Thursday, May 04, 2006

DeLong on the U.S. Trade Deficit

In monday's ec 10 lecture, I noted that there is a range of views among economists about whether the current U.S. trade deficit is a problem. In a new column, UC Berkeley economist Brad DeLong has a similar theme (although he is clearly on the side of those who are more worried). An excerpt:

As more time passes with neither the value of the dollar declining sharply nor market forces beginning to shrink America’s current-account deficit – which may well reach $1 trillion this year – two diametrically opposed reactions are emerging. Most international finance economists are becoming increasingly frightened that a major international financial crisis could erupt. Indeed, they fear that the scale of that potential crisis is becoming larger and larger.

Others – especially managers of financial assets – are becoming increasingly convinced that economists don’t know very much, and that what they do know is of no use to traders like themselves. They see little reason to believe that current asset values and trade flows are not sustainable....

In other words, the market is betting that the dollar will fall gradually in the next five years, and that the US current-account deficit will narrow without a financial crisis. That is what happened in the late 1980’s, and in the late 1970’s, too. After all, God, it is said, protects children, fools, dogs, and the United States of America. But the odds on a soft landing are lengthening with each passing day.