Attainder?

John Wycliffe (1320s-1384) was an English theologian and religious dissenter. He is often seen as a distant fore-runner of the Protestant Reformation that began in 1517. He was a distant forerunner because the Latin Christian Church rejected his criticism of the institution and his doctrinal arguments. Well after his death, the Council of Constance (1415) declared him to have been a heretic. Subsequently,in 1428, a pope ordered both his books and his earthly remains to be burned. Yet his ideas continued to be passed along in the secrecy required of censorship and universal official denigration. They helped prepare the coming of the English Reformation.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/25/Wycliffe_bones_Foxe.jpg

It is vastly unfair to the good John Wycliffe to compare him to Donald Trump. But is it unfair to the clergymen eager to dig up Wycliffe’s grave and make a cage of his bones to compare them to the Democrats? (My apologies also to Warren Zevon.) Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and the editorial board of the New York Times all seem eager to put Trump on trial before the Senate so that he can be convicted on pretty much a party-line vote where–this time–the Democrats have the votes. To what end? Apparently, Pelosi et al hope to have him barred from ever holding elected federal office again.

Why? They seem to believe that he might run for president again in 2024. If Joe Biden turns out to be a one-term president, then there will be a Democratic free-for-all in the primaries. There is no guarantee that a really strong candidate will emerge from that fray or that the party will not rupture into Progressive and Mainstream wings. Trump pulled almost 74 million votes in November 2020. Many Republican voters appear to oppose impeachment, so even the Trump-inspired riot on 6 January 2021 can’t shake their dislike of Democrats. Seen in this light, impeachment appears to be an insurance policy against possible Democratic defeat.

They might bar him from taking office, but can they bar him from seeking office by running in Republican primaries? If he won in the primaries, could he be barred from running for office? If he won in the Electoral College (as in 2016) or even in the popular vote as well, could he really be barred from taking office?

I have the idea that bills of attainder are barred by the Constitution.

American Divisions.

            In 2008, before the financial crisis and the subsequent “Great Recession,” the average real GDP of Democratic ($35.7 billion) and Republican ($33.3 billion) Congressional districts stood pretty close together.  Now, almost two thirds (63.6 percent) of the country’s GDP is produced in Congressional districts that vote Democratic; a little over one-third (36.4 percent) of the country’s GDP is produced in Congressional districts that vote Republican.  The average real GDP of Democratic Congressional districts has risen to $49.0 billion, while Republican districts have actually fallen slightly to $32.6 billion.[1]  That is, Democratic districts enjoy an average GDP that is fifty percent higher than Republican districts.  This is reflected in median household income.  In 2008, the median household income in Republican and Democratic Congressional districts was $53,000.  By 2017, the median household income in Republican districts had declined to $51,500, while in Democratic districts it had risen to $62,000. 

            Whether one looks at finance and insurance[2] or at the professions[3] or at the digital industries, Democratic districts represent about two-thirds (64.3-71.1 percent) of jobs.  Whether one looks at basic manufacturing or primary products, Republican districts represent more than half (56.4-60.5 percent) of the jobs. 

            Other measures mirror this economic divide.  In 2008, the median percent of adults with a BA or higher stood at 25 percent in Republican districts and 27 percent in Democratic districts.  By 2017, the medians had moved farther apart to 27 percent in Republican districts compared to 35 percent in Democratic districts.  In terms of location, in 2008 the median population density in Republican districts was 350 people per square mile, while the median population density in Democratic districts was 850 people per square mile.  By 2018, the rates stood at 200 people per square mile in Republican districts and 2,500 people per square mile in Democratic districts. 

            In the presidential election campaign of 2020, Joe Biden pulled in $486 million in campaign donations from ZIP codes where the median income was at least $100,000, while Donald Trump raised $167 million.[4]  Indeed, from households earning $75,000 a year to $150,000 a year, Biden out-raised Trump by $600 million to $300 million.  In contrast, Trump outraised Biden in ZIP codes below the 2019 national median income by $53.4 million.[5]  Among those earning up to $75,000 a year, Trump out-raised Biden by about $400 million to about $340 million.  

