At 9:18 Friday night, I got an alert from the Washington Post. Barack Obama had slapped tariffs on imports of Chinese tires. Barack Obama’s handling of this issue shows several things. First, it shows a real contempt for China, trade policy, and his international relationships more broadly. As one of my liberal friends likes to point out, this action demonstrates how the Democrats really cannot be taken seriously as the internationalist party. And it shows the implicit contradictions in much of Obama’s economic policy.
Let’s start with the time of its announcement: 9:18pm. Really? Saturday morning in China? This tells us who the audience for this policy was: the United States. It tells us that Obama is willing to subordinate trade policy — just before the G-20 meeting no less — to domestic politics that he is embarassed about. Why else release this late on a Friday night? (note that by statute, he didn’t have to release a response to International Trade Commission recommendations until the 17th. He picked this timing)
By Saturday afternoon, China issues scathing remarks. By Sunday, they announce counter-tariffs against US chickens and auto-parts. We have a full scale trade war. And Asian and European markets open the week down. Thanks Barack…
So Barack Obama started a trade war for entirely domestic reasons, jeopardizing the recovery, and is afraid of the headlines here, why he doesn’t care about international opinion. How does that sound?
Now, why chickens and auto parts? I don’t immediately understand the chickens, although I suspect it is a pretty good business for us, but I understand auto parts.
US auto parts are made by the United Autoworkers, the same union that Obama bailed out when he bailed out GM and Chrysler, two companies that had becoming wards of their union pension funds. In addition to hurting the unions, this could hurt the auto manufacturers themselves, which Obama owns and which opposed the tire tariffs because it will raise their costs. First he screwed the car companies for the UAW, now USW. Perhaps this is a lesson for when he takes over the health care sector.
So where was the logic in this? He helps his allies, with one hand, but hurts them with the other. He hurts the economy. He hurts the government run companies. And he opens a trade war just in time for the G-20 to create real structural damage to the US economy.
Furthermore, this is how he is celebrating the anniversary of the death of Lehman Brothers. By sticking the knife in the economy.
That’s change I can believe in.