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OCCASIONALLY THE London Review of Books baffles me with (its understandable) focus on British matters. It reminds me of “Fog Shrouds Channel; Continent Isolated.” Most times, though, I find the LRB to be entertaining, informative, and especially articulate in its use of our English language.
Exemplary of this is Adam Tooze’s article “Is This the End of the American Century?” in London Review of Books, April 4, 2019. Adam Tooze is a British historian who is Professor at New York City’s Columbia University and Director of the European Institute. Not to hold it against him, Tooze is grandson of British civil servant (and recruiter of Soviet spys) Arthur Wynn.
Here are tidbits gleaned from Tooze’s LRB article.
Views on Trump. Tooze writes, “The idea that Trump is a wrecker of the American-led world order rests on three claims. First, he is manifestly unfit for high office. That such a man can be elected president of the United States reveals a deep degeneration of American political culture and permanently damages the country’s credibility. Second, his capricious and crude pursuit of ‘America first’ has weakened America’s alliances and instigated a departure from globalisation based on free trade. Finally, he has triggered this crisis at a moment when China poses an unprecedented challenge to Western-led globalisation.”
China’s Challenge. “China alone,” Tooze writes, “was responsible for a doubling of global steel and aluminimum capacity in the first decade of the 21st century. Its huge investment in R&D transformed it from a ‘third world’ importer of Western technology into a leading global force in 5G.”
However, Tooze observes, “What the globalists did not understand was the lesson of Tiananmen Square. China would integrate, but on its own terms. That could be ignored in 1989 when China’s economy accounted for only 4 percent of global GDP; now that figure is close to 20 percent.”
The U.S./Russian Experience Doesn’t Apply. In the early 1980s, the U.S. “deployed economic and political pressure to break what was perceived to be a menacing phase of Soviet expansion in the 1970s,” Tooze notes.
Today, though, Tooze writes, “U.S. business is entangled with China to an immeasurably greater degree than it ever was with the Soviet Union…. look no further than Apple’s supply chain in East Asia. Almost all its iPhones are assembled there. Apple is an extreme case. But it is not alone. GM currently sells more cars in China than it does in the U.S.”
Other Automotive Matters. Tooze writes of NAFTA and USMCA, the revised United States Mexico Canada Agreement: “To escape tariffs, 40 percent of any vehicle produced in Mexico must have been manufactured by workers earning $16 an hour, well above the U.S. minimum wage [$7.25] and seven times the average manufacturing wage in Mexico.”
“The auto industry,” Tooze notes, “was at the heart of the NAFTA renegotiation and it is the critical element in simmering U.S.-EU trade tensions too…. The use of Section 232 to investigate car imports from Germany as a threat to American national security is absurd.”
“That said,” Tooze writes, “Trump’s obsession with the prevalence of German limousines in swanky parts of New York does highlight another painful imbalance in transatlantic relations: the persistent European trade surplus. Of course America contributes to this imbalance with its disinhibited fiscal policy: the better off Americans feel, the more likely they are to buy German cars.”
The U.S. Dollar’s International Role and our Fed. Tooze says, “The dollar’s role in global finance didn’t just survive the crisis of 2008: It was reinforced by it. As the world’s banks gasped for dollar liquidity, the Federal Reserve transformed itself into a global lender of last resort.”
“Needless to say,” Tooze observes, “Trump is no respecter of the Fed’s ‘independence.’ When it began tightening interest rates in 2018 he pushed back aggressively. (As a man who knows a thing or two about debt, he prefers borrowing rates to be low.)”
The Golf Buggy Analogy. Summing up matters, Tooze writes, “As of today, two years into the Trump presidency, it is a gross exaggeration to talk of an end to the American world order. The two pillars of its global power—military and financial—are still firmly in place. What has ended is any claim on the part of American democracy to provide a political model.”
Tooze offers a Trumpian image: “If America’s president mounted on a golf buggy is a suitably ludicrous emblem of our current moment, the danger is that it suggests far too pastoral a scenario: American power trundling to retirement across manicured lawns.”
“Imagine instead,” Tooze concludes, “the president and his buggy careening around the five-acre flight deck of a $13 billion, Ford-class, nuclear-powered aircraft carrier engaged in ‘dynamic force deployment’ to the South China Sea.”
Or the Persian Gulf. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2019