Skimming the News: Random Tidbits, Thoughts and Ideas

Unintended Consequences that Should Have Been Foreseen

One of Donald Trump’s signature campaign issues was foreign trade. He explored the issue with nothing more than populist hype, either not caring about the consequences that implementing his promises might bring, or simply not understanding the complexities of the issue. Two stories, one from Politico and one from The Guardian, highlight those potential consequences.

Politico reported today that “In moves that strike hard at President Donald Trump’s rural base, the 11 other nations that participated in the now-defunct Trans-Pacific Partnership are pursuing 27 separate negotiations aimed at undercutting U.S. exporters, according to a POLITICO analysis.

“The TPP, which Trump scuttled immediately after taking office, was a suspect deal to many factory workers. But for already struggling farmers, it was a chance to erase the punishing tariffs that prevented them from selling more beef, pork and dairy to such massive importers as Japan and Vietnam.

“Now, POLITICO reports, the United States is already losing market share in exports of some agricultural products, while top competitors like the EU and Australia are looking forward to enormous cost advantages.

Meanwhile, Trump has been slow to develop a trade strategy of his own. That has farming communities like Wright County, Iowa, which backed Trump by a 2-1 margin, reconsidering their faith in the president.” Read the story here.

On another trade front, The Guardian reports that “Moves by Donald Trump to confront China on trade would elicit a ‘very aggressive’ response, a former top US trade negotiator has predicted.” Beijing said an upcoming visit from the US president would help “map out” the next half century of ties between the world’s top two economies.”

I wonder if the American team will have the experience and expertise needed to negotiate the nuts, bolts and intricacies of international trade with a power like China. It will take more than 140 characters, of that I am sure. Read the story here.

Rotten Lemons

Both of the above stories carry a warning about how our economy and international relationships are threatened when complex policy issues are forced to fit into 140-character tweets.

An example is highlighted in the July 29 issue of The Economist as it explores how a shortage of agriculture workers is affecting American agriculture. It is estimated that “farm-labor shortage accounted for three billion dollars in lost annual revenue between 2002 and 2014.”

One result affecting both industry and consumers is that the share of “America’s fresh produce that was imported increased by 80%” between 1998 and 2012.

California, which produces approximately one third of the nation’s vegetables and two-thirds of its fruit and nuts, lost “nearly 40% of its agricultural workers between 2002 and 2014.” Millions of dollars of rotting over-ripe food is plowed under “because of the lack of pickers.” Read the story here.

Two of President Trump’s consistent messages (reinvigorate the rural economy, cut back immigration) are in conflict here. Without an increase in the number of farm workers, food will continue to rot on the ground and the nation’s agricultural economy will continue to suffer.

But the president’s latest immigration plan would cut even further the number of workers who are allowed into the country to do the back-breaking work of picking American-grown fruit and vegetables. The only winners from this policy are the countries that export food to us.