In ZIP codes where at least 65 percent of people had a BA or higher, Biden out-raised Trump $478 million to $104 million.  From among the ZIP codes were 40 percent or fewer of people had BA degrees, Trump out-raised Biden by about $400 million to about $350 million. 

            It looks like the Democrats are becoming the party of rich, educated people telling poor people what they need, while the Republicans are becoming the party of faux common men giving poor people what they want.  “Good and hard,” to quote Menken. 


[1] Aaron Zitner and Dante Chini, “America’s Political Polarization Is Almost Complete,” WSJ, 20 September 2020. 

[2] Basically moving around big pools of other people’s money. 

[3] Medicine, law, higher education, and scientific research. 

[4] Shane Goldmacher, Ella Koeze, and Rachel Shorey, “Map of Donors Reveals a Split On Class Lines,” NYT, 26 October 2020. 

[5] In 2019, median household income was $68,703.    

Advice from a Guy Who Knows a Lot.

            Seen in a somewhat historical longer perspective than one gets in the daily media, Donald Trump’s four years as president aren’t quite the anomaly that they seem.  In terms of foreign policy, the Trump administration identified the key problems, but came up with some wrong solutions.[1]   The duty of the Biden administration will be to recognize where their predecessors saw the target, then figure out better ways of hitting it.  Robert M. Gates stands above the partisan fray, possesses deep knowledge of American foreign relations and of the instruments of those relation, and has exhibited a sense of patriotic duty that should command respect.[2]  While he has discreetly avoided making a direct statement on the Trump administration, he has some good advice for the Biden administration.[3] 

            First, Trump was right: the “friends and allies” don’t pull their weight.  The Trump solution was to deride them and walk away.  The Biden administration should apply serious pressure on burden-sharing.  It also needs to pressure Germany over its own deal with Russia over energy supplies.  It also needs to pressure Turkey over its purchase of a Russian air-defense system and its meddling in Libya.  The United States needs to nudge NATO countries like Turkey, Hungary, and Poland back toward democratic norms.

            Second, Trump was right: many international organizations are messed up.  The Nineteenth Century British radical John Bright described the Empire as “a gigantic system of out-relief for the aristocracy.”  The same judgement applies to international organizations and the European and Europeanized elites of the former colonial countries who staff those organizations.  The Trump solution was to denounce them and walk away.  The Biden administration should apply serious pressure on reform.  The Biden administration also needs to make a serious effort to keep China from gaining a leadership role in all these organizations, because they will just manipulate these organizations to advance China’s national interests. 

            Third, Trump was right: the existing instruments of American diplomacy and “soft power” don’t work well in the new international environment.  The Trump solution was to ignore those instruments, leaving hundreds of patronage positions empty and relying on personal loyalists to deal with foreign leaders or by seeking direct personal contact.  The State Department has been in decline as the leader of American foreign policy since the Kennedy Administration.  The Defense Department, the intelligence community, and—off and on—the National Security Council have all shouldered it aside.  The US lacks the economic resources to compete with China’s Belt and Road Initiative.  America’s “strategic communications” are pathetic.  Just adding one more spending category to the wish-list of money to be raised by making the One Percent pay their “fair share” won’t be enough.  In every case, government partnerships with the private sector offers a better approach. 

            What if we have entered a post-Cold War era in which American leadership isn’t wanted? 


[1] Even that isn’t all that anomalous.  The George W. Bush Administration identified the correct problem in Muslim countries.  They are victims of long-term developments, rather than of brief experiences of Western imperialism.  The Bush Administration then came up with a disastrously wrong solution: knock over Saddam Hussein, declare democracy, put up some big box stores, and leave. 

[2] On Gates, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Gates 

[3] Robert M. Gates, “How to Meet Our Global Commitments,” NYT, 21 December 2000. 

The Asian Century 14.

