Thursday, February 06, 2020

Is Trump's Unorthodoxy Becoming Orthodox?

When candidate Donald Trump campaigned on calling China to account for its trade piracy, observers thought he was either crazy or dangerous.

Conventional Washington wisdom had assumed that an ascendant Beijing was almost preordained to world hegemony. Trump's tariffs and polarization of China were considered about the worst thing an American president could do.

The accepted bipartisan strategy was to accommodate, not oppose, China's growing power. The hope was that its newfound wealth and global influence would liberalize the ruling communist government.

Four years later, only a naif believes that. Instead, there is an emerging consensus that China's cutthroat violations of international norms were long ago overdue for an accounting.

China's re-education camps, its Orwellian internal surveillance, its crackdown on Hong Kong democracy activists and its secrecy about the deadly coronavirus outbreak have all convinced the world that China has now become a dangerous international outlier.

Trump courted moderate Arab nations in forming an anti-Iranian coalition opposed to Iran's terrorist and nuclear agendas. His policies utterly reversed the Obama administration's estrangement from Israel and outreach to Tehran.

Last week, Trump nonchalantly offered the Palestinians a take-it-or-leave-it independent state on the West Bank, but without believing that a West Bank settlement was the key to peace in the entire Middle East.

Trump's cancellation of the Iran deal, in particular, was met with international outrage. More global anger followed after the targeted killing of Iranian terrorist leader Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

In short, Trump's Middle East recalibrations won few supporters among the bipartisan establishment.

But recently, Europeans have privately started to agree that more sanctions are needed on Iran, that the world is better off with Soleimani gone, and that the West Bank is not central to regional peace.

Iran has now become a pariah. U.S.-sponsored sanctions have reduced the theocracy to near-bankruptcy. Most nations understand that if Iran kills Americans or openly starts up its nuclear program, the U.S. will inflict disproportional damage on its infrastructure -- a warning that at first baffled, then angered and now has humiliated Iran.

In other words, there is now an entirely new Middle East orthodoxy that was unimaginable just three years ago.

Suddenly the pro-Iranian, anti-Western Palestinians have few supporters. Israel and a number of prominent Arab nations are unspoken allies of convenience against Iran. And Iran itself is seemingly weaker than at any other time in the theocracy's history.

Stranger still, instead of demanding that the U.S. leave the region, many Middle Eastern nations privately seem eager for more of a now-reluctant U.S. presence.

For the last 20 years, much of the American orthodoxy had agreed with Europe that the increasingly anti-democratic, pan-continental and borderless European Union was the remedy to all of Europe's past 20th-century catastrophes.

As a result, American presidents did not do much when EU nations typically racked up large trade surpluses with the U.S., often a result of asymmetrical fees, tariffs and fines.

The U.S. largely ignored the increasingly anti-democratic and anti-American tone of the EU.

Nor did Americans object much when lackadaisical European NATO nations habitually welched on their defense-spending commitments.

Apparently, past U.S. administrations supposed that a paternalistic America would always be more eager to defend Europe than Europe would be to defend itself.

But then Trump again blew up more old assumptions.

NATO will now only survive if its members keep their word and meet their spending promises. An economically stagnant, oil-hungry and top-heavy EU will have to make radical changes, or it will sink into irrelevance and eventually break apart.

Trump got little credit for these revolutionary changes because he is, after all, Trump -- a wheeler-dealer, an ostentatious outsider, unpredictable in action and not shy about rude talk.

But his paradoxical and successful policies -- the product of conservative, antiwar and pro-worker agendas -- are gradually winning supporters and uniting disparate groups.

After all, the U.S. is beefing up its military but using it only sparingly. It hits back hard at enemies but does not hit first. For Trump, being conventional is dangerous; being unpredictable is far safer.

For all Trump's tough talk, his ace in the hole is American soft power -- based on a globally dominant economy, its global lead in the production of gas and oil, and an omnipresent cultural juggernaut.

For Trump the ex-television star, wars translate into bad ratings and worse optics. As a businessman, he believes needless conflicts get in the way of money-making and win-win deals.

The result of the new orthodoxy is that the U.S. has become no better friend to an increasing number of allies and neutrals, and no worse an adversary to a shrinking group of enemies. And yet Trump's paradox is that America's successful new foreign policy is as praised privately as it is caricatured publicly -- at least for now.



Democratic Socialism: Straight Talk about Twisted Facts

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last few years, you’ve likely noticed that “socialism” has become increasingly popular in the United States, particularly among young people.

When we first noticed this trend in 2016, it made economist Robert Lawson and I, pause, scratch our heads, and ask, “Could this really be a trend with a future?”

We knew that socialist countries had killed roughly 100 million of their own citizens in the 20th century. We knew that socialist economies stagnated.

While socialists preached equality, the reality was, as George Orwell put it in Animal Farm, that some animals were more equal than others in socialist countries.

Orwell’s point? The political elite in truly socialistic countries fare much better than ordinary citizens. Historians long ago discovered Karl Marx’s idea of equality always gets subverted by people who really just want power and, therefore, inevitably organize authoritarian regimes.

