Tuesday, May 28, 2019

China Trade War

Many people prefer to believe that the world is entering a post-apocalyptic stage, that the peoples of the earth will soon co-exist in harmony with one another, and achieve a general prosperity and enlightenment. 

Science and technology have wrought enormous changes over the last three centuries, completely transforming life on the planet. The pace of this change is increasing, and it is difficult to know how these changes--and those to come--will affect the nature of our existence. 

Human society, which subsisted for millennia against the challenges of survival, has overcome many of the obstacles placed before it, and seems on the verge of complete domination of the environment. 

Marxist economics posited a violent transition from industrial commodity capitalism to top-down planned economy in which the hierarchy of labor value would be dictated--hardly a "withering away" of the state aparatus. Post-Mao China's hybridized version of an authoritarian state-sponsored entrepreneurism, fueled by technology theft and unfriendly corporate piracy, caught the West by surprise. 

Since the rise of nationalism over the last 400 years, we've seen an entrenchment of nativist and colonial policies, which show no signs now of "withering away" either. China's selfish trade and territorial policies are another proof, if one were needed, of the continuing appeal of self-interested diplomatic and economic postures in an increasingly interconnected world. 

Despite temporary periods of relative calm, nations habitually reassert their separatist aims. Democracy, after all, is about the will--not "the people"--but of the enfranchised citizens of separate nations, whose first priority has always been, and will probably always be, self-interest according to national borders and identifies. 

What nation would willingly sacrifice the welfare and benefits of its citizens to those of another power, another interest? 

America's trade relationship with the People's Republic of China
has been characterized over the last 30 years by a glaring imbalance. This is expressed as an enormous deficit in net parallel purchases--a "trade deficit." This deficit has ballooned to historic proportions as China has maintained a steadily restrictive and exploitative position with respect to tariffs and access to markets. It has in turn fueled one of the great economic booms in all of history, lifting China out of the doldrums and into second place, behind the U.S. This could not have happened without the willing participation of its trading partners, particularly the U.S.  

Not satisfied with being the world leader in manufacturing, China now wants to dominate the technology sector. Unwilling to develop its own educational and scientific research and development, it has chosen to appropriate ("steal") the technology of older, more mature rival economies, then outproduce and outsell ("flood markets") them.  

They have been entirely successful, in large measure because the Chinese government has worked hand-in-glove with its own industries--manipulating currencies, restricting foreign investment and control, using trade as an aggressive form of foreign policy. 

An interesting broadside essay on China's trade behavior--How China's Economic Aggression Threatens the Technologies and Intellectual Property of the United States and the World is here--which is heavily footnoted and quite persuasive in its essential thrust.  

I would recommend further reading. There is nearly universal sentiment regarding the threats that China now poses to the U.S. and other Western powers. China's authoritarian power structure has shown no signs of moderation, and appears committed to bludgeoning its rivals into submission, one way or another. Though its tools may not now include actual military means, its ability to do so, given its fast-accruing wealth, is now major concern throughout Asia.    

For centuries, European powers ruthlessly exploited Asian territories, so Beijing well understands the subservient colonial position. Meanwhile, as the rest of the "civilized world" appears to have abandoned the colonial strategy, China has adopted it. 

Since the rise of nationalism, nations have contended for leverage and advantage over neighbors. Concepts such as "detente" or "peaceful coexistence" or "mutually assured destruction" or "coordinated resistance" now seem quaintly old-fashioned in the 21st Century dog-eat-dog world of trade. 

We are now clearly dealing with an opponent who regards ordinary courtesy and the rule of law as minor obstacles. Personal and political freedom have been tossed aside, in favor of single-minded pursuit of economic conquest. Like traditional dictatorial regimes, they only understand, and respond to, power. They may pay phony lip-service to "negotiation" but in the end they can be counted on to seek total victory in every encounter--compromise isn't a part of their vocabulary. 

President Trump has been criticized for embarking on an ill-timed and ill-conceived "trade war" with China. While this may indeed be one aspect of the President "playing to his base" it does not suggest that the factual motivation is without merit. Previous administrations have sought, politely, to persuade China to loosen its restrictions, quit manipulating currency, refrain from unfriendly practices (like "dumping"), etc. This approach has had no effect whatsoever. 

On an even playing field, the U.S. economy is fully capable of standing toe to toe with any competitor in the world. But China refuses to play by the rules. It's high time we said "enough is enough" and made them retreat a step or two. 

