Working Paper No. 538 | July 2008

The Buffett Plan for Reducing the Trade Deficit

This paper considers a plan proposed by Warren Buffett, whereby importers would be required to obtain certificates proportional to the amount of non-oil goods (and possibly also services) they brought into the country. These certificates would be granted to firms that exported goods, which could then sell certificates to importing firms on an organized market. Starting from a relatively neutral projection of all major variables for the US economy, the authors estimate that the plan would raise the price of imports by approximately 9 percent, quickly reducing the current account deficit to about 2 percent of GDP. They discuss several problems that might arise with the implementation of the Buffett plan, including possible instability in the price of certificates and retaliation by US trade partners. They also consider an alternative version of the plan, in which certificates would be sold at a government auction, rather than granted to exporters. The revenues from certificate sales would then be used to finance a reduction in FICA payroll taxes. The authors report the results of simulations of the alternative plan’s effects on macroeconomic balances and GDP growth. Notably, the alternative plan would lessen the severity of the growth recession expected in our base projection.

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