Yet More TPP Studies Predict Slim Economic Gains, Highlight Dubious Underlying Assumptions
from the another-reason-we-need-negotiating-texts-published-early dept
It's striking that from a situation where there were very few studies of the likely effects of the TPP agreement, we've moved to one where they are appearing almost every week. Recently Techdirt wrote about a World Bank study, and one from Tufts University; now we have one from the Peterson Institute for International Economics, which calls itself "a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research institution devoted to the study of international economic policy." Here's its summary of the results:
The new estimates suggest that the TPP will increase annual real incomes in the United States by $131 billion, or 0.5 percent of GDP, and annual exports by $357 billion, or 9.1 percent of exports, over baseline projections by 2030, when the agreement is nearly fully implemented. Annual income gains by 2030 will be $492 billion for the world. While the United States will be the largest beneficiary of the TPP in absolute terms, the agreement will generate substantial gains for Japan, Malaysia, and Vietnam as well, and solid benefits for other members. The agreement will raise US wages but is not projected to change US employment levels; it will slightly increase "job churn" (movements of jobs between firms) and impose adjustment costs on some workers.
That figure of 0.5% cumulative GDP gain by 2030 is in line with the other studies discussed previously here on Techdirt. But there are various issues with both that figure and the study itself, which are highlighted by Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in a post on Medium. One of the most serious is something we've noted before: despite attempts to present them as otherwise, the predicted gains are extremely small. Baker explains this well:
The study's projection of a cumulative gain to GDP of 0.5 percent by 2030 implies an increase in the annual growth rate of 0.036 percentage points. This means that if the economy was projected to grow by 2.2 percent a year in a baseline scenario, it will instead grow at a 2.236 percent rate with the TPP, assuming the Peterson Institute projections prove correct.
Then there's the matter of the econometric modelling technique adopted. The Computable General Equilibrium (CGE) analysis employed by the Peterson Institute makes some very big assumptions:
The projections imply that, as a result of the TPP, the country will be as rich on January 1, 2030 as it would otherwise be on April 1, 2030.
The model assumes that the TPP will affect neither total employment nor the national savings (or equivalently trade balances) of countries. This "macroeconomic closure" assumption allows modern trade models to focus on the goals of trade policy -- namely sustained productivity and wage increases through changes in trade patterns and industry output levels. With minor variations, the assumption is used in most applied models of trade agreements.
That means -- by definition -- these CGE models can tell us nothing about the effects of TPP on employment, and assume that no jobs are lost or gained overall. Baker points out another major consequence of this approach:
by design the model assumes that trade balance for the United States is not changed as a result of the TPP. This means that whatever changes we see in exports, according to the model, will be matched by an equal change in imports.
As a result, the predicted boost of $357 billion to US exports thanks to TPP is matched by a balancing boost of $357 billion to imports as well. Baker also offers an explanation of why the CGE model makes its rather surprising view on employment:
In prior decades most economists were comfortable with this sort of full employment assumption since it was widely believed that economies quickly bounced back from recessions or periods of less than full employment. In this view, if a trade agreement led to a larger trade deficit it would soon be offset by lower interest rates, which would provide a boost to investment and consumption.
in the wake of the 2008 crash, fewer economists now believe that the economy has a natural tendency back to full employment. Many of the world's most prominent economists (e.g. Larry Summers, Paul Krugman, Olivier Blanchard) now accept the idea of "secular stagnation." This means that economies really can suffer from long periods of inadequate demand.
That risk is one key reason why the lack of currency controls in TPP is a big problem:
if one or more of the countries in the TPP began running larger trade surpluses with the United States, and then bought up large amounts of dollars to prevent an adjustment of their currency, there is nothing the United States could do within the terms of the agreement.
Another analysis of TPP comes from a very different quarter: the New Zealand government, as part of the formal process of ratifying the treaty. Even though the document runs to 279 pages (pdf), relatively few of them are devoted to how the modelling results were obtained, and how plausible they might be. The independent team behind a new "expert paper", part of a series exploring many aspects of TPP from a New Zealand viewpoint, was not impressed by what it found there (pdf):
[The writers in the expert group] found that the standard of documentation of the modelling is dreadfully inadequate -- just 20 pages of text in the published report. The authors [of the New Zealand government report] should have chosen, or been asked to present, a much weightier and more detailed account of every facet of the data, assumptions, modelling and results.
Not only is the methodology poorly explained, but the results are underwhelming too. The official predictions of economic gains for New Zealand are summarized as follows by the team of economists:
The government has used modelling to derive estimates of the economic benefit for New Zealand and estimated an increase in real GDP of 0.9% by 2030 or $2.7 billion annually.
The increase is modest. A continuation of currently forecast levels of growth would mean that NZ GDP would be 47% higher by 2030 without TPPA, versus 47.9% with TPPA.
The expert group are even more scathing about the way in which the supposed benefits of removing "non-tariff barriers" (NTBs) have been included:
The government's analysis estimated that reducing NTBs would account for $1.7 billion of the $2.7 billion estimate for gains from the TPPA. The modelling is not specific about the types of NTBs that exist amongst the TPPA countries, aside from the definition that they are 'measures that are discriminatory and are for the purposes of restricting trade'. There is no adequate explanation about which countries maintain these barriers, how they are distinguished from legitimate NonTariff Measures (that are not for the purposes of restricting trade), what proportion of NTBs would be removed, what provisions in the TPPA would remove them or what the risks would be to societies as a result of their removal.
That lack of specificity is a serious problem, because most of the gains from TPP are supposed to come from removing NTBs. Without the details, there's no way of knowing how plausible the assumptions are. In any case, as the economists go on to note rather acidly:
This approach implies that societies maintaining higher levels of protection for social, environmental and health reasons, and a more developed system of business regulation, will generate benefits by removing their regulations. This may be a view held by some neoliberal economists but it is not the view of many other economists, and not supported by evidence.
The appearance of these new studies, together with those that were published before, underlines the fact that, whatever the source, it seems impossible to find any compelling economic justification for signing up to the agreement, since the gains are so pitiful -- and that's without including possible costs, which are never discussed. That this is only now becoming incontrovertible, in the wake of the publication of the TPP text last year, also shows why all the key documents should have been released as they were written in order to allow this kind of in-depth analysis to be conducted and debated as the talks proceeded. Not, as is happening currently, just a few days before the official signing ceremony on February 4 when it's a bit late to do much about it.