We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

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Samizdata quote of the day

“By stifling his criticisms of human rights-abusing regimes, what Donald Trump may see as the projection of strength is surely viewed by America’s adversaries as weakness. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan blames the United States for an attempted coup against his regime, and Trump calls to congratulate him on his suspicious election victory. North Korea murders and purges its nuclear negotiators and Trump gives Kim Jong-un a photo op on North Korean soil. Vladimir Putin counters American geopolitical and economic interests at nearly every turn, and the president can’t bring himself to say a bad word about the autocrat in the Kremlin. What American interest is being advanced by this servility?”

Noah Rothman, Commentary Magazine.

51 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • ROBERT SYKES

    All discussions of this kind are irrelevant. The issue at stake in 2016 was, Hillary or Donald. There was no other issue. In 2020, a similar issue will be at hand, and it also will be the only issue, namely totalitarian socialism or freedom. If you can’t understand that, if you think trade, or Israel, or taxes, or immigration, Trump’s behavior, etc. are issues, you don’t understand what is happening.

  • So Donald applies the diplomatic niceties and gets reasonable foreign PR. Does he mean any of it? Is he sincere in his congratulations? Probably not, but it is polite and does provide an entry-point for discussions on other matters which are more important.

    That Donald uses his salesman’s schmooze to improve foreign relations and reduce tensions shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody.

    The key thing is when said foreign powers try to double-cross him or treat him like an idiot, Trump’s pretty quick to cool things down (like he did with Kim Jung Un). I don’t think it’s anything new in politics and it seems to be effective against the likes of Putin, Erdoğan and Kim Jung Un.

    Just more carping from the losers of 2016 and their coterie.

  • Philip Scott Thomas

    Had I been given that article shorn of attribution, my first guess would have been that it was by David French or Bill Kristol or some other such Never Trumper. Unfortunately, Mr Rothman seems to be similarly blinded to the possibility of Pres. Trump having a consistent strategy for dealing with potential foreign adversaries. And that is really rather odd, as the paragraph quoted above explains just what that strategy is.

    The Trump administration is tough on the Turkish regime but Pres. Trump congratulates Erdoğan on his election victory. The administration is highly critical of the North Korean regime but Pres. Trump praises Kim as a man the US can do business with. The administration is critical of the Kremlin’s policies but Pres. Trump makes nice with Putin. We might also add that the US administration imposes eye-watering tariffs on Chinese goods but Pres. Trump is rather flattering about Pres. Xi.

    This is Pres. Trump’s strategy; he opposes governments and their policies but is friendly with the heads of those governments. As policies go, it is not a particularly bad one. Certainly it is a break with past American practice, but that does not itself make it a bad strategy. And it does appear, at least in the case of North Korea, to perhaps be effective.

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    Bob Sykes: “All discussions of this kind are irrelevant. The issue at stake in 2016 was, Hillary or Donald. There was no other issue. In 2020, a similar issue will be at hand, and it also will be the only issue, namely totalitarian socialism or freedom. If you can’t understand that, if you think trade, or Israel, or taxes, or immigration, Trump’s behavior, etc. are issues, you don’t understand what is happening.”

    Well such discussions are irrelevant to you, but that does not mean they are. (Beware the error of solecism.) You state that in 2020 the only issue is freedom vs totalitarian socialism. Even if that Manichean description is accurate, how can you state that Trump gives much of a fig about freedom, given the point about his indifference to what goes on in certain countries, his description of the HK protests as “riots”, his fawning over the dictator of N. Korea, frequent attacks on the media, seeming total uninterest in notions of limited government etc? (OK, he has chosen some decent judges, but you rarely ever hear him say why.) And yes, I do think trade, taxes, immigration, Trump’s own conduct, and Israel, are issues, because they are matters where the POTUS can make a difference for good or ill. Tariffs are taxes – they impinge on one’s freedom to import from a place; immigration is to some extent an issue about freeom – of movement. Defending Israel’s right to exist is in some ways about freedom – of Jews to have a homeland where they are safe. And so on.

    John Galt (Ayn Rand, call you office): That Donald uses his salesman’s schmooze to improve foreign relations and reduce tensions shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody.

    Well it is a very selective form of salesmanship. He’s been tough on China, so how come he is playing all nice about Hong Kong? Read the article to ponder the inconsistency.

    PST: This is Pres. Trump’s strategy; he opposes governments and their policies but is friendly with the heads of those governments.

    If or when Hong Kong is snuffed out and the global impact of that is felt, I am sure we can all bask in the warmth of The Donald’s genius.

    I’m not buying it.

  • Mr Ed

    JP

    how can you state that Trump gives much of a fig about freedom, given the point about his indifference to what goes on in certain countries,

    It is, from where things are at, enough that Trump does not give a fig about advancing socialism, and that in itself is the victory. He does not actively hate freedom, or seek to eliminate it, a vast improvement on his predecessor. It would be better if he actively made a principled case for freedom and sought to advance it, but freedom can be simply the United States not being directed against the liberties of its people, and I would point to President Trump’s USSC nominations.

    As for his indifference as to what goes on in certain countries, why should he care? Where in the United States Constitution is his mandate to care for other countries? Crapholes will be crapholes, be it our schools or Bolivian tax policy.

  • Snorri Godhi

    The pattern i see in Trump’s comments is that he never says anything unkind about anybody, until & unless they say something unkind about him, in which case he throws everything he’s got at them.

    (This might have something to do with Alinsky’s Rule #12:
    Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.)

