Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The insidious metaphor of trade as 'war'

Jeff Jacoby below is correct in what he says but he fails to take account of Trump's objective in restricting imports.  Trump has repeatedly made clear that he does not want his restrictions to be permanent.  Permanent restrictions would be very damaging, as Jeff says.

What Trump is doing is dealing himself some very powerful bargaining chips, with the aim of getting other countries to reduce their trade-distorting arrangements which penalize American firms.  And he has had considerable success with that. The EU has now come to the party.

And note that it was in negotiating with the EU that Trump offered a complete free trade deal.  The bureaucrats of the EU reacted to that with horror but that was not Trump's fault.  Trump is the free trader.

OUR CIVIC AND political discourse is replete with metaphors.

We avoid having to swallow a bitter pill by instead kicking the can down the road. Desperate candidates throw a Hail Mary pass. Sensitive souls learn that if they can't take the heat, they should get out of the kitchen. A good prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich.

Sometimes metaphors are used to express a political idea with verve, as when our nation of assimilating immigrants is dubbed a melting pot, or when John Roberts said his job on the Supreme Court would be to call balls and strikes. But metaphors are also invoked for more than style. A deft metaphor advances an argument — sometimes a highly dubious argument. To say the poor should get a larger slice of the pie is to imply that wealth is limited and someone should redistribute it. If American officials speak of pressing the Russia reset button, their message is that better relations with Moscow are primarily a matter of American will. Insist that illegal immigrants must go to the back of the line and you are contending that they had a legal option but chose to ignore it.

Of all the arguments we advance by metaphor, perhaps none is as potent as war. When Lyndon Johnson, unveiling an array of programs to assist the poor, declared a War on Poverty, he was telling the nation that it had no higher priority. When Jimmy Carter told the nation that curtailing energy use was the moral equivalent of war, his implicit argument was that American independence was at stake.

Consider another war metaphor — one employed so matter-of-factly that it has indelibly shaped public thinking: trade war.

Talk of trade wars is hardly new, but under Donald Trump, trade-war rhetoric has become ubiquitous. In speeches and on social media, he repeatedly approaches trade in terms suited to a grim international conflict — a struggle for dominance among nations in which there must be winners and losers.

"When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win," Trump tweeted in March. Last month he put it even more sharply: "When you're almost 800 Billion Dollars a year down on Trade, you can't lose a Trade War! The U.S. has been ripped off by other countries for years on Trade."

For centuries, economists have pointed out the destructive folly of tariffs and other trade barriers. Tirelessly they explain that a trade deficit is not a defeat, just as a shopper's "deficit" with a department store is not a defeat. They implore policymakers to see that trade restrictions always impose more costs on a country's economy than any benefits they generate. They highlight the ways in which protectionist tariffs make many consumers poorer in order to make a handful of producers richer — and how even the intended beneficiaries often end up worse off.

But data and common sense are no match for the seductive metaphor of trade as warfare.

Many Americans will say they favor free trade, but then add the caveat that it must be "fair trade" as well. They feel the tug of national resentment when the president demands: "Are we just going to continue and let our farmers and country get ripped off? Lost $817 Billion on Trade last year. No weakness!" They may not share Trump's confidence that trade wars are "easy to win," but they agree that other countries' protectionist measures are a form of belligerence that cannot just be ignored.

The evidence is piling up that the impact of Trump's retaliatory trade penalties has been falling hardest not on foreigners, but on Americans. Yet when the president indignantly declares that America is being victimized by its trading partners, much of the nation nonetheless nods approvingly. In a new survey, the Pew Research Center found that while 49 percent of respondents thought higher tariffs would be damaging, fully 40 percent said they would do more good than harm.

All of this comes from thinking of trade as metaphorical warfare — as an economic struggle pitting nation against nation.

That's a great fallacy. Nations don't trade with each other. We speak as if they do out of habit and convenience, but it's not true. The United States and Canada are not competing firms. America doesn't buy steel from China, and China doesn't buy soybeans from America. Rather, hundreds of individual American companies choose to buy steel from Chinese mills and fabricators, and hundreds of Chinese-owned firms make deals to buy soybeans from far-flung American growers. Unlike wars, which really are fought by nation against nation, international trade occurs among countless sellers and buyers, all acting independently in their own best interest.

Tariffs don't punish countries. They punish innumerable consumers, wholesalers, importers, exporters, farmers, manufacturers — the myriad discrete actors whose choices and preferences are the true substance of international trade. To those individuals, national trade deficits and surpluses are irrelevant. They aren't competing — they're cooperating. Buyers and sellers aren't in conflict with each other, let alone with each other's countries.

