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In short, it is quite possible for nations with a relatively low level of trade, expressed as a percentage of GDP, to have relatively large trade deficits. It is also quite possible for nations with a near balance between exports and imports to worry about the consequences of high levels of trade for the economy. It is not inconsistent to believe that a high level of trade is potentially beneficial to an economy, because of the way it allows nations to play to their comparative advantages, and to also be concerned about any macroeconomic instability caused by a long-term pattern of large trade deficits. The following Clear It Up feature discusses how this sort of dynamic played out in Colonial India.

Are trade surpluses always beneficial? considering colonial india.

India was formally under British rule from 1858 to 1947. During that time, India consistently had trade surpluses with Great Britain. Anyone who believes that trade surpluses are a sign of economic strength and dominance while trade deficits are a sign of economic weakness must find this pattern odd, since it would mean that colonial India was successfully dominating and exploiting Great Britain for almost a century—which was not true.

Instead, India’s trade surpluses with Great Britain meant that each year there was an overall flow of financial capital from India to Great Britain. In India, this flow of financial capital was heavily criticized as the “drain,” and eliminating the drain of financial capital was viewed as one of the many reasons why India would benefit from achieving independence.

Final thoughts about trade balances

Trade deficits can be a good or a bad sign for an economy, and trade surpluses can be a good or a bad sign. Even a trade balance of zero—which just means that a nation is neither a net borrower nor lender in the international economy—can be either a good or bad sign. The fundamental economic question is not whether a nation’s economy is borrowing or lending at all, but whether the particular borrowing or lending in the particular economic conditions of that country makes sense.

It is interesting to reflect on how public attitudes toward trade deficits and surpluses might change if we could somehow change the labels that people and the news media affix to them. If a trade deficit was called “attracting foreign financial capital”—which accurately describes what a trade deficit means—then trade deficits might look more attractive. Conversely, if a trade surplus were called “shipping financial capital abroad”—which accurately captures what a trade surplus does—then trade surpluses might look less attractive. Either way, the key to understanding trade balances is to understand the relationships between flows of trade and flows of international payments, and what these relationships imply about the causes, benefits, and risks of different kinds of trade balances. The first step along this journey of understanding is to move beyond knee-jerk reactions to terms like “trade surplus,” “trade balance,” and “trade deficit.”

More than meets the eye in the congo

Now that you see the big picture, you undoubtedly realize that all of the economic choices you make, such as depositing savings or investing in an international mutual fund, do influence the flow of goods and services as well as the flows of money around the world.

You now know that a trade surplus does not necessarily tell us whether an economy is doing well or not. The Democratic Republic of Congo ran a trade surplus in 2013, as we learned in the beginning of the chapter. Yet its current account balance was –$2.8 billion. However, the return of political stability and the rebuilding in the aftermath of the civil war there has meant a flow of investment and financial capital into the country. In this case, a negative current account balance means the country is being rebuilt—and that is a good thing.

Key concepts and summary

There is a difference between the level of a country’s trade and the balance of trade. The level of trade is measured by the percentage of exports out of GDP, or the size of the economy. Small economies that have nearby trading partners and a history of international trade will tend to have higher levels of trade. Larger economies with few nearby trading partners and a limited history of international trade will tend to have lower levels of trade. The level of trade is different from the trade balance. The level of trade depends on a country’s history of trade, its geography, and the size of its economy. A country’s balance of trade is the dollar difference between its exports and imports.

Trade deficits and trade surpluses are not necessarily good or bad—it depends on the circumstances. Even if a country is borrowing, if that money is invested in productivity-boosting investments it can lead to an improvement in long-term economic growth.

Questions & Answers

what are the sources of monopoly power?
Winnerman Reply
the first source, are informations
amine
political power and influence in monetary institutions
Shahul
what is imperfect competition ?
SHAH Reply
the situation in which elements of monopoly ( R&D, EOS and stability of prices etc.) allow individual producers or consumers to exercise some control over market prices
Ghulam
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SHAH
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olaleye Reply
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Ayedun
Micro-economics refers to the branch of economics which deals with smaller unit or element of the economy.
Amadu
or Is the study of individual economic unit in a economy..
Neriel
micro economis is the studay of how Households and firms make decision and they interecr it.
mahad
what is financial intermediaries?
Imran Reply
financial intermediaries are those who are link between borrowers and lenders for.eg bank... Bank is a financial intermediary
Ajit
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Imran
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Ajit
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Ajit
والله العظيم انا ماعاوز اتعلمها
انا باخدها غصب عني في الكليه حضرتك
لس كدااا
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Ajit
what is the law of dimis
Toyin Reply
what is the feature of public ownership of production factors
Toyin
what is the demand for commodity that posses identical utilities called
Toyin
law of diminishing utility...as the quantity consumed of a commodity increases,the utility derived from each successive unit goes on decreasing... condition___ consumption of other commodities remaining the same.
Malik
sorry it's...Law of diminishing marginal utility
Malik
demand for commodities that posses identical utilities? The commodities having identical utilities are perfect substitutes...and the demand for such type of commodities is called "Competitive Demand".
Malik
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Toyin
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Hatimu
what is the function of the central bank in an economic?
Toyin
the central bank may lend some money to banks if necessary
konglan
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Toyin Reply
Is this a question?
Tala
is the study of how societies allocate and manage their scare resources
Neriel
What is populatiin
Azer Reply
Population is a number of people living in a particular area within a particular time
Rabby
Population is the number of people living in a particular geographical area within a particular time
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South
what is demand schedule
Toyin Reply
is a tabular representation of the quantity demanded of a particular product at a particular price over a given period of time
Loveth
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Toyin
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Loveth
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Hassan
What is Monetary Mass
Acha Reply
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jamal Reply
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Suqlain Reply
change in quantity due to change in its price
sj
degree of responsiveness of quantity demanded or supplied due to price.change
Loveth
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RICHARD Reply
Law of demand...keep other things constant when price of commodity increases demand is decreases n price decreases demand increases.
sj
law of supply.. keep other things constant when commodity prices increase supply is also increased n price decreases supply is also decreased.
sj
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RICHARD
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RICHARD
when prices increases causing demand curve to shift to left holding other variables constant.
Amos
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Survival Reply
what is the difference between quantity demand and price
Md
There is an inverse relation between price and the quantity demanded...with the increase in price of a commodity, the demand for the commodity decreases and vice versa..
Malik
professor lionel Robbins define economics as a
ISAAC Reply
as the science that studies human behavior as the relationship between earn and scarce means which has alternative uses
Akon
study of wealth
Suqlain

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Source:  OpenStax, Principles of economics. OpenStax CNX. Sep 19, 2014 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11613/1.11
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