    In the case of foreign relations, i seem to remember that Trump applied this strategy to Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron.

    Applying it to Erdogan, Kim Jong-un, and Putin makes sense: as it stands, they have something to lose by speaking badly of Trump, as Trudeau and Macron did. If Trump had attacked them verbally, they’d have nothing to lose by firing back.

    As Philip Scott Thomas notes, this strategy is compatible with quietly taking practical steps against their autocratic regimes.

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    Mr Ed: It is, from where things are at, enough that Trump does not give a fig about advancing socialism, and that in itself is the victory.

    I’m not sure if his not being as mad and unpleasant as AOC or Bernie Sanders may count as a result. That is only if you set the bar very low that it is almost touching the floor. Sure, the US economy is doing very well at the moment, but let’s be honest: how much of it is down to ultra-cheap central bank money and the fact that it takes a lot to really bugger up a big country like the US? And a $22 trillion public debt (a lot of which is in Chinese hands) doesn’t seem very wise to me.

    As for his indifference as to what goes on in certain countries, why should he care? Where in the United States Constitution is his mandate to care for other countries? Crapholes will be crapholes, be it our schools or Bolivian tax policy.

    There are indeed proper limits to what a POTUS should do, but consider the long-term self interest of the US in not allowing a major financial hub such as HK being swallowed up and Asia increasingly dominated by China. There are proper constraints; but it does make a difference if a POTUS seems to actively side with Beijing on this issue rather than at least keep quiet if he cannot say anything intelligent.

    Much of his protectionism, as far as I can see is based on a desire to actively weaken China, if only to make it less able to cause the US problems. So why does he not link this to policy on Hong Kong (as mentioned in the article I link to?)

  • Fraser Orr

    What American interest is being advanced by this servility?

    I think a far more interesting question is “what American interest is being advanced by hollow and empty condemnations of foreign leaders”?

    Maintaining a relationship with these rather unpleasant individuals allows Trump to advance his core cause — improving the lot of Americans. I doubt too much that he cares about the welfare of the people of Russia or North Korea. What he cares about is how can he position the international relationship with these countries in such a way as to best advantage the United States and its people. That that is his job used to go without saying. Apparently, now, it must be said.

    This comes, surely from his business background, where one is little concerned about the morality or welfare of suppliers and customers but rather how best to position the company to benefit from the relationships.

    This idea of “America First” used to be a core tenant of American policy. Anything different is just politicians poncing around on the world stage trying to make themselves seems “statesmen” to the determent of the American people.

    Now of course that includes things besides trade. For example, it is not in the best interest of America for a NoKo nuke to land downtown Seattle. So if he can talk a little nice, and pull hard on the choke chain of sanctions that seems a good strategy. To try to lead NoKo to normal nation status, with trade and relationships internationally is the ultimate way to see peace. One does not nuke one’s best customer.

    How easy it is to sit on the sidelines and pontificate about “not giving dictators publicity” when one has no responsibility for the consequences of managing the relationship. To be willing to look less of a statesman by failing to align with the expectations of the liberal elites, who are more concerned with how it looks than what it does, in order to benefit the American people shows a level of character and service that few politicians can match.

    BTW by no means am I suggesting the Trump has perfectly implemented this strategy, but at least he has the right meta strategy, something that few recent presidents have had.

    If Trump could get an editor to review his tweets before he sends them, and if he could spend less money on crap, he would be one of the best presidents in recent history.

  • neonsnake

    All discussions of this kind are irrelevant. The issue at stake in 2016 was, Hillary or Donald.

    That makes little sense to me. By the same token, one could say that because Corbyn lost the election in 2017, we in the UK should all thank our little lucky stars for how free we are (and in relative terms, we are very free compared to some other easily named places).

    But, that’s not really how it works, is it? It is still very relevant and important to look at aspects in which we are not free, and take steps to attempt to improve our lot even further.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Fraser O calls this one correctly. President Trump’s prime driver is getting ordinary Americans back to work — after a series of Administrations who were happy to sell the US out in order to look good to the usual suspects, domestic & international. That can be seen in the President’s rather “hands-off” response to the much worse situation in Venezuela, which actually could have a much larger impact on the US than anything which happens in Hong Kong.

    Johnathan, this critique of President Trump sounds a little like that of a Brit who knows the UK is totally ineffectual on the international stage and wishes someone else (the US, in this case) would take care of things in Hong Kong. The UK is seeking “independence” from the EU; it is time for the UK use that “independence” to stand up and be counted, on Hong Kong and on many other things. If UK politicians would stop staring at their own navels and provide some effective leadership on issues like Hong Kong, then criticisms of lack of action from President Trump would seem more appropriate.

    Please don’t take this as lack of concern for the situation in Hong Kong. But concern without action is mere empty words, affecting nothing in the real world. Realistically, there is very little any of us can do to help the people of Hong Kong. And the UK is not doing the little that it could and should, by offering passports to those Hong Kongers who wish to leave.

  • Thehat

    What Trump says to the media and what his people say to these leaders privately are two very different things. Our media has never understood that Trump uses them to play both sides of the diplomatic front. And, I hope, give our military time to prepare.

  • Fraser Orr

    @Gavin,
    In regards to Hong Kong, I am not sure what people expect here. The situation in Hong Kong is quite simply the dawning realization, delayed but inevitable, that Hong Kong residents are in fact part of China, not part of the British Empire.

