Archive for the Category Trump Derangement Syndrome

 
 

Those inscrutable occidentals

Put yourself in the position of the Chinese leadership, trying to figure out the goals of Western policymakers, particular the Americans. Recall that last spring we negotiated a trade agreement with China, and then changed our mind.  What do those Westerners actually want from us?

For years the West has complained about the massive Chinese current account surpluses, which peaked at about 10% of GDP.  This year China’s surplus is expected to be 0.5% of GDP, the most nearly balanced of any major economy.  Only Belgium will be closer to “perfection”, if that’s how you look at a current account of zero.

Is the West happy?  Not at all.  Two new complaints have arisen.  First, China continues to run a large surplus in the trade in manufactured goods:

Many analysts doubt that most trading partners will be persuaded by Beijing’s rhetoric or by the declining current account surplus. While commodity exporters and tourist destinations have increased sales to China, displaced manufacturing workers who have fuelled support for Mr Trump and other populist leaders have not seen much benefit.

“Workers in the manufacturing sector around the world do not have much reason to be impressed by China’s rebalancing, since it hasn’t helped them in the aggregate,” said Brad Setser, senior fellow for international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations.

And second, many foreign policy hawks are now saying that the rise in China is itself a bad thing.  We need a “new cold war” aimed at slowing China’s rise.  So if those are your two policy concerns, what is the single most disastrous action that China could take?  Here’s a FT piece discussing the recent trade war truce:

Complicating matters further were different interpretations of the deal emerging on Saturday night from the two capitals.

China raised the prospect that the tariffs could be eliminated entirely after the new round of talks, which the US did not highlight. Beijing did not mention the 90-day deadline for the negotiations, or the possibility that the tariff escalation could return if no agreement was reached. China was also much less detailed on the purchases of American goods it was committing to.

However the optimistic tone struck by the two leaders in Buenos Aires suggested a willingness to strike a deal.

If China liberalized its economy then it would grow even faster.  That should be really bad news for the Cold War crowd, those who fear the increasing military strength of China.  In addition, a liberalized China would buy even more commodities, services and high tech goods, and export even more of the manufactured goods that are adversely impacting America’s Rustbelt.  So is this what the Trump Administration wants?  More Chinese liberalization?  Or would they prefer that China go back to the Maoist era when they were a threat to neither the US military nor to America’s blue-collar workers?  Search me.

As for the protectionists who are looking to Trump as their savior, good luck with that:

There were already some signs of a backlash to the truce from some of Mr Trump’s supporters most hostile to China.

“Is #Trump making a huge mistake? The devil is in the details! But I’d be lying if I didn’t say at first glance this is very disappointing,” wrote Dan DiMicco, a steel executive who led Mr Trump’s trade unit during the presidential transition. “I don’t agree but I defer to the president.”

Defer to the president? DiMicco might want to consider what happened to those who worried about the South Korean Free Trade agreement and “deferred to the president” to renegotiate it.  Or those who trusted Trump to re-negotiate NAFTA.  Or those who trusted him to strike a deal with EU President Juncker.  Or those who trusted him to negotiate with North Korea.  Or those who trusted him to lobby Congress to get rid of Obamacare.  Or those who trusted him to get Congress to build a border wall.

I’m actually not all that upset that’s there’s no there there.  When it comes to protectionism, incoherence and incompetence are something to be welcomed.  But I do feel for the Chinese leadership, trying to figure out whether the US wants China to be like the US, or whether the US believes the world’s only big enough for one United States of America.

I sometimes wonder if Trump is a secret fan of Mao, worried that rapacious capitalists residing in the world’s largest economy are exploiting Latin American countries:

At times, Mr Bolsonaro’s gripes echoed those of the Trump administration, far to the north. In October Mike Pompeo, the American secretary of state, accused Chinese state-owned firms of “predatory economic activity” in the region. Mr Pompeo’s predecessor, Rex Tillerson, had urged Latin Americans to reject “new imperial powers” like China, bent on extracting natural resources while issuing unpayable loans.

Is Noam Chomsky now writing Pompeo’s speeches?

