Obama’s Modest Export Promise

I was a bit taken aback by Barack Obama’s bold declaration about the future course of US exports in the State of the Union. Daniel Drezner felt the same way:

“We will double our exports over the next five years…” Well, the President said this would happen, so it must be so!! I would humbly request that the president also decree that the pull of gravity be cut in half. The government has an equal chance of making that happen.

But rather than an absurd overpromise, I think this may actually be a weak target. In 2003, we exported $1 trillion worth of goods and services. Five years later it was 2008 and we exported $1.8 trillion worth of goods and services. Then came the recession and exports tumbled. So if we return to the pre-recession trend, we should be able to achieve a five year doubling even if we don’t make any progress in redressing global imbalances.

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In other words, it’s a completely plausible promise as long as you let Obama count in nominal dollars. At the same time, that makes it a pretty cheap stunt, a bit unworthy of a president whose best moments have always come when he’s treated the American people like grown-ups.