Must-Read: There are big reasons to be for "mercantilist" policies:
- In a world in which a country suffers from a shortage of risk-bearing capacity or a savings glut, exports are a very valuable source of aggregate demand.
- In a world in which there are substantial spillovers from the creation and maintenance of communities of engineering practice, exports in associated industries are a powerful nurturant and imports a powerful retardant of such communities.
- To the claim that subsidies to such communities are better, the proper rebuttal is "subsidies to whom?" Export champions reveal themselves to be competent productive organizations, and policies that encourage competent productive organizations are likely to do more to nurture communities of engineering practice than policies that encourage competent lobbying organizations.
The arguments against "mercantilist" policies are two:
- The little one: such policies are inefficient, in that the losers lose more than the winners win.
- The big one: such policies are not win-win, and economic policy energy is best devoted to things that are win-win--at least in the behind-the-veil-of-ignorance sense of win-win.
Trade Deficits: These Times are Different: "In normal times, the counterpart of a trade deficit is capital inflows...:
...which reduce interest rates, and there’s no reason to believe that trade deficits reduce employment on net, even if they do redistribute it. But we are still living in a world awash with excess savings and inadequate demand, where interest rates can’t fall (or at any rate not much) because they’re already near zero. That is, we’re in a liquidity trap. And in that kind of world it’s true both that trade deficits do indeed cost jobs and that there are basically no benefits to capital inflows — we already have more desired savings than we are managing to invest.
One indicator of how the rules differ in these circumstances: Remember all the hand-wringing about our dependence on Chinese financing, and how U.S. interest rates would spike if the Chinese stopped buying our bonds? Well, the Chinese have stopped buying bonds and started selling them.... And US interest rates remain very, very low — still under 2 percent on 10-year bonds.
I’m not saying that Trump has any idea what he’s talking about; he doesn’t. But we are living in a world where, for the time being — and maybe for a long time to come, if secular stagnation theorists are right — mercantilism makes a fair bit of sense. But then Keynes could have told you that.