So yes, I am planning on going to China on Saturday. My first time, I’m a bit embarrassed to say. It’s not for a lack of opportunities, but rather a conviction that when I did go, I’d make a study of it, staying for at least two weeks, if not more.
But I’ve realized lately that in the past three decades of my career-related travel, I’ve never gone anywhere for more than one week. I admit, I’ve boxed China out, because I assigned it such import, such gravitas, that I needed to justify the 15-hour flight (and its attendant biome and geospatial shock) with a commitment of time I was never able to make.
So this year, I said fuggit. I’ll go when I can go, and for however long I can go. Dip a toe, go longer later. That’s my new approach. China has been looming at the edges of my self-imposed myopia for too long; plus my kids all speak Mandarin and have traveled there frequently. WTF is wrong with me?
Remember the uproar over the Trump administration’s briefly floated idea of slapping a 20 percent tax on Mexican imports to pay for a border wall? (It’s okay if you don’t! Yeah, this was only last week, but there’s way too much to keep up with right now.) It turns out that the clumsily introduced tariff plan was actually a garbled presentation of a longstanding Republican proposal for a “border adjustment” tax (Quartz). The idea is to eliminate the current corporate income tax and replace it with, among other things, a broad 20 percent tax on all imports — effectively, substituting a tax on consumer spending for a tax on corporate profits.
Why would anyone want to do that? People across the political spectrum tend to agree that the U.S.’s corporate tax structure is busted: In theory its rates are high, but in practice companies get away with paying a lot less — often by parking profits overseas. Border adjustment is a plan embraced by conservative economists and lawmakers to keep money coming in to the federal coffers and encourage companies to repatriate their cash hoards while revamping the business tax structure. It’s part of a larger tax-reform scheme on the GOP policy roadmap that resembles the VAT (value-added tax) many European countries use, and it has implications for everything from international currency exchange to the price of eggs.
“Platform” used to mean things like: A railway station waiting area. A soapbox from which one addressed the world. Or a set of positions and policies that a political organization embraced. In the NewCo universe, it means something different — but what, exactly? Paul Ford (Track Changes) takes a stab at defining the word as it has evolved in the tech-internet-sharing economy.
In Ford’s formulation, a platform is any system that handles transactions: financial transactions like buying and selling stuff, communications transactions like sending an email or a text, data transactions like saving an image or tracking an ad. When platforms work well, they lower the individual cost of these transactions the more people use them.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, most businesses have made long-term decisions based on the assumption that global trade was on an irreversible arc toward greater freedom. That era is now over.
In the short term, the Trans Pacific Partnership is dead, and China will move into the vacuum it leaves behind (The New York Times). This won’t end up “bringing jobs home.” It means more trade and more jobs will remain in Asia, where China and its trading partners will move forward with their own business. Progressives feared that TPP would open the door to foreign countries suing to overturn environmental rules in the U.S. Ironically, under a Trump administration, those rules are now in far greater danger closer to home.
Not all business leaders view the economy as an I-win-you-lose arena. But that’s the latest scary mutation of capitalism animating Donald Trump’s world-view, and he applies it most prominently in his approach to trade. Economists generally view trade as a win-win kind of thing, and Trump’s hostility to it puts him at odds not only with mainstream economists but also, or even more, with neoliberal free-market advocates on the right.
For Trump, every deal is a face-off in the ring, an opportunity for domination. This vision of the nature of human exchange — John Paul Rollert dubs it “sociopathic capitalism” or “capitalism as zero-sum combat” (The Atlantic) — has captivating dramatic appeal. But it locks us into a mindset that makes growth impossible: If every gain I make is at your expense, the pie we share never expands.
Guess what? All that populist resistance to free trade seems to be working: The volume of global trade stopped growing in the first quarter of 2016 and actually dropped in the second — marking the first time since the Second World War that trade volume declined during a period of economic growth (The New York Times).
Don’t expect that to change any time soon, writes Binyamin Appelbaum: The Walmart revolution is over, India’s trajectory is different from China’s, and the only thing that’s spreading round the world right now is resistance to lowering trade barriers.
One big problem is that when free trade was riding high, its benefits, in Western democracies at least, went mostly to the very rich. The economy globalized, and all we got was this lousy pay cut! Another problem was that politicians and policymakers oversold trade’s benefits in the first place. Says economist Dani Rodrik: “If the demagogues and nativists making nonsensical claims about trade are getting a hearing, it is trade’s cheerleaders that deserve some of the blame.”
News of the big AT&T/Time Warner deal over the weekend inspired some great big deja vu-infused yawns around here. Didn’t we try this one back in 2000? Isn’t it just a replay of Comcast/NBC Universal? Are we really supposed to care?
The mating dances of large media corporations get outsize coverage partly because large media corporations employ most of the people who write about large media corporations. Mostly, these dinosaur recombination deals are all about restructuring debt and quests for elusive “synergies” that prove mythical.