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Expand chart
Data: U.S. Census Bureau; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The United States' trade deficit with China is by far the biggest of any country and is a central reason for the ongoing trade war.

The big picture: President Trump is obsessed with the trade deficit — it's often the only number he requests and the only number he mentions. But the vast majority of economists agree the number is a misleading indicator of whether the U.S. is getting the better of any trade deal.

Three big reasons why economists say deficits don't matter...

  1. Trade balances are dictated by macroeconomic factors — namely how much a given country saves versus invests — rather than trade policy. So trade experts say there's no point in using deficits as a scorecard.
    1. Americans are big spenders, while the Chinese and the Germans save.
  2. China's economy is experiencing export-led growth, while the U.S. has a consumer-driven economy. There's surging consumer demand for exports in the U.S., so the country has trade deficits with exporting nations.
  3. The U.S. is an attractive investment destination for countries all over the world, and that also piles onto trade deficits.

The other side ... Trump isn't alone. Jared Bernstein, who was chief economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, and Dean Baker, co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, wrote for The Atlantic just after Trump's election, in "Why Trade Deficits Matter":

  • "Trade deficits, even in times of strong growth, have negative, concentrated impacts on the quantity and quality of jobs in parts of the country where manufacturing employment diminishes."

Be smart: The Wall Street Journal's Greg Ip, reflecting mainstream economists and journalists, writes that trade deficits are an oversimplified and "deeply flawed gauge of trade behavior that could lead the U.S. to pick the wrong fights."

Original story... By the numbers: Cracking the U.S.'s massive trade deficits

Go deeper

Trump can't quit mainstream media

Bob Woodward and Robert Costa are interviewed by Chuck Todd on "Meet the Press" in September. Photo: William B. Plowman/NBC via Getty Images

Bob Woodward and Robert Costa issued a rebuttal on Friday to a statement by former President Donald Trump that misrepresented their reporting — and once again showed the 45th president's thin skin about mainstream media.

Driving the news: "Former President Trump said ... our book, 'Peril,' implied that he was planning to go to war with China," the statement begins. "[W]e report that Chairman of Joint Chiefs Mark Milley 'believed that Trump did not want a war' before or after the 2020 election."

NY declares state of emergency amid concerns over Omicron COVID variant

Governor Kathy Hochul makes an announcement about a new plan transforming Penn Station on Nov. 3, 2021. Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday declared a state of emergency amid rising COVID-19 cases and the newly-identified Omicron variant of the virus.

Driving the news: The declaration enables the state to acquire supplies to fight a potential surge in cases, increase hospital capacity and combat potential staff shortages, NBC's local affiliate reports.

3 hours ago - Health

First cases of COVID-19 Omicron variant discovered in U.K.

People wearing masks walk in London on Nov. 25. Photo: Li Ying/Xinhua via Getty Images

Two cases of the new COVID-19 Omicron variant were detected in the United Kingdom overnight, the U.K. Health Security Agency announced Saturday.

Why it matters: The discovery comes as the world scrambles to respond to concerns over the new variant, discovered in South Africa earlier this week.