The American war on China just jumped the shark.

Here’s the New York Times:

For nearly a year, the Bureau of Industry and Security, a division in the Commerce Department, has been working to identify emerging technologies that, if shared, could pose a security threat to the United States. 

The restrictions aim to head off new security threats. For instance, 3D printers could create weapons on the battlefield, making it unnecessary to ship arms. Artificial intelligence can decode encryptions that previously could not be cracked. Robots could provide surveillance from space, while organelles could build tissue for soldiers injured in war.

AI I can sort of understand (although I do not agree with an export ban.) But do I even have to explain how utterly insane the rest of that is? If we have a war with China its outcome will not depend on whether or not China has “robots” in space (they already have spy satellites), or whether the Chinese have 3D printers on the battlefield. Which battlefield? Taiwan? And medical advances are now a security threat because they can treat injured soldiers? Is this an Onion parody?

Of course none of this will work:

Past efforts to regulate technologies provide a cautionary tale. In the late 1990s, the United States placed tight restrictions on exporting satellite technology in an effort to protect an industry deemed vital to national security.

The effort backfired. Wary of restrictions that could cripple their ability to ship products overseas, companies like Boeing, Maxar Technologies and Lockheed Martin moved satellite manufacturing overseas. According to a report by the Commerce Department, companies said the controls eroded American competitiveness in the industry and led to $1 billion to $2 billion of lost opportunities from 2009 to 2012.

PS. The lunacy in DC gets worse every day. Soon after the Trump chief of staff announced to a stunned press conference that there was indeed a “quid pro quo” (as if anyone who wasn’t moron didn’t already know that), the claim was confirmed by Bill Tayler, a radical left-wing extremist picked by Mike Pompeo. And after all of that, the Trump administration has gone back to denying any quid pro quo. Huh?

We’ve always known that Trump believes that laws only apply to little people, but it’s still nice to get him on record:

“I’m in charge of the Hatch Act,” Mr Trump reportedly snapped at chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, when he was told that bringing his Cabinet to the rally could raise issues. . . .

The report on Mr Trump’s views towards the Hatch Act come just after Mr Trump mocked the US Constitution’s emoluments clause, which prohibits federal office holders from accepting gifts from foreign sources.

That mocking followed after Mr Trump was forced to choose a different site for the next G7 Summit, after he was condemned for choosing his own resort in Florida for the event.

L’état, c’est moi.



17 Responses to “The American war on China just jumped the shark.”

  1. Gravatar of Daniel R. Grayson Daniel R. Grayson
    23. October 2019 at 11:44

    Re: “Artificial intelligence can decode encryptions that previously could not be cracked.”

    That sounds false to me — it would have been big news when it was discovered.

    Nowadays AI refers to the use of deep neural networks that are programmed by submitting many examples to them so they can learn what to do in similar situations, and decryption often involves factoring a number that is a product of two 300 digit prime numbers. There seems to be no similarity between one factorization problem and another that a neural network could take advantage of to guess the answer.

  2. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    23. October 2019 at 12:45

    You may be right; that’s beyond my pay scale.

  3. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    23. October 2019 at 13:49

    There was no quid pro quo (not that this excuses Trump’s behavior). Meanwhile, let us remember Biden forced the ouster of a prosecutor investigating the company his son was on the board of and earning half a million a year from.

  4. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    23. October 2019 at 13:51

    Wise, Sumner. Perhaps you can focus on Russia, Iran, North Korea and Venezuela next.

  5. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    23. October 2019 at 15:19

    At one time, the US banned export of “supercomputers.” Then, due to improvements, anyone who bought an iMac was buying a supercomputer.

    That said, it may be good policy to require mainland China to buy a lot more goods from the United States, in exchange for what we buy from them.

  6. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    23. October 2019 at 20:24


    “That said, it may be good policy to require mainland China to buy a lot more goods from the United States, in exchange for what we buy from them.”

    Let me deconstruct that phrase.

    “To require mainland China”. Do you mean the
    a. land (its soil, plants, rivers…) – probably not.
    b. “the” people? If so, then which people specifically?
    c. Chinese companies? If so, which ones specifically?
    d. the Chinese government?

