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American Interest: What Export-Oriented America Means

Author: Tyler Cowen
April 2, 2012


Tyler Cowen points out that America has three things going for it, export-wise: computerization is making manufacturing wages irrelevant; fracking technology is addressing energy issues; and an increasingly wealthy rest of the world can afford to buy American goods.

In his State of the Union address two years ago, President Obama promised to double American exports over the next five years. At the time critics called this an unrealistic political promise, one that voters would forget by the 2012 election. But America is currently on track to meet that goal. As of early 2012, exports measure in at about $180 billion each month, whereas two years ago it was $140 billion per month. The growth rate of exports is about 16 percent per year, a trend that at least conceivably could get us to Obama's target.

Since the recession officially ended, exports have accounted for about half of the nation's economic growth. They are 14 percent of GDP and rising, reflecting a decades-long trend. To some extent, the vagaries of American economic growth inhere in the nature of the increasingly globalized international economy. American manufacturing employment has been badly hurt by the mobility of capital seeking lower production costs abroad, but the growing wealth of foreign populations in rising economies is creating new demand for imports, including imports U.S. workers can supply. As is well known, America was the world's leading exporter virtually every year during the latter half of the 20th century, losing that title to Germany only in 2003, and later falling behind China. New circumstances thus prompt the question: Might we someday regain that honor? If so, how will this shape American foreign policy, jobs, education, politics and poverty?

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