            The way it looks at the moment, the foreseeable future will be dominated by tiny things: deadly viruses and ultra-thin semi-conductors.  Controlling both holds the key to leadership (and possibly survival) in the Twenty-First Century.  Both come from Asia.  Of the two, computer chips may be the more pressing long-term concern.[1] 

            Inevitably, this begins as History.  The West pioneered industrialization, then moved up the ladder from making simple things to making more complicated and higher-value things.  From this they drew immense wealth.  Wealth converts into military power.  From the late Eighteenth Century onward, the West both shot ahead of the rest of the world and began to impose its rule on the rest of the world.[2] 

            Since the Second World War, many countries have wanted to follow the Western path.  For most of the imitators it meant beginning where the West had begun, with simple mass-produced goods that the West no longer cared to produce.  Textiles, then simple electronics, then motorbikes and automobiles.  They were filling global needs without competing head to head with the established economies. 

            Two countries—South Korea and Taiwan—went farther than making textiles, steel, and ships.  Taiwan’s strategy: invest heavily in research and development; build human capital through education and hold that capital in Taiwan; push rapid adaptation to changing markets in the West; encourage new businesses, rather than guard the established giants; and don’t put the hackles up on key Western manufacturers. 

            One of those start-ups was the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC).  The Taiwanese government chose Morris Chang, an American-educated Taiwanese, to begin creating a semi-conductor industry.  They didn’t set him to jumping too far by building an industry to use those chips in things like smartphones.  They set him to building the essential component of such devices.  He succeeded, but–true to the Taiwanese form—he didn’t rest on his laurels.  TSMC kept pushing up the ladder to chips until it became the leading producer of high-end semi-conductors.  What it did not do was to branch out into making the devices produced by powerful companies like Apple.  Both American and Chinese device manufacturers came to rely on abundant supplies of TSMC chips. 

            Now TSMC and Taiwan are becoming important “chips” in a different game.  The Trump Administration broke with previous American policy by taking seriously the profound Chinese-American rivalry.  Tariffs formed one part of its campaign, but so did a campaign to block the expansion outside China of the Huawei Company.  The American campaign against Huawei aimed, in part, to block the Chinese company’s access to TSMC chips.  The Trump Administration also encouraged TSMC to build a chip plant in the United States. 

            IF artificial intelligence and high-speed computing are going to be two corner stones of economic power and national prosperity, then high-end chips are an essential interest of both China and the United States.  Will the complicated Sino-American relationship on this issue and on so many others be resolved by diplomacy? 


[1] Ruchir Sharma, “It All Comes Down to Taiwan,” NYT, 15 December 2020. 

[2] David S. Landes, The Unbound Prometheus: Technological Innovation and Industrial Development in Western Europe from 1750 to the Present (1969). 

Climate of Fear XXII.

            The Paris Climate Accords, which the Obama administration helped negotiate in 2016, contained flaws as well as virtues.[1]  The virtues have been sufficiently broadcast, so it is worth looking at two flaws. 

First, the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions promised by other countries were purely voluntary.  No one except Morocco and Gambia has met their commitments.  This lack of enthusiasm about compliance with even voluntary targets provides ammunition to critics of the Accords.  If the threat is real, it could be argued, then counties would drive ahead regardless of American participation.  If the threat isn’t real, then is the climate crisis being over-hyped?  Is the United States being beset by a warming planet or by a combination of ivory tower zealots with rival foreign economies seeking a competitive advantage?[2] 

            Second, it is not a treaty.  It is an executive agreement.  Never ratified by the Senate, it never became legally binding on the United States.  Furthermore, it could be—and was—abandoned by the United States as soon as a president hostile to the agreement waved good-bye to the moving van that deposited his stuff in the White House.  In this sense, the Paris Accords resemble the Versailles Treaty ending the First World War with Germany.  Even if the Accords could be converted to a real treaty, it is unlikely that it could get the two-thirds vote needed for ratification.  In short, the Democrats need to win more than a simple majority in the Senate to get a legally-binding treaty in place.  Even passing the legislation to implement a revived executive agreement could be tricky.  This will leave the Biden administration with the same slog through executive orders and rule-writing in which the Obama administration engaged so much energy. 

            One possible lever on the economy for the Biden administration would be to define climate change as not just an “environmental threat” or as a “national security threat,” but also as a “financial stability threat.”  Both the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve Bank offer means to impose government policies without new legislation.  Both possess robust regulatory powers that can lever corporate policies and investor behavior in new directions. 

