Archive

September 23rd, 2016

Free-trade deals claim some unwilling victims

    When people talk about the benefits and harms from trade, they usually refer to the labor market. That makes sense, since losing a job has a huge impact on a person's life. Even if you can find another job, it takes time and money and causes lots of stress. It disrupts your life, and sometimes you can't find as good a job as the one you had before.

    That's why recent research from economists David Autor, David Dorn and Gordon Hanson, showing that trade with China hurt lots of U.S. workers, made such a splash -- we can all imagine the stress, the fear, the humiliation and the hopelessness of workers whose careers are destroyed in a day, leaving them dependent on welfare or working at a job paying half as much. If Autor et al. are right, the "China shock" of the 2000s hurt more workers than it helped.

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Trump has polished his political skills

    After a six-month hiatus from the campaign trail, listening to a Donald Trump speech, and the audience reactions to it, is a powerful experience. Although his message hasn't changed much, Trump's skill as a candidate and his ability to keep the audience engaged have significantly improved.

    The address he delivered in Laconia, New Hampshire, on Sept. 15 was perhaps the 12th I have attended this year. Journalists who have been following him throughout the campaign have probably heard him hundreds of times, day after day. The long and continuous acquaintance makes it harder to notice any changes. I last heard Trump in March, at a golf club he owns in Florida, and the difference between now and then was striking.

    "This was one of the worst political speeches I have heard," I wrote after one of his appearances in Iowa in January. "Trump rambled for more than an hour without completing a sentence. He went off on unexpected tangents." Members of the audience began milling about, talking to one another, leaving early. Trump's voice grated, changed pitch, went from a whine to a growl when there was no need for it.

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The Republican Party is now institutionally defending Donald Trump's racism

    So it's come to this: The institutional position of the Republican Party in the great birther controversy roiling the 2016 campaign -- a consequential chapter in our political history -- is now essentially that Donald Trump did the nationa service by forcing the first African American president to finally show his papers.

    This new GOP storyline has gotten obscured by the ongoing back-and-forth in the media over various subplots (did Hillary Clinton start birtherism? did Trump really keep feeding this conspiracy after 2011?) that are related to the birther battle.

    Yet it's unmistakably the larger narrative that the Trump campaign and top Republicans -- including the chairman of the Republican National Committee -- are telling right now. The Trump campaign's effort to whitewash his birther history -- in which he fed racist conspiracy theories for years -- is being widely called out as dishonest. And that's good. But Trump's new narrative is actually a lot worse than the rendering of it we've seen in most media accounts suggests, and now the party has institutionally joined in promoting it.

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The refugee crisis is real

    A disturbing fault line is at the heart of global politics today. Our world is more interconnected than ever before, and yet the mechanisms and means for managing globalization seem less adequate to the challenges. The result is predictable: a backlash against global engagement born of frustration, fatigue, and fear.

    Nowhere is this more evident than with the global refugee crisis. Sixty-five million people around the world were displaced by conflict, persecution, and human rights violations in 2015, an increase of 5.8 million over 2014.

    Less than 1 percent of refugees returned to their home countries in 2014, and according to the United Nations, the average duration of displacement has risen to 17 years. In 2015, the U.N. appealed for a record $20 billion in order to address global humanitarian needs. Despite tremendous generosity, these appeals faced an unprecedented 45 percent shortfall. The desperation is rising among refugees and in the countries to which they are fleeing. This includes places such as Turkey and Kenya, which are among the largest refugee-hosting countries, as well as European states such as Germany and Sweden, which have welcomed a large number of refugees in the last couple of years.

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The Age of Distrust

    I have a profound respect for the intelligence of the voter. Winston Churchill is often quoted as saying that the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter, but more important is what he actually said in the House of Commons on Oct. 31, 1944: “At the bottom of all the tributes paid to democracy is the little man, walking into the little booth, with a little pencil, making a little cross on a little bit of paper — no amount of rhetoric or voluminous discussion can possibly palliate the overwhelming importance of that point.”

    Nobody, looking back at the first 16 years of this century, can suggest that the political and financial elites who brought you the euro crisis, the war in Iraq, the Great Recession of 2008, growing inequality and (at least until last year in the United States) middle-class income stagnation have not made some very serious mistakes, of very enduring consequences, with very startling impunity.

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Poland launders a conspiracy theory into official truth

    It's important to acknowledge when you've been wrong, and I've probably never been so wrong as I was in an op-ed published on April 13, 2010. At the time, I was stunned by a terrible tragedy: the crash of a plane that had carried the Polish president, Lech Kaczynski. He had been flying to the Russian city of Smolensk to visit the memorial at Katyn, where Stalin murdered 20,000 Polish officers in 1940. Several dozen senior military figures and politicians were also on the plane, many of them friends of mine and colleagues of my husband, who was then the Polish foreign minister. Among them was his deputy, Andrzej Kremer, a wonderful man and brilliant diplomat.

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People aren't thinking straight on Bayer-Monsanto

    Bayer's proposed purchase of Monsanto, the biggest deal of the year so far, has led to a heated public debate over economic concentration. Unfortunately, both sides are failing to identify the key issues behind the potential transaction.

    The good news is that the deal announced on Sept. 14 would not increase market concentration by much. Bayer is primarily a pharmaceutical and health care company whereas Monsanto deals in crop chemicals and seeds.

    Since Bayer does make biotech products and agricultural chemicals, there is overlap in the markets for cottonseed and canola seeds. But what's the actual problem from possibly limiting competition in those markets? There are many substitutes for cotton fabrics and canola oil (how many of us could pass a blind taste test for canola versus vegetable oil?).

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New security at museums and monuments is bad for visitors, worse for U.S.

    Starting in November, Arlington National Cemetery will be phasing in "enhanced security measures," including mandatory screening of everyone who walks into the facility.

    Cemetery officials announced the new security plan on Sept. 12, a day after the 15th anniversary of the worst terrorist attacks in the nation's history. Back then, President George W. Bush urged us "to be calm and resolute, even in the face of a continuing threat." A decade and a half later, we're instead building fear of that threat into our lives.

    As a tour guide, I'm a bit jaded by this quest for security. Every year brings a new closure, a new checkpoint, a little less freedom than the year before. Every change makes tour guides' jobs a little more difficult -- which is fine -- and the visitors' experience at some of the capital's most popular places a little less meaningful -- which is not.

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Garland shouldn't get hopes up for confirmation

    If Hillary Clinton wins in November, will the lame-duck Republican Senate confirm Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court? Last week, Clinton said she would look for diversity and wouldn't feel bound to renominate Garland, which in theory should give Republican senators more reason to confirm Garland, before Clinton can nominate a more liberal candidate.

    Yet a careful analysis of Republican senators' incentives in the case of a Democratic win in November points the other way. If Republicans lose the presidency, the party will enter an intense period of self-reflection and disarray. And if they also lose the Senate, the disarray will be greater still.

    Under those conditions, it seems most likely that Republican senators wouldn't want the final act of their majority session to be acquiescence to the judicial candidate nominated by President Barack Obama. Instead, looking to future primary challenges, they'll have reason to reject Garland by denying him a vote -- even if that may lead to a more liberal Supreme Court in the long run.

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Fed meeting shouldn't obscure BOJ's moment

    This week, much attention will focus on the Open Market Committee of the U.S. Federal Reserve, the most powerful central bank in the world, whose actions have global impact. Yet the most informative, and intriguing, policy decision could take place in Tokyo. And the outcome will not only tell us more about Japan's daunting challenges, but could also signal more clearly what lies ahead for other central banks that continue to operate within an unbalanced macro-economic policy mix.

    It is now widely recognized that, for most of the period since the global financial crisis, an enormous and excessive burden has been placed on central banks. Long used to playing a complimentary, albeit critical role, in policies, and mostly behind the scenes, they have taken such a dominant and visible role that they have become "the only game in town." In the process, these monetary institutions became increasingly committed to experimental measures, from negative interest rates in Europe and Japan, to outsize involvement in financial markets in many countries as the banks deployed their balance sheets for large-scale asset purchases.

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