Sunday, January 29, 2017

Trade and Trump: National security consequences

Trade and Trump:  Potential national security consequences of Trump’s anti-trade policies:  1-29-17

Autarky is a word economists use to describe a country that is self-sufficient.   In reality no nation can clearly meet the definition of this economic term.   But some try.  North Korea is the closest nation to earning that title, but only if one don’t consider the number of its own citizens starving to death for lack of adequate food.
Chances are, the more developed an economy becomes, the less likely it is to be considered an autarky and, the more a nation depends on trade, the more it can affordably maintain its citizens lifestyle.  Even if that lifestyle is detrimental to both the individuals health and mental well being, and their local and our global environment.  But that’s another discussion (
The U.S and many other advanced developed nations are on the other end of this spectrum.  We all depend on resources from other nations to maintain our own quality of life.  Occasionally, some foreign commodities are vital our own national security.  Consider rare elements used in most of our sophisticated military weaponry and our cyber infrastructure that now organizes and facilitates most of our vital necessities.
Trump’s initiation of any new trade rules that run the risk of launching us into a global trade war may initially help small numbers of American manufacturers.  But in the longer run it will likely effect the quality of life for 99% of Americans.  The 1% who own offshore assets and can get there, won’t be much affected.  Worst case scenario for the rest of us is that it could be devastating to our nation in ways that few are talking about, and even fewer can imagine.
Anyone with a basic understanding of biological facts (fundamental principles or ‘self-evident truths’) knows that there are at least two commodities essential to sustaining life: adequate food and clean water.   Equally self-evident to any thinking person is the connection between these two.  Scarcity of one foreshadows scarcity in the other.
What is far less comprehended by some is that to ensure we have enough of both of these for our entire population of over 300 million people, is that we need resources from other countries to prevent chaos from within our own national borders.
And, the really bad news?   If others beyond our borders practice harmful environmental habits, the climate and weather patterns that nature freely provides us may result in extremely undesirable impacts on our own capacity to provide both food and water to all Americans.  Again, increasing the possibility of monstrously uncivil chaos within our own borders.
Consider water, the most essential component of life.  And, the one we take most for granted.   It is unlikely to be crated or destroyed in any significant levels but it is both increasingly contaminated by our quest for fossil fuels, and mal-distributed by climate changes accelerated by our persistent dependence on them.
The law of supply and demand predicts water costs will increase with time.  And, one peer-reviewed website PLOS ONE with Michigan State researchers confirm this is happening.  According to them the average U.S. household now pays $49 a month for water. That’s over 40 percent higher than five years ago.  That cost is expected to rise to $120 a month in the early 2020s.   According to the EPA over 11 percent of U.S. households already have to sacrifice other essential expenditures to afford clean water.  This meets the EPA’s definition of unaffordable.  At $120, the percentage rises to 33 percent.  They may leave most of American’s lower middle economic class struggling even more to make ends meet.
Fracking demands large amounts of water causing a ripple effect of shortages, polluted water, and even an increase in minor earth quakes.  But a larger cause is old and inadequate infrastructure. Most U.S. water infrastructure is over 70 years old.  Some even older.  In our nation’s own Capitol water runs through wooden pipes built before the civil war.
Experts estimate that restoring our existing infrastructure will cost $1 trillion, with another half a trillion needed to ensure that water is safe to drink.  Both political parties agree on the need to address this and other infrastructure deficits. Unfortunately, lack of political will to finance all them, means some will not get funded and risk even more national security weakness than insufficient clean water, which is linked both infectious disease and toxicity problems that will increasingly stress our health care system, now the single largest driver of our budget deficit and significant driver of political division between well-meaning Americans.
Advances in technology will allow us to overcome some, perhaps most of these infrastructure problems.  But the dual use nature of all technology brings other problems no autocracy and not economically dominant nation can hide from.  The increasing power, affordability and ubiquity of all technologies means unhappy entities anywhere in the world can cause unprecedented harm almost anywhere else in the world.  Cyber, bio and robotic technologies hold the potential to reek havoc or even mass deaths with viruses targeted for specific people, ethnic groups’ or even broad swaths of the planet regardless of commodity barriers.
But just focusing on commodities and critical US infrastructure we are irreversibly dependent on the rest of the world.  Particularly China.  Scandium, a metal completely sourced from China – is used in finding underground leaks in water and oil pipes -- and oil refining.
Natural graphite is also 100 percent sourced from abroad.  China and Mexico are its largest suppliers.  This commodity is vital in products ranging from batteries to steel.
Then consider fluorspar, another commodity that is 100 percent foreign sourced. Again, China and Mexico are leading exporters.  Its uses include stimulating oil and water wells, providing catalytic activity in oil refining, and reducing costs of water desalinization.
As water shortages and costs continue to climb while critical infrastructures compete for shrinking budgets and the global forces of terrorism, climate change, poverty, refugees, infectious diseases, WMD proliferation, prejudice and other environmental problems that have no respect for commodity blocking borders continue to sew political discontent, President Trump would be wise to reconsider is “America First” trade policies.
Good trade deals are desirable but unless they take into account the impact on all human lives, their rights and the essential life support system (the environment) the world will continue down a path that no US President, no US Congress, and no US Supreme court can remedy.   Not without passing US policies that take into account the fundamental “truths” that our nation’s founding fathers considered “self evident.” 
Like real war, no nation will go without tremendous losses in a trade war.  It would behoove all Americans to consider growing their own food and reducing their water waste, water contamination, and dependence on fossil fuels.  An energy source that harm damn near every element of our lives other than the immediate stock prices of those who deal in it.
For those who believe gold is the ultimate commodity for sustain ably acquiring essential resources I urge you to consider two other element that may have greater power.  Lead and steel.  Other minerals can be used in making bullets, guns, and shovels but I hoping they get the point. 
Economic wealth won’t protect them from the destructive and lethal forces now growing globally, and the growing political discontent that greed, hunger and other unchecked injustices create.

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