Sunday, June 10, 2018

Sunday Musings: Monkey See, Monkey Do

A few random musing from the last few days.

So what is the most honest way of talking about the Trump economy? It goes like this: The president inherited an economy that had come a long way toward healing. During his administration, the economy has continued growing at about the same rate it did before he took office, pushing incomes, employment and output to yet higher levels.
Decent article.  I think the picture gets a little more convoluted when we add in equity prices, which are obviously very high as well.  As Kai Ryssdal always says, the stock market is not the economy, but if you’re either a Trump supporter or a person who’s heavily invested in the current value of stocks, the market’s returns are a nice bonus on top of other consistently good economic news.
I’m not one of those who gives the president marks for the state of the economy--when it’s good or bad, really--but I feel like we must acknowledge how much the markets were cheered when the current president was elected.
The G-7 Summit did not go well

The thing you hear a lot from Trumpists is something like this, “I hate everything about the president except the success of his policies.”  And that makes regular people crazy because of shit like what happened at the G-7 summit, where Trump alienated everyone before storming out of the meeting because he’s Hellbent on enacting tariffs against Canada, and the Canadians don’t much like it.
This, to me, is indefensible behavior.  Alas, this policy-set hasn’t been enacted long enough or consistently enough to yet have any bite in the economy, which seemingly bolsters the Trumpists’ claims.  Which isn’t to say that I want the economy to do badly.  But there is a huge difference between what we have now--a good inherited economy that benefits from irrational exuberance in the markets and which has been bolstered by unnecessary economic stimulus--and the potential step-change associated with actually alienating our most important trading partners for ill-defined reasons.  Worse, economic changes occur slowly over time, meaning that we probably won’t even feel the effects of today’s decisions for another two years, and the policies themselves are mostly just tough talk right now.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where whole groups of folks believe that the Earth is flat.  They go outside, they see that it looks flat, and on that basis, they believe that it must actually be flat.  Monkey see, monkey do.  There’s no arguing with these people.  They choose not to believe obviously provable science.
These are the same people who believe that Trump is a good president because the economy looks good right now.  There is no arguing with them.  They only believe what they see immediately in front of their faces.  This is where we are.
The Summit with North Korea is happening soon.
Again: there’s no nuclear war now, and this is the first summit between the U.S. and North Korea in forever, so things must be going great.
I explained this to a guy in my office as follows:
North Korea learned from the Invasion of Iraq in 2003 that any rogue regime without nuclear weapons will eventually be toppled by U.S. invasion given a long enough time horizon.  We reinforced this lesson during the Obama years by invading Libya despite Qaddafi’s abandonment of his WMD program, and we’ve doubled-down against Assad.  Given those recent examples, Kim Jong Un feels, not unreasonably, that he must have nukes to secure the future of his regime.
Now the DPRK has nukes.
With that, Kim and his guys no longer fear invasion.  So they no longer need to maintain their massive standing army, and in fact, they would probably like to ratchet tensions down on the Korean peninsula in an attempt to rejoin the community of nations.  If Kim can get the U.S. Army to go home and the U.S. government to start lifting sanctions, he can actually start growing his economy.  That would be a huge victory.  This is why the N. Koreans have been talking about calling an end to the war and slowly ratcheting down tensions on both sides.
Meanwhile, it’s extremely doubtful that Trump cares about South Korean security.  He’d probably much rather bring our troops home, especially if he can do so in a way that makes it look like he’s struck some kind of Grand Bargain with the Kim regime.  Granted, Kim will never actually give up his nukes, but he’s very likely to agree to stop testing nukes because he’s already got some, and all he really needs is the deterrence of having established devices ready to go.  
So.  There is every reason to believe that Trump is about to give away the last 50 years or so of American involvement in Korea.
Where this gets complicated is when we start asking why American troops are in Korea in the first place.  Hint: it’s not so much to defend against North Korean aggression.  America has half of one division in Korea, compared to the DPRK’s hundred divisions, and the ROK’s fifty.  Truth is, we’re barely players, save in a Close Air Support/Artillery Support role, which is not exactly a matter of Boots on the Ground.  Rather, this is a matter of engagement in Asia, of maintaining presence near to a potential adversary in China, and of maintaining the complicated system of alliances that have ensured freedom of the seas in the Pacific since 1945.  The DPRK makes a convenient boogeyman, but really, there are lots of reasons why we might keep troops in Korea.  
But Trump and his guys don’t do complicated.
I obviously don’t know how all of this is going to play out, but I find it worrisome that we’re taking a Monkey See, Monkey Do approach to the future of our international relations.  In fact, I hate this whole “anti-science, anti research” thing.  That’s not at all how I live my own life, and in the long run, I don’t see how it lead to anything but disaster.
More G-7

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