    It sucks, but it doesn’t suck any more than the equally oppressed in next door Shenzhen. (Except insofar as being poor is probably much worse if you have been rich than if you have always been poor.)

    I certainly wish the Hong Kong residents good fortune in trying to slow down the waves of oppression, as I do everywhere. But it is inevitable.

  • Mr Ecks

    The beef seems to be that Trump is not a warmongering neocon turd–at least by the standards of US Presidents.

    The UK can DO little about HK apart from a nuclear attack on China. Not justified when it is the scum of the Chinese Communist Party behind all the trouble not the Chinese people.

    We could make the offer to take HK back on another 99 yr lease at a hefty (but not ruinous) increase in the money HK pays Xi-scum. The alternative of commie tyranny and the bad results of an HK collapse as a financial centre might just give the Chinese pause. Given the state of their economy and how badly their African Adventure is working out.

  • Kevin B

    Sadiq Khan is doing a wonderful job of publicly dissing a foreign leader he doesn’t like. Whether he’s doing a good job as Mayor of London I’m not so sure.

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    Maintaining a relationship with these rather unpleasant individuals allows Trump to advance his core cause — improving the lot of Americans

    Well it is an interesting relationship where DT says to Xi or whoever that he wants to be pals, while simultaneously slapping tariffs on their goods and so on. Maybe I haven’t wised up to the full, magnificent Mob-like skills of The Donald, lifted straight out of a Scorcese movie, in which he acts nice for the cameras and then does bad things later on.

    Seriously though, there is a broader point here. Have people on this blog noticed how totally fucking useless and quiet the Left has been about Hong Kong? If DT was a brighter man, he’d have used this as an issue to embarrass the Left (“look guys, this is what happens if you let Communists run things”) but instead, he overdoes the realpolitik, so that opportunity is gone. And again, as I said, if he justifies protectionism (which hurts ordinary Americans in the long run) partly because it squeezes Beijing, then why not use HK for added justification for such moves? Even by his own standards, his stance on HK makes no sense.

    Gavin writes: The UK is seeking “independence” from the EU; it is time for the UK use that “independence” to stand up and be counted, on Hong Kong and on many other things. If UK politicians would stop staring at their own navels and provide some effective leadership on issues like Hong Kong, then criticisms of lack of action from President Trump would seem more appropriate.

    Indeed. One of the many reasons for leaving the EU is that it might encourage our political class to grow a pair.

  • bobby b

    You Brits have a long history with HK. It means something to you.

    It really means next to nothing to most Americans, except that it’s right there on the mainland of China, and we wonder why China has allowed that to continue.

    Are we going to invade Turkey over Turkish elections? No. Are we going to interrupt a seemingly profitable (or at least peaceful) relationship with Kim over his staff decisions? No. Substance over form. It’s a nice change, especially when our last president had neither.

    Trump, so far, has been moving on those issues that concern and affect us – us, the people of the United States. Time for you, over there, to take the lead if something is important to you.

    Rothman is just sneakily trying to push his global visions onto a continental president. We didn’t elect a global president. In fact, we pointedly didn’t elect a global president.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “What American interest is being advanced by this servility?”

    Simple, and obvious. Trump’s big thing is doing deals. He’s applying the tactics he learnt in big business to national/international politics. You make clear what you want, start the bidding high, you play tit-for-tat to establish reciprocity, and you keep negotiating channels open by maintaining personal contact. In addition, he does the job he was elected to do, which is serve the American electorate, just as in business his job would be promiting the interests of his own shareholders.

    Thus on something like Hong Kong, his angle would be: what can we do to get the Chinese to behave? You could give them something they want in exchange, or you could threaten some sanction, or you could arrange matters so it was in their own best interests, or you could reduce their risk, or something like that. Empty speeches condemning it, purely for the sake of placating domestic opinion, are a waste of time. (Given domestic opinion, if Trump spoke up in support of HK, the Democrats and the media would be against it.) It’s an even bigger waste of time making empty speeches to persuade the Chinese leaders. 1) They’ve routinely ignored all domestic and foreign criticism in the past; 2) Their need to keep control in HK is a far higher priority for them than foreign opinion; 3) If Trump’s opinion held any weight with them, they’d not be fighting a trade war with the US, and Trump would be deploying his rhetoric to achieve that instead; 4) it’s entirely possible China are only messing Hong Kong about to create a bargaining chip in their negotiations with Trump, and if you give the impression you care, the price goes up; and 5) Criticism and insults don’t make people more ready to deal, they harden resistance to the idea. The trade war is a higher priority for Trump, he wants to do a deal on that, and making speeches would make that harder. It’s also not his job. Legally, it’s about the internal affairs of another country (Hong Kong primarily, China to some degree) and the degree to which other nations can interfere is limited. And if it’s the job of anyone in the international community, it would be the UN, or arguably the UK. And of course there are a hundred or more other countries whose human rights status is far worse than Hong Kong’s, and if he made speeches about all of them proportionately, he’d never get anything else done.

    Yes, what China is doing in Hong Kong is bad. That’s obvious. Everybody knows it. Everybody knows what Trump’s opinion would be. And it gains them absolutely nothing to say so. So why say it? The question is, what are you going to *do* about it?

    And the answer is, if you’re going to do anything about it (and it’s probably a lower priority for Trump), then the thing to do is do a deal with China, and give them something they want in exchange. And to enable that, you keep public relations friendly, or at least not overtly hostile, and negotiate in private. You don’t raise the price you have to pay by annoying them, or costing them unecessarily. Not at first, anyway.

