Archive for the Category Trump Derangement Syndrome

 
 

Maybe the alt-right is correct

Alt-rightists often argue against large scale immigration from Latin America.  They worry that these immigrants will not share our Anglo-Saxon love of freedom, and will instead support authoritarian, populist demagogues, just as they do at home.

Tyler Cowen presents the results of a recent NPR/PBS poll that measures support for Trump:

African-American approval: 11%

White approval: 40%

Latino approval: 50%

So if I read this correctly, the alt-right is saying that we should not let in Latin American immigrants because once they get to America they might support  . . .  alt-right candidates?

(Do I have to say that I’m joking?)

Meanwhile, Politico reports that:

Across three surveys of eligible voters from 2016 to 2018, we found that as many as half of all Americans do not know that [Trump] was born into a very wealthy family.

So much for the view that Trump’s lies are harmless because people don’t believe him:

Throughout his life, the president has downplayed the role his father, real estate developer Fred Trump, played in his success, claiming it was “limited to a small loan of $1 million.” That isn’t true, of course: A comprehensive New York Times investigation last year estimated that over the course of his lifetime, the younger Trump received more than $413 million in today’s dollars from his father. While this exact figure was not known before the Times’ report, it was a matter of record that by the mid-1980s, Trump had been loaned at least $14 million by his father, was loaned at least $3.5 million more in 1990, had borrowed several more million against his inheritance in the 1990s after many of his ventures failed, and had benefited enormously from his father’s political connections and co-signing on loans early in his career as a builder. . . .

Using a 2017 University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll, we found that believing Trump was not born “very wealthy” leads to at least a 5-percentage-point boost in the president’s job approval, even after considering the many factors that can influence public approval ratings. This shift is rooted in the belief that his humble roots make Trump both more empathetic (he “feels my pain”), and more skilled at business (he is self-made and couldn’t have climbed to such heights without real business know-how).

In retrospect, Hillary ran the wrong campaign.  She should have run non-stop commercials portraying Trump as the spoiled son of a very rich New Yorker, who was given everything he needed in life and has contempt for average Americans.  At the very least, the public would have understood that he was handed great wealth on a silver platter, even if he did add to that wealth.  How much he added is hard to say, as he also lies about his own wealth.

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