The infographic above depicts U.S. merchandise imports and exports over the last two years, and uses a graphic resembling an eclipse to emphasize the rapid shrinking of the American economy (full size here). A disc representing 2009 is superimposed over a disc representing 2008 to show how much expenditures on imports such as cars and consumer electronics has decreased from one year to the next. The same technique is applied to exports, indicating the slowing of economic activity at home. And in the end, despite our new austerity, the aggregate total of imports for both years far exceeds the aggregate total of exports, leading to America’s trade imbalance.
But another infographic looking only at 2008 published in The New York Times uses the same eclipse technique to tell a different story about trade (full size here). Rather than measure durable goods, this one looks at services such as travel and education to show that there are significant areas of economic activity in which trade imbalances favor America.
The tale of these two eclipse infographics indicates that the surest way out of the recession will be to develop new forms of economic activity as well as new ways of measuring the health of the economy. Either that, or that the trade imbalance should not be looked at directly, but only through a pinhole in a cardboard box that you put your head inside.