Fifty years ago
By Scott Sumner
Fifty years ago, the Red Guards were rampaging through the streets of Beijing. Chairman Mao issued weird, over-the-top statements about the evils of American capitalism. Free markets were seen as exploitation, as a sort of winner-take-all. Meanwhile, the US was trying to promote the ideology of open markets, emphasizing that trade is mutually beneficial.
So how about today? The FT quotes one of Trump’s top advisors:
Steve Bannon, the brains behind Donald Trump’s nationalist economic agenda, added to tensions roiling the White House by pouring scorn on his colleagues, rubbishing US policy on North Korea and pressing for the administration to be “maniacally focused” on “economic war with China”. . . .
Mr Bannon said US defence and security officials were “wetting themselves” as they urged a softer line on China in order to secure its help in curbing Pyongyang’s nuclear missile programme. North Korea was a “sideshow” in the context of a winner-takes-all competition between the world’s two largest economies. . . .
Mr Bannon claimed he was working to place anti-China hawks in key positions at the defence and state departments.
“We’re at economic war with China,” Mr Bannon said. “One of us is going to be a hegemon in 25 or 30 years and it’s gonna be them if we go down this path.
And here’s how the Chinese responded:
China’s foreign ministry responded by saying that the China-US economic relationship was “mutually beneficial” and there could be “no winner from a trade war”. It added: “We hope that people will not use 19th- and 20th-century perspectives and measures to address 21st-century problems.”
PS. In his later years, Mao became somewhat mentally unstable. His pragmatic advisors tried to moderate his policies, but his instincts were with the radical advice he was getting from the “Gang of Four”.
PPS. This post is about rhetoric, not policy.