In my previous column on this topic — US-China Tariffs, Trade, and Technology (Part 1) — I offered my “stream of consciousness” thoughts on the topics of trade and China. At the end of that column I promised to share my thoughts on America, tariffs, and trade wars, so hold onto your hats because here we go…
My Thoughts on America, Tariffs, Trade, and Technology
Although I was born and bred in England, I moved to America 29 years ago as I pen these words. As opposed to somewhere vibrant and exciting like New York or San Francisco, I moved to Huntsville, Alabama, for the nightlife (that’s a little Alabama joke right there).
With regard to America, I love the people, the food, and the country, although it has to be acknowledged that — as far as I’m concerned — one corn dog (a hot dog on a stick that has been coated in a thick layer of cornmeal batter and deep fried; amazingly, it manages to taste far worse than it sounds) is enough for anyone in their lifetime.
The title of this column mentions the topics of tariffs, trade, and technology. Just for giggles and grins, let’s start with trade. One reason for our trade deficits with Asian countries, especially China, is that the workers over there have to work incredibly long hours for very little pay.
For example, the 996 working hour system, which is commonly practiced in China, derives its name from its requirement that employees work from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm, 6 days per week (i.e., 72 hours per week). On top of this, many workers in China — such as those at this Apple manufacturing plant — experience dreadful working conditions and live in appalling circumstances.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was a trade agreement that was negotiated over many years between Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, and the United States. The TPP covered all sorts of things, including fair wages and living conditions for workers, which may well have helped with the aforementioned trade deficits. The TPP also addressed the topics of counterfeiting and outright IP theft.
Based on his deep understanding of international trade (“Nobody knows more about trade than me”), one of the first things President Trump did upon taking office was to withdraw the US from the TPP, thereby removing any influence we had on the proceedings and leaving a power vacuum that China was only too happy to fill.
The remaining nations negotiated a new trade agreement called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, which sounds jolly good until you learn that a lot of the things the US fought for — like IP protection — were dropped or minimized in this new agreement.
What about technology? Well, this is humongous topic that could consume a copious number of columns. One thing that preys on a lot of peoples’ minds is that of climate change. We really need drastic action here, and one part of this action is to diminish our use of fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) and invest in renewable energy technologies like solar power, wind power, hydroelectric power, and so forth (yes, I know that energy storage is a problem and that our civilization relies on plastics, but we have to do something).
President Donald Trump has stated many times that he doesn’t believe in climate change in general or that humans are causing it in particular. He goes so far as to say it’s a hoax, which implies that the 97 percent of climate scientists who do believe humans are the biggest driving factor in current climate changes have all got together to trick the rest of us for some unknown reason. In fact, President Trump doesn’t believe in climate change so much that, according to CNN, he tried to bury a report produced by his own administration.
The Paris Agreement, which focuses on climate change and handling greenhouse gas emissions — was negotiated over the course of many years by almost every country on Earth. Based on his deep understanding of science and technology (“Technology — nobody knows more about technology than me”), one of the first things President Trump did upon taking office was to announce that the US would cease all participation in the Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation.
Just to add to the fun and frivolity, President Trump’s administration is so enthusiastic about using fossil fuels that they are practically drilling the oil wells and laying the pipelines themselves. At the same time, the administration is withdrawing support for renewable technologies, including delaying the first US offshore wind farm because they feel more environmental impact studies are necessary. Seriously? Can anyone spell “hypocrisy” and “double standard?”
The real problem here is that research and development into renewable energy resources is going to make some countries very rich indeed. Unfortunately, the US won’t be included in this number if our government fails to incentivize our scientists, technologists, engineers, companies, and communities as to the importance of developing and deploying these technologies.
I’m practically pulling (what little remains of) my hair out here, so let’s move on to tariffs. As reported by CNBC, President Trump proclaimed that, “Trade wars are good, and easy to win.” Based on his deep understanding of economic theory (“I think I know about it better than [the Federal Reserve]”), the President then proceeded to launch the first strike in what has proved to be an ever-increasing tit-for-tat campaign of imposing tariffs — not just on China, but also on our friends and allies.
Who pays these tariffs? Well, on one side of the debate we have our commander-in-chief who assures us that the Chinese are paying all the tariffs we place on their goods. Now, it ill behooves any of us to criticize anyone who, in his own words, is “like, really smart” and “a very stable genius” (lest anyone feels the President misspoke, he also tells us that, “I’m very highly educated. I know words. I have the best words.” And, who amongst our number can argue with logic like this?).
Unfortunately, almost everyone else is of the opinion that importers pay the tariffs as the goods enter the country. One of my friends just paid close to $1,000 in tariffs on $3,000 of electronic goods. She doesn’t seem to have received the memo that the Chinese should have paid these tariffs for her.
Since I really am not an expert in this sort of thing (“I R an Engineer”), I called my friend Junko Yoshida, who is Global co-editor in chief for AspenCore Media. Junko said that a good starting point to learn all about this stuff is a Special Project (SP) she and her colleagues undertook earlier this year titled US-China Trade Damages Done. Junko went on to say:
Within that SP, there are several stories; the first one — Tech Warfare Outbreak Hits China’s AI — is an interview I did with economist Dieter Ernst. Although it’s long, it’s definitely worth reading because it takes you back in the history and gives you much needed context. The supply chain issue was brought up in the same SP in the China Trade War Detours Supply Chain column. As for the perception gap between the US and China, A Widening China-US Perception Gap is highly recommended. Also recommended is AI a Focus as U.S. Preps Export Controls with regard to export controls and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).
Now, I fear that following my tirade above, you may think I’m a Republican-hating Democrat. You’d be wrong on several counts, not the least of which is that I’m not a Democrat. There are many members of the House of Representatives I respect on both sides of the aisle, and others I wouldn’t trust as far as I could throw them. The same applies for members of the Senate.
A couple of election cycles ago, for example, Jon Meade Huntsman Jr. was one of the potential Republican nominees for the 2012 presidential election. In addition to serving on the administrations of five presidents, Huntsman had been the US Ambassador to China from 2009 to 2011 (later, he served as US Ambassador to Russia from 2017 to 2019).
Whenever I saw him speak in a debate, I found myself nodding my head agreeing with whatever he was saying. Suffice it to say that I would have been proud to have Jon Meade Huntsman Jr. as President of the USA.
The bottom line is that I personally don’t care which party is in power, although I certainly think it makes things simpler if the executive branch and the majorities in both houses are batting for the same team.
The one thing I think is really important is for the commander-in-chief to be a person of integrity who surrounds himself by experts (including people with different views, not just sycophantic “yes people”), and who commands respect both at home and on the world stage.
In particular, I would love to have a commander in chief who listens to all of his advisors (economic, scientific, civilian, military, etc.), who works to build consensus, and who makes sage, well-reasoned decisions that make sense to the rest of us, make our friends happy to be our friends, and make our enemies fear our wrath.
What I don’t want is someone who makes spur-of-the-moment policy decisions in isolation on things they don’t understand, and then communicates their intent to the rest of us (civilians, military, government, friends, and enemies) via Twitter in the wee hours of the morning because — let’s be honest — that’s how covfefe’s happen, and none of us wants that.