Know Your Enemy (1 of 2)

Trump and the controversy over trade. How do we understand it.

The allocation of resources are spread unevenly throughout the earth. By resources I mean natural resources that includes minerals and food and products that are made from those resources. People on the earth ended up in different places with much to little resources where they landed having to build their societies on what they had making some societies rich in variety and others poor in variety. When peoples made contact with each other it was then they learned new things the earth had to offer and they began making deals to share with each other. With this, trading between peoples and nations began.

For instance, India had natural to their land a large variety of spice plants that they used in their food to give it wonderful and different flavors. When people from outside India, especially the Europeans, visited India they fell in love with their spices and when they brought some of those spices home and cooks used them they all realized how bland their food basically was and had to have those spices to “spice” up their food. Traders began to negotiate “I’ll give you this for that” as both peoples had to determine the value of “this” and “that.” No one said, “Sure, just take what you want.” Once, say the Indians, realized how valuable their spice was trading took on the nature of big business. Fundamentally trade was between people and nations who had unique resources the other didn’t have. Eventually when trade became big business people and nations took on competing resources and it’s here most of the troubles in trading began.

I’d like to say this all stayed innocent, but of course nothing does. Take tea, for instance. China found itself the land of tea, made into a drink in the 10th Century BC. Supposedly seeds were given to the Japanese to use in their religious rites. Now the Portuguese, who were the first real European explorers other than the Vikings went to China and Japan as missionaries preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They fell in love with tea and said, “If I sneak some tea plants out of China and Japan I could trade the plants to nations who would grow their own tea and sell it around the world. In a social justice kind of way it would be China’s right to export their tea because they had it, others didn’t. In this scenario they would benefit the world with their tea in exchange for what others would trade for the tea that would benefit them. China didn’t get entirely cut out of the tea market because their plants found themselves in other nations, but it sure cut into their possible wealth, though they have now made it up in other ways.

You get the idea: nations have valuable and desired resources that they trade with other nations who don’t have those same resources, but that water gets muddied by operators who are only out for themselves. Individuals or companies don’t have to be the only negative operators working the bad deal, the nation can be that, itself. And this is done quite often. How, you ask? Lowball your goods and dump them on another nation. And how is this done? By government subsidizing the cost of producing a product and/or by paying low wages so that the product is half the price of the same product that is produced and sold in the nation you are trading with.

Another way a trade imbalance happens is that, say, the United States in negotiating trade deals with other nations makes a bad deal that benefits unfairly the other nation who because of that uneven benefit takes more of our money leaving little of theirs in return. 

A trade imbalance between nations is when the value of what one trades for—something we already make in our nation but is more expensive than what we bring in through trade—say cars and our cars go largely unsold and the other nation’s sell more—they’ve taken more of our wealth leaving us poorer. Individuals may have benefited but the nation hasn’t. 

My intent here is not to discuss trade, something that has become very complex. To find simple answers we must first start with understanding the complex tangle we’ve weaved. Where I’m going, here, is to find an answer for our current President’s attitudes, beliefs, and behavior over trade.

There has been so much outrage over everything Trump that his critics fail to understand his attitudes, beliefs, and behavior thinking it’s not necessary to know these things. There is an ancient Chinese text that has influenced the world ever since it became known. Read this from Wikipedia:

The Art of War is an ancient Chinese military treatise dating from the Spring and Autumn Period (roughly 771 to 476 BC). The work, which is attributed to the ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu (“Master Sun”, also spelled Sunzi), is composed of 13 chapters. Each one is devoted to a distinct aspect of warfare and how that applies to military strategy and tactics. For almost 1,500 years it was the lead text in an anthology that would be formalised as the Seven Military Classics by Emperor Shenzong of Song in 1080. The Art of War remains the most influential strategy text in East Asian warfare. It has a profound influence on both Eastern and Western military thinking, business tactics, legal strategy and beyond.

For our purposes these are the words important for us found in The Art of War:

So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be put at risk even in a hundred battles.
If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose.
If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.

Progressives and postmodernists should consider these words of wisdom, they might just save you a lot of trouble you get yourselves into and can’t find the way out. To know Trump is not necessarily to accept his attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors, but to know Trump is to give you more positive ways to argue against his attitudes, beliefs, and behavior, if you feel you must. This is a fundamental truth that applies to everyone. If you are going to accept or reject a person, they exist in a context (as do you), a context that forms who they are and when you know that you know better why you accept or reject them. Unfortunately because we are fueled by our addiction to outrage, knowing someone is not even a thought.

Okay, who is Trump, in terms of our concern here, trade? Donald Trump was before being elected President a mega billionaire multi-national businessman dealing mostly in real estate. Of all our presidents only 5 others were not politicians: Dwight D. Eisenhower; Ulysses S. Grant (these two, Eisenhower and Grant were military leaders); William Howard Taft; Herbert Hoover; Zachary Taylor (also a military leader). Seven  (7) presidents ran small businesses: George Washington (1st President); Abraham Lincoln (16th President); Andrew Johnson (17th President); Warren Harding (29th President); Herbert Hoover (31st President); Harry Truman (33rd President); Jimmy Carter who was a peanut farmer (39th President). The overwhelming number of presidents were through-and-through politicians, this being all they knew.

Honestly, our economic problems stem in part because our political leaders, including presidents, didn’t understand business. The opposite can be said, much of our political problems stem from presidents who didn’t understand politics. We certainly can see this in President Trump. He has been great for our businesses, not so great for our political relations with other countries. But why do we believe our presidents could or should be both—great at business affairs and great at political affairs? It’s our fault because it’s our expectations. It’s our politician’s fault because they think they can meet our expectations. As you can see, two wrongs have never made a right. 

But remember, this was not the way our Founders created this nation, that so much of our expectations would rest on the president, nor was the president to think himself in charge of our nation, that was why they created Congress. Remember Congress? We’ve almost come to see them as a useless appendage. Well, they have mostly become that so it’s understandable. It was the introduction of progressive ideology that changed all the Founders created, and not for the good of “we the people”. The position created they called President came with specific duties—not including duties normally seen in a monarch—but we’ve ending up making our President an elected monarch. It’s what progressives pushed changing the nature of President into a monarchy who ruled the nation and not simply carried out the policies created by Congress. We now elect our President on the basis of what he (or one day she) promise what they will do for us, and like the ancient Jews who demanded a King, we’ve come to demand a King, and those running for president see themselves as a King. And everyone thinks this is natural.

Until we change our Presidency back to its proper Constitutional role we have to deal with what they are now, an elected monarchy. Our elected Kings come with personal agendas they want accomplished. I wish I could say they are at least agendas built from the people’s real needs but they are not, they are based on the President’s political party ideology. In the case of Obama his agenda was more of his own radical political ideology, his vision of how he wanted to change America away from its past that he saw as evil, at best. When you consider his upbringing you understand this. When you consider Trump’s upbringing this should give you a clue why and how he acts as president. When you begin to understand those attitudes, beliefs, and behavior of the pre-president Trump you will correctly understand President Trump.

When Trump in his pre-president days wanted to build a hotel in a particular city–and he’s going to call it Trump Tower ala New York City or Las Vegas—out of 350 million people who live in the United States, where both NYC and Vegas are located only a few dozen people will be involved in this, it will not impact the millions of Americans beyond that. Or for that matter the world. However much he sells this project as an egalitarian project benefiting all it’s really a business deal ending in “how much money will I make in New York City and Las Vegas?” Don’t immediately jump on that. As Adam Smith found, we are all motivated by our self-interests and this doesn’t automatically equate as morally bad.

To be continued . . .