    Most of the stuff Trump does is perfectly understandable and generally quite sensible when interpreted as business negotiation negotiation tactics. I’m always a bit bemused at how the media and the other politicians seem totally incapable of seeing it, and misinterpret everything he does.

  • Fraser Orr

    @Johnathan Pearce (London)
    Well it is an interesting relationship where DT says to Xi or whoever that he wants to be pals, while simultaneously slapping tariffs on their goods and so on.

    I don’t think it is complicated or Machiavellian at all. If you are engaging in tariffs you can do so for two reasons:

    1. To create a permanent trade structure, a mercantilist, perhaps even auturkic state.
    2. As leverage to improve an existing trade deal.

    1. is a terrible economic idea. In both the long and the short term the people are hurt by such things. However, it is a great political idea — those who benefit are a small highly focused group who gain a lot, and those who lose are a wide and disparate group who lose a little. So you can depend on the votes of the former, and you can depend on other issues to override the concerns of the latter.

    In this strategy you do not need the friendship of those you are freezing out, in fact making them seem foreign and nasty is advantageous to selling the idea at home.

    2. is an entirely different strategy. The goal is free-er trade, even if there is a short term cost to making it happen. So you pay a price in the short term for a long term cumulative gain. I might add that the right time to do that, if there ever is a right time, is when your economy is extremely bouyant, as it is now.

    In this strategy, since the long term goal is a friendly, better relationship, you do need to maintain friendly relationships with the “other” guy. Because the ultimate purpose is to apply pressure and get them to negotiate. You don’t want personal animosity to sour that, and, in a sense, it is important to get what you want, but to allow the other side to give it to you in a way that makes sense for them politically, for example, letting them save face, or “beat you down” to where you wanted to be in the first place. Good will is required for good negotiation.

    Obviously Trump is on the number 2 route. Now as to whether it will actually work, I am not so sure. There aren’t too many historical examples of it working. But our relationship with China is quite dreadful, and extremely unbalanced, and so if there ever was a time when attempting this strategy was good, this seems to be it.

    Again, I am not particularly advocating for it. I am a free trader by natural inclination. But even in free trade sometimes things that seem self destructive are actually quite effective.

    I was just discussing an example of this with someone recently in the realm of Web marketing. It is common to do something like “Limited time offer”, sign up by Saturday midnight or this offer will be gone. On the surface it would seem that keeping the offer open indefinitely would produce more sales, however, the data says differently. The pressure to close makes the close more likely. My point here is not that this is directly equivalent to tariffs. Rather my point is that seemingly counter productive strategies might well actually be a better course of action due to the psychological consequences. And especially so as China is really feeling the bite, and American economic resurgence seems able to absorb the hit.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    In Johnathan’s previous post on the situation in Hong Kong, I asked about the petition process for the UK parliament (which I had vague memories of having heard about long ago). No UK-based Samizdata correpondent responded. Oh well! That is why the Good Lord gave us the internet.

    https://www.gov.uk/petition-government

    “Create or sign a petition that asks for a change to the law or to government policy.
    After 10,000 signatures, petitions get a response from the government.
    After 100,000 signatures, petitions are considered for debate in Parliament.”

    Come on, Brits! One has to be a UK citizen to start a petition. Get a petition going on giving UK passports with Right of Abode in the UK to any English-speaking Hong Kong resident who wants one — in recognition of the UK’s nearly 2 centuries involvement in Hong Kong. It would only take little more than half of one percent of the UK citizens who voted Leave in the Referendum to get this debated in the UK Parliament — and that would really get the Chinese government to sit up and take notice. As Nike’s Chinese factory workers would say — Do It!

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Damn it all, folks! 73,188 Brits have signed a petition to the UK Parliament to “Grant legal protection to Swallow, Swift and Martin nest sites not just nests”. Surely there must be more Brits who care about protecting the people of Hong Kong than about protecting bird nesting sites?

  • neonsnake

    Get a petition going on giving UK passports with Right of Abode in the UK to any English-speaking Hong Kong resident

    But that’s not what they want, Gavin.

    Your 25 year olds in HK, they don’t want to uproot their lives and move to the UK, with our rain and clouds and shitty weather.

    They do not want to leave their parents behind.

    Moving to the UK might not solve their problems. They might want the Hong Kong they grew up in.

    A petition will not solve that, hence our sense of helplessness.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Neonsnake — I would have guessed from other comments you have made that you would have advised those 25 year olds in Hong Kong that they have to adjust to the world as the way it is, not to the way they want it to be. Their choices are — adjust to becoming part of China, whether that happens peacefully or violently, quickly or slowly; or move to someplace else. The choice they do not now have is the status quo ante.

    At least by giving them the choice to move to a small rainy island which is less overcrowded than Hong Kong, they would have options. And if many of them then decide that rule by the Chinese Communist Party is (on balance) as tolerable as rule by the Mother of Parliaments, they will feel better for having made a choice of their own free will.

    It is also possible that, faced with a debate in Parliament on granting citizenship to residents of Hong Kong, the Chinese government may quietly suggest the UK drop that proposal in exchange for an assurance that China will honor the 2047 date. In the Trumpian world, this would be called manufacturing a trading chip.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Fraser, it’s comforting to hope that Trump’s ratcheting up of tariffs (ie, taxes) will eventually pressure the Chinese and others to mend their darstardly ways. But I wouldn’t bet the farm on it (talking of farms, the federal govt is paying more money to farmers whose export markets have been hit).

