Tariff Man Fails

Tariff Man (the term President Trump coined for himself) hates the trade deficit we run with China. He’s been working to correct this, or so he’d like us to believe. But the data don’t lie. And the data show our trade deficit with China is higher than it’s been in a decade (higher than it ever was under President Obama). It seems Tariff Man may be all talk. Now there’s a surprise.

Here’s the chart:

I suppose there are a couple lessons here for us, Vera. Continue reading

Raping the Nation’s Wealth? How Stupid Does He Think We Are? Oh, Yeah.

President Trump thinks allowing imports to be sold in the U.S. in amounts greater than our exports is tantamount to “raping the nation’s wealth.” Think for a minute. No, for a second. Just consider how stupid this is. And the level of thinking demonstrated by the man who makes such a claim.

Of course, imports sell here only if they’re cheaper or better than what we produce domestically. So banning imports would cause us Americans to pay more than we’d otherwise have to pay, thereby lowering our standard of living, or would compel us to accept inferior products (such as GM cars in the ’80s). There is nothing about this arrangement that could even remotely be characterized as an economic “rape.”

A legitimate issue, of course, is whether we should give a preference to domestically produced goods either by taxing imports (tariffs) or subsidizing domestic producers (in the way the U.S. subsidizes its farmers), or banning certain imports altogether or restricting the volume coming in (quotas). There could be legitimate reasons for doing so.

For instance, if one’s national security depended on it, then it may make sense to protect the domestic suppliers. For instance, it would not be prudent to become entirely dependent upon aircraft made in foreign countries. That would make the U.S. Air Force and Navy highly vulnerable to potentially hostile regimes.

Another legitimate reason could be the fairness doctrine. For instance, if the reason an import is cheaper is because of a subsidy the producer received from its home country’s government, then the U.S. could decide, as a matter of policy, to place a leveling tariff on the import to ensure the competition is fair. Or it might chose not to, instead being grateful for the subsidy that the foreign government is essentially providing to the U.S. consumer. Obviously, the U.S consumer stands to benefit from the lower price, even if it’s the result of a foreign subsidy, where the U.S. worker who might lose his job due to the subsidized import might be harmed. Which brings us to the policy decision: which jobs are worth protecting and which one’s aren’t? These aren’t always easy decisions. In any case, there are remedies in place to protect against competition from subsidized producers (indeed, I’ve been involved in several cases where tariffs were sought because of such unfair competition).

But to cut off or restrict imports simply because someone is selling more of their products to us than they are buying from us is sheer lunacy, especially if your country’s currency is the world’s reserve currency (as is ours). In short, mindless protectionism is a sure recipe, over the long term, for diminished competitiveness, economic stagnation, and lowering of a country’s standard of living. And based on history, there’s a good chance it will lead to recession, depression, or war. Yet that’s precisely the mindset of our president.

You wonder how someone like this could be elected president. Or maybe you don’t. But I do. And you should.

The broader lesson in all of this, Vera, is simple: think for yourself. And don’t accept as gospel anything someone says, even if they hold a lofty position. Just because someone is a president, CEO, or, for that matter, a grandfather, doesn’t mean they know what they’re talking about.

Wouldn’t It Be Nice If Our Next President Did These Things?

Another week of observing the clown show we call the Trump presidency (culminating Monday in actions that would get anyone else indicted for obstruction of justice and in yesterday’s Tariff Man tweet that tanked the stock market) got me to thinking, wouldn’t it be nice if our next president: Continue reading

Is This What Great Looks Like?

The CDC reported this past week that life expectancy for Americans dropped last year. The U.S. stands out in this regard: no other developed country is experiencing higher mortality rates. Indeed, the gap in life expectancies between Japan, Spain, and many other countries and the United States is growing, which, obviously, is a very bad development for the U.S., both from a societal and economic standpoint.

Last year, 70,237 deaths were attributed to drug overdoses in the U.S. West Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania had the three highest age-adjusted rates of fatal overdoses. Most drug overdoses are unintentional. But not all.

Suicides overall were up by 3.7 percent in 2017. Since 1999, the national suicide rate has increased by 33 percent! A particularly disturbing trend is the increase in suicides among teenagers and young adults. And among farmers. The country’s most rural counties had suicide rates almost twice as high as those for the most urban counties.

These are not signs of a healthy society; rather, they are signs of social decay.

You’d think this would spur some serious national reflection. But it hasn’t. Instead, it has precipitated a mean-spirited reaction whereby the country doubled down on failing policies, values, and priorities. Donald Trump is Exhibit A.