PS.  In many ways the US is becoming more like China.  Consider the Tiananmen event of 1976.  Zhou Enlai had recently died, and there was an enormous outpouring of grief in Tiananmen Square.  Lots of flower wreaths were laid at a statue in the center of the square, for day after day.  This continued for so long that eventually people began to recognize that it was an implicit protest against Mao, and the square was then cleared by the military.  It happened again in 1989, after the death of the lead reformer in the Chinese government, Hu Yaobang.  In a totalitarian society, people are afraid to speak out in protest, and must work through a medium that cannot be criticized—the Catholic Church in communist Poland, Islam in Middle Eastern dictatorships, or the death of a hero in China.

Americans are free to publicly criticize Trump, unless they are Republican Party officials.  In that case, they must offer any criticism in the most subtle way possible, which is hard for us occidentals.  Fortunately, some GOP officials have learned from Communist China, and are now offering implicit criticism of Trump via extravagant praise for recently deceased GOP leaders such as McCain and Bush, especially praise focused on exactly those qualities that are lacking in Trump.

PPS.  Speaking of China, the American Cultural Revolution has still not crested.  As in China circa 1966-76, there is still lots of naming, shaming, and public confessions, especially if you are born into a privileged group.  Just today I learned that the holiday song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” has been banned from a Cleveland radio station.  With each new form of idiocy, I naively think it can’t get any worse.  I recall thinking the Yale Halloween fiasco was the peak.  I’d be interested in the views of commenters—predict the year of “peak idiocy” in the current wave of political correctness.  I say two years into the administration immediately following Trump.

Did he really say that?

It’s hard to keep up with the President’s logic, but this has me especially confused:

President Trump on Wednesday again sought to turn the nation’s attention to his hard-line stance on immigration ahead of next week’s midterm elections, claiming that birthright citizenship is not covered by the U.S. Constitution and vowing the issue will ultimately be settled by the Supreme Court.

“So-called Birthright Citizenship, which costs our Country billions of dollars and is very unfair to our citizens, will be ended one way or the other,” Trump tweeted.

The concept of birthright citizenship, which grants citizenship to everyone born in the United States, is guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. It reads: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.” . . .

“It is not covered by the 14th Amendment because of the words ‘subject to the jurisdiction thereof,’” the president said, adding that “many legal scholars agree” with him. Most legal experts disagree, interpreting the clause narrowly, to exclude, for example, the families of foreign diplomats residing in the United States.

Is the President saying that children born in the US to non-residents are not subject to the jurisdiction of the US?  If not, what is he saying?  And if the answer is yes, isn’t that pretty shocking?  Do these kids really have immunity to our laws?  I know, we are long past being shocked . . . but still.

BTW, have you noticed how conservatives interpret the Constitution:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.

Both really confusing. Right?

I’m sure we can trust Brett Kavanaugh to figure it all out.

Fed bashing

I’ve tried to avoid commenting on Trump’s Fed bashing, as I don’t wish to insult my reader’s intelligence.  But the media reports that Trump is now bashing the Fed on an almost daily basis, in order to have a fall guy in case the economy turns south.  So I suppose I must say something:

1.  In the real world, presidents don’t get to excuse policy failures by pointing to the mistakes of government officials that they themselves appointed.  But of course we no longer live in the real world; we live in TrumpWorld, where it is rhetoric, not reality, that matters.  (If you want a good laugh, read a serious media report (say the NYT) where they go out and interview Trump voters who explain why they are thrilled with Trump’s performance.  Great accomplishments like the peace deal with North Korea.)

2.  OK, enough Trump bashing.  What about the substance of his complaint?  Here I’d say he’s very likely wrong, but not obviously crazy.  The indicators I look at (NGDP, inflation, unemployment, etc.) do not indicate that money is too tight, but there’s at least a small possibility that we still don’t have a credible 2% PCE inflation rate going forward.  It’s at least debatable.