            The Obama-Trump-Biden pattern of rule writing followed by re-writing followed by re-re-writing is dangerous.  It turns what should be a predictable framework for decision-making into a quadrennial football.  On the one hand, the financial services industry is a vital part of America’s domestic economy and of its international trade.  Is it a good idea to build-in systemic uncertainty? 

On the other hand, the whole enterprise of governing through rule-writing and executive orders is deeply undemocratic.  It further exalts the executive branch; it further diminishes the legislative branch; and it further politicizes the judicial branch. 

No matter how much they are loved by their beneficiaries, rapid globalization and the growth of the “administrative state” have not received a unanimous warm welcome.  “Brexit” is best understood as a revolt against the European Union.  Donald Trump’s election is best understood as a revolt against the dominant policy strand of recent decades.  There is no guarantee that the revolt will end if Biden goes back to the same old policies. 


[1] Walter Russell Mead, “Climate Finance May Foul the Economy,” WSJ, 8 December 2020. 

[2] That’s not what I believe (although both things could be true).  It may well make sense in coal country or the oil patch or the “Rust Belt.”    

The First Draft of History.

            Journalism is said to be the “first draft of history.  It’s only the first draft because journalists commonly do what most historians would not.  Historians try to give a full picture of what happened and why.  Their approach is let the evidence talk to them, then build an argument based on as much evidence as possible.  They’re not supposed to leave out important facts that get in the way of an argument they want to make.  Even the best journalists can do this.[1]

            In 2006, House Minority-Leader Nancy Pelosi saw the opportunity to win control of the House of Representatives by steering toward the center.  She lined up a bunch of centrist candidates and defined an agenda focused on material concerns weighing on ordinary Americans.  The result?  The Democrats added 31 seats in the election and Pelosi became Speaker of the House.[2] 

            When Barak Obama won election as President in 2008 he carried additional Democrats on his coat-tails.  Pelosi joined the Senate Democrats and President Obama in passing the Affordable Care Act, legislation on climate-change, and other costly measures desired by the Democratic left.[3] 

            In the 2010 mid-term elections Democrat suffered heavy losses to Republicans.  Pelosi was relegated to House Minority Leader once again.[4] 

            After grinding her teeth in frustration at not banging the gavel for eight years, Pelosi steered her caucus back toward the center.  She recruited moderate candidates like Colin Lamb and Abigail Spanberger, and she talked down the demands for the impeachment of Donald Trump.  Result?  Democrats regained a clear majority in the House of Representatives and Pelosi got her old job back.[5] 

            From 2018 through 2020, the Democrat majority in the House of Representatives indulged in a frenzy of Trump-hunting and leftist legislation that could never pass the Senate or be signed by the White House.[6]  It only passed President Trump’s renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).[7]  This was one big thing done in cooperation with the Republican-dominated Senate.  Other than that, it’s difficult to think of any significant legislation passed by the Congress in two years.    

Strassel concludes that “America remains a center-right country, and there is great political upside for politicians who govern in a center-right fashion.”  Was this her starting point? 


[1] See Kimberley Strassel, “2020’s Biggest Election Loser’s,” WSJ, 6 November 2020.  NB: I have enormous respect for Strassel based on reading her tenacious “I smell a rat” commentary on the Russia investigation. 

[2] This was an off-year election, when the party in power normally loses seats in the House. 

[3] What this ignores is that Obama had run and won on the issue of universal health-care.  This wasn’t Pelosi’s issue.  Among the costly bills passed were the not-big-enough stimulus bill to pull the country out of the recession triggered by the 2008 financial crisis, and the bail-out of the auto industry. 

[4] What this ignores is the flight from Keynesian economics on the part of both the Republicans and the Democrats after the financial crisis.  While this spawned the “Tea Party” faction within the Republican Party, it also caused President Obama to do much less on economic recovery that he might have tried to do.  The recovery from the recession dragged on, antagonizing all sorts of people. 

[5] What this ignores is that the Great Recession spawned a Democratic “Tea Party” in the form of Bernie Sanders and “The Squad.”  Pelosi found herself under the same harassment as had John Boehner, her Republican predecessor. 

