion euros contemplated will not save the Euro. It will only bail out the banks that made foolish loans to “sovereign” countries expressed in unsovereign euros. The Royal Bank of Scotland Group issued a statement that the fund, while “Herculean,” might fail to save the euro and could usher in an extended period of market stress and disorder. We agree.

The fund, called The European Financial Stability Facility is being created backed by €440 billion in national guarantees, seeking to halt the spread of Greece’s debt crisis. The fund would sell bonds backed by ECB guarantees and use the money it raises to make loans to euro-area nations in need. The fund is part of a €750 billion aid package designed to combat sovereign debt crises like the one Greece is experiencing. Another 60 billion euros will come from the European Commission -- the EU’s executive arm -- and €250 billion from the International Monetary Fund to which the U.S. is the chief contributor. What business does the U.S. have to bail Europe out of its mistakes? Were it not for the fact that U.S. debt is expressed in U.S. dollars which the U.S. can print at will, the U.S. would long ago been forced into bankruptcy.  ...

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Bernanke optimistic that stagnation will continue
Howard Richman, 6/8/2010

According to third hand reports of a late June 7 interview, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke is optimistic that the current high unemployment economic stagnation will continue (i.e., that the U.S. economy will not slip back into a recession):

"My best guess is we'll have a continued recovery [but] it won't feel terrific," he said....

Bernanke quickly noted that there were "caveats" to this forecast. Growth was still not fast enough to bring down the high unemployment rate.

The basis of his optimism is his wishful thinking that consumer spending and business investment will continue to rise, because they now have momentum.

But for consumer spending to continue its momentum, consumers will have to continue to spend an ever greater proportion of their income. They can be encouraged to do so when the stock market is rising or when their house prices are rising, but both appear to be falling at the moment.

And for business spending to continue its momentum, businesses have to be convinced that new investments will be profitable. But with the dollar rising vs. the euro, manufacturers will wonder whether it is wise to invest in anything that competes against European products in U.S. or international markets....

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House-Senate negotiators likely to throw out good provisions of financial reform bill, while institutionalizing future bailouts
Howard Richman, 6/7/2010

Three provisions remain on the table as the House and Senate conference committee negotiates the final provisions of the financial reform bill this weekend. An Associated Press analysis by Daniel Wagner discusses their likelihood of being included in the final draft:

  • Derivatives. A Senate provision preventing big banks from dealing with risky derivatives will be deleted by negotiators from the bill because it would cut into banking industry profits and is opposed by the Obama administration.
  • Volcker Rule. This provision would break up banks so that they would no longer be "too big to fail." In the House and Senate versions of the bill, the Volcker Rule was made optional, at the discretion of regulators, but the Obama administration is pushing for the rule to be restored by the conference committee. Wagner reports: "It's hard to predict what the final bill will say."
  • Institutionalized Bailouts. This provision institutionalizes bailouts of the big banks through a bailout fund created by taxing banks. It lets Federal government regulators take over banks even if they are solvent,  firing their executives and wiping out their stockholders, with a full 100% Federal government guarantee of their debts, no matter how large those debts. Banks would gain by being able to borrow at low interest rates with the full guarantee by the government of their debts. Politicians and regulators would gain because bank executives would have to corrupt the political and regulatory process so that they won't lose their jobs. Wagner reports "most observers expect it to be adopted."...

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G-20 Foreign Ministers give up on stimulus spending
Howard Richman, 6/6/2010

On Saturday June 5, the G-20 Finance Ministers gave up on their failed plan to exit the Great Recession with stimulus spending. The following is an excerpt from the Reuters analysis by Alan Wheatley (Analysis: G20 doesn't even try to put brave face on debt mess):

South Korea (Reuters) - Finance ministers can usually be relied upon to put the best spin on whatever is happening to the global economy.

Not at this weekend's Group of 20 meeting in Busan....

With Europe signing up for austerity, it is no wonder that pessimists such as U.S. economist Nouriel Roubini see the euro zone heading for stagnation if not recession.

