The unraveling accelerates

The finance ministers of the G7 met in British Columbia last week and gave the US Secretary of the Treasury, Steve Mnuchin, an earful. They told him the US is forsaking its global economic leadership.

Not only are we treating our allies and trading partners poorly, the chaotic style of the US President has worn thin. Depending on which fractious voice is in favor on a given day, the President is routinely changing his mind. This quote from Hua Chunying, the Chinese Foreign Minister, which was reported by The New York Times, is telling:

“In international relations, every time you change your face and turn your back is another loss and squandering of your country’s credibility.”

In the same article, an anonymous European official noted the short-sighted nature of the President and his Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who are looking for “photo opportunities at American steel factories.”

The official noted “European negotiators regard that stance as an unsophisticated, zero-sum view of trade, in which one country that sells more goods to its partner is the winner – an outlook that makes a trade deal difficult to achieve.”

There is a sadness in reading these words. Many have seen this retrenchment tactic as troubling. Conservative pundit David Brooks called the tariffs on allies as “ruinous” on PBS Newshour. On the same show, more liberal pundit Mark Shields called them “reckless.” Shields added that Trump has tended to not respect relationships and views the world as “me and the enemies.”

Zero-sum transactional thinking is a narrow minded view. In global trade, the deal must be fair to stand the test of time. Of course, any deal must be reevaluated over time, but it must be done out of mutual respect. In Trump’s view on anything, he must defeat the other. That is not conducive to building a relationship.

 

 

Relationships with countries are vital

There are no perfect people, so we cannot expect perfect leaders. There are also no perfect countries, so we cannot expect perfect agreements among countries. To respond to these short-comings, we must do our best to value relationships.

This works for people as it does for countries. An ambassador noted America’s strengths are its military might and its relationships with other countries. Our relationships predate the existing leadership team, so it is imperative to nurture them. This will help us resolve problems as they arise.

This is not just a US problem where its current front man acts rashly and chaotically, breaks commitments and agreements and lies more than he does not. He has made America less trustworthy and other countries are finding a need to seek better agreements with others that do not include the US.

The imperfect European Union is experiencing significant tension with the pending Brexit, the current difficulties in Italy and the growing nationalistic movements in EU countries. This is made worse by targeted social media efforts by countries that would benefit fromĀ a dysfunctional EU and US. Russia is one of those countries and they have been accused of such targeting.

A key part of these relationships is a financial one. The global economy is larger than it otherwise would be due to these relationships. If each country only tried to maximize its own profits in a zero-sum effort, the total pie is smaller and we all lose. This concept is called the Nash Equilibrium, which won John Nash a Nobel Prize in Economics.

Yet, it is more than that. These relationships make the world more secure and safe. The nationalists argue the opposite, but the more commerce is intertwined, leaders work harder to nourish those relationships. A strong EU makes Europe safer and prosperous. A strong relationship with the US and other countries does the same.

Yet, these agreements are imperfect. Not every citizen within a country may benefit equally from a global economy. There is a graph called the “Elephant Curve,” which is a silhouette of an elephant with its trunk raised. The body forms the rampant growth in income of the poorest workers around the world, while the trunk represents the even more significant growth in the highest income earners. The trough inbetween represents the middle income earners who are seeing stagnant incomes, who are in more flourishing economies. This trough has led to populist politicians who over-simplify the problems and come to short-sighted solutions.

Their needs must be addressed, but first we must understand the causes are more than the global economy. The larger threat is techonology advancements. Through our relationships we must invest together on addressing these issues. If we do not, we will create zero-sum contrasts, that will cause even more tension. The rise of fascism in Germany evolved out of dire economic circumstances after WWI.

This last example should inform us of why working collectively is so important. We must value our relationships and make them as beneficial as possible. Going it alone may seem like a good idea to some, but we need to think through the benefit of trade and mutual investment in each other.

If this concept sounds theoretical, let me explain it better by BMW, Mercedes, Hyundai, Toyota and Nissan making cars in America, with GM and Ford making cars around the world. And, Chrysler is owned by Fiat, an Italian company. Jobs are created as we invest in each other’s countries. This is true for other industries and suppliers. And, we may be less inclined to create war, when so much is invested in each other.