[6] Endorsing the Green New Deal and Medicare for All, while making a foredoomed effort to impeach the president. 

[7] What this leaves out is that the House and Senate also passed the CARES Act on Covid-related economic stimulus. 

Crisis of Democracy.

One way of telling the history of the Twentieth Century is to describe the Triumph of Democracy.  In 1900, only11 countries that could be described as political democracies: they granted all adult male citizens the right to vote and they applied the same laws to all citizens.[1]  The “War to Make the World Safe for Democracy” only somewhat advanced their cause: by 1920, there were 20 democracies and many of them had granted women the vote.  The interwar crisis and the Second World War centered on the defeat of aggressive tyrannies.  Thereafter, however, democracy advanced by leaps and bounds.  Western colonial empires were dismantled.  Democracy expanded its meaning from the purely political to social democracy, and legal protections for civil rights were greatly extended.  The Cold War ended in the collapse of the Soviet Union and its empire.  By 2003, there were 86 democracies in a world of 190-odd countries.[2]   

            Rather than continuing its advance, however, democracy has been in retreat since the mid-2000s.[3]  Where democracy continues to exist, “democratic norms and institutions” are being hollowed-out.  What has caused democracy to fall into disrepute?  What has caused dictators and would-be dictators to gain a new credibility? 

            The crisis arises both from specific personalities and from larger and more long-term systemic changes.  On the level of personalities, one can point to the interaction of Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, and Donald Trump.  Many of the successes for democratization owed at least something to American government backing for democratic movements and institutions from the of Jimmy Carter’s administration through the Reagan-Bush era.  Donald Trump’s administration has largely abandoned the “bully pulpit” on behalf of democracy in the shit-holes of the world.  A host of minor-league wannabe-tyrants draw inspiration from Chinese and Russian aggression. 

On the level of systems, two different sorts of problems exist.  On the one hand. regularly-held elections in which citizens choose their own leaders are not enough to make a country democratic.  Real, living democracy requires also a widely accepted “liberal” mindset.  It requires independent institutions like courts, business, media, and non-governmental associations.  Finally, it requires institutions of government (from the civil bureaucracy to the military to the intelligence services) that serve the nation, rather than any individual leader.  These are the “democratic norms and institutions” that are being hollowed around the world. 

On the other hand, all of these ills arise from the interaction of sclerotic political systems with increasingly indifferent citizens.  Here it becomes difficult to solve the chicken-or-the-egg problem.  Do frozen-up political systems foster citizen alienation?  Does they shift citizens into wavering between solving their own problems through ad hoc means or hoping for a strong-man who can burst the dam?  Does citizen alienation and indifference allow political systems to congeal around dead issues, rather the forcing them to address live issues? 

Neither answer holds much promise for revived democracy. 


[1] This bald definition invites enough qualifications to make your head spin.  For example, women didn’t have the vote; many representative governments hedged-in responsive government to serve an anti-democratic distrust of “the mob”; and democracies ruled over-seas empires in an undemocratic fashion. 

[2] Larry Diamond, “The Global Crisis of Democracy,” WSJ, 18-19 May 2019. 

[3] That is, it began during the years of the Obama-Biden administration. 

The [Retrospective] Biden Plan for Dealing with the Coronavirus.

            Here’s a hard truth.  According to the New York Times, “While the federal government has authority over interstate and foreign quarantine measures, states have the primary authority to impose and enforce quarantine and isolation measures within their own borders, as part of the police powers conferred to states by the 10th Amendment of the Constitution,…” According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, “states and cities are responsible for announcing curfews, shelters in place, or other restrictions and safety measures.”[1]  Joe Biden’s criticism of Donald Trump’s unquestionable mishandling of the corona virus pandemic needs to be seen in this light. 

Biden: “[I]f [Trump] had listened to me and others and acted just one week earlier to deal with this virus, there’d be 36,000 fewer people dead.”[2] 

NYT: “[T]here is no record of Mr. Biden urging adoption of those measures before March 8, nor does Mr. Trump have the power to compel their nationwide enforcement.”  “[W]hile the presidential pulpit might have incentivized governors and mayors to act quicker, Mr. Trump lacks the authority to impose and enforce quarantine and isolation measures in states and cities.” 

