Sunday, September 12, 2010

Trading Away the Stimulus

New York Times OpEd "Trading Away the Stimulus" (September 9th, 2010) presents a foolish analysis of trade, completely neglecting the notion of opportunity cost.
Also essential is a border tax to counter foreign export rebates. In countries with value-added taxes, those levies are returned to producers when they export their goods — which allows them to lower their products’ prices in our market. In response, we can ensure fair competition in our home market by applying a tax equal to the rebate upon a product’s entry to the American market.

COnsumers in the US are made unambiguously worse off by a tax on foreign imports. We show this in a graph depicting the US market for some good both before and after a border tax meant to counter a Chinese export subsidy. An analysis of the market in the US requires that we consider the total supply of goods, both Chinese and U.S.-made. Then, the total supply in the US market is found by adding US supply and Chinese supply. It may be that, due to a Chinese government subsidy of s per unit, Chinese suppliers are able to produce every unit more cheaply than US suppliers. This means that even with the same technology, their supply curve could lie below that of US producers. We depict the equilibrium in such a market below (click here to enlarge).

If the US counteracts the Chinese subsidy of s dollars with an import tax of t=s dollars, then the Chinese supply becomes identical to US supply, and we have a new equilibrium. We depict this market below (click here to enlarge).

Now consumer surplus (the green shaded area) is smaller than before, while US producer surplus (the red shaded area) is larger. Nonetheless, because the equilibrium price is higher in this regime, and quantity is lower, we as a country are worse off than we were without the tax. The gray shaded area shows the total loss to the US from a tax that would benefit a few marginal (high cost) producers. This again gives our rule of thumb for politics: whenever a group is pushing for more taxes or regulation, it is because they and government officials they fund are "putting one over" on consumers, taking their surplus and dividing it between them.

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