Kellogg and Briand Frosted Flakes.

In the First World War (1914-1918), Germany fought France, Britain, Russia, and the United States.  Germany lost–barely.  The French sought to create a post-war peace system based on keeping Germany weak.  Break up Germany into smaller states; grant the French control of the Rhineland and the Ruhr (Germany’s industrial heartland).  The British and the Americans didn’t like this solution, which just promised future wars.  Britain and the United States came up with a different plan: they would guarantee French security with an alliance treaty.  If Germany (or Mars) attacked, Britain and France would come to the aid of France.  However, the United States Senate refused to approve the Versailles Treaty (and its obligations for the United States).[1]  The British took the view—not entirely reasonable in light of the subsequent German danger under Mr. Hitler—that this let them off the hook as well.  All of a sudden, the French had neither an American nor a British alliance, nor did they have a weakened Germany.  What to do?

They tried coercing the Germans by occupying the Ruhr (1923-1925).  Unfortunately, they owed American banks a ton of money from the war.  So the American could—and did—bend France over the couch.  This led to the Dawes Plan and, eventually, to the Locarno Agreements.

Aristide Briand (1862-1932) fell heir to this mess.  Briand was a leftist politician who had been prime minister on many occasions.  In 1925 he became foreign minister.  He needed a way to fend off a future war with Germany.  Partly, this meant sucking-up to Germany.  Partly this meant trying to snare the United States into promising to defend France.  Briand fished around, then proposed what amounted to a defensive alliance between the US and France.

Frank Kellogg (1856-1937) grew up in the Upper Mid-West, taught himself law under the old pre-law-school system, and eventually became a terrifying lawyer for the U.S. Government in the Theodore Roosevelt administration.  He prosecuted the Union Pacific Railroad and Standard Oil.[2]  What he didn’t know about the real meaning of legal agreements wasn’t worth knowing.  He became a Senator from Minnesota (1916-1922).  Unlike most Republicans, he voted for the Versailles Treaty, so he lost that job.  “Progressive” Republicans like Herbert Hoover didn’t hold it against him that he had stood up to the old men and idiots.  He spent a year as Ambassador to Britain (1924-1925), then became Secretary of State (1925-1929).

So, Frank Kellogg had to deal with Aristide Briand’s proposal.  How to dodge a French trap?  He counter-proposed an agreement that would be open to every country and which rejected aggressive war as an instrument of national policy.  Who could be against a rejection of aggressive war?  In the public mind, the Kellogg-Briand Pact “outlawed war.”  Cheering followed.  Robert Ferrell told this story well in Peace in Their Time (1952)

Then Japan attacked China and Germany ran amok in Europe.  The Second World War followed.  The Holocaust followed.  The atom-bombing of Japan followed.  Filled with disgust over humankind, people came to misunderstand the Kellogg-Briand Pact.  First, “nouveau realists” saw it as a joke.  “Outlawing War” is joke, yes?  More recently, lawyers have seen it as the entering wedge for the rule of law, norms, and a rules-based system.[3]  Neither is true.  The Pact is best understood as a “realist” diplomatic maneuver in an age of popular idealism.

[1] This is a complex story.

[2] Yes, Republicans used to do this, just like the Democrats used to be an arm of the KKK.

[3] Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro, The Internationalists: How a Radical Plan to Outlaw War Remade the World (2017).  The reviews aren’t much more sensible, even when written by historians

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North Korea 2.

Suddenly, by August 2017, North Korea had successfully tested several Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) and it seemed likely that it had miniaturized an atomic warhead to mount on such a missile.  Alarm bells started ringing much more loudly.  Unlike defenses against short- and medium-range missiles, the defense against ICBMs is non-existent.  All that exists is deterrence—the certainty that North Korea would be wiped off the map if North Korea attacked the United States with a nuclear weapon.

Several questions, great and small, arise from the North Korean ICBM tests.  First, how did the North Koreans suddenly develop an ICBM missile and miniaturize a war head?  One theory is that a bankrupt and bent missile engine factory in Ukraine sold a sample to the North Koreans.  How the North Koreans got a rocket engine as big as a house from the Ukraine to North Korea without anyone noticing is an interesting question.[1]  If the Russkies were helping, then it could go overland by rail (or maybe even by cargo plane) to Vladivostok, and then by sea.  Or it could go to the port of Sebastopol on the Black Sea and then by sea to North Korea.  Giving North Korea the technology to put an atomic weapon on an American city would be considerably more of a hostile act than just meddling in an American presidential election.