    “to buy a lot more goods”

    OK so now you want to require either b., c. or d. to buy more goods from a specific origin. If b., how do you intend to require individuals to buy more goods of a specific kind? By fiat of law? If c., same story. If d. yes you can have the US government try and persuade the Chinese government to buy some goods – example official soy bean purchases. But for any buyer in China that is not the China government, how do you intend to force these various potential buyers to buy from (I presume) a list of products which now according to you, MUST be bought for no other reason than because you say so?

    “from the United States”

    This seems to imply that either the Chinese government or various other entities in China buy things from the US government. You probably mean they should buy goods from companies inside the US, but how do you determine who’s the lucky company that gets to sell to China? How do you determine who exactly is going to buy these goods from within China? We normally have a mechanism for determining who purchases what from whom at which price, it’s called the market. The market already exists – but obviously you don’t like the outcome of the many small decisions taken by random buyers and sellers, from within China and from within the US. So you would like to replace the market mechanism by some mechanism of forced buying and selling I presume. And I presume you will also have to make a specific price compulsory, just to make sure you get the outcome you like.

    “in exchange for what we buy from them.” Who is “we”? Presumably some (not all) citizens and companies inside the US. These citizens and companies bought goods from companies inside China within a market mechanism, because they thought they needed them and they liked the price. Why should there now be a compulsion for some innocent bystander that had nothing to do with the original basket of trades (a random individual or company inside China), to buy from a catalogue that you present them with, a specific quantity of goods completely unrelated to what these entities themselves believe they would have wanted to buy?

    Basically, you see people trading according to their own perceived needs and decide, no, you can’t have that, let me force you to buy goods you never intended to buy, and I decide who you are going to buy them from. And you’re not doing this to the Chinese government (which doesn’t buy sell or trade as its main concern), you are doing this to some random Chinese people and companies, through a mechanism that I can’t even begin to imagine. Planned production a.k.a. communism, I see how that can be organised (badly), but forced consumption? I don’t think I have a mental model of how this can work. Will every Chinese household receive a list of products they now need to buy? Will the catalogue of sellers and goods from within the US be determined fairly? How will all of that that work? Inquiring mind wants to know.

  7. Gravatar of Jeff Jeff
    24. October 2019 at 03:56

    Daniel Grayson is correct. The nascent technology that may be good at decryption is quantum computing, which I can pronounce but otherwise do not understand.

  8. Gravatar of Jeff Jeff
    24. October 2019 at 03:58

    Trump would not be the first President to start believing the sycophants they all surround themselves with.

  9. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    24. October 2019 at 04:53


    First answer this:

    I realise the government of Singapore is deeply enmeshed into every aspect of the Singapore economy….

    “But the maid salaries are very low and tightly controlled.”

    What does this mean?


    On trade—

    Egads, I am just looking for a way for the US to reduce its current-account trade balance, as advocated by the IMF.

    My position is that there is no such thing as “free,” “fair,” or “foul” international trade—the whole field is so gummed up with government subsidies, strange taxes and rules, and so murky yet vast, that prescribing “free trade” is like bringing an umpire to a WWE match, wrestled in the dark.

    But some nations, likely including China, do heavily subsidize exports, and the line between business and government is thin at best.

    Then there is the problem of “free trade”—-so championed by multinationals—-driving competitive declines in labor share of income and environmental regulations.

    There are other problems, like huge capital inflows into the US (born of gigantic trade deficits) looking for a home—and driving up property prices. But banks are heavily exposed to property. So property busts tend to drag down the banks too. See 2008.

    To maintain this “free trade world order” requires about $1.2 trillion a year in US outlays (Department of Defense, VA, black budget, State Department, pro-rated debt payments).

    The multinationals spend unlimited funds on media, think tanks, foundations, lobby groups, trade groups, social media, academia, and even directly on US political campaigns. I will grant you this: they frame the argument.

    Yeah, I get the “bananas for apples” arguments, and Ricardo, and so on. Those totems are genuflected to in the Temple of Orthodox Macroeconomic Theology.

    I…am losing my faith.

  10. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    24. October 2019 at 05:40

    Benjamin Cole,


    First answer this:

    I realise the government of Singapore is deeply enmeshed into every aspect of the Singapore economy….

    “But the maid salaries are very low and tightly controlled.”

    What does this mean?”

    The reply is in the other thread, where it belongs.

