When Donald Trump spoke about his economic policy ideas at an aluminum plant in Monessen, Pennsylvania, last week, he came out especially strong on currency manipulation by the Chinese, which was a thorny problem for American trade through much of the 2000s.
While the country was almost certainly manipulating its currency for more than a decade, it's pretty clear by the way the yuan has fluctuated in recent months that China stopped about two years ago, Peterson Institute senior fellow Joseph Gagnon told The Huffington Post.
While Gagnon agrees with Trump that the United States should have done more to call out China when this was going on, he said there's little question the manipulation stopped around 2014.
The key thing to know about currency manipulation is that the value of any currency is always related to the value of another currency. Therefore, a government with access to a ton of resources can devalue its own currency by buying up a bunch of other countries' currencies.
In the case of China, for many years it bought a ton of dollars and dollar-denominated assets, which drove down the price of the Chinese yuan relative to the dollar. Because the yuan was cheap compared to the dollar, this made it more attractive to buy something made in China than something made in America.
While 2000s-era global trade was great for the Chinese economy and lifted millions of Chinese out of poverty, it came at the expense of American workers.
When Chinese exports became a lot cheaper than American exports, obviously more people started to buy the Chinese exports. American manufacturing had an even tougher time competing than it already was having. Factories closed and people lost their jobs.
While the decline of American manufacturing has never been entirely a story of currency manipulation — globalization is complicated, and factory workers throughout Asia are still much cheaper than anywhere in America's Rust Belt — it certainly didn't help. Until recently, even economists didn't realize exactly how bad the problem was.
Basic economics suggests that when people lose their manufacturing jobs, they'll eventually find new ones elsewhere. But recent scholarship on the effects of trade liberalization suggests it is much more complicated than that. Years after losing manufacturing jobs, American workers in places hit the hardest by outsourcing are still seeing low wages and high unemployment.
Thus, even if railing against Chinese currency manipulation is technically out of date, it might not matter, because its effects are still being felt by the voters that Trump is courting. And they may feel like someone is finally listening.
"The voters that were on the front lines of China dislocation were ahead of Washington," said Jennifer Harris, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. "A lot of it had to do with currency in China before Washington really caught up."
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar,rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist