Donald Trump is a mercurial world leader. He seems to disdain the old order, the mechanisms of globalisation set up with great care by the imperialist bloc after the fall of the USSR and the Third World Project. On his second day in office, Trump signed an executive order to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and scrap the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). He followed up with tariffs on key commodities that would impact the European Union and China as well as Canada and Mexico.
The United States carries very large trade deficits. The US trade deficit in goods and services for 2017 was $566 billion (the trade deficit in goods alone was $810 billion). The largest trade deficit is with China – $375 billion. Trump has said he wants to reduce these deficits through various protectionist measures– tariffs on steel and aluminum and on various Chinese goods.
Trump promised to ‘make America great again’. The slogan defined his campaign and his presidency. His bluster was often forgiven because of the sentiment attached to that slogan – it inspired a hope that Trump’s policies would protect the U.S. economy and ensure that the declining standard of living of Americans would be reversed. Two years into his presidency, there is little evidence of any improvement. Inequality continues to define the American economic landscape – CEOs, new government data show, can make up to a thousand times more in their salaries than their employees. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos makes $127 billion, the equivalent of what is held by 2.3 million Americans (he makes the median Amazon salary everynine seconds). It is impossible to suggest that high inequality should be the character of a Great America. Red hats with that slogan are easy to produce, but it is a bitter pill if these are made – as they often are – in Bangladesh, China and Vietnam.
At Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, we have wondered about the essential nature of these ‘trade wars’ that have broken out between key allies. Specificity is not always apparent in the discussions on tariffs. We turned to Prabhat Patnaik, Professor Emeritus at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning in the School of Social Sciences at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi (India), for assistance. Prof. Patnaik is one of the leading Marxist economists in our times. He has authored a number of key texts, including Time,
Inflation and Growth (1988), Economics and Egalitarianism (1990), Whatever Happened to Imperialism And Other Essays (1995), Accumulation and Stability Under Capitalism (1997), The Retreat to Unfreedom (2003), The Value of Money (2008), Re-Envisioning Socialism (2011) and (with Utsa Patnaik) A Theory of Imperialism (2016). Professor Patnaik was the Vice-Chairman of the Planning Board of Kerala (2006-2011) and is the editor of Social Scientist. He is a regular contributor for People’s Democracy.
The interview we conducted with him completes this dossier.
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