Running the numbers

Professor Balding does the math on US/China tariffs and finds that there may be somewhat less to the “trade war” than meets the eye:

Playing with some numbers here. YTD US exports to China are down 19% and imports from China are down 12%. To the horror of sky is falling people, these are borderline irrelevant numbers set against the US and global economies. Let’s have some perspective. For instance, 1/n

If US exports to China rose by an unprecedented amount of 19% rather than falling 19%, this would raise US GDP 0.1%. Just for illustration, imports and exports rising by those amounts rather than falling are equal to only 0.4% of US GDP. As a percentage of world GDP this 2/n

Amounts to 0.1% of world GDP. Put another way. This might be having a small impact on US and Chinese economies, it is irrelevant to the global economy. To put this number in perspective for China. If Chinese exports rose by 12% instead of falling by that amount you the US, 3/n

The Chinese economy would have grown by $63 billion. This would have added 0.45% to their economy. However this is a tiny number compared they reliance on credit. By comparison, China has added more $3 trillion in new credit since this time last year. In other words, 4/n

The marginal difference in trade is equal to 2% of rapidly expanding credit flows. Whatever your thoughts on the state of affairs a wee bit of reality is needed when blaming all nature of phenomenon on the not a trade war trade war. Done.

Meanwhile, in Thailand:

Thai officials glimpse a silver lining in the U.S.-China trade war as companies such as Sony Corp. move production to Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy.

At least 10 firms are in the process of relocating some production to Thailand from China, according to the National Economic & Social Development Council. More than a dozen others could potentially choose Thailand, it said in a statement.

“We may not see the impact on the economy now, but in the second half of 2019, it could become a positive factor for growth,” the agency’s Deputy Secretary-General Wichayayuth Boonchit said Monday.

Manufacturers are trying to escape US tariffs on imports from China.

The 10 firms moving some manufacturing to Thailand include Sony, Sharp Corp., Harley-Davidson Inc. and Delta Electronics Inc. Most have finalized locations near Bangkok or in the so-called Eastern Economic Corridor development zone, according to the economic and social development agency.

The coming scramble for Greenland

Now that the status of Greenland is a live political issue, I wonder if China will make its own play to acquire the world’s largest island before the US does:

It’s not just America who acknowledges the strategic importance of Greenland, either. Look no further than China, which has repeatedly attempted to gain infrastructure on the island.

In 2016, a Chinese company attempted to buy a former U.S. military base in Greenland, and the government in Denmark stepped in, vetoing the deal. At the time, Danish officials were quoted anonymously in the press, saying they had resisted the deal as a favor to its longtime American ally.

Then in 2018, a Chinese government-owned firm was announced as a likely winner for a contract to build a new airport. The 3.6 billion Danish krone (U.S. $560 million) contract would have given China major economic power over the local government, and decision makers in both Washington and Copenhagen worried it could lead to the U.S. being pushed out of Thule – or give Beijing a ready-made airport that could accommodate Chinese military planes in case of a conflict.

Eventually Copenhagen and Nuuk reached an agreement, with generous financial support from Denmark’s coffers, to pick a different contractor. But it is likely that China will continue to push for entry into Greenland, underlining its strategic importance once again.

I can only guess that the US put considerable pressure on the Danes to squash these Chinese attempts at gaining a foothold in Greenland.

More from Reuters:

The Arctic region sits at a geopolitical intersection of renewed rivalry between world powers China, Russia and the United States, and – with its melting ice cap – is a major symbol of the growing impact of climate change.

Russia has been raising its profile in the Arctic, creating or reopening six military bases shut after the Cold War ended in 1990, modernizing its Northern Fleet, including 21 new vessels and two nuclear submarines, and staging frequent naval exercises in the Arctic.

Russia also hopes that as the polar ice cap retreats, a shipping lane north of Russia will develop as an alternative route for goods from Asia to Europe.

The Trump administration last year began re-establishing the U.S. Second Fleet, responsible for the northern Atlantic, to counter a more assertive Russia. […]

China has also shown interest in Greenland after Beijing laid out its ambitions to form a “Polar Silk Road” by developing shipping lanes opened up by global warming and encouraging enterprises to build infrastructure in the Arctic.

Greenland, which plans to open a representative office in Beijing later this year to boost trade ties, has courted Chinese investors and construction firms to help expand three airports to allow direct flights from Europe and North America.

Greenland, which is three times the size of Texas, has vast mineral reserves including uranium and rare earths, as well as 50 billion barrels of still-untapped offshore oil and gas reserves, according to the article.

Can every American chip in $171 to “buy” Greenland?

I can’t claim credit for the idea, but it has been suggested that the US would not need to negotiate with Denmark over the purchase of Greenland. Instead, since the Danish constitution recognizes Greenland’s right to decide on its own independence, the US could simply bribe the people of the island to vote for independence from the Kingdom of Denmark.

