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Monday, July 02, 2018


"A few credits short"

by Tom Sullivan

This morning's Guardian, 8:45 a.m. EDT.

To reprise something I wrote in October:

You run into them from time to time: dilettantes with more money than sense who want to "play restaurant." It is something they always wanted to do. They like eating out. They enjoy the experience of dining in a fine restaurant. With their years of eating experience, they just know they could do it better themselves. Now that they have some change to spare, they decide to open their own restaurant. They won't make the mistakes others make, no. Their restaurant will be everything they always imagined. Everything will be "just so" — the food, the ambiance, the service. They will get to play host to all their friends and be the talk of the town.

But running a restaurant is a business, not dress-up. They are bankrupt within 18 months, and probably sooner.

Now we have a guy like that playing president. He tried and failed at running casinos. Now he is giving being leader of the free world a go. He always wanted to be leader of the free world. How hard can it be?
Gosh. Well, harder than you might think, actually.

In an essay for CNN over the weekend, Michael D'Antonio reviews the trade war the dress-up president started. He may brag he attended the Wharton School, but it was as an undergrad. You don't need that data point to know "he's a few credits short of an advanced understanding of economics." D'Antonio writes:
With his sudden announcement of tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum, Trump acted on his decades-old belief that other countries take advantage of the United States in trade because prior presidents were weak leaders. He bypassed the kind of careful study that those same cautious presidents devoted to policy and confirmed that he is an abjectly poor student of economics.

Did Trump know that the world has changed in the last few decades when he made comments about the automotive industry that would have made sense in the 1980s? When considering a tariff on steel and aluminum, did he consider how prices would be affected by higher manufacturing costs incurred by US firms using these materials? Did he have a sense of how many jobs could be lost if these costs were to make manufacturing certain products in the United States an impracticality?
Not that the dress-up president listens to anything but his famous gut, Wilbur Ross and Peter Navarro, the masterminds behind the president's tariffs, believe trade deficits "subtract" from economic growth, making us losers, one supposes. Trump can't have that.

A draft of a White House bill leaked to Axios is "the equivalent of walking away from the WTO and our commitments there without us actually notifying our withdrawal," said an unidentified source:
Why it matters: The draft legislation is stunning. The bill essentially provides Trump a license to raise U.S. tariffs at will, without congressional consent and international rules be damned.

The details: The bill, titled the "United States Fair and Reciprocal Tariff Act," would give Trump unilateral power to ignore the two most basic principles of the WTO and negotiate one-on-one with any country:
1. The "Most Favored Nation" (MFN) principle that countries can't set different tariff rates for different countries outside of free trade agreements;

2. "Bound tariff rates" — the tariff ceilings that each WTO country has already agreed to in previous negotiations.
Its existence has not been confirmed and Congress is not likely to move on it, but the bill has already been dubbed the US FART Act.

Across the pond, Europeans foresee the extinction of the system of trade regulation put in place after World War II.

Director general of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Roberto Azevedo believes if tariffs should climb to levels existing before the founding of the WTO (1995), the world could see a worse recession than the one following the financial collapse of 2008.

But the rich guy playing "leader of the free world" is the talk of the town, so it's all good.

[h/t Guy]

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