The Effect of the U.S. - China Trade War on the U.S. Economy

PWBM’s Efraim Berkovich, the Wharton School’s Marshall Meyer and Mary Lovely of the Maxwell School of Syracuse University discussed how the recently imposed tariffs on Chinese goods are raising prices for consumers, disrupting supply chains and weighing down economic growth in the long-run.

Are Tariffs a Drag? Trade War Pushes Interest Rates Up, Economy Down

We find that, excluding times of intervention by the Federal Reserve, interest rates on U.S. government debt are higher when levels of effective openness to foreign capital flows are lower, increasing the government’s borrowing costs.

The Trade War Trade-Off: Foreigner Ownership of American Business Actually Rises

We project that, although a trade war initially lowers the share of U.S. capital owned by foreigners, the trade war will actually increase the amount of American business capital owned by foreigners, by almost $1 trillion by 2028. Over time, the foreign owned share of business capital rises from about 29 percent today to over 34 percent in 2049.

The Trade War Trade-Off: Short Term Gains Then Long Term Losses

We project that even if the recently imposed tariffs are removed, GDP will be permanently smaller relative to having had no trade war. Extending the current trade war by several more years will lead to smaller losses in GDP in 2020 but will reduce GDP by more in the long run.

Revenue Raised by Tariffs on China Doesn’t Cover Costs

New York Times reporters Ana Swanson and Jim Tankersley compared the revenue generated by tariffs on China with the costs of the trade war to U.S. businesses and consumers. Tariffs on Chinese goods have raised $20.8 billion in revenue. However, President Trump has promised $28 billion to compensate farmers alone. PWBM explains that tariffs raise the price of goods. PWBM’s Richard Prisinzano noted, “The tariffs make all consumers worse off.”  In addition, Kent Smetters, PWBM’s Faculty Director, estimated that the tariffs could, “cost the median U.S. household with earnings of $61,000 about $500 to $550 a year.” 

Tariff Increases Will Cost U.S. Households

In Trump’s tariffs are equivalent to one of the largest tax increases in decades CNBC’s Steve Liesman analyses data from the Treasury Department to find that tariffs proposed by President Trump will raise $72 billion in revenue. Previously, PWBM has estimated the economic costs of a trade war and that the impact of a trade war could wipe out economic gains from last year’s tax cuts.

Implementing a Partially Open Economy in the PWBM Dynamic OLG Model

PWBM’s Dynamic OLG model simulates the partially-open U.S. economy in a way that is more consistent with economic behavior than standard “model blending” exercises. The difference between the two techniques becomes more pronounced over time due to the nation’s expanding debt path.

Trading Tangible for Intangible: The Incentives Created by GILTI and FDII in the TCJA

The recent Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) contains two key international tax provisions: the tax on Global Intangible Low-Taxed Income (GILTI) and the reduced tax rate on Foreign Derived Intangible Income (FDII). These provisions were designed to encourage United States-based multinationals to locate intangible intellectual property in the U.S. rather than in foreign jurisdictions. However, an aspect that is overlooked is that these same provisions also create incentives for U.S. firms to acquire tangible assets abroad and to sell tangible assets in the U.S. Future monitoring of these activities is required to assess the extent to which U.S. multinationals will shift production overseas in response to the incentives created by GILTI and FDII.

Estimates of TCJA Repatriation of Foreign Earnings on Investment and GDP

An important part of the discussion surrounding the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) was the accumulation of untaxed profits in U.S. corporations’ foreign subsidiaries, which were estimated to be as high as $2.8 trillion in 2017. Before 2018, these earnings were generally not subject to U.S. taxes unless they were paid to the U.S. parent corporation as a dividend (“repatriated”), leading many companies to accumulate profits abroad. The TCJA introduced a deemed repatriation provision, which provides a tax “holiday” for foreign earnings by taxing them at a reduced rate of 15.5 percent on cash and eight percent on other assets. Speaker Paul Ryan argued that the TCJA’s tax holiday for foreign dividend payments directly affects the economy because, “money will come back and that will help economic growth.” Indeed, many companies have already committed to significant repatriation amounts, with Apple notably pledging to pay $38 billion in tax on repatriated income.

The White House's Trade Policies and the Economy

A recent CNBC article by John Harwood, Peter Navarro says Trump’s trade policies are ‘good for the market,’ but economists aren’t buying it, applies two Penn Wharton Budget Model (PWBM) studies on the effects of tax cuts by industry and the probable effects of a trade war. The author analyzes the possibility that recent administration actions increasing protectionist measures would slow economic growth.

The Impact of a Trade War Could Wash Out Tax Cuts

A CNNMoney story, “Trade War Would Wipe Out Gains From Tax Cuts, Penn Analysis Says,” applies two Penn Wharton Budget Model (PWBM) studies on trade and tax cuts. Patrick Gillespie points out that two of President Trump’s policies could have opposing effects on economic growth. If the new tariffs announced by President Trump lead to an all-out trade war, gains from the tax cuts could be washed away in the short run and swamped in the long run.

The Economic Costs of a Trade War

The Economic Costs of a Trade War
  • Major U.S. trading partners have already indicated they might retaliate to new U.S. trade tariffs recently announced by President Trump. New tariffs could, therefore, lead to a “trade war.” However, game theory also suggests that U.S. trading partners could eventually respond with “trade opening,” depending on the ultimate payoffs to each party in the trading partnerships.

  • We estimate that an all-out trade war would reduce GDP by 0.9 percent by 2027 and by 5.3 percent by 2040. Wages would decline by 1.1 percent by 2027 and 4.8 percent by 2040, relative to current policy. A trade opening would have the opposite effect: GDP would increase between 0.2 to 0.7 percent by 2027 and between 1.3 to 4.0 percent by 2040. Wages would increase between 0.3 to 0.8 percent by 2027 and between 1.2 - 3.6 percent by 2040, relative to current policy.

  • The downside risk of a trade war, therefore, is larger than the upside potential from a trade opening.