    The reality is that I see little evidence that Trump-style tariff tactics work towards more free trade eventually. I’d like to see concrete proof from the past. The evidence appears to be that it can get out of control.

    And I recall that DT has been a tariff supporter for decades: his idea of “fairness” is one in which no country can really gain much of an edge at all. Ricardo’s insight about comparative advantage is a closed book to him.

  • Vinegar Joe

    Perhaps Trump should draw a line in the sand as did Obama?

  • bobby b

    ” . . . talking of farms, the federal govt is paying more money to farmers whose export markets have been hit.”

    Isn’t this entirely consistent with Fraser Orr’s characterization of Trump’s tariff strategy and motivations above?

    Trump understands that tariffs are inherently costly things for all involved, but he’s using them in the hope that the other side suffers more harm than we do, faster, and so capitulates to our desires.

    And, in the meantime, knowing that the eventual benefits of successful tariffs accrue to all of our society, he’s simply making sure that the costs aren’t borne disproportionately by any one sector.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    “Free trade” is such an ill-defined term. Sometimes people mean zero tariffs. But what about non-tariff barriers, such as regulations against curved bananas and GMO crops? Does “Free Trade” mean that countries have to drop all their regulations?

    And does “Free Trade” apply only to goods? What about free trade in services? And if we want free trade in goods & services, does that mean we have to have free movement of capital? And what about free movement of that critical component of trade — labor? Does real “Free Trade” require open borders?

    Most people I have met who call themselves “Free Traders” turn out to be very selective (and limited) in their adherence to “Free Trade”. “Free Traders” talk about the benefits of things such as Comparative Advantage while ignoring a lot of the implicit assumptions in Ricardo’s model — such as that everyone whose job is displaced by imports finds another (generally more productive) job, and trade is always balanced. In the real world, no country practices “Free Trade”. The US has arguably been closer to free trade than most other countries since WWII — and the results include something like 50,000 factories moved overseas, a reduced percentage of adults in the work force, and financial problems from lost tax revenues and balance of trade deficits.

    The UK in the late 1800s had the Empire on Which the Sun Never Set when it largely adopted unilateral free trade. Perhaps the loss of an Empire and the decay of an industrial base should give us pause about thinking that “Free Trade” might be an unalloyed positive. Free trade between near-peers can bring benefits to both sides; the key is “near-peers”.

  • Alisa

    Mr. Ecks:

    how badly their African Adventure is working out

    Elaborate?

  • Mr Ecks

    Numerous African countries now have political parties whose sole declared aim is Chicoms out. That doesn’t suggest things are going so well. Chicom arrogance is not confined within China.

    Also: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=igLJe-CWUZg&t=23s

  • George Atkisson

    Alisa –

    Allow me to provide some background on China’s efforts in Africa and Central Asia. Generally speaking, China is spending billions of $$ on its One Belt, One Road program to rebuild the old Silk Road from China to Europe. They are building roads, railroads and seaports or improving existing ones. They negotiate with the countries involved, usually happily paying such bribes as needed. The same in Africa with mines and factories. So far, so good.

    The issues start with Chinese arrogance. They are the Middle Kingdom and everyone else needs to acknowledge their superiority. Much of the work is paid for with Chinese loans, but Chinese workers do most of the work and live separately from the locals. Little if any money goes to the locals except for grunt manual labor. The contracts and loans generally give the Chinese government control or major influence over anything they build. The countries involved don’t get the revenue they expected to pay off their loans. China cheerfully accepts more control of the nations resources in return for loan forgiveness or to renegotiate the loans. A lot of the local populations and governments are unhappy and talk with each other.

    Mr Ecks – Please feel free to correct and or expand upon my understanding. 😁

  • Alisa

    Thank you Mr. Ecks, that’s very interesting.

    George: I am (superficially) familiar with the background, but I had no idea China is facing any kind of backlash in Africa. Not that I’m surprised that it happens, only that it escaped my radar.

    BTW and regarding your points about background, it’s not just Africa, it’s also South America (can’t remember specifics now).

  • Fraser Orr

    @Johnathan Pearce
    The reality is that I see little evidence that Trump-style tariff tactics work towards more free trade eventually.

    Just to be clear Johnathan, you may very well be right, and that is why I made my comment about not particularly advocating it. And part of the reason why is that there really does seem to be precious few examples of it working in the past.

    However, let me offer one, perhaps tortured example. In the early part of the 20th Century Standard Oil started buying up oil wells and refinery capability. They managed to kill off their competition by lowering prices well below the economic price for their competitors (sometimes below their own economic price, sometimes not because they had skillfully vertically integrated their business reducing transaction cost.) This was a very successful strategy making Rockefeller the richest man in modern history, and its success was only neutered by intervention from the trust busters. Tariffs are not dissimilar to this. Rockefeller decreased his price, whereas the tariff raises the competitors pricing, but the net effect is the same.

    The example is a bit tortured, but I offer it for consideration. I also think it is an interesting example because the left are terrified of these trusts and feel the violent hand of government is the only thing that prevents their success, while at the same time telling us that tariffs won’t work.

    And again to use the example I gave earlier of “limited time offer”. This is a mechanism for generating artificial scarcity. Tariffs do exactly the same.

    Again, I am not advocating Trump’s approach, though I am hopeful he will be successful.

  • Julie near Chicago

    PST:

    “Had I been given that article shorn of attribution, my first guess would have been that it was by David French or Bill Kristol or some other such Never Trumper.”

    Nailed it.

    .

    Fraser, August 13, 2019 at 6:31 pm: It seems to me that’s a very good analysis. It’s true, there are downsides to Trump’s approach in this as well as other areas.

    Then again, there were downsides to the Revolutionary War.

    .

    Alisa, great to hear from you! 🙂

    .

    Gavin,at 10:14 pm: Well said.

    .

    Alisa, Mr Ecks and George Atkisson, thanks to all three of you on China.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Personally, I would note that “in the long run” does not always override “best for one/some/many/most of us in the “now” and the nearer future. That depends on the topic — “best” medically? nutritionally? availability of public transportion or of whodunits or of imported or hybridized or GMO or old-fashioned plants (real wild strawberries and even the domestic strawberries we had in the ’50s are far, far superior to any latest-greatest I’ve seen in the grocery stores in the past four or five decades) — as well as on the length of “the long run” and also of “the present,” and on just what the “best” means. For instance, “the best” in one fairly narrow domain, or in overall effect?

    Through their dealings, Sam Giancana and Bugsy Siegel were probably better off financially than if they’d become, for instance, elevator operators. Of course, in the long run, which turned out to be fairly short, they got dead, unnaturally. On the other hand, as Mr. Keynes observed (jokingly, I’ve read) in the long run we’re all dead. There’s spillover, too. It’s rather a truism that a big kahuna in some Mob keeps his neighbors’ neighborhood nice and safe. So in the long run, were a good many people better off because they lived near Messrs. Giancana, Siegel, so forth?

    In the longer run, it might be better for the Young Miss if I offed myself now, so that she could have the entire rest of my nest egg to keep her going through her own quite possible upcoming rough spots — at least financially.

    Or not, of course. In the RIGHT NOW THIS INSTANT, I think that doing that would leave her a world of hurt to deal with for a long part of the rest of her life.

    It is conceivable that with a strict no-tariffs policy, in say two generations one/some/many/all Americans (American citizens? American residents?) would be “better off,” at least financially. This might, but also might not, leave them better off in terms of what is available to them in the way of necessities such as food and medicine and shelter. It would have a good deal to do with how the politics go, both domestically and internationally. (In wartime, even the wealthiest may have to do without, even without genuine necessities.)

    .

    But tariffs are only one among many factors leading to all-around “better off.” A great many Chinese are (I gather) much better off financially than they were during and right after the Great Leap Forward. And being better off financially, they’re better off in that they can afford to buy food instead of 12-18 hours/day of backbreaking labor to produce it themselves, as I understand was standard for the great majority of Chinese, the Chinese peasantry, just two or three of decades ago.

    But the people, the real live human individual persons, who constitute “the Chinese” are better off even financially only so long as the rulership decides to let these individuals do their thing. The political prisoners such as Falun Dafa/Falun Gong members, and others as well, are not so well off overall, being still subject to kidnapping, incarceration in inhumane prisons, rape and forced abortion, torture, and murder, a.k.a. “execution,” at the hands of government or at least (to put lipstick on it) of people who use their official position as a way to get away with these things.

    And now that they’re instituting this swell new Social Credit System, the Chinese individual is going to have to behave in whatever way his masters deem acceptable. What we in the Anglosphere (I do not include India) consider Business as Usual, such as publicly denouncing leaders X, Y, Z or policies alpha, beta, gamma or philosophy (I dunno Hebrew characters beyond aleph), etc, is or is going to be subject to severe restrictions in China.

    That is not to bang on China particularly. It’s intended as another example of the fact that tariffs/no-tariffs is not the be-all and end-all of even financial well-being (which of course affects people’s well-being both physical and psychological), but of other factors as well, some of them more important for both freedom-lovers (I would think) and the Average Joe. To my way of thinking, paying the price of a higher cost of goods under tariff or even of having to get along with only minimal amounts of some of them, in order to maintain our freedoms from threats abroad OR at home, is not necessarily unacceptable.

    More jobs presumably will mean fewer Shrillary/Bernie/AOC-type voters. And fewer of these voters means that proportionately more of those who vote are NOT in favor of one or more of: welfare- or SJW- or gungrabbing or anti-free-speech or anti-free-market/anti-business laws. Or of other freedom-destroying laws. With luck, these voters will prevail.

    Do we really mind paying more for goods under tariff if it means our anti-freedom load is at least not made still worse?

  • Alisa

    Right back at you Julie 🙂

  • neonsnake

    you would have advised those 25 year olds in Hong Kong that they have to adjust to the world as the way it is, not to the way they want it to be.

    Oh, what I’ve been advising and what they want are two very different things. All my personal contacts over there work for British-owned companies, and we’ve been attempting for some time to work out whether that would help in terms of moving over here if necessary (short answer – probably).

    We’ve a long history in the UK of actively refusing to grant RoA to Hong Kong residents. There are some exceptions, but I don’t believe they amount to more than a few hundred thousand people at most (I suspect it’s far fewer).

    The best result I can foresee would be to grant citizenship to BNO (British National Overseas) passport holders (roughly half the population, issued upon demand prior to 1997); I suspect we may not be able to offer citizenship to people born after 1997, unfortunately. However, there are people who are calling for just that. Previously, though, the UK have resisted any calls to do so. If memory serves, I think the UK also heavily pressured Portugal not to grant citizenship to residents of Macau, precisely because it might lead to calls for the same from Hong Kong.

    Here’s a previous parliamentary petition on the subject from a year ago- the answer was essentially “No, Hong Kong citizens have to go through the same process as anyone else”.