If the Russkies were not helping, then does that mean that a few greedy managers in a Ukrainian rocket engine factory free-lanced this without anyone in the government of Ukraine noticing?  In any case, the engine would have had to go out through the port of Odessa.  How do you move a rocket engine as big as a house across Ukraine?  In the end, it seems that, if the bent factory in Ukraine helped, then it would be by loading the plans on a flash-drive and selling that to the North Koreans through some intermediary.  North Korean machine-tools could do the rest.

Second, what do the North Koreans want?  That’s a little murky.  One authority argues that “what North Korea wants is for us to stop threatening them and to talk with them.”   What forms do these threats take?  North Korea attacked South Korea in 1950.  Since the end of that war the United States has conducted military exercises with the South Korean military forces.  Hard not to see these as a) defensive, and b) just a demonstration of our commitment to an ally.  OK, but the U.S. attacked Afghanistan, then never left; the U.S. attacked Iraq on a specious pretext in 2003; and the U.S. attacked Libya, then walked away while the place burned.  Still, none of these places bordered on/were backed by China.  An American attack on North Korea is a fantasy.  Then, North Korea has rejected following the Chinese path to economic transformation.  If South Korea could go from being a backwater to an important industrial nation then so could North Korea.  Why hasn’t North Korea changed course?

Third, is there an alternative to war?  Everyone hopes so.  An American pre-emptive strike against North Korea’s nuclear facilities doesn’t seem any more likely to succeed than would an attack on Iran’s facilities.  Then the North Koreans would respond.  Seoul, the capital city of South Korea, is in easy range of the massed artillery batteries of North Korea.  Then, the US would invade North Korea?  What might be the response of China?  Do American voters want another large war?

We are being driven by reality toward another version of President Obama’s Iran deal.  So be it.  For now.  Eventually, the United States may “meet with Don Barzini, Philip Tataglia, all the heads of the Five Families.”

 

[1] See: “The Peacemaker” (dir. Mimi Leder, 1997).

Memoirs of the Addams Administration 28.

President Donald Trump’s foreign policy doesn’t seem that far off the mark: beat up on ISIS, try to square petty quarrels among the Gulf States, nudge the European NATO members to increase their defense spending to the promised levels before they talk about coercing the Russkies, figure out what to do about North Korea without blowing up the world, and start renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  The Democrats had turned against the Trans-Pacific Partnership during the election season, so the election of Hilary Clinton wouldn’t have made any difference there.  The Trump administration bailed on the Paris Climate Agreement, but the effects will be felt only at the margins and for a time.  Eventually, the United States will come back to supporting it.

The big problems have been in domestic policy.  What if the Republicans had chosen to work on something other than health care as their first order of business after the November 2016 election?[1]  What if they had gone with a big infrastructure bill?  Lord knows the country needs one, the Democrats have been just as neglectful as the Republicans on this matter in recent decades, and there could have been some kind of bi-partisan agreement on action.  Failing that, what if they had gone with a major tax over-haul?  Lord knows the country needs one, and there would have been lots of chances for horse-trading.

But no, the Republicans had to lead-off with efforts to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  They had made it their battle cry for years before Donald Trump became their president.  Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell failed to assemble the minimum number of votes for the latest iteration of “repeal and replace.”[2]  Now all the things that might have been done, but were not done, face a steep up-hill climb.[3]

Still, beyond all the chortling over Republicans’ self-inflicted wounds, lie two realities.  First, the health-care market places already had begun to contract for reasons rooted in the ACA.[4]  Second, during the Obama administration, a federal court had invalidated the subsidies that made health insurance marginally affordable.  So, Republicans may get one more chance to get it right.  They need to think anew and act anew.

In contrast, the domestic economy is a mess.  “Trumponomics” consists of cutting corporate taxes and federal regulation in order to stimulate business activity; reforming welfare to get more Americans back into the labor force; re-negotiating trade deals to achieve equity; and stimulating the energy sector by relieving the burdens upon coal.  This will result in a 3 percent economic growth rate, he says.[5]

Many economists believe that 3 percent growth is a fantasy.  The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) guesses that these changes will produce only 1.9 percent growth.  The American economy can grow only if it has an expanding labor force.  So, no border wall.

[1] In the same ways that the first Barack Obama administration might have sought an adequate stimulus bill, rather than shifting its efforts to the creation of a costly new entitlement program in the form of the Affordable Care Act while the country slogged through an inadequate recovery from the financial crisis.  Paul Krugman had argued that the Obama stimulus bill was half a s bog as it should be, spread over two years instead of front-loaded into one year, and included tax cuts that would be used to de-leverage rather than spent to stimulate the economy.  As best I recall, President Obama was reported (by Bob Woodward) to have remarked that “Look, I get the Keynesian argument, but the American people aren’t there.”