Furthermore, Biden “did not suggest locking down cities or limiting social gatherings.” 

Biden: Without a uniform plan and guidance from the federal government that state and local leaders can use to inform their reopening plans, this is going to continue to be worse than it would’ve been otherwise.” 

NYT: “Though they were nonbinding and criticized by some as vague, the White House did release guidelines in mid-April about “opening up American again”.”  “Of the 30 states that had planned to begin reopening in early May, most had failed to meet those guidelines.” 

            Joe Biden spent the years from 1970 to 2016 as a public employee, often an important one.  You would think that he knows the distribution of powers under the Constitution.  Or you would think that he at least reads the newspapers.  Apparently not. 

            President Trump could have done much more to encourage responsible behavior on the part of his supporters, but he did not.  That’s putting it mildly.   

State governors and city mayors deserve much of the blame or credit for their response to the coronavirus.[3]  That’s where the real authority lay. 

            Possibly another hard truth.  We’re likely to have a reliable vaccine by the end of 2020 or early 2021.  Joe Biden will be inaugurated as President pro tempore in March 2021.  A massive production effort, already under preparation, will make mass vaccination possible by Spring or early Summer 2021.  Biden will claim credit for having whipped the coronavirus. 


[1] Linda Qiu,  https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/14/us/politics/trump-authority.html

[2] Linda Qiu, “Fact-Checking Biden on the Coronavirus and His Own Record,” NYT, 11 July 2020.  “A study by infectious disease modelers at Columbia University [found]… that about 36,000 deaths could have been prevented through early May had social distancing measures been enacted by March 8, rather than in mid-March.”

[3] For an example, see: https://waroftheworldblog.com/2020/04/22/chronology-of-a-tragedy/ 

Killings.

In 2016, 61.3 percent of the population of the United States was white; 12.7 percent of the population was black.[1]

Homicide (2016).

In 2016, there were 6,676 murders in the United States.[2]

Of the perpetrators, 81 percent of whites were killed by other whites and 15 percent were killed by blacks; and 89 percent of blacks were killed by other blacks and 8.4 percent of blacks were killed by whites.  So, we live in a pretty segregated society in this area just as in many others.

Of these killings, 3,499 victims were white; 2,870 victims were black; 221 victim were “other race”; and 86 victims were listed as “unknown race.”  So, 52 percent of the victim were white; and 42 percent of the victims were black.  This means that white suffer about 5/6s or 80 percent of the homicides they “should” suffer if homicide was evenly distributed by race.  In contrast, blacks suffer more than three times as many homicides as they “should” suffer if homicide was evenly distributed.

Killed by police (2019).

In 2019, police officers killed 1,004 people.[3]

Of the killed, 370 were white; 235 were black; 158 were Hispanic; 39 were “other”; and 202 were listed as “Unknown.”  Of the 784 people killed whose race was known, 47.6 percent were white; and 30 percent were black.

Application (2020).

On 23 February 2020, Ahmaud Arbery was shot to death by two white men attempting to make a “citizen’s arrest” because they suspected that he might be a burglar.  Arbery’s death and the failure of the local authorities to take any action triggered widespread protests and criticism.  In addition video of the killing soon went viral.  When I Googled his name just now, I got 10,600,000 results.

On 25 May 2020, George Floyd was murdered by a police officer as bystanders filmed the event.  The video soon went viral.  Demonstrations soon began and have slid into rioting, looting, and arson in some cases.  When I Googled his name just now I got 205,000,000 results.

On 1 May 2020, the son of a disgruntled Dollar Store customer shot to death unarmed security guard Calvin Munerlyn.  Several candle-light vigils appear to have followed.  When I Googled his name just now I got 144,000 results.

This isn’t to argue that police violence isn’t a grave problem for African-Americans.  It is.  It isn’t to argue that the deaths of Arbery and Floyd don’t deserve all the attention they have garnered.  They do.

It’s just to suggest that there are even more grave problems facing African-Americans than deaths at the hands of the police.  But nobody seems interested in drawing that lesson—or in remembering Calvin Munerlyn.