And in the absence of a burst in private sector demand in current account surplus countries such as Germany and China, global economic imbalances could deteriorate again -- especially if a resurgent dollar undercuts the revival in U.S. exports....

US Treasury Secretary Geithner is the only finance minister who hasn't given up on the idea of new stimulus spending. But the trade-surplus governments are all rejecting his request that they spend more. Wheatley reports:...

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Employment report shows that the recovery is losing its thrust
Howard Richman, 6/4/2010

On May 26, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard wrote that Larry Summers' call for a new $200bn stimulus was "a tacit admission that the economy is already losing thrust and may stall later this year as stimulus from the original $800bn package starts to fade."

Now we know what Summers was looking at. In all, employment rose by 431,000 jobs in May, but 411,000 of those jobs were temporary census workers, whose jobs will soon disappear.

The graph below of construction employment tells the story of a weakening recovery in the construction sector. After rising in March to 5,612,000 workers and April to 5,625,000 workers, construction employment fell in May to 5,591,000 workers.

 consemploymay2010.gif

Manufacturing employment was the one bright spot. It rose by 29,000 jobs in May, as shown in the following graph:

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Yves Smith: "the US example show how a naive posture towards trade may not help its citizens"
Howard Richman, 6/3/2010

Yves Smith is the author of Econned and runs the blog at www.nakedcapitalism.com. In an interview  at the DNAIndia website (The PIIGS Should Exit the Euro), she basically agrees with us that imbalanced trade lies behind the European and American economic disasters. Here is a selection:...

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Bruce Bartlett: We should raise taxes to lower our trade deficits
Howard Richman, 6/2/2010

In a recent blog entry (The National Debt and National Security), conservative economist Bruce Bartlett advocates raising taxes in order to reduce our trade deficits so that we can stop borrowing so much money from China.

Bartlett is clearly thinking about the right problems. In this blog entry he shows that he understands the negative national security implications of borrowing money from China. He also shows that he understands that trade deficits slow our economic growth. He thinks that raising taxes would balance our budgets which would cause us to borrow less money from China. His goal is to enhance domestic investment, specifically:...

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British economists urge Greece to default on its debts, abandon euro
Howard Richman, 6/1/2010

On April 29, my father predicted on this blog that the Southern European countries would be forced to leave the euro zone. He wrote:

Unfortunately, Greece, Portugal, and Spain cannot print euros or levy import duties. It seems likely that Greece, Portugal, and Spain will have to retire from the EU – at least from the euro zone until they get control of their foreign trade and their domestic budgets. One other way out would be for Germany to invest more and import more from Greece, Portugal, and Spain. If it invests enough and soon enough and imports enough, the evil decree can be avoided.

Nouriel Roubini was the next to make this claim. See my blog posting from May 12.

On May 29, in the American Thinker (The Euro: This Marriage Can't Be Saved), we repeated my father's prediction that Southern European governments would give up the euro, based upon their self-interest.

On May 30, Times On Line reported that British economists at the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) recommended that Greece give up the euro, based upon its own interest. Here's a selection from the report:...

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    Wikipedia:

  • [An] extensive argument for balanced trade, and a program to achieve balanced trade is presented in Trading Away Our Future, by Raymond Richman, Howard Richman and Jesse Richman. “A minimum standard for ensuring that trade does benefit all is that trade should be relatively in balance.” [Balanced Trade entry]

    Journal of Economic Literature:

  • [Trading Away Our Future] Examines the costs and benefits of U.S. trade and tax policies. Discusses why trade deficits matter; root of the trade deficit; the “ostrich” and “eagles” attitudes; how to balance trade; taxation of capital gains; the real estate tax; the corporate income tax; solving the low savings problem; how to protect one’s assets; and a program for a strong America....

    Atlantic Economic Journal:

  • In Trading Away Our Future   Richman ... advocates the immediate adoption of a set of public policy proposal designed to reduce the trade deficit and increase domestic savings.... the set of public policy proposals is a wake-up call... [February 17, 2009 review by T.H. Cate]