"The benefit of the trade deficit is that it allows the United States to spend now beyond current income. In recent years that spending has largely been for investment in productive capital. The cost of the trade deficit is a deterioration of the U.S. investment-income balance, as the payment on what the United States has borrowed from foreigners grows with its rising indebtedness. Borrowing from abroad allows the United States to live better today, but the payback must mean some decrement to the rate of advance of U.S. living standards in the future. U.S. trade deficits do not now substantially raise the risk of economic instability, but they do impose burdens on trade sensitive sectors of the economy. Policy action to reduce the overall trade deficit is problematic. Standard trade policy tools (e.g., tariffs, quotas, and subsidies) do not work. Macroeconomic policy tools can work, but recent and prospective government budget deficits will reduce domestic saving and most likely tend to increase the trade deficit. Most economists believe that, in time, the trade deficit will most likely correct itself, without crisis, under the pressures of normal market forces. But the risk of a more calamitous outcome can not be completely discounted. This report will be updated annually."
CRS Report for Congress, RL31032
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