[2] “GOP’s “repeal and replace” bill dies,” The Week, 28 Jult 2017, p. 4.

[3] See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tL1acYvpR_E

[4] The Democratic solution to this problem is ever-larger subsidies.  The budget effects do not concern them.

[5] “Issue of the week: Trump’s MAGAnomics” plan.” The Week, 28 July 2017, p. 34.

The Middle Kingdom.

China has emerged from backwardness and isolation with astonishing suddenness.  The death of Mao Zedong, followed by the overthrow of his immediate successors, brought to power Deng Xiaoping.  While opening China to foreign trade, investment, and learning, Deng counseled modesty.  “Hide your brightness, bide your time.”  Now that time has come.  China has begun to exert its power in ways unprecedented in modern times.

The Romans built roads to hold their empire together, then they built a lot of other things to increase its value.  Alarm has begun to spread at a new “One Belt, One Road” enterprise launched by ChiComCo.[1]  The “Belt” is an overland transportation system (roads, railroads, bridges and tunnels) and its attendant support systems (power generation and transmission, a regulated version of the Internet).  The “Road”[2] is the complementary sea-route to Europe, along with all the logistical support (like ports).[3]

Chinese companies can count on the lion’s share of construction contracts.  For example, Chinese construction companies have built “95 deep-water ports, 10 airports, 152 bridges, and 2,080 railroad” segments in countries along the routes of the Belt and Road.  As it is completed, the Belt and Road facilitates Chinese trade.

Recognizing the rising economic power of China, the United States sought to counter this with the “Trans-Pacific Partnership” (TPP) trade treaty.[4]  However, American politics suddenly shifted against an open world economy.  Not only Donald Trump, but Bernie Sanders and then Hillary Clinton declared the TPP a bad deal for Americans.  While the leaders of many countries likely to be touched by China’s great plan attended a “Belt and Road” conference in May 2017, the United States sent only a delegate.  Some of the negative commentary about China’s investments abroad is couched in humanitarian, rather than economic or strategic, terms.  China founded its pursuit of prosperity on seizing land for economic development projects and then shoving huge numbers of people off the land.[5]  (One counter to this is that countries like Pakistan or Cambodia act in similar ways—without greatly improving the economic lives of their citizens.)  The Chinese investment may have a long-term effect of putting the critical infrastructure of developing countries under Chinese control.  Hence, many people see the United States as ceding global leadership to China.[6]

It’s difficult to know what to make of this charge.  On the one hand, George W. Bush in his second term and Barack Obama in both his terms sought to limit American engagement abroad in the interest of strengthening a redoubled country at home.  The Trump Administration’s “America First” rhetoric and policies falls in line with these earlier efforts.  Thus the national impulse seems to be running toward dealing with domestic problems.  It is hard to deny that America has pressing domestic problems that will not be easily resolved.

On the other hand, China’s strengths are many and real.  It would be foolish to think that these will not reshape the global order.  So, where is the sweet spot?

[1] “China’s plan to run the world,” The Week, 16 June 2017, p. 11.

[2] Obviously, the planners hadn’t been reading Cormac McCarthy.  See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Road

[3] For the historical antecedents, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zheng_He

[4] The treaty was highly favorable to Americans.  It created a free trade zone encompassing 40 percent of the world’s trade, while creating safeguards for American interests through labor and environmental standards.

[5] Along the way, China moved  86 percent of its people out of extreme poverty.  Many of them moved into lives of middle-class abundance—and stress.

[6] American announcement that the country would withdraw from the Paris Climate Control agreement is offered as a further example of American abdication.

Donner, party of ten! No, eight.

Western lands appealed to many Americans during the 18th and 19th Centuries.  Mexican Texas, Mexican California, and Oregon exerted a magnetic attraction on malcontents of the Mississippi Valley watershed during the 1830s and 1840s.[1]  Real estate speculators and promoters have been talking up America’s “wonders” since John Smith touted the 17th Century Chesapeake.  In 1845 one of Smith’s successors described—accurately enough—the charms of California: “a paradise” of “perpetual spring” with fertile lands and a healthy climate.  With visions like that dancing before their eyes, it’s not surprising that some of the migrants skimmed over the bits about what lay between the point of departure (Independence, Missouri) and the destination.  For example, migrants were warned to leave Independence by 1 May at the latest and to get a move on.  While California might be a land of “perpetual spring,” things were rather different in the Sierra Nevada mountains, where the snow storms could block the passes.

