Friday, June 08, 2018

Winning Bigly In The Trade Wars?

I love Catherine Rampell's take on the trade wars Trump started.  She explains in very simple terms what is new about Trump's tariffs, and what the likely consequences for the US will be:  Mostly negative.

That is because the other countries are not led by narcissistic simpletons.  When they decided on their first counter-attack in this war Trump began, they chose to put tariffs on only those US products which they can easily buy from other countries than the US (which keeps the suffering of their own consumers and industries low), AND they chose to put tariffs on products which are more likely to hurt Trump's base (items such as Kentucky bourbon, Iowa-farmed pork and Ohio-made washing machines).

In terms of the potential effects on the US, Rampell gives us these estimates:

A report released this week by the Trade Partnership, a consulting and research firm, estimated that the ratio of jobs lost to jobs gained from Trump’s trade actions will be about 16 to 1: 26,280 steel and aluminum jobs gained, compared with 432,747 jobs eliminated throughout the rest of the economy.
But not to worry!  Things have never been this great under any other president!  That the current strong labor markets are due to Obama's policies (as these things work with a time lag) will be ignored by all, though the slump which now will follow from the trade wars is probably going to be attributed to Obama among the right-wingers.*

I managed to write nicely until that last paragraph.  There I failed, because I read about Trump's temper tantrums.  He doesn't want to go to the G7 meeting, because the other kids were mean to him, and narcissists cannot take that. 

Indeed, he plans to leave before the discussion would turn to climate change and the environment.   How dare the other six leaders be angry at Trump for breaking the liberal Western alliance and endangering the environment!

Well, there will probably be the G6 in the future**, with Angela Merkel leading it.

* In this odd tribal era with its strong racist tinge, everything that Obama achieved must be dismantled. 

Hence the court case by several states concerning "Obamacare" (ACA), which may well remove the protections ACA has provided to individuals with pre-existing conditions. 

Before the ACA, insurers in the individual markets could turn people down if they were deemed too expensive to insure, or charge them much more for any policy. 

And this is a likely outcome from the court case by several Republican-led states:

The Trump administration won't defend central provisions of the Affordable Care Act, saying in a legal filing Thursday night that key parts of the Affordable Care Act should be invalidated and that the individual mandate is unconstitutional.
The filing came in a lawsuit brought by the state of Texas and a coalition of other Republican-led states who have filed suit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas challenging the constitutionally of the Affordable Care Act. The states argue that after Congress eliminated the penalty for the individual mandate last year, effective in 2019, it destabilized other sections of the law.
"In its filing the DOJ said that it agrees with Texas that the individual mandate is now unconstitutional and therefore it will not defend key provisions of the law in the suit," said Timothy Jost, of Washington and Lee University School of Law.
The provisions DOJ says should be invalidated are central to the ACA and would gut protections for those with pre-existing conditions.

Got it?  The Trump administration first removes the individual mandate, then agrees that without the individual mandate ACA cannot work.   We can all now rejoice, for the horrible burden of having almost all the citizens in the country with access to health care will now be taken off our backs!  Should that back later break, however, we are on our own.

** This is not to be read as general support for the kind oligarchic political power relationships which currently prevail in international politics.  But all Trump is offering is chaos.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Worrying About the Online World And Democracy

1.  In May Timothy Snider wrote an opinion piece on the return of fascism in the Washington PostHe argues that the Internet has not spread freedom around the world but rather its opposite:

According to Freedom House, every year since 2005 has seen a retreat in democracy and an advance of authoritarianism. The year 2017, when the Internet reached more than half the world’s population, was marked by Freedom House as particularly disastrous. Young people who came of age with the Internet care less about democracy and are more sympathetic to authoritarianism than any other generation.
As usual, correlation does not prove causality.  But it's certainly true that the serious harms of the Internet have not yet been addressed.

Monday, June 04, 2018

Suffer The Little Children

Jeremy Stahl has written on the Trump administration's policy of separating asylum-seeking parents from their children at the US border.  The administration argues that there is no such formal policy, but a pair of speeches last month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions seemed to herald the launch of a formal policy, calling it a “zero-tolerance” immigration measure. “If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally,” Sessions said. “It’s not our fault that somebody does that.” Kelly, now Trump’s chief of staff, stated again last month in an interview with NPR that the purpose of “family separation” is deterrence. “The name of the game to a large degree … a big name of the game is deterrence,” he said.
The current secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, did not provide a direct answer when asked by NPR if “family separation at the border … [was] meant to act as a deterrent,” explaining that it’s very common for adults to get separated from their children when they commit crimes. In testimony before Congress in April, Nielsen said, “When we separate, we separate because the law tells us to, and that is in the interest of the child.
Bolds are mine.

In the interest of the child?  Note that whether the parents trying to enter the United States without the necessary visas are viewed as criminals or not, the children certainly cannot be so regarded.  Yet this policy is designed to cause most damage to the children, not to their parents (however much they may also suffer).

This is because childhood abandonment must be one of the very worst experiences any child can have, and even more so if the child is forcibly wrenched from the parent.   What are the long-run psychological consequences of being abandoned in such a brutal way?  Even if the families are later reunited, the wound will be there and may not heal.

The headline of Stahl's article calls this policy "a moral and legal abomination," and that it is.  It applies the greatest punitive impact on those asylum-seekers who are wholly innocent of any wrong-doing:  the children.

It's irrelevant that the policy might have great deterrent power*.  So would shooting everyone without proper papers at all border entry points, and "civilized" countries should not consider such policies.  Authoritarian regimes, of course, might do just that, depending on the whims of the dictator.


*  The true long-term deterrents are a) supporting real democracy and safety in the source countries of the asylum-seekers and migrants and b) actively improving the economies of those countries to reduce poverty.  

Few people trek across vast distances while facing all sorts of dangers just for the chance to experience living in an alien country with a different culture and language.  Most are driven to that because of violence and/or poverty.