3.  If you talk to the average economist, point #2 is what they’d complain about.  Most economists don’t see money as being too tight.  But the real problem is elsewhere; Trump assumes that interest rates represent the stance of monetary policy.  Even worse, he thinks that low rates mean easy money.  Other economists are less likely to ridicule Trump for this error, as many economists are similarly confused.

The Fed influences the economy in many ways.  One method is by adjusting the policy interest rate (fed funds or IOR).  A far more important way is by affecting the natural rate of interest.  Thus the Fed sharply reduced the natural rate in 2008, while only gradually reducing the policy rate.  To the average economist (and to Trump) the Fed was “easing” monetary policy.  In fact, because the natural rate was falling even faster than the policy rate, they were tightening policy.

How does the Fed affect the natural rate of interest?  By shifting the expected NGDP growth rate (and also the level of NGDP relative to trend.)  A tight money  policy (such as late 2007 through 2008) will reduce NGDP growth expectations, and this reduces the natural rate of interest. That’s what Trump doesn’t understand, but it’s also what lots of economists don’t understand. Even the smarter economists, the one’s that understand it’s the gap between the policy rate and the natural rate that matters, often think that the natural rate is falling due to external “shocks”, not bad Fed policy.

So by all means ridicule Trump for the insanity of excusing potential policy failures by pointing to the mistakes of his own appointees, but don’t bash him for making the same mistake that many economists make.  Instead, it’s the economists that deserve ridicule.

File under “All knowledge is provisional”

We used to think that the shape of a man’s skull correlates with his character.

Then we discovered that that’s actually not true; phrenology is fake science.

Then we discovered that the shape of a man’s skull actually does correlate with his character:

The new Caltech study is the first to show that observers have a knack for picking out corrupt politicians based on just a portrait and that observers perceive politicians with wider faces as more corruptible.

All knowledge is provisional.  As Richard Rorty observed, truth is that which we regard as true.

Of course no good blog post is complete until it includes an appropriate picture:

Screen Shot 2018-10-10 at 1.07.29 PMPS.  How about me? I think I’m a bit more corrupt than Obama, but less corrupt than Trump, but it’s hard to judge one’s own face.  Any thoughts?

PPS:  Yikes!

PPPS:  Lighten up everyone, this entire post is meant to be a joke.  I know that the correlation is quite small and only shows up with large data sets.

HT:  Scott Alexander

One remaining man of principle

It’s hard not to be dismayed went you look at what’s happened to society.  We now live in a country where almost everyone, including those in the elite media, has a view of reality that is completely shaped by their politics.  Thus whether people believe decades-old accusations of sexual assault depends almost entirely on the relationship between the political party of the observer and the political party of the accused.  There are days when I wonder if we wouldn’t all be better off if a giant asteroid hit Earth and put us out of our hypocrisy, er, misery.

But then I recall that there is one moral giant with a long and consistent record on sexual assault, regardless of the politics of the accused.  I speak, of course, of Donald Trump:

Days after President Clinton admitted to having an inappropriate relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, Trump said Clinton was a “victim” and critiqued the physical appearances of various women with whom Clinton had been accused of having extramarital relations at different times.

“It’s like it’s from hell, it’s a terrible group of people,” Trump said in an interview with FOX News’ Neil Cavuto on Aug. 19, 1998. . . .

“I don’t know if that’s a good thing in terms of what Starr has done or a terrible thing, I think it’s a terrible thing, actually,” Trump added, presumably referring to the former Whitewater independent counsel who expanded his investigation into the Lewinsky affair.

As far as his personal opinion of Clinton, Trump gave Clinton a strong rating.

My only quibble is that when Trump discussed Starr’s persecution of Clinton, he left out his sidekick, Brett Kavanaugh.  Today, Trump continues to relentlessly defend any and all men accused of sexual misconduct; Rob Porter, Roger Ailes, Roy Moore, Bill O’Reilly and one other name I can’t recall.

Unlike 99% of Americans, he doesn’t let politics affect his moral compass, which never deviates from his core beliefs:

Trump: And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.

Trump: Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.

