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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

which model predicted a global collapse in the world's social and economic system before the year 2010
Francis Reply
what is the formula of mixed income ?
Sanjum Reply
labor force in.Nigeria is seen as .......?
Aisha Reply
Is demand the same as being in need of a product?
Aphiwe Reply
yeah
Demand is defer from only need of products
Zubairu
need is the primary and main root of demand. but demand is the result of combination of need; income capacity and desire to expend of money for that product.
Ramu
products or services
jax
what is price determination?
Alick Reply
why are imports subtructed when GDP is calculated in the expenditure approach
nati
what is fiscalpolicy
nati Reply
The way of the government expenses and other analysis
Zubairu
It explains government spending and how it helps to direct the economy towards the desired direction. For instance, if the govt of a nation is desirous of achieving economic growth and development, then the govt will adopt an expansionary fiscal policy which imply more spending by the govt.
Sunday
and politics party important
mujtaba Reply
politics party important
mujtaba
Which party is that
Zubairu
persons who stopped searching for jobs but would accept if the opportunity presents itself
Torissa Reply
persons who are unemployed whether they are underage, retired or incapacitated
Torissa
the us economy is best characterized as?
Shekeriah
what is the impact of fiscal policy in the short and long run in the AD/AS model...
Hydrammeh Reply
What is demand
Mohd Reply
Demand is the desire for a commodity backed by the willingness and the purchasing power too.
Ajay
what is the impact of the higher tax rate on the business and the economy at large..?
Hydrammeh Reply
aggregate demand decreases and GDP decreases in the long run prices will decrease because aggregate supply will shift to the right and increase
Murabit
Thanks, Murabit
Hydrammeh
But still I will need more explanation
Hydrammeh
no problem tax rate is a form of fiscal policy so any time the government changes spending or taxes it will directly affect the economy
Murabit
but remember that there at different economic views on fiscal policy there is classical,Keynesian and moneterism
Murabit
if taxes increase aggregate demand decreases causing a fall in prices causing a fall in the money demand lowering interest rate and increasing investment spending in turn increasing prices
Murabit
thanks so much Murabit
Hydrammeh
what are the policy recommendations for impact of government borrowing?
Baisiro Reply
how can I get Utility notes here
Tabea Reply
I also want to know
konglan
I have them
Alick
money and money supply
Yogesh Reply
money is anything that is generally accepted as payment of goods and services or that is accepted in settlement of debt.
Rakgadi
Money supply?
Rakgadi
Money supply is the total value of monetary assets available in an economy at a specific time.
Rakgadi
supply of money:- The total quantity of money in an economy at a point of time......
Ittoo
What is the difference between monetary economy and barter economy?
Rakgadi
monetary economy is simply an economy where money acts as a medium of exchange and barter economy is why where goods acts as a medium of exchange
Ittoo
Thank you Ittoo.
Rakgadi
please cut why.....in last ans
Ittoo
and no need of thanks dear
Ittoo
Don't damend work in inflation
Mishael Reply

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Source:  OpenStax, Macroeconomics. OpenStax CNX. Jun 16, 2014 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11626/1.10
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