Tackle Trade Deficit to Create Jobs

The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage.

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Thursday, the Commerce Department is expected to report the deficit on international trade in goods and services was $48 billion in June. The trade deficit is the most significant barrier to jobs creation and growth in the U.S. economy.

Simply, the U.S. economy suffers from too little demand for what Americans make. Every dollar that goes abroad to purchase oil or Chinese consumer goods that does not return to purchase exports is lost purchasing power that could be creating jobs. Halving the nearly $600 billion annual trade deficit would create at least 5 million jobs.

Jobs Creation

Oil and Chinese imports account for virtually the entire trade deficit. The failure of both the Bush and Obama administrations to develop abundant domestic oil and gas resources and address subsidized Chinese imports are major barriers to pulling down unemployment to acceptable levels.

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The economy added only 117,000 jobs in June; 386,000 jobs must be added each month for the next 36 months to bring unemployment down to 6%. With federal and state government cutting payrolls, the private sector must add about 410,000 per month to accomplish this goal.

Too many dollars spent by Americans go abroad to purchase Middle East oil and Chinese consumer goods that do not return to buy U.S. exports. This leaves U.S. businesses with too little demand to justify new investments and hiring, too many Americans jobless and wages stagnant, and state and municipal governments with chronic budget woes.

Economic Growth

The first half of 2011, GDP growth has averaged about 0.8%, well below the 3% needed just to keep up with productivity and labor force growth and keep unemployment from rising.

In 2010, consumer spending, business technology and auto sales added strongly to demand and growth, and exports have done quite well. However in 2011, the soaring cost of imported oil and subsidized Chinese manufactures into U.S. markets pushed up the trade deficit and offset those positive trends. Now consumer pessimism is pushing down retail sales and home prices and discouraging new home construction and business investment.

Administration-imposed regulatory limits on conventional oil and gas development are premised on false assumptions about the immediate potential of electric cars and alternative energy sources, such as solar panels and windmills. In combination, administration energy policies are pushing up the cost of driving, making the U.S. even more dependent on imported oil and overseas creditors to pay for it, and impeding growth and jobs creation.

Oil imports could be cut in half by boosting U.S. petroleum production by 4 million barrels a day, and cutting gasoline consumption by 10% through better use of conventional internal combustion engines and fleet use of natural gas in major cities.

To keep Chinese products artificially inexpensive on U.S. store shelves, Beijing undervalues the yuan by 40%. It accomplishes this by printing yuan and selling those for dollars and other currencies in foreign exchange markets.

Presidents Bush and Obama have sought to alter Chinese policies through negotiations, but Beijing offers only token gestures and cultivates political support among U.S. multinationals producing in China and large banks seeking business there.

The U.S. should impose a tax on dollar-yuan conversions in an amount equal to China's currency market intervention divided by its exports -- about 35%. That would neutralize the currency subsidies that steal U.S. factories and jobs. It would not be protectionism; rather, in the face of virulent Chinese currency manipulation and mercantilism, it would be self-defense.

Cutting the trade deficit in half, through domestic energy development and conservation, and offsetting Chinese exchange rate subsidies would increase GDP by about $600 billion and create at least 5 million jobs.

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Professor Peter Morici, of the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, is a recognized expert on economic policy and international economics. Prior to joining the university, he served as director of the Office of Economics at the U.S. International Trade Commission. He is the author of 18 books and monographs and has published widely in leading public policy and business journals, including the Harvard Business Review and Foreign Policy. Morici has lectured and offered executive programs at more than 100 institutions, including Columbia University, the Harvard Business School and Oxford University. His views are frequently featured on CNN, CBS, BBC, FOX, ABC, CNBC, NPR, NPB and national broadcast networks around the world.

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