The US could offer a generous subsidy of, say, a million dollars to every one of Greenland’s 56,000 inhabitants (this is roughly the population of Greenwich, CT) in exchange for Greenland’s permanently binding decision to part ways with Denmark and join the United States. Result: the US obtains more than 836,000 square miles of highly strategic Arctic territory at the low, low cost of $56 billion.

This is assuming of course that Greenland’s residents would agree to be acquired by the US for a million bucks cash per man, woman, and child. I don’t know about you, but it’s a deal I would take.

For the US, the transaction would be a no-brainer. One of the nice things about being the US in its current state of decline is that federal spending is already so nonsensically vast that a one-time payment of $56 billion barely moves the needle. For perspective, this amount is less than 1.4% of total federal spending in fiscal year 2018. Considering that the ongoing war in Afghanistan is bleeding the US of an estimated $45 billion per year, the cost of Greenland would equal about 15 months’ worth of military engagement in the country aptly described as the “graveyard of empires.”

In other words, the purchase of Greenland could be paid for by simply withdrawing from Afghanistan, or ditching some other equally worthless program within America’s sprawling, $4 trillion budget.

And considering that the US population is >327 million, the cost of Greenland would be a mere $171 per US resident, or a bit more than the price of a new pair of Apple AirPods. Get it while the getting is good.

Strategic real estate?

Why the hell would the US want to own Greenland? The semi-autonomous Danish territory is already home to the US military’s northernmost installation, Thule Air Base, which hosts a vital space monitoring system as well as a deep-water seaport and airfield. What would be the advantage in actually owning 836,300 square miles of empty, mostly ice-covered land?

I’m thinking there could be a strategic advantage, and it has something to do with this:

In 2016, a Chinese company attempted to buy a former U.S. military base in Greenland, and the government in Denmark stepped in, vetoing the deal. At the time, Danish officials were quoted anonymously in the press, saying they had resisted the deal as a favor to its longtime American ally.

Then in 2018, a Chinese government-owned firm was announced as a likely winner for a contract to build a new airport. The 3.6 billion Danish krone (U.S. $560 million) contract would have given China major economic power over the local government, and decision makers in both Washington and Copenhagen worried it could lead to the U.S. being pushed out of Thule – or give Beijing a ready-made airport that could accommodate Chinese military planes in case of a conflict.

Eventually Copenhagen and Nuuk reached an agreement, with generous financial support from Denmark’s coffers, to pick a different contractor. But it is likely that China will continue to push for entry into Greenland, underlining its strategic importance once again.

See also my previous post. If the US owned Greenland, it could put the kibosh on any attempted Chinese (or Russian) projects in the territory, no questions asked. That could throw a serious wrench in the “Arctic strategies” of America’s principal rivals in the decades ahead.

Besides, we’d have Canada surrounded.

You should’ve listened

GreenlandGreenland is suddenly all over the news. ‘Member that time, in December 2017, I wrote that the autonomous Danish territory “increasingly seems like a place to watch”? I ‘member.

Consider this your periodic reminder that in 2013, a controversy stemming from a proposed Chinese-backed iron ore project resulted in a change of government in Greenland.

Also, that China has tried to surreptitiously build a satellite ground station with military applications in Greenland’s capital (emphasis mine):

In May 2017, a project to set up a dual-use satellite ground station in Nuuk was “officially launched” on Greenlandic soil. The ceremony was attended by Cheng Xiao 程晓, the leading remote sensing expert in charge of the project, and a hundred Chinese visitors, including retired PLAN Rear Admiral Chen Yan 陈俨, former political commissar of the South China Sea fleet and NPC delegate between 2003 and 2008. A Beidou pioneer with a military background spoke at the event. The trip to Greenland was also used to fly the first Chinese remote-sensing drone in Greenland, the Jiying 极鹰 3. Although these events were reported in Chinese, the Greenlandic government remained unaware of the project months after its official launch. First mentioned in English on my blog, the project’s existence only became known to the Greenlandic public and their elected representatives after it was covered in a story by Andreas Lindqvist for the local paper AG, using my translations from Chinese sources. My full account, including the background of the main individuals in attendance, was posted in December.

The project illustrates the PRC’s double messaging in the Arctic. It was possible to organise a discreet event with a hundred participants in a town with a population of 493 by bringing them as a tour group. After the event, the tourists continued on an eight-day cruise of eastern Greenland. The tour was organized by Souluniq, a high-end tour operator long associated with communicating the importance of the polar regions to China’s national interest. The fact that the Chinese public for the event was a tour group attending this ‘launch’ as a patriotic-themed attraction, after lunch in a restaurant, was not disclosed in Chinese media accounts: indeed, the phrasing allowed readers to imagine a joint ceremony with the Greenlandic government, marking the actual start of the station’s construction. In fact, no date had been fixed for the actual construction of the station, a 7m antenna to be installed outside Nuuk; the required authorisation had not been sought with the Greenlandic authorities. To a Chinese audience, this was the launch of a major project in Greenland; for the locals, it was just another group of Chinese tourists. The project’s local partner saw its leader as just a fellow scientist, a perception that can help the project’s chances with the local authorities. Relevant Chinese audiences, on the other hand, have been made aware of Cheng Xiao’s key role in China’s polar strategy. A global network of satellite receiving stations is of strategic importance to the PRC; in the Arctic, one opened in Kiruna, Sweden, in 2016, to be followed by another one in Sodankylä, Finland. The dual-use Beidou satellite navigation system, in particular, needs more ground stations. The military aspect of the PRC’s polar strategy is clear to Cheng, who warns that “China’s threats come from the Arctic” and, according to a participant, discussed the military significance of the project during the Greenland tour. […]

