Infographic: A Short History of U.S. Trade Wars
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A Short History of U.S. Trade Wars

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A Short History of U.S. Trade Wars

Infographic: A Short History of U.S. Trade Wars

The Chart of the Week is a weekly Visual Capitalist feature on Fridays.

History is full of trade wars.

In the majority of cases, the consequences are mostly economic – trade barriers are enacted, and then retaliatory measures are used to counter. Relations can continue to escalate until an understanding can be reached by both parties.

In the minority of cases, trade wars can lead to world-changing consequences.

You may remember that the Boston Tea Party of 1773 was a bold response to an unfair trade measure imposed by a ruling power, and it proved to be a key catalyst that led to the American Revolution.

Meanwhile, the Opium Wars occurred after the Qing Dynasty (China) tried to prevent British merchants from selling opium to the Chinese in the 1830s. These trade barriers led to armed conflicts, and effectively put the nail in the coffin of the Qing Dyasty – the start of China’s infamous “century of humiliation”.

U.S. Trade Wars

Today’s chart pulls together details on some of the biggest trade conflicts in modern U.S. history.

Here are some of the more interesting U.S. trade wars, and how they compare to the current spat that is evolving with major trade partners:

1. Smoot-Hawley, 1930
Imposed during The Great Depression, the Smoot-Hawley Act is almost universally recognized by economists and economic historians as triggering a trade war that exacerbated the recovery.

2. Chicken Friction, 1963
Factory farming of chicken in the U.S. ended up catching European farmers off guard. French and German authorities responded by imposing tariffs, and the U.S. then taxed imports such as trucks and brandy.

3. Jabs at Japan, 1981
Japan’s mid-century rise led to the country becoming an export powerhouse. As Japanese cars flooded the U.S. market, intense pressure eventually led to the signing of a Voluntary Export Restraint (VER) agreement that limited sales in the United States. During this same timeframe, the two countries also squabbled about other goods like electronics, motorcycles, and semiconductors.

4. War of the Woods, 1982
The Canada-U.S. Softwood Lumber dispute kicked off in 1982, but it inevitably resurfaces in the news every few years.

5. Pasta Spat, 1985
The U.S. was displeased with the level of access for citrus products in Europe, and put a tariff on pasta products. Europe retaliated by taxing walnuts and lemons from the States.

6. Battle of the Bananas, 1993
Another agricultural trade war, the Battle of the Bananas occurred after Europe slapped tariffs on the import of Latin American bananas. Many of these companies, owned by Americans, were not impressed. In response, there were eight separate complaints filed to the World Trade Organization (WTO). They weren’t resolved until 2012.

7. Steel Salvoes, 2002
These were the last major U.S. steel tariffs introduced before the more recent ones. The goal was similar: to revive the steel industry in the country. However, after a period of brief stability, jobs continued to decline. The European Union responded by taxing oranges exported from Florida.

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Technology

Ranked: America’s 20 Biggest Tech Layoffs Since 2020

How bad are the current layoffs in the tech sector? This visual reveals the 20 biggest tech layoffs since the start of the pandemic.

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layoffs in tech

Ranked: America’s 20 Biggest Tech Layoffs This Decade

The events of the last few years could not have been predicted by anyone. From a global pandemic and remote work as the standard, to a subsequent hiring craze, rising inflation, and now, mass layoffs.

Alphabet, Google’s parent company, essentially laid off the equivalent of a small town just weeks ago, letting go of 12,000 people—the biggest layoffs the company has ever seen in its history. Additionally, Amazon and Microsoft have also laid off 10,000 workers each in the last few months, not to mention Meta’s 11,000.

This visual puts the current layoffs in the tech industry in context and ranks the 20 biggest tech layoffs of the 2020s using data from the tracker, Layoffs.fyi.

The Top 20 Layoffs of the 2020s

Since 2020, layoffs in the tech industry have been significant, accelerating in 2022 in particular. Here’s a look at the companies that laid off the most people over the last three years.

RankCompany# Laid Off% of WorkforceAs of
#1Google12,0006%Jan 2023
#2Meta11,00013%Nov 2021
#3Amazon10,0003%Nov 2021
#4Microsoft10,0005%Jan 2023
#5Salesforce8,00010%Jan 2023
#6Amazon8,0002%Jan 2023
#7Uber6,70024%May 2020
#8Cisco4,1005%Nov 2021
#9IBM3,9002%Jan 2023
#10Twitter3,70050%Nov 2021
#11Better.com3,00033%Mar 2022
#12Groupon2,80044%Apr 2020
#13Peloton2,80020%Feb 2022
#14Carvana2,50012%May 2022
#15Katerra2,434100%Jun 2021
#16Zillow2,00025%Nov 2021
#17PayPal2,0007%Jan 2023
#18Airbnb1,90025%May 2020
#19Instacart1,877--Jan 2021
#20Wayfair1,75010%Jan 2023

Layoffs were high in 2020 thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, halting the global economy and forcing staff reductions worldwide. After that, things were steady until the economic uncertainty of last year, which ultimately led to large-scale layoffs in tech—with many of the biggest cuts happening in the past three months.

The Cause of Layoffs

Most workforce slashings are being blamed on the impending recession. Companies are claiming they are forced to cut down the excess of the hiring boom that followed the pandemic.

Additionally, during this hiring craze competition was fierce, resulting in higher salaries for workers, which is now translating in an increased need to trim the fat thanks to the current economic conditions.

layoffs in the tech sector

Of course, the factors leading up to these recent layoffs are more nuanced than simple over-hiring plus recession narrative. In truth, there appears to be a culture shift occurring at many of America’s tech companies. As Rani Molla and Shirin Ghaffary from Recode have astutely pointed out, tech giants really want you to know they’re behaving like scrappy startups again.

Twitter’s highly publicized headcount reduction in late 2022 occurred for reasons beyond just macroeconomic factors. Elon Musk’s goal of doing more with a smaller team seemed to resonate with other founders and executives in Silicon Valley, providing an opening for others in tech space to cut down on labor costs as well. In just one example, Mark Zuckerberg hailed 2023 as the “year of efficiency” for Meta.

Meanwhile, over at Google, 12,000 jobs were put on the chopping block as the company repositions itself to win the AI race. In the words of Google’s own CEO:

“Over the past two years we’ve seen periods of dramatic growth. To match and fuel that growth, we hired for a different economic reality than the one we face today… We have a substantial opportunity in front of us with AI across our products and are prepared to approach it boldly and responsibly.”– Sundar Pichai

The Bigger Picture in the U.S. Job Market

Beyond the tech sector, job openings continue to rise. Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) revealed a total of 11 million job openings across the U.S., an increase of almost 7% month-over-month. This means that for every unemployed worker in America right now there are 1.9 job openings available.

Additionally, hiring increased significantly in January, with employers adding 517,000 jobs. While the BLS did report a decrease in openings in information-based industries, openings are increasing rapidly especially in the food services, retail trade, and construction industries.

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