Three contrarian opinions
By Scott Sumner
1. Chokers are the best people
It’s a given that NBA players try as hard as they can in the playoffs. There’s a lot at stake, and they all give it their best effort. But things are very different in the regular season. Some teams try really hard, while other teams are simply lazy, depriving their fans of what they deserve.
Because of this inconsistency of effort, in the playoffs one often sees teams with mediocre regular season records dominate other seemingly “better” teams. The teams that lose out despite outstanding regular season records are called “chokers”; although in reality the problem is that they are simply less talented. Even worse, the losing team is mocked despite being better human beings, as they have given their best effort throughout the entire regular season.
When I was young, character still mattered. People were expected to exhibit positive personal characteristics, such as honesty, hard work and dignity. Now we respect “winners”. It’s OK to enjoy the style of play of winning teams more than losing teams, but we should always respect chokers more than teams that overachieve in the playoffs. The overachievers don’t have the personal qualities that are worthy of respect. Chokers are the best people.
2. It makes no difference whether or not we achieve a nuclear agreement with N. Korea
The US and North Korea are currently engaged in nuclear weapons negotiations. These negotiations are not important. It is important that North Korea give up its nukes, and I very much hope that happens. But these negotiations have no bearing on the question of whether that outcome will occur.
The reason is very simple. North Korea has a long history of not living up to its nuclear weapons agreements. That alone would make any potential agreement of dubious value. But it’s even worse. The US has a short history of not living up to its nuclear agreements. Indeed just two days ago the US announced that it would not adhere to the promises it made in an earlier nuclear agreement with Iran. A few months back we announced plans to violate our arms control agreements with Russia.
In the modern world, these sorts of agreements are not credible. Countries sign them, but then go on and do whatever they wish as if the agreement did not exist. I hope North Korea gives up its nukes, but negotiations are not likely to advance that objective.
3. The US is asking for an even bigger “China shock”
There are lots of pundits that understand politics much better than I do. But most of them lack an understanding of basic economics. For example, how often have you heard this set of views?
a. The boom in Chinese exports created major dislocation in the US economy after China joined the WTO in 2002.
b. This China shock helps to explain the Trump administration’s recent efforts to negotiate a better trading relationship with China.
That all sounds plausible at first glance, but only if you don’t understand the basics of international trade theory. That’s because the specific policy demands of the Trump administration would create an even bigger China shock, more imports from China. US officials are currently pressing China to further open its markets, and more specifically reduce barriers against US exports. When a country liberalizes its trade, becomes more open to imports, it also tends to export more. Thus if Trump’s negotiating team is successful, China will export even more goods to the US, creating an even bigger “China shock”.
That doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea, this article argues that China should agree to some of the US demands. But political reporters want to link this effort to populism, the China trade shock, the loss of jobs in the Rust Belt, etc., in a way that is completely unrelated to reality.
If you want a mental image of what the US is trying to do, picture more software from Silicon Valley and Hollywood films going to China, and more washing machines and auto parts coming back to the US. In other words, even more of the same.
Similarly while the administration rhetoric calls for a smaller trade deficits, the specific policies of the administration (massive fiscal deficits and a possible investment surge caused by corporate tax cuts) is likely to boost the size of the trade deficit, by drawing in foreign capital.
There is a silver lining here. Despite the trade impact of Trump’s policies, they may actually end up helping Rust Belt workers, by boosting GDP growth. But that’s because the plight of the Rust Belt was never primarily about trade, and thus a surge in the trade deficit is unlikely to hurt US workers.