In one of his many applause lines at Wednesday night’s State of the Union address, President Obama emphasized the importance of American exports: “Tonight, we set a new goal,” he said, “We will double our exports over the next five years, an increase that will support two million jobs in America.” It’s no surprise that people cheered; what’s not to like? There’s just one problem: Growing exports is almost entirely out of the president’s — and even business’s — hands.
It’s not that the growth he’s calling for is impossible. Since 1960, the U.S. has seen two periods of fast, sustained growth. From 1970 to 1975, exports more than doubled, going from $56.6 billion to $132 billion. Then from 1976 to 1981, they doubled yet again, from $142.7 billion to $294.4.
More recently, the U.S. saw a 68% surge in exports between 2002 and 2007 to $1.1 trillion. (The latest figure for goods exported: $1.3 trillion.) Much of the more recent growth came from the meteoric rise of countries like China and India. The United States’ chief exports — sophisticated manufacturing items like planes and semiconductors — benefited from the countries’ need to rebuild (or, in many cases, to just build) nationwide infrastructures.
Read More: – by Jia Lynn Yang, Fortune