George and Jacob Donner, and James Reed headed a party of 74 people in 19 wagons.[2]  The Donner Party suffered a minor, but spectacular, disaster.  In mid-April 1846 the pilgrims headed west from Springfield, Illinois; a month later they departed Independence.  Having left late, the party then dawdled along the way, failing to catch up with a larger wagon train.  Starting to feel a certain urgency, they consulted their guidebook.  It mentioned a newly-discovered short-cut.  Great!  Problem solved.  Then they encountered a grizzled old trapper heading east.  He didn’t think much of the supposed short-cut.  What to do?  Ignore his inconvenient opinion.  Great!  Problem solved.

Unfortunately, the short-cut took them through the Wasatch Range and over a long stretch of arid salt flats.  Many of the draft animals died there.  Further slowed by these losses, the party reached the Sierra Nevada well behind the recommended dead-line.  Heading into the mountains, they found themselves snowed-in by November 1846.  They could neither go forward nor go back.  They had too little food to last out the winter.  Eventually, in December 1846, they sent out a couple of messengers to try to bring back help.  The pass was snowbound on both ends, so it was February 1847 before help finally reached them.  Only 48 people survived the winter, and nine of them died while being moved west into California.  Many of those who did live had engaged in cannibalism.[3]

Of the 34 who died in the winter camps, 25 were men and 9 were women.  Why was that?  People who study this sort of stuff figure that age, sex, and the size of the family group played the largest role in deciding who survived.  People under the age of 35 had a better chance of surviving than did older people, although most children under 6 died.  Two thirds of men between 20 and 39 died.  Nutritionists tell us that men metabolize protein faster than women, and women do not require as high a caloric intake. Women store more body fat (although you shouldn’t mention this in conversation if you want your genetic line to continue).  This can delay the physical decline caused by starvation and overwork. Men also tend to do more dangerous and physically demanding work.  Men wore down faster than did women.  Then, bachelor males survived at lower rates than did those who were those traveling with family members.  Maybe families were more ready to share neighbors with family than family with neighbors?

[1] Ray Allen Billington, The Far Western Frontier, 1830-1860 (1956).  Still a hell of a book.

[2] Michael Wallis, The Best Land Under Heaven: The Donner Party in the Age of Manifest Destiny (2017).  Reviewed by David Price, WSJ, 6 June 2017.

[3] Although not in murder.  People who died of natural causes were consumed by the survivors.   For an analogous case, see Nathaniel Philbrick, In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex (2000).

Memoirs of the Addams Administration 6.

Any way you look at it, President Donald Trump has had a bad couple of weeks.  Democrats glory in every one of his spectacular mis-steps, while mainstream Republicans insist that he has to be just like them to survive.[1]

After President Donald Trump dropped the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) from the National Security Council, America’s intelligence agencies leaked information that compromised the National Security Adviser (NSA), Lt. General (ret.) Michael Flynn.[2]  Apparently, the leaks included actual transcripts of the conversations between Flynn and Soviet–sorry, Russian–ambassador Sergey Kishlyak.[3]  Flynn resigned as NSA.  On the other hand, Steven Mnuchin was confirmed as Secretary of the Treasury.[4]  The Trump administration now has in place the secretaries of Treasury, State, Defense, and Education

Trump is already at the head of the enemies list of a diverse group.  The New York Times, which had criticized the EffaBeeEye for releasing news of a new investigation of Hillary Clinton’s e-mail messages shortly before the election, reported that the national police force had launched an investigation of connections between the Trump campaign and Russian organs of the state.  Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), who has been attacked by Trump on many occasions, said that “It’s a dysfunctional White House.”  Fred Kaplan (D-Slate.com) said that the scandal “could conceivably oust Donald Trump from power” if further revelations show that he is “secretly beholden to a foreign power.”

All the same, if you leave aside the whole are-we-sliding-toward-a bureaucratic/military-coup issue, the pressing issue of the moment is what course President Trump will adopt on the dollar.[5]  A strong dollar allows American consumer to buy lots of stuff on the cheap.  A strong dollar also makes American products more expensive on foreign markets.     Trump’s “America First:” bumper-sticker doesn’t provide any guidance on the correct policy to follow here.  Consumer America loves a strong dollar; Producer America hates a strong dollar.  “Which will you have?”[6]  It isn’t clear which America is “Consumer America” and which is “Producer America.”  The revolt by tech workers against the “Not-A-Muslim-Ban” suggests that much of the economy of the future is against Trump, while much of the economy of the past is for him.  Of course, the mechanization of manufacturing that has destroyed so many jobs means that manufacturing still needs export opportunities.

