U.S. farmers and manufacturers worried about another round of steep tariffs on China can breathe easy - at least, for now.
During talks at the G20 summit last week, President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed on principle not to escalate their ongoing trade war by raising tariffs when January rolls around. Trump has already imposed 10 percent tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports, and had threatened to bump the rate to 25 percent.
Details were not disclosed, and the public can't expect them to be. Although Trump continues to boast that every deal he's made with a foreign leader is the best in history, it remains to be seen whether the bluster is another paper-tiger move, or whether an effective agreement will be reached. China has long been known for dangling carrots on strings, and then yanking back the poles to which the strings are attached. Anyone who has watched the relationship evolve between these two countries since Richard M. Nixon opened the modern door knows that.
Trump is right when he says China has secured an exceptional trade deal for itself and managed to hold onto it for decades. But the president seems unable to acknowledge that despite the outwardly lopsided appearance of the trade arrangements, U.S. consumers are benefiting greatly from the cheap prices of goods thanks to the strange bedfellows these countries make. The global economy has made competition keen, just as Libertarians and other free-market advocates claim to want.
Most people trumpet the mantra to "buy American," and Trump is among that group. But most of the items in his own clothing line were made in China, so the stench of hypocrisy is strong. And what red-blooded American wants to pay twice as much for an American-made stereo as he can pay for the same product from Asia that might even be of a higher quality? Nationalistic loyalty only extends about as far as one's own pocketbook.
There's little positive to be said about any of the tariffs Trump has enacted, because they all go against the grain of free-market principles. Trump's most ardent supporters - most of whom have no more idea of how the quantum-entangled market works than he does - say it's the long-term effects that we should hope for.
But in the meantime, what happens to the corporations and the individuals who circle the drain and get sucked down into financial ruin? What happens when salaries continue to stagnate, and consumers cut back on buying products and services, taking trips, and dining out at favorite restaurants?
Americans of all stripes should hope that Trump and Xi Jinping are able to work through their differences and find a solution that benefits the people of both countries. Unfortunately, when it comes to politics, most of us are cynical enough to suspect that whatever happens, it will benefit these two gentlemen and their close circles.
But 2020 will be here before we know it, and voters are still capable of punishing those who do harm, and rewarding those who do well. The trick is keeping the memories at the forefront.