Ultimately, there may be no future in which nations can agree to share wealth and opportunity. It seems endemic to nation states, that they will always seek the high ground in any confrontation. The days of regarding China charitably--as being in need of understanding and assistance--are long over. We are dealing with a nation state that displays all the worst aspects of fascistic, communistic and colonial regimes--a new hybrid state-run gangster capitalism. 

Friday, May 17, 2019

"Babies Dying in the Desert! Babies Dying in the Desert!"

This morning I had a fantasy meditation about the crisis at our southern border with Mexico. 

It was an exaggerated version of the sort of media event we've been subjected to routinely over the last few years. 

Though it probably hasn't happened, it certainly could happen, and would likely be interpreted in the way I imagine it, by our devoted national broadcast news services. 

A Salvadoran woman (let's call her Luz), 8+ months pregnant, with no husband, decides she's tired of living in a poor country, with no prospects for employment, under a corrupt regime in which violence and bribes are the order of the day. Luz has heard rumors that Central Americans may find "refuge" and comfort in America, if they can manage to get across the Mexican border into the U.S. She's heard that there are caravans of such "refugees" traveling north, on trains or on foot. She's also heard that if a baby is born in America, it automatically acquires American citizenship, and provides the mother with legal residence as well. The risks of injury, imprisonment or death are very real, but she decides it's worth risk. 

Towards the end of her long journey, she is within a few miles of the Arizona border. Bone tired, dehydrated, with sores on her feet, her great belly sagging, she's a pitiful sight to behold. Her companions are no better, sunburned, sick and crawling with lice. 

Meanwhile, an American news service, on the hunt for juicy "human interest" stories, is tracking the caravans, interviewing and filming them along their way, creating copy for the pro-immigrant advocates back in the States. 

One reporter, a Mexican national working with the news service, approaches Luz, noticing she's very near term, and asks her what she hopes to do. 

"I'm trying to get to America," she replies, "because I want my baby to be born there, to have a better life, and to escape the poverty and crime in my country El Salvador." 

"What if you're stopped at the border, before you can cross? What will you do then?" 

"I really don't know. I pray to God. Mexico will not take care of us. I just want to get there. We are all refugees, and Americans will take refugees, no?" 

Suddenly, Luz feels faint, she looks down at her stomach, fear in her eyes--

"Oh, my God, I am having my baby, right here in the desert!" 

Two men nearby rush over and carry her over to a bush and lay her down.

"Oh no, this can't happen! We must do something! We need a doctor here!"

She turns to the cameraman, "we need to get this woman a doctor!" 

"How the hell are we going to do that?" he replies.

"Call that number we have for the U.S. Border Patrol, maybe then can send someone down here?"

Instantly, he takes out his cell phone, and dials the number. After going through a series of referrals, he's connected to a supervisor. They argue over details. The supervisor says they have no jurisdiction in Mexico, they can't cross the border without violating regulations. If they can get her up to the border, they'll assume control, etc. After more haggling, the supervisor says "Okay, okay, we'll fire up our helicopter, but it's going to take a little time." "We don't have time!" the cameraman screams into the phone, "the woman's contractions are starting!" 

Ten minutes later the helicopter is on its way--choppita-choppita-choppita--as it hurries south over dry desert landscape.  

Meanwhile, an American television station has gotten wind of the crisis, and is reporting the unfolding narrative. "We interrupt this broadcast to bring you fast-breaking news about a Mexican refugee woman having a baby just a few hundred yards from the American border! We're hooked up to a reporter in the area, and we have a drone hovering over the scene!" 

"Will the American authorities arrive in time? Will they save the lives of this poor innocent woman and her unborn baby? We've learned that the American border patrol hopes to pick her up and fly her back across the border to safety. Will Luz's baby be saved? We're all hoping this can happen! If they can get her across the border before the baby is born, then it can be born in America!"

The helicopter finally arrives, amidst the excitement, and Luz is placed on a stretcher and hauled aboard the chopper, which rises up majestically--choppita-choppita-choppita--and leans toward the north. 

But before they can land, Luz's baby is born, to the loud vibrations of the copter's engines, the physician yells at Luz "it's a boy! You have a boy! An American boy!"

That evening, the story is carried on all the major networks. Commentators argue over whether the boy was born "on American soil" or was technically in Mexico when she delivered. 

Meanwhile, volunteers have come forth offering to "adopt" Mother and child. Luz is taken the next day to a detention center, where her claim of refugee status is recorded and she is given a hearing date and released. Because she already has multiple sponsors, and an assigned lawyer, she's allowed to relocate to her new home in Minneapolis at once. "It's like a dream come true," Luz confesses, "I knew God would hear my pleas, now my son will grow up in the promised land, and we can live in peace and harmony forever."