After months of rumors, President Trump finally fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday, and now it seems that rumors of another leading national security official’s demise are coming to fruition. According to the Washington Post, Trump plans to fire National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster. If true, the story raises important questions about the lieutenant general’s legacy and his replacement.
McMaster won acclaim for his book, based on his PhD dissertation, Dereliction of Duty. In it, McMaster argues that Joint Chiefs of Staff cravenly acquiesced to President Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam policy despite knowing the strategy was doomed from the start. Many observers—as well as admirers—could not ignore the irony as it seemed that McMaster was cravenly acquiescing to Trump.
In a prescient reconsideration of Dereliction, written for War on the Rocks after McMaster was tapped for his current post, Kori Schake noted a healthy dose of political naiveté in it. As Schake wrote at the time:
Reading Dereliction of Duty, I was struck at the extent to which McMaster tries to leach the politics out of policy. It is a common attitude among military strategists since the Napoleonic Wars, as Lawrence Freedman’s fine book on strategy makes clear. But not only does militarized strategy very often fail to achieve the political objectives of war, it is not the American way of war. McMaster is witheringly critical that Johnson considered his top political priorities domestic — that getting Great Society legislation passed mattered more to him than the squandering of lives in a failing war. But every American president makes tradeoffs among competing priorities in determining how much blood and treasure to apportion to war — Lincoln did, Roosevelt did, Bush did, Obama did.
Dereliction of Duty is an earnest book written from the perspective of someone inexperienced judging the compromises of their elders. I eagerly await the book H.R. McMaster writes after having lived the experience he critiqued as a scholar. In his condemnation of the Vietnam era military leaders, he has set an exacting standard that as national security advisor he will also be judged by. I hope he will not end up the Samantha Power of this administration — someone who wrote a clear-eyed, condemnatory account of moral and strategic failings that was then condemned to enact the same mistakes as a policymaker. McMaster is surely able enough to bring the processes of interagency coordination and policy evaluation into alignment for the Trump administration. The question is whether good processes can trump the political demands and personality of the commander in chief.
The Post story suggests two potential replacements for McMaster. One, Keith Kellogg is a retired general who served on Trump’s transition team, served as acting national security advisor after Mike Flynn was fired, and is apparently someone the president enjoys spending time with personally.
The other, is John Bolton.
Bolton is the type of hawk that makes other hawks nervous.
While McMaster has rightly come under criticism for his reported advocacy of a preventive strike on North Korea, he is not someone who seems to revel in his own hawkishness—believing that military force is the solution to all the country’s foreign policy problems. The same cannot be said for Bolton. As the Trump administration tries to manage the slow-motion crisis over North Korea’s nuclear program, prepare for potential talks with the Kim regime, and decide the future of the Iran nuclear deal—if McMaster is really out as national security advisor—John Bolton is the last person anybody should want overseeing the national security process.
Holman Jenkins writes in the Wall Street Journal that when it comes to climate, the media never tells us good news. Jenkins says that the most recent piece of good news that has gone unheralded is a study estimating how much global warming we should expect from increasing levels of CO2. The results of this new study indicate that the highest degrees of warming that scientists had been saying were possible are now looking less likely.
Before we ask if this study went uncovered, it’s important to point out that it is at best qualified good news.The study indicates that the worst-case scenarios, where temperatures will increase a lot, are less likely than previously thought. But the lowest possible values are also looking less likely, while the most likely values are still the same. If the study is right, then we should expect something close to 3 C of global warming for every doubling of CO2 (so 3C if CO2 settles out around 550 ppm), but there is less concern that we will see 4C or more (and less chance we’ll see 2 C). Those high values of CO2 sensitivity, somewhat imprecisely called the fat tail, are worrisome and generally prompt a desire to act quickly to reduce CO2 emissions (c.f. Wagner and Weizmann), but I wouldn’t be particularly content with 3 C either.
As for climate journalists not covering the study, it was also reported by Ars Technica, Wired, Mother Jones, Carbon Brief, Fox News, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Reason, and more (courtesy of a quick google news search). The front page of the New York Times hardly seems appropriate for one study, though Jenkins is right that there is a literature indicating that the higher values are less likely. There is also literature saying that the higher values are still possible. There is not a consensus here.
I’m sympathetic to the notion that popular media coverage is slanted toward doom-and-gloom, but I’m not sure that it is true. We increasingly see good climate news reported on the clean energy side (in terms of falling costs and the status of that industry, if not emissions) but maybe not so much on the climate risks side. It might be right that some worst-case scenarios that scientists used to worry about now look less likely (a notable exception being the collapse of Antarctic ice sheets), but my impression is that further research is showing us that out previous expectations were pretty well calibrated.
The media ratio of bad to good news might also be giving an accurate picture of the nature of the climate problem. As research reveals new information, we are growing more certain that climate change will affect lots of stuff (mostly for the worse), it will be increasingly evident in the 21st century, and there is a small chance that one or more symptoms of change will be really bad. Climate journalism paints that picture, which seems reasonable to me.
Environmentalists have long been critical of “suburban sprawl.” A study of carbon emissions in Salt Lake City and surrounding areas, published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provides new reasons to question excessive suburban growth. Although the study itself does not make policy recommendations, its findings bolster the case for a carbon tax.
