Friday, July 6, 2018

Scott Pruitt doesn't matter. The trade war does.

Look, it is easy to take a moment of schadenfreude for the departure of Scott Pruitt as EPA Director.  I liked to imagine him in his tactical pants, in his Get Smart cone of silence, probably eating lunch with a tactical spork.  You know he has one of those, right?  Here's the thing about Scott Pruitt, though.  At the end of the day, he doesn't really matter.  His corruption was petty and self-serving, but small-time.  It was the kind of thing about which you worry when you don't have to worry about whether or not the Commander in Chief is a Russian pawn starting a stupid trade war with China for no reason.

Should he have been spending on himself the way he did?  Hell no, but what will it cost us, compared to Trump's trade war?  Nothing noticeable.  The tariffs alone will cost us far more, and the indirect effects will be incalculably more.  What about policy?  Pruitt's successor will behave no differently.  Deregulation is the order of the day, regardless of how much the EPA director spends on "tactical pants" (and c'mon, tactical sporks too because that dude's nuts).

In contrast, we are now at war.  A trade war.  Are you paying attention to that?  This is not good.  Trade wars don't have flashy videos of "smart" bombs and Seal Team 6 and other things to get 24 hour cable news anchors up at night, so to speak.  Costs for everyone go up, jobs are lost, and people just hurt.  Economic costs have human costs, too.  Human lives.  As I wrote in my Pratchett post, the human toll of Trump's trade war will be more severe than the human toll of family separations.  You just won't see it as dramatically, or directly.  That's not how economics work, but this thing is getting ramped up.  Our tariffs have gone into effect, and China has retaliated.

Scott Pruitt's resignation?  It is good for the employees he mistreated and against whom he retaliated.  It is nice to see there be consequences for retaliation.  Every policy that he would have enacted will still be enacted, though.  Meanwhile, our mercantilist idiot President has started a trade war because he's a "fucking moron" (source: Tillerson, Rex).  That matters, and it matters more than any "human interest" news story that you see just because someone with a camera found an easy way to stick a face on the screen associated with the tale.

Don't get manipulated.  Focus on what matters.


  1. Far from clear to me that the trade war will matter more than the immigration war.

    Today's tariffs are on $34B of products. It's hard to say what the human costs of that will be. As you note, jobs will be lost, profits will be lower, and wages will be cut.
    The immigration shit also has indirect costs as well. If there is ANYTHING to conservative theory, raising the costs of attempting to immigrate to the US will deter some from doing so, meaning they will continue to live in mortal danger, and many will die. Raising the costs will also inflict those costs on those who still try, which will likely include more deaths and suffering.

    Indirect costs are real, yes. But we're also speaking in totally different units, and it's really hard to get those equivalent. How many deaths are equivalent to how many people having to go on public assistance for 6 months, or losing their house and having to live in a 2-bed apartment with their family of 5?

    1. A couple of points. First, you are broadening my statement from family separations to immigration policy more broadly. I was comparing the trade war to family separations, and there, it's no contest. As for immigration policy more broadly, if I had to compare the current state of immigration policy to the current state of the trade war, that's different from where the trade war is likely to go versus current immigration policy. I'm looking down the line at what happens as this escalates. Still, trade war versus family separations specifically, that's no contest.