    For the rest of your reply, I disagree, it’s a mixed bag of so many half truths (in my opinion) that I can’t get to the bottom of it. You just happen to believe in a set of things, and no matter what I write, or Scott for that matter, you’ll always find a reply of the sort of “but what about X … the high priests of the orthodoxy just defend the establishment… the elites get richer and ever more arrogant, while the poor get poorer” etc … basically what used to be leftist boilerplate ca. 1945-1989 and which now resurfaces as the new populism like the undead. It reminds me of creationist critiques of “neo-Darwinism”, which is a concept of the 1940’s but which, amazingly, some people still resurface and use as their preferred red herring. I suppose that truly,”Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it” (George Santayana), and drag everyone down with them.

    If I had to summarize my point in a short statement, here it is: Neoliberalism doesn’t have to be perfect. And it isn’t. It only has to be much better than statism (socialism, national socialism, nationalism, whatever). And it is.

  11. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    24. October 2019 at 07:09


    Thanks for your reply on maids.

    In general, I prefer free markets. But then one has to understand structural impediments also.

    Take, for example, the West Coast of the United States (or Hong Kong). People say they like free markets but they also like property zoning and there will always be property zoning. The propertied-financial class has a stake in continued property zoning.

    So, do we make public housing policy as if there are free markets, or do we make public policy assuming that there is extensive and pervasive property zoning?

    Does the US conduct international trade as if there are free markets, or do we conduct international trade recognizing the gigantic structural impediments that exist?

    You can count on property owners oh, those in areas where there is restrictive property zoning, to say they believe in free markets and no rent control.

  12. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    24. October 2019 at 07:49

    Harding, You said:

    “There was no quid pro quo”

    You guys never give up. Even his chief of staff admitted there was a quid pro quo, and then told the press to “get over it”. If Trump shot someone 10 feet in front of your eyes you still wouldn’t believe it.

    mbka, Don’t ever expect Ben to respond in a way that suggests he actually read your reply, and processed the information. It goes in one ear and out the other.

  13. Gravatar of Tom M Tom M
    24. October 2019 at 09:14

    I tried looking through your posts to find your outrage at any Obama quid-pro-quo with foreign nations and could not find any. I might be wrong but where was your outrage when Obama told Medvedev it was important for incoming President Vladimir Putin to “give me space” on missile defense and other difficult issues and that after the 2012 presidential election he would have “more flexibility.” Medvedev said he would “transmit” the message to Putin.

    Sounds more like a quid-pro-quo than Trumps statement…

    If you give me “space” I’ll give you “flexibility”.

  14. Gravatar of Tom M Tom M
    24. October 2019 at 09:19

    It’s all bad- but this is going to look like the Dems going after him for ticky-tac nonsense that happens in international relations all the time.

    Winning issue for Trump. Dems need to clean out their field of candidates or smarten up and get behind Yang.

  15. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    24. October 2019 at 18:16

    “mbka, Don’t ever expect Ben to respond in a way that suggests he actually read your reply, and processed the information. It goes in one ear and out the other.” —Scott Sumner

    I do not think this was a fair comment. I was having a pleasant exchange with mbka, and we we have different viewpoints. mbka has valid views, and so do I.

    I earnestly respond to comments. Although I try to inject humor from time to time.

  16. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    25. October 2019 at 10:24

    Tom, Hard to believe you think that’s a reasonable comparison. Trump withheld hundreds of millions in aid to pressure Ukraine to dig up dirt on a political rival. You think that’s OK???

  17. Gravatar of Tom M Tom M
    28. October 2019 at 05:19


    I think you have to reserve judgment until more information comes out. Which is more likely?

    1) Trump listens to Rudy and company mouthing off about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election. Some of which is undeniably true (working with the Clinton campaign to dig up dirt on Trump and team). Some of which is probably nonsense (Ukrainians hiding Clinton server). There is undeniable corruption going on in Ukrainian politics. Trump wants to look into all of it before signing over the aid- if Joe Biden gets caught up in it great.

    2) Trump is this evil Machiavellian political operator who always knows exactly what he’s doing. This was a well thought out and well created attempt at influencing the 2020 election.

    Optics are bad, I didn’t say it was alright. I’m just saying this just looks like Washington nonsense- the public isn’t going to care. Dems are freaking out because they know the field they have is incredibly weak (so weak Clinton wants to jump back in…). They are praying they find a something in this…

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