    Here is the current petition asking for the same thing.

    All of which is good, but I don’t believe it will make any difference. We’ll see.

    Then, to my earlier point, although granting HK residents an escape route would not be a bad thing, what they want is different – for China to honour its prior commitments, and that’s what they hope the protests will achieve, so that they can continue to live in their homeland, in a manner that they recognise – and to fight to extend that past 2047, for the sake of their children and their friends who were born post-1997.

    It may indeed be hopeless, but stranger things have happened. There are large groups of people, political as well as ground-level, fighting for full independence from China, even while they recognise the enormous unlikelihood of success.

  • LLoyd Martin Hendaye

    By the time Trump’s through with ChiComs’ nomenklatural mandarinate, ye ole Celestial Empire will have “advanced to the rear”– straight back to the late 18th Century Ch’ing Dynasty (an ethnic Mongol satrapy dating from 1644).

    For the record, by History’s inexorable Rule of 72 (three 24-year generations, two 36-year socio-cultural eras), Peking’s totalitarian New Imperium is due for comeuppance, major turbulence, late in 2021– 72 years past Mao T’se-tung’s murderous accession in 1949.

    Meantime, no-one sympathizing with Hsi’s Red Rats [Ceausescu, 1989] has any business undermining Trump.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Neonsnake: “… what they want is different …”

    I guess that what most of us want is different. Some would like to return to the optimistic, dynamic, can do US of the early 1960s. Some would like to return to the days when Britannia ruled the waves. Some would like independence for Catalonia. And on & on. The question is what is realistically achievable. And we should never forget the words of the song: “… every form of refuge has its price”. Are those people in Hong Kong who want “independence” really willing to pay that price, whatever it turns out to be?

    Thanks for the link to the Parliamentary petition on giving certain Hong Kong residents a kind of UK passport which does not give them the right to live & work in the UK. A very British gesture! It is good to know that at least 4,720 people in the UK are trying to do something for the people of Hong Kong.

  • neonsnake

    I guess that what most of us want is different.

    I very much hope so. The world would be awful otherwise; but it’s not my place to tell people what they should want. I can advise and help in the very small way that I can, and that’s all, sadly.

    The petition is asking to upgrade the passports we gave out pre-handover (which didn’t grant the right to live & work) to ones which do.

    It was on 3000 when I linked, it’s now at 5,300.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Conrad Black is rather a controversial character*, not to mention a Trump supporter; but FWIW, he has quite an interesting take on China, and on China+Trump, in this piece, dated 8/8/19:

    https://www.nysun.com/foreign/trump-plays-the-long-game-on-china/90789/

    One item that especially struck me (my boldface):

    China still has 300 million people who live pretty much as they did 2,000 years ago, a 40% command economy, no institutions that command any respect except the People’s Army; and not a word or figure it publishes about its economy can be unreservedly believed.

    (Per worldpopulation.com, that works out to 20.9% of the PRC’s mainland population, which the UN “projects” — whatever that means — to be 1,434,515,521, not counting Hong Kong.)

    But that’s merely a snippet of background to the article. To me it seems worth reading the whole thing.

    (If anyone has an opinion of Mr Black as a pundit or observer please let me know).

    .

    *The Great Foot’s writeup on Mr Black discusses his alleged financial irregularities and crimes:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conrad_Black

    Mr. Black defended himself on Aug. 30, 2011, at NRO:

    https://www.nationalreview.com/2011/06/i-stand-court-conrad-black/

  • Alisa

    Black is definitely one of the Good Guys in my book (not that I always agree with him or think that he’s well-enough informed on this or that).

    More generally, contraversial=good,
    Trump supporter=even beter

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Julie — Mark Steyn did a series of contemporaneous reports on the trial of Conrad Black which are worth reading. Generally, Steyn’s view seems to be that Black is an astute & honorable gentleman who was seriously abused by the travesty of what currently passes for a Justice system in the US.

    Re Mr. Black’s observation about China: “… no institutions that command any respect except the People’s Army”. One could say something similar about the US, where only the military scores high in opinion polls about governmental institutions, and Congress ranks somewhere beneath used car salesmen. Mr. Black is of course completely correct that the ‘Orange Man Bad’ crowd seriously mis-underestimate President Trump. And I do wonder if the media that misinforms us so thoroughly about almost everything else is also painting a darker picture of China than is warranted?

    For example, a 40% command economy sounds bad. But probably most European countries have a similarly over-large government-dependent sector. Even in the US, in 2018 FedGov accounted for $4.1 Trillion out of a GDP of $20.5 Trillion – which puts us half way to the Chinese 40% figure even before we add in State and Local government spending.

    As far as the 300 million living pretty much as they did 2,000 years ago — from the little I saw of the countryside in Western China, the peasants 2,000 years ago did not have new Buicks parked at the door and electricity to their reasonable-looking houses. I think Mr. Black can be excused for hyperbole there — but even he is implying that over 1 Billion people in China (roughly twice the population of Europe) now have much higher living standards than before. Apparently, China does have a problem with young people emptying out of the countryside and going to the cities — but so do Japan, Russia, & the US. The differences for ordinary people living in China versus in the West may be more one of degree than of kind.

