I keep remembering the line Yul Brynner used whenever he was faced with a conundrum in The King and I? “It’s a puzzlement.”
As Americans count down to the 2020 elections, those of us who view the Presidential contest as a critical referendum on the American Idea and the rule of law are torn. We want to stop this corrupt and incompetent administration from doing even more harm between now and then, but we also know that preventing the worst consequences of Trump’s madness will work in his favor.
Take the damage being done to the economy by his ham-handed imposition of tariffs.
There’s a case to be made that Trump has the upper hand in these trade disputes because the United States buys more from China and Mexico than those countries buy from the United States. To put it another way, China and Mexico need Trump economically more than he needs them.
But that’s just the raw economic calculation. Trump is also facing a campaign for reelection in 2020, and he’s banking on a strong economy to propel him to victory. There are already signs that Trump’s trade policies are making the markets and economy jittery, and the pain is likely to escalate if he doesn’t make some deals by September.
People who actually understand economics and trade policy (a category that clearly excludes Donald Trump) are warning that America’s economy is losing steam. Despite Trump’s fantasies, coal is dying, factories aren’t coming back and companies that are still here are pocketing their tax windfalls, not creating new jobs.
Tariffs are taxes on the American people. So far, those costs have been modest. As Trump and top White House officials frequently point out, inflation (a good gauge of price increases across the economy) has remained low, which helps explain why there hasn’t been widespread public revolt over the tariffs, except among farmers and some manufacturers who have been hit the hardest.
Experts who follow economic trends warn that the costs of Trump’s delusional “dealmaking” are likely to ramp up in August and September. That’s because he appears intent upon announcing new rounds of tariffs– thus dramatically increasing the costs Americans will have to pay for goods, and making it probable that people will notice that they, not China, are paying the tab for Trump’s version of trade policy.
August and September are when U.S. retailers import goods for the holiday shopping period. Retailers warn that If Trump’s tariffs are still in place then, “it will be nearly impossible not to pass some — if not all — costs on to consumers for holiday season 2019.”
Consider the numbers. At the start of the year Trump’s tariffs cost the typical family of four about $480 a year, according to calculations by the right leaning Tax Foundation and The Washington Post. Last month Trump increased tariffs on China, which lifted the cost for a typical family of four to $860 a year…If Trump moves forward with his other threat to put tariffs on all Chinese imports by the end of the summer, the cost would jump even higher — to more than $2,000 for a family of four.
And it’s not just higher costs. Retailing–and retail employment– is already on the ropes. As one columnist recently noted,
Last week, 661 firms — including major players such as Costco, Target and Hallmark — signed a letter pleading with the administration not to use tariffs as a cudgel in its efforts to address China’s trade abuses. The USTR has also received more than 1,600 written comments thus far, overwhelmingly negative.
These, like the USTR public hearings, echo what big retailers had already been warning investors and customers: Sweeping tariffs will stress already-thin profit margins and lead to layoffs. They will also raise prices for U.S. households by hundreds or thousands of dollars, wiping out the value of Trump’s tax cuts.
My only quibble with that letter is with the notion that the tax cuts had value…
So here’s the conundrum: Consumer spending is the backbone of the U.S. economy. If Trump continues with his “Tariff Man” antics, the economy will suffer, and the working poor, as usual, will bear the brunt of the pain.
On the other hand, other than appeals to racism, Obama’s economy is pretty much the only thing Trump has going for him.
Should good Americans root for a downturn that would be likely to ensure Trump’s defeat, even though it would cause pain for so many people? Or should we hope that sane policymakers can keep him from tanking the economy– thereby improving his election prospects?
It’s a puzzlement.