The mainstream Democrats found themselves confronted by their own “Tea Party,” in the guise of the “Resistance” movement.[7]  Odds are that this is an authentic revolt by the Democratic equivalents of the Republican idiots of 2009.  Maybe its get-out-the-vote ardor will just help Democrats regain some seats in 2018.  However, the enthusiasm and support for the “Resistance” shown by mainstream Democrats will come back to haunt them if zealots gain the upper hand in party policy-setting.  The question is whether the white working-class voters who abandoned Hillary Clinton in November 2016 can be won back by an emphasis on racism, LGBT issues, and abortion.  (Well, that one answers itself.)

[1] “Trump: Can he regain control of his presidency?” The Week, 24 February 2017, p. 6.

[2] “Flynn resigns amid growing Russia scandal,” The Week, 24 February 2017, p. 4.

[3] JMO, but if this happened in a Third World country, the New York Times would be all over the story of a looming coup.

[4] “Washington: Mnuchin takes top Treasury job,” The Week, 24 February 2017, p. 32.

[5] “Issue of the week: President Trump’s dollar dilemma,” The Week, 24 February 2017, p. 34.

[6] See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UtTBykcnjX4

[7] “’The Resistance’: A liberal Tea Party?’ The Week, 24 February 2017, p. 17.

Poisonville.

A couple of recent books have high-lighted the big changes that swept over one part of America.[1]  Charles Murray and Brian Alexander[2] have both tried to understand the situation of the folks “I left behind me” when I went East to grad school.  Murray adopted the macro-perspective, while Alexander preferred to flesh-out the story by looking at the home town he had abandoned and to which he later returned.[3]

Once upon a time Lancaster, Ohio, incarnated the prosperous, moderate, conformist America of the golden years that followed the Second World War.  No one in the Boston-Washington corridor would have thought of places like Lancaster as an American Athens.  However, some basic cultural values of the Classical Greeks also then prevailed in Middle America: moderation and self-restraint.  The wealthiest Lancastrians did not live in gated communities; most children went to the public schools; women of all social classes joined in the community initiatives.[4]

Then things went wrong.  Over the last thirty-odd years, Anchor Hocking, a glass-maker and the chief employer in town, got passed around by Wall Street investment firms and the bankruptcy courts.  Along the way Lancaster went from being a town of 29,000, of whom 5,000 worked for Anchor Hocking, to being a town of 39,000, of whom 1,000 worked for that same company.  Production down-shifted from high-skill to lower-skilled products; and workers’ commitment to quality down-shifted with it.  In the process, the company’s pension fund dried up and its’ obligations were passed to the federal insurance program; wages were held down; and the generous fringe-benefits once offered by the company were cut to the bone.  Demoralization spread among the workers.  One worker says his co-workers snort Percocet and Oxy on the job.

Brian Alexander—like everyone else, so far as I can tell—sees the modern economy as the snake in this Garden of Eden.  His rogues’ gallery includes foreign competition, Milton Friedman, the powerful bargaining of big box stores, and companies that put profits for stock-holders ahead of wages for workers.

What seems to be missing is any awareness of the rebounding of foreign economies after the Second World War, which created formidable competitors for American industry; the great labor offensive of the 1970s that led companies to shift production to “right to work” states or over-seas; the huge impact of automation on many industrial processes, which destroyed millions of jobs; the nostalgia for small shops that imposed a quaintness tax on consumers, which many sought to evade by going to Walmart; or the inadaptability of many older workers, which left them languishing in backwaters.

These changes have come in for a lot of attention because of the supposed political consequences.  That is, “Rust Belt” one-time Democrats put Donald Trump into the White House.  Now Democrats and mainstream Republicans are thrashing around trying to figure out what went wrong.  Neglect of/contempt for blue collar workers is an easy explanation.  Certainly, it has been my one.  Is it the right one?

[1] Maybe, just maybe, other people in my social group missed out on them as well?  IDK.

[2] Charles Murray, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 (2012); Brian Alexander, Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town (2016).  See Roger Lowenstein, “Why They Voted For Trump,.” WSJ, 18-19 February 2017.

[3] Alexander is not the first to explore these issues in this fashion.  See also https://waroftheworldblog.com/2015/03/22/our-kids/

[4] Many of the early thrillers by John D. MacDonald offer glimpses of this world.  See, for example, Area of Suspicion (1954).