Friday, January 27, 2017

Hyperion to a satyr, etc.

At least thanks to Reagan the Japanese aren't dumping their cathode ray tubes on us any more. Oh wait, really? Via.

Brooks ("The Politics of Cowardice") is too funny to pass up this morning:

This is a column directed at high school and college students. I’m going to try to convey to you how astoundingly different the Republican Party felt when I was your age.
That's because if you were born any earlier than around 1993 you might have some memories of your own, or from your parents, of what it was really like: the same uneasy coalition it is today, between the huge-money tax cheats and union-haters who supply the funding and the small-town neo-Confederates who supply the votes with their terrorized wives and children.

The big guy then was Ronald Reagan. Temperamentally, though not politically, Reagan was heir to the two Roosevelts. He inherited a love of audacity from T.R. and optimism and charm from F.D.R.
But he has his mom's eyes. That is some startling metaphor, isn't it?

What really happened, of course, is that Reagan was a reasonably skilled and very well-directed actor who consciously modeled his self-presentation on FDR, the wildly popular, relaxed and grinning president of his youth. It seems unlikely to me that he knew much of anything about Teddy (his pal Joel McCrea starred in the 1946 remake of The Virginian, based on the novel by Roosevelt's pal Owen Wister, incarnating the mythical figure of the strong, silent man who speaks softly and carries a big dick I mean stick, and of course Edmund Morris wrote biographies of both presidents, though Reagan's character proved so hollow and impervious that Morris had to resort to fiction to provide his narrative with some impetus). Brooks is just making that up for bothsider balance.

Brooks's main object here isn't to discuss the Republicans at all, but to discuss Donald J. Trump, and prove, to the satisfaction of the many high schoolers and college kids in his audience, that Donald J. Trump is no Republican, which he does, as you might expect, by showing that Trump is no Ronald Reagan, Hyperion to a satyr or is it the other way around.

Which is obvious, when you think about it. Because our 40th president, who rose out of the entertainment industry to take over the Republican Party at the head of a breakaway faction of market libertarians, tax fairy believers, and old segregationists to become the nation's oldest (at 69 and a half) and most frequently divorced (once) chief executive cannot possibly have anything in common with the 45th, who rose out of the entertainment industry to take over the Republican Party at the head of a breakaway faction of market mercantilists, tax fairy believers, and superannuated white former factory workers to become the nation's oldest (at 70) and most frequently divorced (twice) chief executive.

Because Reagan was "sunny", don't you know, and "optimistic". Though I can't imagine anything much more optimistic than Trump's view that he can replace our health insurance system (instantly), create a totally new system of international trade, reform our military alliances and defeat the Islamic State, eliminate the presence of undocumented immigrants in our country, and Make America Great Again on the sole basis of his ability to "make deals" (i.e., fly around, take meetings, frown across the table at his interlocutor like an elderly and apoplectic Ned Zoolander, and hold a press briefing to announce what a fabulous deal he's just made).

