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Trade Wars on an Otherwise Delightful Summer Day in Kansas

Tuesday was another sunny yet unusually temperate top-down summer day here in Kansas, and we had a nice meal with our California brother and his delightful longtime partner and our excellent parents, and then dropped in on Mort’s Cigar Bar in Wichita’s Old Town district to enjoy some swinging standards from the Great American Songbook performed by a crack quartet that included our favorite local chanteuse and a brilliant young musician we’ve happily known since the day he was born. After that we came home to check in on the news, though, and wound up grousing about the ongoing trade wars.
The latest development is that President Donald Trump is proposing $12 billion in subsidies to all the farmers whose bottom lines have lately been hit hard by the rest of the world’s expected retaliation to Trump’s tariffs, which offends our Kansas Republican sensibilities. Kansas grows more wheat and corn and alfalfa and all those other crops we can’t quite identify on our drives through the country than even America’s obese consumers can eat, so the state’s all-important agricultural sector has long been reliant on hungry foreign markets to buy up the excess production, and no one around here seems at all pleased that Trump has chosen to demolish such a mutually beneficial world trading order.
That $12 billion in subsidies is a nice gesture, especially if it actually happens, but it’s going to be distributed around a large number of far more populous agricultural states and amounts to a rounding error in the trillion-dollar deficit that America is predicted to incur, and around here it’s not playing well. Both of the state’s stalwart-as-usual Republican Senators are defiantly not on board with Trump’s trade war policies, and we hear the same sentiment on the ag stations we tune into on our drives around the state’s big city. The farmers and the politicians they’ve elected around here have long advocated the food stamp and subsequent welfare programs that buy up a lot of their excess production, and they’ve long relied on crop insurance and other federal subsidy programs, but with stubborn Kansas pride they’d rather make a living by selling their excellent crops on a free international market than get by on welfare.
Our own family here in the state’s big city is far more invested in the second-most-important aviation sector of the state’s economy, which is also dependent on a world market to buy up its but up its excess production of excellent aircraft, and it’s going to take a whole lot more than mere $12 billion in deficit spending to make up the difference if the rest of the world cancels all its American airplane contracts.
Here in Kansas we have our squabbles but mostly try to get along with everybody, a lesson we learned back in the “Bleeding Kansas” days, and we’re pleased to notice that Trump’s trade wars are not popular. The strategy might prove popular in the steelmaking and aluminum-produceing states that are being protected by Trump’s tariffs, but they’re probably unpopular in all the steel- and aluminum-bying states, and we don’t see it working out well for the country at large. Which might not make any difference in the coming mid-term elections at all, and given the local Democrats’ crazy turn to the far left it  probably won’t flip any seats in Kansas, except maybe in that educated and upper-crust district up in the Kansas City suburbs.
No matter how it shakes it out, we have family and friends and good music here in the state, and we  trust we’ll eventually get by.

— Bud Norman

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Steeling Ourselves for a Trade War