But Trump doesn’t stop there, he also understands the need for America’s President to mock and shame women who come forth with accusations of sexual abuse:

Playing to the crowd of thousands gathered to cheer him on, the president pretended to be Dr. Blasey testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday. “Thirty-six years ago this happened. I had one beer, right? I had one beer,” said Mr. Trump, channeling his version of Dr. Blasey. He then imitated one of her questioners, followed by her responses about what she could not recall about the alleged attack.

“How did you get home? I don’t remember. How’d you get home? I don’t remember. Where was the place? I don’t remember. How many years ago was it? I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know,” Mr. Trump said, as the crowd applauded. “I don’t know — but I had one beer. That’s the only thing I remember.”

Trump and his crowd of supporters must have had so much fun!  But there’s also a serious side to Trump; he understands the suffering endured by so many  . . .  er, people:

Asked if he had a message to men, the president said: “Well, I say that it’s a very scary time for young men in America when you can be guilty of something that you may not be guilty of. This is a very, very — this is a very difficult time.” . . .

Asked if he had a message for young women, he said, “Women are doing great.”

(BTW, I want to reassure readers that I’m doing OK, despite being male.)

Trump has also reached out to foreign leaders who share his moral principles, like Philippine President Duterte:

Mr Duterte once joked about the gang rape and murder of an Australian missionary, suggesting that, because he was mayor of the town it took place in, he should have been allowed to go first. (US president Donald Trump has since said that he has a “great relationship” with the Filipino leader.)

In contrast to Obama, who preferred polite, wimpy leaders like Merkel and Trudeau, Trump likes tough guys like Italy’s Salvini:

Mr Salvini, Italy’s deputy prime minister and a Trump admirer, has also taunted female politicians. In 2016, at a political rally, he pointed to a sex doll on the stage and claimed that it was a “double” of Laura Boldrini, who was then president of Italy’s Chamber of Deputies. In a recent interview with Politico, Ms Boldrini said that she has received numerous rape and death threats in recent years, adding that Italy’s populists had targeted her because “I was a woman and I was advocating for refugees, for human rights, for women’s rights”.

And of course Putin:

Vladimir Putin’s international image was tainted today after it emerged he had let slip another of his infamous remarks – this time praising the president of Israel for alleged sex offences.”He turned out to be a strong man, raped 10 women,” the Russian president was quoted by Russian media as saying at a meeting in Moscow with Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert. “I never would have expected it of him. He has surprised us all, we all envy him!”

Israeli police announced on Sunday that the president, Moshe Katsav, could be charged with the rape and sexual harassment of several women.

Soon, Trump will be joined by a fellow traveller in Brazil:

Mr Bolsonaro has exploited their fury brilliantly. Until the Lava Jato scandals, he was an undistinguished seven-term congressman from the state of Rio de Janeiro. He has a long history of being grossly offensive. He said he would not rape a congresswoman because she was “very ugly”; he said he would prefer a dead son to a gay one; and he suggested that people who live in settlements founded by escaped slaves are fat and lazy. Suddenly that willingness to break taboos is being taken as evidence that he is different from the political hacks in the capital city, Brasília.

It’s so refreshing that politicians are now able to ignore taboos against racism and rape jokes.

PS.  Do I have to say the preceding was a pathetic attempt at satire?  I suppose so. If you want some seriously good satire, read Will Wilkinson’s set of tweets on Trump as a Shakespearean figure—it’s great.  If you don’t understand the context, you may need to look at the NYT’s recent demolition of Trump’s entire business career.  Yes, it was also built on a pack of lies and fraud, plus frequent bailouts from daddy.  I know; how can you demolish a reputation that is already a mere pile of rubble?

PPS.  And let’s not forget the National Review, who seems to think the biggest problem with the GOP is Jeff Flake.  Or CNN News, which never met a female accuser they did not believe.  Or the “trendy” parts of the academy, which was again discredited in an hilarious update of the Sokal Hoax.

I feel I’m overdosing on cynicism.  I need some sort of medication to deal with those 6-hour lulls in the news cycle where nothing Onion-level insane happens in the world.  Perhaps if I go kayaking in New Zealand and get slapped in the face by an octopus wielding seal, it will shake me out of my ennui.