No, the Trade Deficit Is Not At a Record High

Here’s a story at Wonkblog today:

Trump said he’d shrink the trade deficit with China. It just hit a record high.

The trade deficit with China hit a record high in 2017, defying President Trump’s repeated promises to shrink a number that he regards as a test of whether other nations are treating the United States fairly.

Oh come on. Baiting Trump is risky business, and there’s certainly no need to do it based on bad data. As usual, this “record” is based on nominal dollars, which are meaningless. What we care about is the trade deficit with China as a percent of GDP:

There’s no record there. There’s nothing there. The trade deficit with China in 2017 was 1.93 percent, which is pretty much where it’s been ever since the Great Recession. Here’s our total trade deficit:

The total trade deficit, including both goods and services, went up 0.21 percentage points, which is an appreciable amount. The trade deficit in goods went up 0.14 points. Neither one is anything remotely close to a record, though.

I’m always happy to rub Trump’s nose in something, but we don’t have to make stuff up. The US trade deficit did go up a bit in 2017, but not by a lot and certainly not by a record amount. Let’s leave the phony outrage to the Republicans.


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