On the contrary: By doing business together, traders create wealth and connections, knitting the world together in mutual interest, making the planet more harmonious.

Trade war is an insidious term. The metaphor notwithstanding, trade isn't war. It's peace.



Trump threatens to shut down government over border security

There are more retiring Democrat than GOP senators at the next election so this could be a ploy to keep the senators in Washington and thus prevent them from campaigning in their home states

Trump has threatened he will be willing to shut down the government if Democrats refuse to vote for changes he seeks to make to the US immigration system, including building a wall along the US-Mexico border.

“I would be willing to ‘shut down’ government if the Democrats do not give us the votes for Border Security, which includes the Wall!” the president tweeted.

“Must get rid of Lottery, Catch & Release etc. and finally go to system of Immigration based on MERIT! “We need great people coming into our Country!”

Mr Trump returned to the idea of shutting down the government over the border wall just days after meeting at the White House with House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to discuss the fall legislative agenda.

Mr McConnell, asked about a shutdown last week during a Kentucky radio interview, said it was not going to happen. He did acknowledge, however, that the border funding issue was unlikely to be resolved before the November midterm elections.

Mr Trump campaigned on the promise of building a border wall to deter illegal immigration and making Mexico pay for it. Mexico has refused. Congress has given the president some wall funding but not as much as he has requested.

Mr Trump also wants changes to legal immigration, including scrapping a visa lottery program. In addition, he wants to end the practice of releasing immigrants caught entering the country illegally on the condition that they show up for court hearings.

The president has also demanded that the US shift to an immigration system that’s based more on merit and less on family ties.

Democrats and some Republicans have objected to some of the changes Mr Trump seeks. The federal budget year ends on September 30, and politicians will spend much of August in their states campaigning for re-election in November.

The House is now in a five-week recess, returning after Labour Day. The Senate remains in session and is set to take a one-week break the week of August 6, then returning for the rest of the month.

Both chambers will have a short window of working days to approve a spending bill before government funding expires.

Mr Trump would be taking a political risk if he does, in fact, allow most government functions to lapse on October 1 — the first day of the new budget year — roughly a month before the November 6 elections, when Republican control of both the House and Senate is at stake.

House Republicans released a spending bill this month that provides $US5 billion next year to build Mr Trump’s wall, a major boost.

Democrats have long opposed financing Mr Trump’s wall but lack the votes by themselves to block House approval of that amount. However, they do have the strength to derail legislation in the closely divided Senate.

Without naming a figure, Mr Trump said in April that he would “have no choice” but to force a government shutdown this fall if he doesn’t get the border security money he wants.

The $US5 billion is well above the $US1.6 billion in the Senate version of the bill, which would finance the Homeland Security Department.



Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker Host Bible Event Against Trump Supreme Court Pick

On Tuesday, three prominent senators — all likely 2020 presidential candidates — joined the Rev. Dr. William Barber in opposing President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. At the event, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) quoted the Bible in their attacks against Kavanaugh. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) did not quote the Bible, but joined with Barber, who did.

"Corporations have won 62 percent of the cases they've been in whenever they are up against workers, shareholders, people who represent the public interest," Warren declared at the press conference Tuesday afternoon. She argued that allowing Kavanaugh to join the Supreme Court would violate Matthew 25, Jesus' parable of the sheep and the goats.

"It is not enough to have a good heart ... we are called to act," Warren declared. She argued that Kavanaugh's opponents are "on the moral side of history."

Sanders immediately seized on his favorite topic, the Supreme Court case Citizens United v. FEC (2010), which ruled that for legal purposes "corporations" — people coming together in groups — are also "people" and have First Amendment rights. The case ruled that individuals can pay to promote a film expressing political speech, a basic principle that liberals claim allows billionaires to "buy elections."

"People are outraged that billionaires are buying elections," Sanders declared. "Do you know that that is a direct result of the Citizens Untied decision?" He suggested that Kavanaugh's confirmation would be a moral stain on America.

Booker agreed, declaring that conservatives are "trying to roll back civil rights, the protections against discrimination. This has nothing to do with politics, this has to do with who we are as moral beings. There is no neutral. ... You are either complicit in evil or you are fighting against it."

The Rev. Dr. William Barber, a longtime liberal activist, warned that if Kavanaugh is confirmed, "We could be facing the most regressive Supreme Court since Jim Crow. There must be a moral fight to keep Kavanaugh off the Supreme Court."

Warren, Booker, and Barber misused or twisted four Bible passages to fight Kavanaugh's confirmation.

1. Matthew 25.

Warren quoted Matthew 25, when Jesus tells the parable of the sheep and the goats. Jesus said the Son of Man will separate the good (sheep) from the evil (goats).

"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me,'" Jesus said (Matthew 25:34-36).

He suggested that the righteous will ask when they did all these things, and He will answer "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:40).

This command to love and serve "the least of these" is extremely important in Christianity, but Warren warped it. She suggested that Matthew 25 isn't just a command to love and serve the poor directly, but to oppose a Supreme Court that would rule in favor of corporations rather than people.

Warren is dead wrong in her application of this verse. The Supreme Court's job isn't just to protect "people" against "corporations" — it's to apply the law justly and equitably. Sometimes an organized group of people — a "corporation" in legal terms — will be in the right, while someone Warren thinks of as an underdog will be in the wrong. In those cases, the Supreme Court should rule against the underdog.

Warren's complaint that the Court has favored corporations 62 percent of the time reveals a fundamental misunderstanding about justice that the Bible does not sanction. The Bible rightly condemns when the powerful abuse their power to oppress the poor, but it does not condemn the just ruler who punishes a lawbreaker (Romans 13) or sides with the powerful when the powerful are in the right.

The Court's job is not to twist the law to always favor the underdog. If it did so, that would be unjust.

2. Isaiah 10.

Rev. Barber turned to Isaiah 10 to condemn Kavanaugh.

"The scriptures are clear that when it comes to public policy, 'Woe unto those who legislate evil and rob the poor and women and children of their rights,'" Barber declared, paraphrasing Isaiah 10:1-2. "The scripture is clear that a nation must make sure that its laws lift the hungry, the hopeless, the poor, the sick, the naked, and the least of these, and the stranger."

Notice the sleight of hand. Barber quoted Isaiah 10 and then melded it with Matthew 25 to suggest the law needs to favor "the least of these," to "lift" them.

This is nonsense. The Bible is clear that Christians must care for the poor and the least of these, but it nowhere says that the law must "lift" the poor out of poverty.

In Isaiah 10, God is condemning lawmakers who rob the poor — He is not commanding laws to make the poor richer. It is injustice to steal wages from a poor man who has just earned them, but that does not make it justice to give money to a man just because he is poor. Indeed, that would violate the principle that "if anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat" (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

3. Psalm 23.

In his remarks, Sen. Booker quoted one line of Psalm 23, the famous psalm that begins, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want." Booker quoted verse 4: "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me."

Or rather, Booker quoted the first phrase. Here's his tortured reasoning on this passage:

There’s a saying from one of the Abrahamic faiths in a psalm saying, "Yea though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death." We are walking through the valley of the shadow of death but that doesn’t say, "though I sit in the valley of the shadow of death." It doesn’t say that I’m watching on the sidelines of the valley of the shadow of death, it says I am walking through the valley of the shadow of death. I am taking agency, that I am going to make it through this crisis.

Booker twisted a psalm about God's providence in the midst of despair — "your rod and your staff, they comfort me" — and turned it into an exhortation to "walk" rather than "sit" or "watch on the sidelines" in a moral battle. God's providence in the psalm does suggest that "I am going to make it through this crisis," but the psalm is not meant as a call to action. Indeed, the psalm says God "makes me lie down in green pastures" and sets a "table before me"...

Booker has taken one of the deepest and most comforting psalms and twisted it into a banal call to action. This was so dumb and ridiculous, I couldn't help but laugh.

4. Numbers 13-14.

Booker did draw something of the right conclusion from another passage, however. He summarized Numbers 13-14, saying, "Moses sent people into the promised land — 12 folks to view what was going on, and ten of them came back saying, 'We can't meet this challenge.'"

"Joshua and Caleb saw something different," Booker declared. "Joshua and Caleb refused to surrender to fear, they refused to surrender to cynicism. We need the Joshua spirit right now. We need the Caleb spirit right now."

Joshua and Caleb did indeed trust in God to do what He promised and bring the Jews into the promised land, and their courage is to be emulated today. However, Booker suggested that opposing Kavanaugh is akin to making America a promised land — an extremely tenuous application.

In the end, these liberals are fighting tooth and nail against a judge who will remain faithful to the text and original intent of the Constitution, rather than twisting it to support a liberal agenda — as these very Democrats twisted the Bible. Here's hoping American see through the rhetoric.



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