And for that matter Reagan could sound just as dark and alarmist as Trump on occasion, as when he warned the public in 1986 that welfare payments could lead to the extinction of the American family:
To some it's hidden, concealed behind tenement walls or lost in the forgotten streets of our inner cities. But for millions of Americans, the crisis is ever present and growing, and it threatens to become a permanent scar on the American promise of hope and opportunity for all.
I'm talking about the crisis of family breakdowns, especially among the welfare poor, both black and white. In inner cities today, families, as we've always thought of them, are not even being formed. Since 1960 the percentage of babies born out of wedlock has more than doubled. And too often their mothers are only teenagers. They're children—many of them 15, 16, and 17 years old with all the responsibilities of grownups thrust upon them. The fathers of these children are often nowhere to be found. In some instances you have to go back three generations before you can find an intact family. It seems even the memory of families is in danger of becoming extinct.
And his views on trade protectionism can sound pretty Trumpian as well, especially early in his time in office, as Sheldon Richman told the Cato Institute in 1988:
 President Reagan got started even before he was elected. During his 1980 campaign he spoke about the problems of the American auto industry, saying, Japan is part of the problem. This is where government can be legitimately involved. That is, to convince the Japanese in one way or another that, in their own interests, that deluge of cars must be slowed while our industry gets back on its feet. . . . If Japan keeps on doing everything that it's doing . . . obviously there's going to be what you call protectionism."(12) One might chalk this statement up to the pressures of a Detroit campaign stop, but, unfortunately, this kind of remark didn't stop with Reagan's inauguration in 1981. The administration's first major protectionist move was pressuring Japan into accepting so-called voluntary restraints on the export of autos. The administration was divided into two factions--the "purists," as the opponents of protectionism (mostly economists) were dubbed, and the "pragmatists," namely politicians and former businessmen who supported "voluntary" quotas. The "pragmatists" were led by Secretary Baldrige and Secretary of Transportation Drew Lewis. During infighting over the issue, Baldrige put down the free traders as "academics" and said, "Secretary Lewis and I are the businessmen in the Cabinet; we known what it's like to trade with the Japanese."(13) How this assertion refuted the arguments of the economists in the administration is not clear.
His administration also initiated the Uruguay Round of GATT talks (in 1986), so go figure.

Nor is Trump in any sense opposed to free trade, you know. As he likes to say, he's just against "bad deals", by which he means deals he hasn't made himself. (Whether he's such a great deal maker at the world level or not remains to be determined, but I'm not expecting much based on his awful record in real estate—the extraordinary hash he's just made in starting an apparent cold war with our third largest trading partner, Mexico, isn't a good sign.)

And then
As Reagan came to office he faced refugee crises, with suffering families coming in from Cuba, Vietnam and Cambodia. Filled with optimism and confidence, Reagan vowed, “We shall seek new ways to integrate refugees into our society,” and he delivered on that promise.
Trump faces a refugee crisis from Syria. And though no Syrian-American has ever committed an act of terrorism on American soil, Trump’s response is fear. Shut them out.
Really? And yet the ceilings set by the US government for refugee admissions plummeted from an all-time high in the last year of Jimmy Carter's term to an all-time low almost immediately after Reagan took office, where it remained until George H.W. Bush's term began.

He didn't deliver on the promise at all, but reduced the quotas drastically, while making them look bigger by focusing on one group at a time—Indochinese, Cubans, Jews and Armenians from the Soviet Union—to the annoyance of the Heritage Foundation, which thought the Vietnamese were being treated unfairly.

My sense is that Reagan didn't really care much one way or the other about these or most issues; liked in most cases, showman as he was, to go for applause; and was mostly run by his handlers without participating in the decision making all that much. Trump doesn't care about any issues and mistakenly believes he's being applauded all the time, and his handlers are far less competent than Reagan's (who were themselves pretty bad), so we're certainly in trouble, but the point remains that Brooks's categorical distinction between the two is not well founded. Trump is as Republican as they come. He just focuses on the activities that involve deal making, because he thinks they make him look good. Sadly, that's not true either.

And the Republicans he's accusing of cowardice aren't doing anything different from what they were doing 36 years ago; they're just worshiping their Real Leader, trying not to question, because that just gets the gods angry.

But he did totally save our clothespin industry! Image from Made in America Secrets.

