So far, President Trump’s economic response to a potential coronavirus outbreak and a further stock market sell off has been expected – calls for more interest rate cuts and an additional round of monetary stimulus. For the stock market, economy, and the virus itself, neither measure will have their desired effect and, in fact, may exacerbate things.
Further rate cuts and more money printing will not alleviate the situation since it has been the Federal Reserve’s recent “repo operations” which has pushed the market to its unsustainable highs. For President Trump’s re-election hopes, the current “correction” better be short lived since he has repeatedly boasted about the stock market and has tied its success with the supposed health of the economy. He will pay a political price if the market continues to tank and brings the economy down with it.
While President Trump and economic nationalists have bashed China for its trade practices, they are now going to see first hand how dependent the US and the West are on Chinese exports, as supply chains are disrupted over the coronavirus.
A Bloomberg article describes China’s weakest factory activity ever recorded:
The manufacturing purchasing managers’ index plunged to 35.7 in
February form 50 the previous month, according to data received by the
National bureau Statistics on Saturday, much lower than the median
estimate of economists. Both were well below 50, which denotes
The expected reduction of Chinese goods will mean higher US domestic prices, however, the increase in prices can be offset somewhat not by rate cuts, but by tariff reductions, or, better still, elimination of duties on imports. Increasing the money supply or cutting interest rates, which is what Trump, the market, and 95% of economists favor, will only mean higher prices for dwindling imports as greater amounts of money will chase fewer goods.
In the President’s comments on the coronavirus and the stock market plunge, he has repeatedly cited other nations’ (Japan, Germany) – lower interest rates as a policy that the Fed should pursue. Apparently, the President is not aware that recent data out of Japan has shown that the economy shrank at an annualized rate of 6.3% for the fourth quarter of 2019 while the German economy only grew at 0.6% last year.** Low rates have not helped either economy or anywhere else where they have been foolishly tried.
What President Trump, world policy makers, and central bankers do not understand, whether deliberately or from willful ignorance, is that the artificial suppression of interest rates and money printing does not lead to economic growth. Instead, prosperity can only come about by the arduous process of saving (abstention from consumption), which provides the means for capital formation, which leads to production. Employment, wage growth, and income are also ultimately tied to savings. For the creation of wealth, there is no way around this elementary economic principle – one that few profession economists comprehend.
For saving and investment to have their most efficacious impact and for individuals to engage in such sacrificial behavior, a sound monetary order must be in place. Unfortunately, ever since the US went off the gold standard internationally in 1971, its monetary system has grown increasingly unstable.
If the Trump Administration would eliminate, or at least reduce significantly, tariffs, it would more than likely induce China to do the same. The benefits of lower import prices for the millions of out of work Chinese due to the coronavirus shut downs would be a tremendous help and would also boost America’s export industries. Such action would show to those who elected him that Donald Trump was not a typical politician, but one who thought outside the box.
While it did not cause the Great Depression, the Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1930 contributed to its severity. If the recent sell-off is indeed the beginning of the long anticipated bust, following a supposed decade long expansion, then policy makers should do all in their power to alleviate the coming suffering. The reduction of tariffs not only on Chinese goods, but those the world over would be a step in the right direction.
Let us hope that someone will convince Donald Trump that tariff reduction and not rate cuts will help Americans better deal with the troublesome and potentially economic and socially devastating coronavirus.
*China Posts Weakest Factory Activity on Record,” Bloomberg News, 29 February 2020. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-02-29/china-feb-manufacturing-pmi-at-35-7-est-45-0
**Megumi Fujikawa, “Japan’s Economy Shrinks Faster Than Expected.” Market Watch. 16 February 2020. https://www.marketwatch.com/story/japans-economy-shrinks-faster-than-expected-2020-02-16; “German Economy Stagnates as Eurozone Growth Hits Seven-Year-Low,” The Guardian, 14 February 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/business/live/2020/feb/14/german-economy-stagnates-growth-eurozone-gdp-business-live