    I have no brief to defend China — all I can do is tell you what I saw with my own eyes. It is tough to do a direct comparison between life in China and in the West because their cities (even the small ones) are so much more densely populated than cities in North America or even Europe. China today has lots of nice-looking modern apartment buildings; great freeways & toll roads filled with mostly new cars; world-beating metro systems; superb high speed rail; excellent airports; top class pedestrian shopping precincts; an amazing range of public facilities like parks, museums, zoos, aquariums; and more karaoke parlors than one could visit in a lifetime. Police presence is minimal, and the streets are clean. I would guess that the average resident of Chengdu justifiably feels much safer than the average resident of Chicago — people on the streets are better dressed and less tattooed, and violent crime seems to be quite unusual.

    Maybe we should be looking at China as a highly capable competitor rather than as an evil enemy.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Alisa and Gavin, thanks to you both for your replies.

    Alisa, generally agree with your 2-line summary. :>)

    Gavin, if there is a paucity of tattoos in China I may have to consider moving there. :>))

  • Lee Moore

    bobbyb : You Brits have a long history with HK. It means something to you.It really means next to nothing to most Americans, except that it’s right there on the mainland of China

    Well, you should be doing more to educate your fellow Americans about Hong Kong. Friedman, at least, got it.

    Doesn’t matter that they’re Chinese, or that it used to be a British colony. The essential point for which HK is absolutely crushing evidence, whether you’re from Texas, Walthamstow or Ningpo, is that the way to make ordinary people prosperous is to leave them alone.

    Hong Kong is the poster child for the proposition that the invisible hand works better than the visible one.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Gavin, Thanks for suggesting I read Mark Steyn on Mr. Black. Found lotsa stuff, including a UT interview of the latter by the former. Excellent! For anyone who’s interested, it’s 1:09 at

    www. yoo-toob .com/watch?v=rjuzjvwVqOU

    . . .

    I wondered if I could find a definition of the term “command economy” as generally used by the political-economic community. I found this, from Investopedia:

    https://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/command-economy.asp

    A command economy is a system where the government, rather than the free market, determines what goods should be produced, how much should be produced, and the price at which the goods are offered for sale. It also determines investments and incomes. The command economy is a key feature of any communist society. Cuba, North Korea, and the former Soviet Union are examples of countries that have command economies, while China maintained a command economy for decades before transitioning to a mixed economy that features both communistic and capitalistic elements.

    There’s a short list of condensed “Takeaway Points,” and then a fuller discussion of such an economy.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Whoops! 😳

    I got it altogether backwards. Mr. Black is the interviewer and Mr Steyn, the interviewee. Oh well, it’s from 12/2016, and just now they’re discussing M. Mann’s hockey-stick suit against Mr. Steyn.

  • The reverse of being diplomatic to the leader while applying pressure (e.g. trade tariffs) to his state would appear to be making loud ‘this is unacceptable’ statements about the leader while applying no pressure to his state. I think the Chinese are accustomed to that.

    As of today, Trump is, in a small way, talking about Hong Kong, still in an “offer Xi a flattering way forward” manner, suggesting they meet to achieve “a humane solution” to HK, and also to the trade issue. It is clearly part of Trump’s style to assure (to reassure?) leaders he negotiates with that they will be allowed to present their side of the deal as a gain for them. His manner in this is far from mine, but it is one of several ways he shows he is not just the bumbling impulse-driven effortlessly-enragable fool of lefty legend.

    If he achieves nothing at all, then he will be performing at (or above) the level of his predecessor. If Xi comes to the meeting prepared to offer anything at all then it will be the experience of Trump’s trade tariffs that will be responsible.

  • Chip

    China doesn’t engage in free trade. Full stop. Trump is the first leader to call them on it, with the side benefit of blunting their increasingly belligerent behavior in the region.

    And anytime someone frets about Trump’s words rather than his actions, turn the page. Peter Thiel said it best:

    Trump’s supporters take him seriously, not literally. The media take him literally, not seriously.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Lee Moore: “Hong Kong is the poster child for the proposition that the invisible hand works better than the visible one.”

    Full agreement about the benefits of government mostly staying out the way of productive activities, and allowing people to get on with it.

    But part of Hong Kong’s success has probably come from acting as a gateway to the most rapidly growing economy of the last 30 years, in addition to its light hand of government on the commercial world. In a way, Hong Kong might be similar to Dubai — a place which has been able to exploit its fortunate geographic location to compensate for its limited natural resources. And Hong Kong’s successful exploitation of its location has probably included an element of visible government involvement in addition to the governing classes knowing when to stand aside. A Middle East object lesson might be the comparison between Dubai and Bahrain — where Bahrain had all the early advantages but subsequently lost out to the more far-sighted rulers of Dubai.

    The poster child for the invisible hand is probably not Hong Kong but Singapore, which has prospered mightily without the advantage of serving as a revolving door to China. But while Singapore’s ruler allowed commercial development to proceed unimpeded, Singapore also has had a very visible governmental hand in imposing standards of behavior, with none of the tolerance for the anti-social kinds of ‘diversity’ so beloved by Western Lefties.

    Perhaps the undeniable benefits of Adam Smith’s invisible hand implicitly require standards of public behavior and adherence to sensible laws imposed by a very visible rule with low tolerance for deviance?

  • Julie near Chicago

    Thanks, Alisa. Maybe this is a step, a big step, toward an Eastern Free World. And in any case, good for the Taiwanese. 🙂

    .

    Niall: Very good point. :>)

  • neonsnake

    Singapore also has had a very visible governmental hand in imposing standards of behavior, with none of the tolerance for the anti-social kinds of ‘diversity’ so beloved by Western Lefties.

    That sounds…very depressing.

    🙁

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