[1] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Race_and_ethnicity_in_the_United_States

[2] See: https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2016/crime-in-the-u.s.-2016/tables/expanded-homicide-data-table-3.xls

[3] The Washington Post has been running a data base.  See: https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/national/police-shootings-2019/

ChiMerica 4 18 May 2020.

For decades, both foreign policy experts and business leaders saw China in a favorable light.  They expounded their views to American voters.  Opening China to capitalism and world markets would integrate the Asian giant into the global economy to the benefit of all.  At the same time, capitalism would raise billions out of poverty while spawning a middle-class, the historical driver of democratization.

“Outsiders” long dissented from this “elite” view of China.  They claimed that China rigged its domestic market to exclude foreign products, subsidized Chinese companies competing on international markets, and ruthlessly stole intellectual property.  One effect came in the massive out-sourcing of American industrial jobs and manufacturing in the wake of China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO).  They claimed that China remained a one-party state governed by and for the benefit of the Communist Party.  They pointed out that economic power converts readily to military power, while China advanced supposed “historical” claims to territory beyond its current borders.

Now the “elite” view has lost traction.  American public opinion has taken an increasingly critical view of the Peoples’ Republic of China.[1]  Already in 2019, under the shadow of the tariff war with the United States, the brutal repression of the Uighur minority, and the crack-down on pro-democracy forces in Hong Kong, 57 percent of Americans took an unfavorable view of China.  In February 2020, the unfavorable view had risen to 67 percent.  There is little difference between the political parties in their perception of China as a threat to American interests: 62 percent of Democrats see it that way, leaving little daylight between them and the 68 percent of Republicans who feel the same way.

As a candidate, Donald Trump loudly expounded the anti-China “outsider” view.  As President, he followed his campaign words with presidential action by slamming severe tariffs on China and harshly criticizing it behavior.  Now the United States is in the midst of a coronavirus-induced economic collapse that has undone all the progress that took place during the first Trump administration.  Now the country is desperately short of the personal protective equipment that American companies produced at home in days of yore.  Now many countries, and not merely the United States, are criticizing China for a lack of transparency in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak.

 

How vulnerable is China to external pressure?  China faces grave economic problems.   Its drive for industrialization overshot even the huge demands of domestic and export markets, leaving it saddled with excess productive capacity.  Its long construction boom has achieved the same thing in terms of office space and housing, leaving a property bubble.  Both were financed by excessive government credit channeled through banks that are now on the verge of insolvency.

As the early response to the coronavirus in Wuhan showed, the Chinese central government is hard-put to respond to a crisis because of the autonomy actually exercised by—often corrupt–local authorities.  Moreover, the claim of the Communist Party to sole authority requires that its failures be covered up.  Finally, China’s flawed economic progress has enriched the Party elite and their cronies.  Fixing problems would require painful sacrifice.[2]  For all these reasons, China is vulnerable to external pressure.

 

How wise or idiotic would it be to exert such pressure?  Anything that triggered a severe economic crisis in China would send shock waves around the globe.  Slumping Chinese production would lead to falling demand for raw materials from many countries.  For example, in 2018, China imported more than $60 billion worth of iron ore, gas, coal, agricultural, forestry and fisheries products.[3]  China is deeply entangled in global supply chains for many goods, so the markets for many Chinese products would also start to strangle.  Finally, the global financial system would suffer from the resulting global slowdown.  Thus, in the interlocked global economy, trouble in China will mean trouble everywhere else.  Furthermore, as history has shown time and again, severe economic problems have comparable political effects.  Sometimes the effects create important reforms.  Sometimes they create turmoil and crisis.  All in all, it seems better to seek a co-operative solution that addresses both the immediate crisis and the underlying problems.  That might appeal to the risk-averse, but they aren’t the only ones making decisions.

[1] Walter Russell Mead, “Trump’s Best Re-election Bet: Run Against Beijing,” WSJ, 23 April 2020.

[2] Walter Russell Mead, “China Is the Sick Man of Asia,” WSJ, 4 February 2020.

[3] See: https://asialinkbusiness.com.au/china/getting-started-in-china/chinas-imports-and-exports?doNothing=1