America does like its wars
. Not that Americans
necessarily like wars, but they are loved by this sort of disembodied concept of the nation-as-entity. And while shooting wars are the most enduringly costly (with trillions in War debt
continuing to hang around the nation's neck), and the War on Drugs
continuing to stock prisons
with pot smokers
(and, as has been pointed out to me, dark-skinned people), there can be plenty for oligarchs and bureaucrats to like in a "trade war" as well. The one ramping up right now illustrates this point perfectly.
Typically the first shot in a trade war is a tariff
. And let us not mince words, a tariff is a tax
, and one ultimately imposed on the citizens
of the country
declaring the tariff. The tariff the US has put on Chinese steel
, for example, only affects Americans. Brazilians
buying metals from China
(as they all assuredly are) aren't paying a dime more for it; only American buyers are.
But it is a mistake to assume that China is the only target of tariffs on China. Consider: the first salvo in the trade war, a few months back, was Trump's tariff on solar panels
. The purpose of this tariff was, fairly brazenly to all observers, not really to remedy the complained of imbalance in trade, but to hurt the flowering solar power
industry in the United States, because it has been promoting the sort of technological progress which threatens a politically important coal
industry with obsolescence. As a consequence of the tariff, solar power installation did stall a bit -- but the proponents of stopping this technological progress have found to their chagrin that it is really nearly impossible to stop, when the advancement of a particular technology is cutting power prices by half every twenty-one months or so.
And so on to the next effort, a much broader tariff on steel and aluminum. The announcement was timed to impact a special election then going on in Pennsylvania
(unsuccessfully, it must be added, as the administration's favored candidate still lost by a hair, dragged down by the President's own presence campaigning in the district). Predictably, China responded as the pundits and presidential advisers suggested it would: by levying its own tariffs against American exports including key agricultural products. Let us be clear: independent small farmers are not unintended collateral damage in this trade war. Wiping them out in favor of mega-agrocorps like Monsanto
(now bought by Bayer
, and, itself by no accident, pursuing its old ends under that new "friendlier" name), Cargill
, and DuPont
, has always
been part of Trump's plan. He was not caught by surprise with this maneuver. This is chess
; the first player moves his bishop in such a way that the second player has no choice but to move a knight. The second player's knight will take the first player's pawn in this move, but this is a fine sacrifice for the first player, who now has a better position for the pieces it values more. Notably, naturally, Trump's proposed parry to China's response is to tax Americans on even more
goods coming from China, with the marked exception of those in the categories of goods which Ivanka Trump imports
as part of her fashion brand
Let me restate this in no uncertain terms: the seemingly negative effects on the US resulting from this trade war are what its architects want to happen. They are means to the administration's true ends, which are not much about trade imbalances, and completely about redistribution
within the US. This is not an accident or an unintended consequence. This is Trump's well-premeditated effort to use a trade war as a cover under which to crush independent small farmers, so they'll have no recourse to stop a small cabal of powerful corporations from taking over virtually the entire American food supply. And then the administration will turn around and blame foreign powers for making the countermoves they were backed into, and blame the Obama and Bush and Clinton and other Bush administrations before for allowing the trade imbalance to exist. And by the way, over in China, President-for-life Xi will use the trade war to his own advantage in the same way, to institute governmental actions framed as a response to it, to blame it for any economic discomfort his own program imposes, and to squelch the burgeoning Chinese movement for democracy by pointing to the US as the example of what "democracy" gets you.
And lastly, lest we let it slip from our observation, yes, this trade war will come at great expense to the average American. Imposed suddenly without instead of pursuant to collective consideration and preparation by the people, it will run rampant over those businesses which have allowed themselves to become intimately intertwined with cheap foreign labor to the East (for we now live in an age when even a mom-and-pop store can order parts custom-made from a factory in some Chinese province, and can indeed become dependent on this supply for its existence). It's a brave new world. A trade war in this day and age will make it quite a costly new world too, for the average man.