How could our fellow Americans, most of whom are intelligent, self-reliant, caring people, want a socialist economic system?

Bob and I have written more than one hundred academic research papers on the importance of economic freedom and how a free enterprise system operates.

Many of these are boring academic articles and even the ones that aren’t boring clearly haven’t significantly influenced the young people attracted to socialism.

So we decided we’d try something different. We got drunk and traveled the unfree world and wrote a book about it.

Socialism Sucks: Two Economists Drink There Way Through the Unfree World is an off-color, Anthony Bourdain style romp around the globe, where we explore the functioning and history of socialist, fake-socialist and mistakenly-identified-as socialist countries.

We take the economics and history of these places deadly seriously without taking ourselves too seriously. In the process we found out that a country’s booze ends up serving as decent metaphor for how the rest of the economy functions.

So, let’s get one thing straight. The term “socialism” meant/means something different to Marx, Lenin and economists like us who seriously study economic systems.

Measuring Just How Socialistic a Country Really Is

A socialist economic system requires collective (i.e. usually government), rather than private, ownership and/or control over the major inputs to the production process.

In practice, there are varying degrees of government ownership and control, but this is the margin or key indicator that measures how socialist a country is. The greater the degree of government ownership and control, the more socialistic a country.

By that standard, there are really only three countries in the world today that can accurately be labeled as socialist and they are all hell holes: North Korea, Cuba, and Venezuela.

Wait, what? No Nordic countries? Nope, because the Nordic countries are mostly capitalist. The vast bulk of their economic activity is based on private ownership and their citizens have a high level of economic freedom.

Nordic countries do have high taxes and big welfare states which makes them less than perfectly capitalist. Those high taxes have consequences.

It has slowed their rates of economic growth and made their booze extremely expensive. But, at least, private ownership (as opposed to state ownership) of the means of production doesn’t impoverish a country the way socialism does.

Venezuela: A Case Study in Making the Wrong Choice

Venezuela was once an extremely prosperous country. Then they gradually chose socialism over capitalism. Today Venezuela is in shambles. They made the wrong choice.

When we traveled there in 2017, the country was facing dire food and medical shortages, frequent power outages, the world’s highest inflation rate, violent crime, serious political unrest and was in a declared state of emergency.

But only several years before, Venezuela was held up as an example of successful “democratic socialism” by many celebrities, social media sites, news publications and the like.

In 1998 Hugo Chavez was democratically elected, in what international observers classified as a fair election, promising his version of “Bolivarian socialism.”

Venezuela sits on the world’s largest proven oil reserves and, for a while, the government was able to sell oil on the international market and import enough stuff to make it appear to be prosperous.

But there’s a difference between appearances and reality. The socialist policies were destroying the ability of Venezuelans to produce at home.

When oil prices plummeted, the country was unable to feed itself. Even its beer producer, Polar, even had to cease beer production for lack of Barley.

Venezuela’s democratic freedoms have vanished. Socialism requires centralized control over the economy. With that control comes the power to punish political rivals and undermine democratic opposition.

Nobel Prize winning economist F.A. Hayek long ago argued in his 1944 book The Road to Serfdom that it is impossible to maintain a large degree of democratic freedom without also maintaining a large degree of economic freedom.

Simply put, that’s why all socialist economies soon become totalitarian dictatorships. Venezuela is the most recent to fall prey to the promise of utopian coddling and a large degree of economic freedom only to plunge down the road to serfdom.

In Conclusion

Our global tour took us to Sweden, Venezuela, Cuba, Korea, China, Russia, Ukraine, the Republic of Georgia, and then back in the USSA where we attended the largest socialist conference in the United States.

Most of the young people we met at the conference didn’t want the United States to become like the Soviet Union, but, not surprisingly, most of them also didn’t understand the link between economic and political freedoms.

Space doesn’t permit me to share more of our travels here. So, if you’re interested in learning more, pick up a copy of Socialism Sucks. Cheers!




TIME FOR ANSWERS: Senate Intelligence Committee will call Ukraine whistleblower to testify, Lindsey Graham reveals (The Daily Wire)

IF IT HELPS THE NARRATIVE... Michael Bloomberg ad uses Obama-era footage of caged migrants to criticize Trump (The Daily Caller)

GET WELL SOON: Rush Limbaugh announces he has "advanced lung cancer" (Fox News)

EXPLOITING A VICTIM: Climate alarmists' teenage puppet Greta Thunberg nominated for Nobel Peace Prize (The Daily Signal)

NOT JUST VIRGINIA: Hawaii gun owners face tidal wave of anti-Second Amendment bills (Bearing Arms)

THANKFULLY, MOST OF THE COUNTRY ISN'T LISTENING: Democrats who use Twitter are more ideological and less willing to compromise (National Review)

POLICY: Hopefully, Iowa has failed the nation for the last time (Washington Examiner)

POLICY: How Keynesian ideas weaken economic fundamentals (Mises Institute)


For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

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