This analogy reminds me of the part in “Spinal Tap” when they’re standing at Elvis’s grave: “It really puts perspective on things though, doesn’t it?” “Too much. There’s too much f***ing perspective now.”
It must be noted that literally any policy, up to and including the Green New Deal, could be justified in these terms. Imagine the Democratic tax-hike rationales: “Yes, you’ll be paying 15 percent more next year to fund Medicare for All but at least you’re not shipping out to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban.”
In trade war as in real war, some will be called on to sacrifice more than others:
— Joshua Green (@JoshuaGreen) May 13, 2019
America’s farmers are growing anxious. The establishment GOP narrative about the trade war with China is that this is all a means to an end: It’s a leverage play, plain and simple. We hit ’em with tariffs, choke off American demand for Chinese products, bring the Chinese economy to its knees, then China comes begging to us for unconditional surrender. We set the terms, they sign the new deal, and poof go the tariffs. Mission accomplished.
Hopefully that’s how it’ll work in practice but it’s not how the president tends to talk about the process. In Trump’s rhetoric, tariffs aren’t an unhappy means to a happy end, they’re good in and of themselves.
….We will then spend (match or better) the money that China may no longer be spending with our Great Patriot Farmers (Agriculture), which is a small percentage of total Tariffs received, and distribute the food to starving people in nations around the world! GREAT! #MAGA
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2019
Trump, who once famously described himself as a “Tariff Man,” thinks tariffs can help revive American manufacturing by making American goods more competitive price-wise with Chinese alternatives. Never mind that that will mean American consumers paying more at the store whether they buy American or buy Chinese. By driving demand towards domestic goods, he’s hoping to drive a boom in domestic supply as well.
If he believes that, though, I’m not sure why he’d want a trade deal with China at all. Granted, ending the trade war would mean the end of Chinese tariffs on American goods, a boon to American farmers, but Trump’s already got a plan in lieu of that happening, per his tweets. Uncle Sam’s going to buy those American goods with its new tax revenue — which it’ll be collecting from American consumers, including farmers, not from China — and then donate them to countries in need. A reporter on the global agriculture beat at Reuters wonders how that would work:
The govt buying product from farmers… sounds a lot like… China. Price support/govt purchasing has artificially inflated prices in China relative to the rest of the world. There's no genuine price discovery. It didn't exactly work either, so China has been phasing that out.
— Karen Braun (@kannbwx) May 10, 2019
You’d also need an expensive supply chain to ship all of those American goods to poor countries, notes Eric Boehm at Reason. Who’s paying for that? And what would this sudden influx of American goods due to domestic markets in those countries? Either way, he sounds pretty excited about this new arrangement. Is that tough talk to spook China by showing his commitment to a long trade war or is it how Tariff Man actually thinks?
Try to imagine the reaction among MAGA Nation to a scheme from Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that involved (1) raising taxes, (2) a massive federal intervention in commodities markets, and (3) generous giveaways to third-world countries.
There’s also a recurring question of how well this trade war is being managed. In a real war, you pick your battles carefully and form alliances to multiply your strength. In a trade war, evidently you fight everyone at once:
The biggest importers of Chinese goods are the European Union, the United States, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, and India. These nations all share three qualities in respect to China: Wariness of Chinese growth, irritation by Chinese trade practices, and existing alliances with the United States. (In case of India, the alliance is under development, and the Trump administration has made efforts to grow it.)…
Which brings us to the president’s self-sabotage. Early into his administration, Trump pulled the plug on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Since then he has also put tariffs on European and Canadian goods and is now considering the addition of new tariffs. Canada and the E.U. are not America’s adversaries. They, along with Australia, are its most reliable allies—and we need their help if we are to win Trump’s trade war.
A smart strategy would be to lift these newly imposed tariffs on our allies, re-join both agreements, and then encourage India to either join the TPP or form a bilateral free trade agreement.
If if if the goal here really is to maximize pressure on China so that it capitulates and signs a new trade deal with greater benefits to the U.S., then a multilateral approach is wise. But what if it’s not? What if, again, Tariff Man thinks tariffs are good in and of themselves and sees them as a path to greater self-sufficiency for the U.S.? Remember, this is a guy who continues to insist that we’re “losing” because we’re running a trade deficit with China, which is like claiming that you “lost” at the grocery store because the grocer ended up with your money but you didn’t end up with his. Maybe Trump is willing, albeit reluctantly, to sign a trade deal with Beijing that would end tariffs but also perfectly willing and possibly eager to wage a long trade war in the belief that American manufacturing can only benefit from it long-term, never mind the economic wreckage short-term. The fact that Cotton’s reaching for analogies to military sacrifice suggests that he doesn’t think China’s surrender is coming soon, if at all. Gonna be a lot of fallen on the battlefield.