Thursday, May 11, 2017

Hey, He Ain't All Bad, Right?

Well, I've been away for a while. A minor cold, my brother's wedding, server crashed at work ... it's been a busy couple of weeks. But I'm back now, and ready to be as outspoken and misinformed as ever.

Today, since everything I have posted so far about the trump administration has been overwhelmingly negative, I thought it might be a nice change of pace to cover the more positive aspects of trump's presidency. And no, this isn't going to be "snarky positivism" in which I say things like "at least he hasn't caused the planet to burst into flame" (because, after all, he ain't done yet), nor is it going to be a case of spinning this trainwreck into something palatable (i. e. "well, at least the Saturday Night Live writers' room has plenty to do now"). No, I am actually going to point out things that he has done that are genuinely positive achievements.

With all that being said, let's dive right in, shall we? Here we go ... the Official List Of Things Done By trump That Are Good For Everyone:

1. Renegotiate NAFTA
I realize that, for a lot of people, NAFTA was considered to be a third rail of sorts. I also realize that, during the campaign, he called NAFTA "the worst trade deal of all trade deals" (of course, he also said that about the TPP, the purchase of Alaska in the 1800s, and the Louisiana Purchase, but whatever). The point is that, after he got elected, he shifted from scrapping the entire thing to renegotiation. And say what you will about the man, he knows how to haggle.

The problem lies in his end game. What is he trying to accomplish with this renegotiation? I honestly think he doesn't know, and that he thinks this is the same thing as bickering over the price of new windows for his hotel.

Be that as it may, NAFTA could use some tweaks. After all, conditions on the ground have changed drastically in 24 years:
  • In 1993, when NAFTA was passed, the internet was still in its infancy.
  • Cell phones were toys of the rich and upper middle class, and almost every home had a landline.
  • Computers with 64 meg -- that's "megabytes," not "gigabytes" -- of memory were considered to be monster workhorses.
  • Beepers were a thing, and not an anachronistic joke.
  • America Online was the leading social network, even though that term had not yet been invented.
  • MTV stilled played music videos.
  • People could smoke in restaurants and bars.
  • A gallon of gas cost, on average, $1.16.
  • Movie tickets were around $4.25.
  • A new Honda Accord -- and a nice one, not the bare-bones model -- cost around $15,000.
  • The Dow Jones closed the year at 3,654.
  • "Seinfeld" was the #1 show on television -- which, by the way, was still the undisputed territory of the broadcast networks.

The idea behind NAFTA was that open trade between the United States, Canada, and Mexico would promote economic growth in all three countries by removing trade barriers. To a degree, this is what happened. The problem is that, for the vast majority of workers on the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder, wages stayed flat or fell. In addition, because the phaseout of tariffs was not part of the original agreement, tariffs were eliminated at different rates in different countries. So, for example, corn subsidies in Mexico that kept prices high for corn farmers were eliminated fairly quickly, while corn subsidies in the United States remained. This depressed demand for labor in Mexico ... and, because this also reduced the amount of corn on the market, this increased demand for labor in the US. This had the effect of increasing incentives for people to illegally cross the Mexico-US border, creating a spike in illegal immigration that lasted for nearly twenty years.

Trump saying he is going to renegotiate NAFTA can be a good thing, if he can set aside his monstrous ego long enough to recognize that he still has a lot to learn before sitting down at the table and listen to people who are experts in this field, from both parties. Granted, there is actually not a very good chance he's going to do that; he's probably going to fall back on his "America First" bluster and start making unreasonable demands until Justin Trudeau gives up and punches him in the face.

The fact remains, though, that trump is not wrong when he says that NAFTA needs to be reworked (I'm not sure "renegotiated" is the correct term). The original was intended, among other things, to help Mexico fight the grinding poverty of many Mexicans, and on that front is kinda failed. Mexico was supposed to invest a lot more infrastructure than it did, the end result of which was to limit the amount of US investment in manufacturing there. This created a demand imbalance, which also led to the increased levels of illegal immigration.

In the end, even though this is technically not an "accomplishment" in that it hasn't happened yet, I'm going to put this in the favorable column for him.

2. Ummmm ...
Yeah, the NAFTA thing is about all I can come up with.

Whew! I gotta tell ya, that took a lot out of me. It was hard just to keep up with all of his wonderful accomplishments.

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