The study was authored by Logan Mitchell of the University of Utah, together with twelve colleagues from various institutions. The authors note that although urban areas account for some 70 percent of global carbon emissions, gaps remain in the understanding of the spatial distribution of those emissions, in part because many monitoring stations are located far from cities. In this case, however, long-term observations were available from five urban and suburban sites in the Salt Lake Valley, plus a reference site in the nearby Wasatch Mountains.
The study found that although increases in urban and suburban population were approximately equal over the ten-year study period, emissions increased in suburban areas but remained steady in the urban core. The study, which controlled for natural emissions, atmospheric mixing, and seasonal effects, found that fossil fuel use was the main driver of increased emissions.
A carbon tax could incentivize greater urban population growth and less suburban expansion in two ways. First, it would increase the cost per mile of driving, thereby raising the relative cost of a suburban lifestyle. Second, since urban residential buildings are more energy efficient than those in the suburbs, a carbon tax would increase the relative cost of heating and air conditioning in less densely populated areas.
In contrast, command-and-control environmental regulations would have less effect, or even perverse effects, on locational choices. For example, performance standards for furnaces and air conditioners raise the cost of building suburban homes but lower the cost of occupying in them, often actually reducing the long-run cost of suburban living. Similarly, CAFE standards for automobiles increase the cost of new cars, but lower the cost per mile of driving, thereby decreasing the opportunity cost of longer commutes.
In the paper I wrote last year on libertarian foreign policy, I focused a great deal on the concept of “grand strategy.” I argued that grand strategy is a framework that links the state’s instruments of power—namely, its military power—to its ends in international politics. America’s grand strategy therefore has implications for the likelihood of war, the size and posture of the U.S. military, and the level of American defense spending.
However, scholars have defined the concept in a variety of different ways. Lukas Milevski, the author of an intellectual history on the idea of grand strategy, argues that these definitions rarely share much in common and are crafted to suit the purposes of the author in question rather than create conceptual clarity. The conceptual muddle that results has led some to question the utility of discussing grand strategy at all. While a recent literature review on the subject by Australian scholar Nina Silove provides an excellent framework that might put an end to the conceptual stretching that has made the term grand strategy problematic, a provocative essay at Foreign Policy by Alasadair Roberts of the University of Massachusetts argues that the problem is that grand strategy has actually been defined too narrowly:
Leaders are driven to strategy by force of circumstance. The world is a turbulent and dangerous place, and leaders cannot ignore the sphere of foreign affairs without jeopardizing vital interests. They must engage. Each decision must be driven by some calculation about ends and means, and about the implications for other decisions. These are the rudiments of grand strategy. Experts try to improve the quality of strategy, but the impulse for leaders to behave strategically is already there.
But here is the difficulty. The world of domestic affairs is equally treacherous. Machiavelli, the grand old man of realism, warned that a prince must have two fears — “one internal, based on his subjects, the other external, based on foreign powers.” In democracies, leaders who bungle internal affairs are tossed out in the next election. In autocracies, they are overthrown in coups. And sometimes, clumsy leaders suddenly discover their states collapsing beneath them. If danger in the sphere of foreign affairs impels leaders toward strategy, the same is also true in the sphere of domestic affairs.
One of the things I hoped to get across in my paper is the connection between international and domestic politics—specifically, the connection between an open international system and a free and open society at home. Few, I think would disagree with that, but Roberts’ argument adds another dimension to the discussion. It is unrealistic to assume that elected leaders can compartmentalize in a way that creates a neat division between domestic and foreign policy. And if elected leaders think holistically about these issues, then their views in one sphere will inevitably affect their conduct in the other.
Read his entire piece here.
I’ve debated, both online and on TV, the tightness of the labor market with my fellow Bloomberg contributor Conor Sen. We both agree that as the labor market tightens wages will rise. However, Conor has tended to see this a negative for overall growth. The squeeze in companies profit margins will hamper their ability to expand and in some cases even cause them to contract or go out of business.
I’ve tended to see it as a positive. Relative profits will decline. Labor’s share of national income will rise. However, these two developments will cause more workers to enter the labor force and companies to invest in labor-saving technology. These two effects, in turn, will lead to more jobs and higher productivity, boosting overall output.
Target’s results last quarter lean in the direction of more growth. CNBC reports
Target‘s refurbished stores with more open layouts and the launch of several exclusive home furnishing and apparel brands are helping lure more people to shop there.
However, a decision to hike employee wages weighed on profit margins during the fourth quarter…
* Adjusted earnings per share: $1.37 vs. $1.38 expected.
* Revenue: $22.8 billion vs. $22.5 billion.
* Same-store sales: 3.6 percent growth vs. an increase of 3.1 percent.
CEO Cornell said he aims to make “2018 a year of acceleration in the areas that set Target apart — our stores, exclusive brands, and rapidly-growing suite of fulfillment options.”
Revenue and store performance were both higher than expected, but profits were lower than expected because of wages increases. Target’s response to that is to accelerate investments, in the hopes of further increasing revenue.
This also fits into my hopes for tax reform. Bonuses were nice and I think the investment incentives from lower marginal rates are real, however, what really matters is cash flow. We are about to enter a period where the business environment is going to suddenly become much more competitive for U.S. companies. They will be pushed to raise wages and increase investment at the same time and sans tax cut, many would find themselves unexpectedly cash-strapped.
Tax reform should offer relief just when companies need it, allowing them to increase investment without rapidly increasing prices. That, in turn, gives the Fed room to hold off on raising rates, and allows the recovery to continue growing strong.