The smart money on Wall Street didn’t much like President Donald Trump’s announcement he would be imposing steep tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum, with the Dow dropping 500 points before recovering to end the day with a mere 400 point plunge.  Our own dumb money here on Perry Street in Wichita, Kansas, also didn’t much like it.
Neither did we like it when Trump was running for the Republican nomination for the presidency of the United States on an aggressively protectionist platform, but you know how that turned out. The protectionist racket is always tempting to the populist demagogues of both parties, and although we always prided our Republican selves on the the historical fact that our Grand Old Party has usually been less susceptible to such nonsense we must admit it does succumb from time to time. This time around we think that Trump triumphed in the primaries despite his protectionist policies, not because of them, which makes for some damned complicated politics, and as always we think it’s bad policy.
Which is damned complicated to explain, which makes it all the easier for a populist demagogue from either party to exploit. One can easily see how a 25 percent tariff on foreign steel and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum will bolster the fortunes of American steel and aluminum companies, not to mention their employees, and such a prodigiously glib populist demagogue as Trump can rightly note to his xenophobic followers that all that foreign steel and aluminum is made by foreigners, and that all that domestic steel and aluminum is made is made by Americans. Aluminum-makers don’t have quite the iconic status in American mythology as as those square-jawed and hard-hatted steelmakers in countless folk songs and Works Progress Administration murals, but you throw in wily foreigners and the feckless government negotiators who allowed them steal America’s wealth, and it’s a pretty compelling argument.
For now it’s harder to convince someone of the objective fact that to whatever extent the proposed tariffs benefit the steel-and-aluminum-selling industries they’re going to be just as costly to all the steel-and-aluminum-buying industries. All the official statistics show that domestic steel-and-aluminum-buying industries employ more Americans and make up a bigger share of the economy than steel-and-aluminum-selling ones, as one might expect, and eventually all the final consumers of the suddenly more expensive steel-and-aluminum products will also figure that out, as the smart money on Wall Street seems to have already done.
Not to mention that the rest of the world isn’t going to take Trump’s blustery threats lying down, as all his supine Republican primary opponents eventually did, so of course this mean trade war. All of the countries that Trump is slapping tariffs on can and have already announced that they will impose retaliatory tariffs on the stuff we sell them, as one might expect, and that’s also a bigger chunk of the American economy than steelmaking and aluminum-making. Trump is simultaneously threatening withdrawal from the North American Free Trade agreement, demanding a severe renegotiation our trade treaties with the European Union, has already withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership without offering any alternative but “America First,” and Wall Street isn’t the only stock-exchanging avenue in the world where they’re feeling jitters about the end of the post-World War II global economic order.
The post-World War II global economic order has worked out pretty good from our Republican perspective here on Perry Street, and even the smart money seems to agree. The global economy has expanded at an unprecedented rate,  all the predicted mass famines and global conflicts and nuclear holocaust have been largely averted, life expectancy rates have soared, and technological and cultural revolutions have provided plenty to do with the spare time. The Yankee dollar is still the word’s reserve currency, which sustains the otherwise unsustainable debt the Republicans are currently racking up, and America retains an economic might that Trump likes to boast about. Countless countries have joined the modern economic and Democratic and middle class world, and it’s hard to see a downside unless you think those wily foreigners stole all that money from us, and are the reason you don’t own a bigger boat of broader-screened television.
A lot of Republicans and Democrats apparently believe that, as they always have, but in the end bad policy is always bad politics. The self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sander’s leftward wing of the Democratic fully agrees with Trump’s protectionist policies, but probably by the mid-terms and certainly the next presidential election they’ll be moving toward the center. For now those hated establishment types who crafted the post-World War II economic are reviled by the Trumpian Republican Party, but that also might not last long.
The protectionist racket is only popular so long as  it works, after all, and isn’t really a matter of political ideology or party affiliation. If you’re in an industry that’s vulnerable to foreign competition, you’re for it, and if you do a lot of export business with those wily foreigners you’re against it. Here in the reliably Republican state of Kansas the two biggest chunks of the economy are agriculture and aviation, respectively, which happen to be America’s biggest export industries, respectfully, and although Trump beat the likes of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton handily in the general election he came in a distant third in the state’s Republican caucus.
Despite his popular vote thumping Trump’s protectionist promises put him over the Electoral College top in such rust-belt states as Michigan and Pennsylvania, which are saddled with industries more in need of protection from foreign competition, but in the end that won’t do him much good. Even in the protectionist states there are more steel-and-aluminum-buyers than steel-and-aluminum sellers, however, and the Democrats there aren’t going to vote for Trump even if he defies the National Rifle Association and brings about a single-payer national health insurance policy. With the smart money on Wall Street abandoning him, and the rest of the post-World War II global economic order retaliating, and economic logic holdings its usual sway, we think he’s already lost this fight.
At least he fights, as we’re sure the die-hard Trump defenders will say.

— Bud Norman

Another Weird Wichita Story

In addition to its aviation, agriculture, and assorted other industries, our hometown of Wichita, Kansas, is also a leading supplier of newspaper filler. Forgive our civic pride, but we can’t help boasting that our humble prairie metropolis is perhaps the nation’s leading provider, at least on a per capita basis, of those intriguingly weird stories of little significance that editors cannot resist running.
It might be a couple caught copulating in a garbage dumpster, or a morbidly obese man affixed to his toilet seat, or a long-lost brother and sister who had unknowingly been dating one another, but it’s always something with that certain wackiness required to warrant a Wichita dateline. The latest local incident to make the national news concerned an airplane that landed at the wrong airport. This is not so uncommon as to be noteworthy, our air-going friends surprisingly assure us, but in this case it was a very large airplane that landed at a very small airport with a runway too short for a take-off.
What to do with a Boeing 747 Dreamlifter cargo plane stuck on a too-short runway is an interesting question, as is how it got there in the first place, and when you add in the fact that it happened in Wichita the national media were bound to bite on the story. They never did explain how the plane happened to land at Jabara Airport, a small facility named after a local Korean War hero fighter jock that accomodates the frequent small plane traffic into Wichita, rather than McConnell Air Force Base, the massive military facility which is accustomed to large plane traffic and is located near the city’s last remaining Boeing faciility where the cargo of aircraft was intended to be stored, but they did leave the mistaken impression that a city deep in the heart of flyover country didn’t have another runway large enough to accommodate such a hefty aircraft. In fact the plane could have easily taken off from the Mid-Continent Airport that handles the city’s numerous airlines, and the confused pilot apparently thought he had landed at one of the several aircraft plant runways in the plane-building “Air Capital of the World,” but such details might diminish the humorous appeal to bigger city readers.
There seems to have been less interest in what they wound up doing with that grounded plane, although it also makes for a good tale. They turned the plane around with a powerful tow-truck borrowed from one of the local aircraft companies, lightened the plane by leaving just enough fuel to reach the original intended destination about eight miles away, revved the engines to their maximum capacity, and with some ace pilots flown in from back east they somehow got the plane off the ground on a runway approximately half the length of the 12,000 feet recommended by the owner’s manual. Local law enforcement blocked the busy streets for miles around the airport, for fear that the jet engines’ blast would blow enough debris to create a traffic hazard, but a large crowd of local aviation enthusiasts somehow got close enough to cheer the remarkable take-off. Wichita bears no blame for the plane’s unfortunate situation, but it does appreciate a nice bit of aviation derring-do.
The story is not so important as the Obamacare debacle or the Senate’s “nuclear option” or any of the other pendng scandals, all of which are fairly analogous except for the eventual successful take-off, but we can’t resist that Wichita dateline.

— Bud Norman