It’s The Pacific Stupid!

First, let’s take a quick look at some of the most recent economic data from Asia and then ponder what the repercussions might (and I emphasize MIGHT) be here at home… Could a newly revived US focus on Pacific trade (and embracing Pacific prosperity) offer a partial “escape hatch” our Congress certainly seems incapable of producing? My answer: It’s absolutely an idea worth exploring.

Today’s Seeking Alpha presents two refreshingly positive observations regarding better than expected numbers coming out of Asia’s two largest economies. First, Japan saw its machinery orders – a key indicator when it comes to measuring the durability of that nation’s still tenuous resurgence – reach their highest level since 2008. Economists had predicted August orders to increase by a relatively modest 2.8%. The actual number – 5.4% – must have been especially welcome news for the current Shinzo Abe government that has stubbornly pursued an unusually aggressive strategy of attempting to reverse economic malaise and lingering post-Tsunami trauma by directly stimulating corporate capital expenditures. Japan obviously still has a long way to go (and continues to face significant downside pressures, largely due to weakened demand in the US and EU), but today’s report (nearly doubling the consensus figure) is unquestionably a positive sign.

As for China, Premier Li Kequiang announced his nation’s GDP growth for the first nine months of 2013 is likely to be as high as 7.5 – 7.8% – still a significant departure from the boom years, but perhaps the first real evidence we’ve seen that feared crises such as an exploding Chinese real estate bubble, shrinking exports and concerns regarding corruption (public and private) may have at least been somewhat exaggerated. If China is able to expand somewhere in the range Li views as probable, the world’s second largest economic powerhouse will be able to continue enlarging its middle class at a time when Europe and the US desperately need new consumers and can’t currently abide to be weighed down by a less efficient (read: much more expensive) Chinese commerce/transportation network for everything from IPhones to automobiles.

Point number two: The debt ceiling crisis still swings over our markets (and collective futures) like a pendulum of doom; the US government remains shut down; our own GDP growth hasn’t come close to rebounding from 2008; and we’ve done nothing to deal with long-term structural deficits, to repair our rapidly aging infrastructure or to meaningfully bring down unemployment. Put bluntly, these are not small problems. Should we acthally hit default and see a massive interest rate spike, all bets are off…

So is there any room left for optimism? I beleve a Pacific focus isn’t a true game-changer but could at least be real light in the dark.  Obviously, China and Japan remain competitor nations but this is one instance where I personally believe it makes sense to be rooting for their success. Bill Clinton was 100% correct back in the early 1990s when he refused to yield on his “recovery through trade” agenda – a set of policy departures (like NAFTA) that ultimately helped turn decades of deficits into balanced budgets and actual surpluses. If we manage our trans-Pacific relationships (include South Korea and emerging economies too…) more intelligently (meaning real trade liberalization – something some powerful interests will surely oppose) it may just offer the United States one last chance to emerge from this dark period of governmental dysfunction and financial distress – even despite our elected representatives’ best efforts to do everything wrong.

Next on the list: IMMIGRATION…

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