It's a Thrill-a-Minute Uphill Race of the Cripples

Let’s steal a page from Ed Driscoll stealing a page from Kate at Small Dead Animals and juxtapose two WSJ stories. First up, the good news from manufacturing:

The U.S. deficit on trade of manufactured goods in this year’s first half shrank to $225 billion from $227 billion a year earlier, according to data compiled by Ernest Preeg, an economist and trade expert at the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation, an industry-funded research group in Arlington, Va. The improvement, while slight, came after years of ballooning deficits as the U.S. lost manufacturing business to China, South Korea and other nations.

“It’s a hopeful sign,” said Mr. Preeg, who derives his tally of manufactured-goods trade from official U.S. data, leaving out other types of merchandise, such as grain or coal. “At least we’ve leveled off.”

Two billion dollars? That’s practically a rounding error when the figures are in the hundreds of billions. But never mind the hopenchange for now.

One reason we’ve leveled off is that the Far Eastern nations have pretty much hit the wall on manufacturing. There’s only so much stuff the rest of the world can buy — often on credit — which is why Beijing has been trying to shift their growth model from exports to domestic consumer demand. But enough of that. Let’s go to the next story, where we learn that Hugo Chavez’s main beneficiaries are the western producers he deplored:

It isn’t just rice. Production of steel, sugar and many other goods has fallen in Venezuela, leading to occasional shortages. Until recently, Venezuela was largely self-sufficient in beef and coffee. Now it imports both.

In this year’s first half, the U.S. exported $94 million of rice to Venezuela, a 62% jump from a year-earlier, making Venezuela the U.S.’s fourth-largest rice market, according to the Department of Agriculture.

Overall, Venezuelan imports have quadrupled since Mr. Chávez took office, to $59.3 billion in 2012 from about $14.5 billion in 2000.

Never mind for the moment that selling subsistence foods to near-starving Venezuelans is a lousy way for a first world country of hundreds of millions to get rich.

“Comparative advantage” can mean just sucking slightly less than the other guy. “We’re number one!” might not mean as much under those conditions, but it still means something. And these days, I’ll take it.