1. Getting better all the time
On the whole, that’s how it is on just about everything, according the Gregg Easterbrook in his book It’s Better than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear.
Readers here will be happy to know that there is more burnable oil and gas available now than ever before, gun homicide has been declining in the US, the masses in American have been getting richer in terms of purchasing power by a steady 3 per cent each year, plus life expectancy is increasing everywhere. Our good fortune began with the industrial revolution and there is no good reason why it should end.
Sure there are challenges with inequality and climate change, but he devoted a whole chapter on each, telling how they can be fixed.
Thank goodness for Angus Deaton at the New York Times who says that he too is an optimist, on balance, but, he says:
- I found myself frustrated with “It’s Better Than It Looks” because Easterbrook is such an unreliable witness. Much of what he says is right, but much is not, or is wishful thinking, or sounds wildly optimistic, but does not seem to be documented and so is uncheckable.
So you can’t really believe any of it, because you don’t know which bits are wrong.
He says Easterbrook tends to brush aside catastrophes along the way. For example, he says life expectancy did not “decline much during wars or health alarms such as the AIDS spread.”
It’s just that HIV/AIDS:
- has been responsible so far for the deaths of around 35 million people, and it brought life expectancy down in around 20 African countries, including South Africa (10 years), Botswana and Swaziland (14 years each).
Deason says we may live well, but still may be dangerously close to a cliff.
Deason was especially cranky about Easterbrook’s rosy account of contemporary middle-class prosperity.
One surprising assertion is that “recent Census Bureau statistics show if lower taxes, higher benefits and consumer prices are taken into account, since 2000, middle-class buying power was rising at about the postwar average of about 3 percent per year.”
Deason says the census document says no such thing. He says, fair enough 750 million people have been removed from destitution in China in 30 years, one of the greatest human achievements ever, albeit with rising inequality, but unlike the Chinese poor ordinary people in the US are not doing better.
- Laura Tingle has been made chief political correspondent of the ABC’s 7.30 program.
She’s handed in her notice, but has to serve out her time. All we know is that it will be “soon”.
Back in 2010 just after the election and before the Gillard minority government had been formed, Laura Tingle wrote:
There are two possible explanations for how an opposition presenting itself as an alternative government could end up with an $11 billion hole in the cost of its election commitments.
One is that they are liars, the other is that they are clunkheads. Actually there is a third explanation: they are liars and clunkheads.
But whatever the combination, they are not fit to govern. (Emphasis added)
Rob Oakeshott said Tingle’s assessment influenced him to consider throwing his lot in with Julia Gillard.
Let’s hope she continues to say what she means and is not infected with ABC requirements for ‘balance’.
3. Trump to talk to Rocket Man
Asia editor for The Times Richard Lloyd Parry in Rush to meet Kim Jong‑un shows Donald Trump is gambling on art of the deal says that for nearly two decades US governments held to a consistent slogan on dealing with North Korea: no rewards for bad behaviour. However,
- in a blaze of confusion and improvisation, [Trump] gave the promise of one of the biggest diplomatic concessions of all: a meeting with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.
- Mr Trump’s decision to meet Mr Kim “by May”, without either the time or personnel to prepare the ground, is a huge gamble, however, that could end up wasting America’s diplomatic capital without any realistic prospect of reward.
“We need to talk to North Korea,” the nuclear deterrence expert Jeffrey Lewis wrote today. “But Kim is not inviting Trump so that he can surrender North Korea’s weapons. Kim is inviting Trump to demonstrate that his investment in nuclear and missile capabilities has forced the United States to treat him as an equal.”
Apparently Trump has yet to appoint an envoy to South Korea.
I suspect the sanctions have bitten hard enough for Kim Jong‑un to want to talk. You can probably thank China for that. However, he’s now doing it from a position of strength. We’ll have to hope Trump is up to the task.
Meanwhile, best to remember that at present they are only talking about talking. Doesn’t mean they will.
4. Tingle on Trump
Laura Tingle says that according to Washington Post columnist Aaron Blake:
- Trump’s decision to launch a potential trade war “was born out of anger at other simmering issues and the result of a broken internal process that has failed to deliver him consensus views that represent the best advice of his team”.
On Wednesday evening, the President became “unglued”, leading Blake to ask “if Trump would launch a trade war because he’s angry, what about a real war?”
Kim Beazley says that Trump has the need to periodically biff someone in the school yard. So maybe we got lucky that he just sublimated that urge on a trade war.
Tingle says that Trump’s tax cuts were built on budget deficits of 5 per cent GDP stretching out forever into the future. In terms of US debt they were simply unsustainable.
As well as being a stimulus to an economy already growing by 3 per cent pa.
Now with the tariffs, George Dubya Bush imposed tariffs of 8 to 30 per cent on steel in 2002. They were estimated to have cost 200,000 US jobs by 18 months later when Bush lifted them.
Tingle says China and the EU should heed RBA governor Phil Lowe’s advice and admirably “sit still” to avoid a trade war, unless they want to damage themselves as well as the US.
One commentator said today it was like they were all in a boat. One shoots a hole in the bottom. They others don’t like it, so they also shoot holes in the bottom. Or maybe it’s a case of when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.
Tingle says it’s a threat to the system of US led multilateralism we’ve live under since 1945. You might think it sucks, but we’ve done well out of it.
However, if Trump renders it broken, special deals with the US won’t save us, and once broken it won’t simply snap back into place this time if Trump changes his mind.
It might be time to put in a call to Lisa Simpson: