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Friday, 2 June 2017

Louis XIV at Trump Tower

Yesterday Donald Trump made the well-heralded announcement that he was pulling the USA out of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change; though he did indicate that he would be prepared to enter into discussions on a replacement. As expected, the claque of politicians in Europe who had been irritated by his America-first rhetoric during the previous week trotted out their pre-prepared round robin in condemnation.

Trump did not merely make a statement about the Paris Accord, but made a long speech that was exactly framed in terms of seventeenth-century mercantilism [though he almost-certainly has no direct knowledge of that literature]. He made exaggerated claims about jobs already flowing back to the continental USA under his presidency, though several firms have indicated plans in that direction, and he said how much he loved coal miners. A new mine is to be opened in the near future, and he expressed the hope that he could arrange his schedule to be able to attend. This was the clearest practical defiance that he could show to the climate change lobby: who had been under the impression that their science had been accepted internationally and assimilated into a global political consensus.

His attitude was confident, his argument simple. He would readily be understood by Louis XIV - the grandest of French monarchs - and his minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert,  who did so much to build up the economic infrastructure of France in the sixteen-sixties and seventies. The great wealth that was consolidated for the state by Colbert was quickly dissipated by Louis in fighting wars, in building ever-finer palaces and in running the most lavish court in known world history. The magnificence of Trump's monuments and residences can be compared with that of Versailles, though the architecture is of a different era. It will be interesting to see whether Trump is drawn down the imperialist path that ruined the French monarchy: at least, he is restrained by the fact that the power to declare war lies with Congress, though the Executive has considerable autonomy in ordering specific military action. This could became a field for tension quite soon in this presidency.

The most important consequence of Trump's announcement for Britain is that the US has stepped away from setting an example in the 'greening' of the economy. At the start of the millennium the advanced economies, to a considerable extent led by the United Kingdom, set themselves targets to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide in the immediate future: while China and India were given licence to increase their emissions over a period of years, on the promise that as their economies reached maturity they, too would set and follow emissions-reducing targets. By setting a statutory framework for this policy, and pretty well sticking to it, the UK has provided an example for the world; at a huge cost to companies and households who have to pay massive subsidies for 'green energy'. The standard of living in Britain has been lowered by this policy, and industries like steel have been put in a precarious position.

Trump has opted out of this notion, for the USA. It is probable that he will be prepared to enter new negotiations only on the basis that the USA is not to any degree disadvantaged in terms of jobs and of living standards by having to set an example which others may not follow. He sees no sense in impoverishing regions of a prosperous country when other countries are still expanding their pollution overall. He may also be a 'climate change denier'; which is a different issue. At this point he has simply stated his answer to the crucial global geopolitical question that arises from the creation of the US rustbelt: is regional impoverishment worth setting an example to the world, when there is no guarantee that the world will follow?

This is not an irrational stance it is not based on disinformation or perverse thinking, though it is beyond the purview of the typical Grauniadista. The political economy that prevailed in 1775 [the year before Adam Smith set the hare running, that was to become Economics] was a sound science, and Trump has instinctively formed parallel conclusions. He has expressed scepticism about global warming, as such: if he were to take this anti-scientific dogma into the formulation of policy, he would deserve global condemnation. The almost-universally accepted science is broadly convincing. But so far Trump has not taken that step: he simply says that the measures towards mitigation of the warming process that place the USA at an unnecessary economic disadvantage [and, in his perception, make his country a laughing-stock] are not acceptable. He should be understood in that context.

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