Friday, November 29, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He admitted China had the upper hand in trade talks, although it's not clear if he knew he was doing that.

According to an announcement made today by the office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Trump—or at least someone in his administration—has decided to waive tariffs on a huge swath of Chinese imports. 

In practice, what this means is that American consumers will be spared a fraction of the taxes they'd otherwise pay in the form of higher prices. (Trump has insisted that tariffs don't work this way. They do. He is either lying or—considering how long the trade war has lasted—incredibly slow to learn the basics of his job.)

The tit-for-tat tariffs that Trump and China's government have imposed on one another are meant to cause pain in each other's economic base. There is no reason whatsoever to reduce tariffs before a deal is reached, except to try to cushion American retailers and consumers from the worst of the trade war pain. But in doing so, Trump is also taking pressure off China—which was supposedly the whole point of the trade war in the first place.

In other words, the Trump administration is showing weakness even as China is taking tougher stances in trade talks. 

Trump, who desperately needs to keep confidence in the economy high, promised six weeks ago that those talks were already in the bag. It has been almost 21 months since Trump declared that trade wars were "easy to win."

Trump himself, who is recovering today from the strain of several long plane rides, has not commented.

Why should I care about this?

  • A president who can't or won't learn basic economics can't do the job.
  • Pretending a problem doesn't exist isn't the same thing as solving it.