But there are other manifestations of our dysfunction that are equally troubling, including mass murders (our schools have become killing grounds), worker exploitation, widespread underemployment, gross economic inequities (a big part of the problem that is largely ignored and goes unaddressed), lack of social mobility, high debt burdens, broad resentment, alienation and shallow or nonexistent personal networks, widespread insecurity and feelings of compulsion, incredibly high rates of incarceration, and high incidences of psychological problems (e.g., Americans take far more antidepressants than anyone else).

It’s impossible to know how all of this will play out over the long term, Vera. What kind of country will await you when you reach the age of majority? I’m not sure. But it’s quite possible your world will look very different from the one that awaited me when I graduated from high school.

No one can insulate you from the problems of the country. But we can prepare you. By helping you learn and discover. Fostering your curiosity. Helping you to acquire the skills and capabilities to navigate ambiguity and a hostile world. And by not perpetrating illusions or mindlessly supporting many of the deeply flawed ideas and narratives that have been eroding our country’s social and moral fabric. And, perhaps most of all, by loving you unconditionally and providing you with a strong and stable family.

The rest will be up to you. Just as it was with everyone who came before you. And will be with everyone who will follow you.

That’s life.

The good news, you can be great. In the end, that’s what great looks like: Life flourishing within the human body, mind, and soulPeople relishing the gift of life, in peace, joy, and love.

Because It’s the Right Thing Is Reason Enough

This week confirming evidence of the president’s lies about Russia came to light. Yet no one seemed to be surprised. It’s as if everyone knew he was lying all along. So when his lies were confirmed, there was little surprise or outrage. That’s where we find ourselves today: in the post-truth era.

You will have to decide for yourself, Vera: whether to be one who tells the truth, or one who says whatever serves your interests at the time.

Sometimes, the truth may be costly. It may be easier to lie. And more profitable.

Consider this however: Doing something because it’s the right thing is reason enough.

Days to Avoid Surgery

I learned the hard way to avoid Friday surgeries. It had nothing to do with mortality (obviously). It had everything to do with pain management. My post-surgical pain was intense (very, very intense), but I was unable to reach my surgeon on Saturday. For that reason alone (the unavailability of medical professionals on weekends), I will do my best to avoid having any surgery on a Friday. But there’s more. And the more is potentially far more serious. Continue reading

A Sleeping Giant?

It’s easy not to think about Africa. It’s not an economic, political, or military powerhouse. Yet it’s big. Very big. Here’s a reminder:

Two African countries have populations over 100 million: Nigeria, the largest, with more than 181 million, and Ethiopia with nearly 104 million.

From afar, it seems like tribalism, religion, and racism are holding it back, as well as corruption. But I’m far from an expert in such matters. I don’t pretend to understand deeply the issues faced by the continent and its individual countries and peoples.

What’s clear, however, is that the continent has abundant natural resources and many talented and highly capable people. It’s hard to imagine it’s future will not be bright.

Trumponomics

President Trump and his minions on the Hill gave a gigantic tax cut to rich people and corporations this year, which translated into a $1.5 billion tax cut (approx. ) for General Motors. Supposedly all of this was necessary to make America great again. And to win!

Today, GM announced it was shuttering two U.S. assembly plants and two U.S. propulsion plants. In addition to the U.S. workers at those four plants who will be losing their jobs, 15 percent of the salaried staff at GM will lose their jobs as well.

Here is what Wall Street thinks of the cuts. In short, Wall Street loves it. It realizes this means higher margins and more money for the investors. The fact that labor is once again getting kicked to the curb isn’t the concern of the owners.

Meanwhile, U.S. tax receipts are dropping like a rock, further inflating the country’s debt balloon. Consequently, the Government is having to incur huge amounts of debt that our kids and their kids will have to service in the years and decades to come.

Isn’t it great that U.S. citizens thought it was wise to elect the self-proclaimed King of Debt to the presidency?

All of this winning is exhausting.

 

Designer Humans

Scientists in China have been recruiting couples in an effort to create the first gene-edited babies according to this report in MIT Technology Review titled “EXCLUSIVE: Chinese scientists are creating CRISPR babies.”

I suppose it was inevitable. Nonetheless, it’s scary as hell. Where will it lead? Where will it end? Or is the concept of end obsolete? Or closer than ever?

Every technological advance carries with it both beneficial and harmful consequences. Or so it seems to me. It’s easy to posit the beneficial aspects of gene-editing. But the potential harmful effects aren’t so easy to imagine. Yet there are real. And potentially very scary.

I wonder what it will be like for parents when you’re at a child-bearing age, Vera. I suspect your experience will be very different from that of your mother and grandmothers. You may have choices that were beyond our imaginations.

In the meantime, humans must find a way to deal with the ethical issues posed by these new technological capabilities. Indeed, humans might need to find a way to preserve the species generally.

We are entering a new age. And there is much beyond the reach of our headlights.