Bonus: Richman's list of the Reagan administration's protectionist moves:
-- Forced Japan to accept restraints on auto exports. The agreement set total Japanese auto exports at 1.68 million vehicles in 1981-82, 8 percent below 1980 exports. Two years later the level was permitted to rise to 1.85 million.(33) Clifford Winston of the Brookings Institution found that the import limits have actually cost jobs in the U.S. auto industry by making it possible for the sheltered American automakers to raise prices and limit production. In 1984, Winston writes in Blind Intersection? Policy and the Automobile Industry, 32,000 jobs were lost, U.S. production fell by 300,000 units, and profits for U.S. firms increased $8.9 billion. The quotas have also made the Japanese firms potentially more formidable rivals because they have begun building assembly plants in the United States.(34) They also shifted production to larger cars, introducing to American firms competition they did not have before the quotas were created. In 1984, it was estimated that higher prices for domestic and imported cars cost consumers $2.2 billion a year.(35) At the height of the dollar's exchange rate with the yen in 1984-85, the quotas were costing American consumers the equivalent of $11 billion a year.(36) -- Tightened up considerably the quotas on imported sugar. Imports fell from an annual average of 4.85 million tons in 1979-81 to an annual average of 2.86 million tons in 1982-86. Not only did this continued practice force Americans to spend more than other consumers for sugar, but it created hardships for Latin American countries and the Philippines, which depend on sugar exports for economic development. The quota program undermined President Reagan's Caribbean Basin Initiative and intensified the international debt crisis.(37) -- Negotiated to increase restrictiveness of the Multifiber Arrangement and extended restrictions to previously unrestricted textiles. The administration unilaterally changed the rule of origin in order to restrict textile and apparel imports further and imposed a special ceiling on textiles from the People's Republic of China.(38) Finally, it pressured Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea, the largest exporters of textiles and apparel to the United States, into highly restrictive bilateral agreements. All told, textile and apparel restrictions cost Americans more than $20 billion a year.(39) The Reagan administration has stated several times that textile and apparel imports should grow no faster than the domestic market.(40) -- Required 18 countries--including Brazil, Spain, South Korea, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, Finland, and Australia, as well as the European Community--to accept "voluntary restraint agreements" to reduce steel imports, guaranteeing domestic producers a share of the American market. When 3 countries not included in the 18--Canada, Sweden, and Taiwan-- increased steel exports to the United States, the administration demanded talks to check the increase. The administration also imposed tariffs and quotas on specialty steel. These policies, with their resulting shortages, have severely squeezed American steel-using firms, making them less competitive in world markets and eliminating more than 52,000 jobs.(41) -- Imposed a five-year duty, beginning at 45 percent, on Japanese motorcycles for the benefit of Harley Davidson, which admitted that superior Japanese management was the cause of its problems.(42) -- Raised tariffs on Canadian lumber and cedar shingles. -- Forced the Japanese into an agreement to control the price of computer memory-chip exports and increase Japanese purchases of American-made chips. When the agreement was allegedly broken, the administration imposed a 100 percent tariff on $300 million worth of electronics goods. This episode teaches a classic lesson in how protectionism comes back to haunt a country's producers. The quotas established as a result of the agreement have created a severe shortage of memory chips and higher prices for American computer makers, putting them at a disadvantage with foreign competitors. Only two American firms are still making these chips, accounting for a small percentage of the world market.(43) -- Removed Third World countries from the duty-free import program for developing nations on several occasions. -- Pressed Japan to force its automakers to buy more American-made parts.(44) -- Demanded that Taiwan, West Germany, Japan, and Switzerland restrain their exports of machine tools, with some market shares rolled back to 1981 levels. Other countries were warned not to increase their shares of the U.S. market. -- Accused the Japanese of dumping roller bearings, because the price did not rise to cover a fall in the value of the yen. The U.S. Customs Service was ordered to collect duties equal to the so-called dumping margins.(45) -- Accused the Japanese of dumping forklift trucks and color picture tubes.(46) -- Failed to ask Congress to end the ban on the export of Alaskan oil and of timber cut from federal lands, a measure that could substantially increase U.S. exports to Japan. -- Redefined "dumping" in order "to make it easier to bring charges of unfair trade practices against certain competitors."(47) -- Beefed up the Export-Import Bank, an institution dedicated to promoting the exports of a handful of large companies at the expense of everyone else.(48) -- Extended quotas on imported clothespins.

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