Plato Told Us What Trade Wars Really Mean:
“The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”
It should come as no surprise that insight into modern economic warfare was offered by Plato, perhaps the greatest philosopher of all time, in 380 BCE. President Trump may casually dismiss trade wars as “easy” but the truth is they are anything but painful, yes, easy, no.The reality is trade wars plant the seeds of economic unrest, are fertilized by political instability, and typically paid for in the end by the people most impacted and least capable.
In our book, Go Green, Get Rich, we addressed the rise of China and debunked many of the inconvenient truths that simply no longer exist or apply.
China has become not just a formidable economic power, but possibly the most powerful. Beyond the vast products that we buy and sell with China and ignoring for the moment the troubling amount of our national debt they own and can potentially leverage against us, it’s political analysis that best explains the potential impact of a trade war with China.
Again, as noted in the book, this isn’t to suggest that all is rosy in China, it’s not. In the end, they may be better prepared to wage a trade war, endure it and possibly win it.
It may be uncomfortable, but politically China is doing a lot of things right. In the book we talked about the Central Politburo as a most effective example of sustainable leadership, however heavy-handed and one-sided. Their vision for the future has critical threads of capitalism running throughout it. As the world’s greatest environmental offender, they are addressing environmental issues. Contrast this with our daily roll-backs of EPA regulations.
And innovation, what at Green X Prize we believe is fundamental to our future, the Chinese are using it and bringing millions of their citizens out of poverty. To their credit, they are honoring, as a culture, their ancestral environmental consciousness, and proactively confronting the world’s worst pollution.
Presidents Trump and Putin still operate under the assumption that ‘might makes right’ and while we can debate whether that was ever true in the past, it certainly isn’t today. As we noted in Go Green, Get Rich, “What is ‘right’ has become rather muddy.”
From the environment to the truth of trade today, nations that falsely believe they can assume the ideological upper hand may find themselves coming-up empty-handed.
Presidential bluster aside, what we once relied upon internationally as the Washington Consensus before our very eyes may be morphing into the Beijing Consensus. Many of us are rightfully surprised – and at least for the moment relieved – by the restraint China is showing by resisting Trump’s trade war bait.
To pick a fight we may not win seems short-sighted and dangerous. Picking a fight that was avoidable and unnecessary seems socially and politically irresponsible. And if that fight is one where American consumers are the most likely biggest losers, it’s a horrific price to pay for a president desperate to change the subject, whatever the cost.
Recently, Stephen Collinson of CNN wrote a fascinating analysis of a president in search of a national emergency.
As examples he listed the Border ‘Crisis’, the Missing Landslide, the Travel Ban, and Transgender Troops. To that we can add Tariffs and Trade Wars.
Chest pounding about tariffs and provoking a trade war to solve a problem that may not be a problem – or better off avoided for the moment – may fire up the base but it only leaves the rest of the world cold and increasingly nervous. At a time when the president is under ferocious legal and political pressure, we need steady, thoughtful, sustainable leadership.
Yet, as we’ve noted in the past, our leadership and most of the global community typically fails the sustainability test, and until a commitment is made to align success with sustainability, may be destined to continue that trend.
Thoughtful leadership that prizes green innovation and creates a platform to encourage is what the Green X Prize is all about.
We invite you to visit and learn about us, and pledge to continue the dialogue that looks beyond politics that divide us to causes that unite us.
The Green X Prize Team