Had it remained confined to the local domain, the project might have proceeded smoothly, perceived as cooperation between fellow scientists, then presented as a fait accompli for the approval of the local authorities. Its exposure, attracting the wrong kind of attention, could complicate its prospects. No further information on the project has emerged since its ‘official launch’ was revealed and it remains unclear when it will be built.

I referenced this project on my blog here.

Quelle surprise

Who would have thought that removing human contact from the process of checking out groceries would lead to anti-social and illegal behavior? Certainly, I never would have thought this:

Beneath the bland veneer of supermarket automation lurks an ugly truth: There’s a lot of shoplifting going on in the self-scanning checkout lane. But don’t call it shoplifting. The guys in loss prevention prefer “external shrinkage.”

For every problem, there is a handy euphemism.

Self-checkout theft has become so widespread that a whole lingo has sprung up to describe its tactics. Ringing up a T-bone ($13.99/lb) with a code for a cheap ($0.49/lb) variety of produce is “the banana trick.

I always wondered what safeguards were in place to prevent people from doing this. I guess the answer is: none.

If a can of Illy espresso leaves the conveyor belt without being scanned, that’s called “the pass around.” “The switcheroo” is more labor-intensive: Peel the sticker off something inexpensive and place it over the bar code of something pricey. Just make sure both items are about the same weight, to avoid triggering that pesky “unexpected item” alert in the bagging area. […]

The Leicester researchers concluded that the ease of theft is likely inspiring people who might not otherwise steal to do so. Rather than walk into a store intending to take something, a shopper might, at the end of a trip, decide that a discount is in order.

Especially if all of the checkout counters are closed, forcing the shopper to use a self-checkout machine… half of which are switched off.

As one retail employee told the researchers, “People who traditionally don’t intend to steal [might realize that] … when I buy 20, I can get five for free.” The authors further proposed that retailers bore some blame for the problem. In their zeal to cut labor costs, the study said, supermarkets could be seen as having created “a crime-generating environment” that promotes profit “above social responsibility.”

Meanwhile, the rule of law continues to decline:

In some places, meanwhile, the likelihood of being punished for petty shoplifting is decreasing. Even if a manager wants to press charges, many police departments can’t be bothered with supermarket theft. In 2012, for example, the Dallas Police Department enacted a new policy: Officers would no longer routinely respond to shoplifting calls for boosts amounting to less than $50. In 2015, the threshold was raised yet again, to $100.

That’ll learn ’em

Merlin Swire and Carrie Lam

Merlin Swire and Carrie Lam

This should do much to improve business confidence in Hong Kong as a transparent, law-governed, international financial center:

The forced public kowtow by Cathay Pacific and parent Swire Group is punishment for the airline’s nonchalance over its employees’ involvement in Hong Kong’s protest movement. […]

  • Group chairman Merlin Swire was summoned to Beijing and ordered to fire Cathay’s top two senior managers.
  • For additional humiliation, the news was broken by state CCTV before the company had a chance to make an announcement.
  • The share price plummeted (sending a message that China could ruin stockholders and perhaps enable second-largest owner state-owned Air China to buy up the remains).
  • The SCMP quotes a source as saying “Merlin had to save [ritually dismember] Cathay to save Swire.” Swire’s Mainland interests include property, Coca-Cola bottling and much more. The great and ancient hong had zero choice.
  • Top executives Rupert Hogg and Paul Loo have been banished from the Swire Group as a whole. Anyone else who hires them in future will be defying the Wrath of the Panda and will, in Beijing’s eyes, be ‘hostile to China’.
  • Hastily appointed replacement CEO Augustus Tang, the SCMP implies, has been chosen for his ethnicity, as a further sign of submission to the Han emperor.

Fascinating to see the iron fist poking through the velvet glove.

They can’t be serious

From the Washington Post:

From NBC news:

Jeffrey Epstein’s body has been claimed from the New York City medical examiner’s office, a source close to the investigation told NBC News on Wednesday.

Epstein, 66, was found dead by apparent suicide Saturday morning in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan. The center’s warden has been temporarily reassigned, and the two guards assigned to watch Epstein have been placed on leave.

Epstein wasn’t on suicide watch at the time of his death, multiple people familiar with the investigation have told NBC News. […]

The person who claimed Epstein’s body was described only as an “Epstein associate.”