Luigi Di Maio Matteo Salvini populism trade Trump

Dream States: Why No Resolution To Current Political Conflicts Is Possible

Games of chicken, prisoner’s dilemmas and the suspension of disbelief.

Analysts and commentators continue to demonstrate a penchant for trying to couch the various conflicts that have arisen from the semi-global populist upsurge in terms that implicitly assume the antagonists (the populists) have a set of goals in mind or are otherwise aiming to secure some kind of concessions, even if they're not entirely sure what those concessions are. I continue to think this is a mistake. If we learned anything from the Brexit experience, it's that the populist backlash in all its various manifestations rests on nebulous concepts, not concrete policy goals. The Brexit negotiations have been nothing short of a nightmare for any number of reasons, not the least of which is that nobody knows exactly what “Brexit” means. It’s not even clear what part of speech “Brexit” is. Is it a noun? If so, is it a proper noun, or is it just capitalized by default because the first two letters denote the name of a country? Or maybe it’s a verb. If that’s the case, how does one “Brexit”? Whatever the case, it’s an amorphous concept that had symbolic meaning to the extent it conveyed something about public sentiment, but had little to no practical application
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8 comments on “Dream States: Why No Resolution To Current Political Conflicts Is Possible

  1. Mr. Lucky says:


    Excellent piece. You said: “There are no concessions that China can make that will restore American manufacturing “greatness” or that will result in a trade agreement that Trump would deem unequivocally ‘fair.'” That is absolutely on point because the goal of Mr. Trump’s policies is never to do the right thing for the Americans he was elected to serve (that was all of us, btw). Rather, the goal is for him to “win” and all others to “lose.” Not only does he want to create losers with each of his policies, but he wants those losses to be large and painful. Clearly there can be no rational or realistic solutions to anything Trump decides is a “problem.” The only way any positive outcome will ever be possible is if an acceptable spin doctor can show him how an actual good outcome for us is a huge win for him. Giuliani and Kudlow, poor babies, try so hard to be those guys it’s sad; fun to watch though.

  2. Chris says:

    The iterative nature of this game necessarily turns it into PD even if a single non-iterated node would be chicken. The reputational costs of capitulation are too high. It’s the same reason you can’t negotiate with terrorists. I don’t think there is an equilibrium here beyond escalation, at least until power changes hands in Washington.

  3. MC says:

    H, this is a brilliant piece. Particularly love the turn of phrase “suspension of disbelief”. Wish there was a way to waken the dreamers – what will it take?

  4. Anonymous says:

    The basic problem remains that being rational doesn’t require being aware. So mistakes can be made, promises can be broken, and we take our chances regardless.

    Thanks for the the thought-provoking piece here.

  5. ken says:

    The New daily in Australia gives coverage of the liberal (right) party which seeks to prefer coal, and big bus busines in similar ways. Oz is not an innocuous backwater.

  6. ken says:

    the new daily was created to counter the right wing propaganda with a balanced view by industry superannuation funds!

  7. ezkappdo says:

    So we’re screwed…until the conflict resolution that finally collapses the fantasy….and they will continue to deny the truth later with continued complaints that if allowed, they could have fixed it…

  8. Jim says:

    Extremely good stuff. I’ve remained shocked that the UK would have voted for Brexit despite it being manifestly against their interest. Vague populist imagery has replaced economic reality. And then there has been the nebulous thought among some in the UK that they could magically keep the good stuff, and jettison the bad stuff, and that the rest of the EU would be fine with that because, well, the british are such lovely people after all.

    Until Trump it seemed ridiculous that people with such a myopic, zero-sum game view of trade could ever be ascendant again. Shades of Smoot-Hawley, which worked so well. While, arguably, there are issues with China that need sorting (intellectual property, for instance), these are mainly not actually trade issues. So the pretenses of our trade dispute/trade war is ambiguous. Our approach also ignores the WTO, an institution that we ourselves set up to resolve trade disputes.

    The concern on trade, I think, is not that things will get sorted out. Rather, that the trade disputes may be the opening moves in an effort to significantly withdraw from global free trade and become increasingly isolationist, protectionist and nationalistic (i.e., revisiting the early 1930s). The vogue of populists is to blame the woes of the nation on “globalization” (i.e. free trade) . This ignores the inconvenient fact that US economic dominance, and the bulk of our post-WW2 prosperity, has been based on free trade.

    When I hear people rail against “globalization” what I really hear is people arguing to eliminate the very engine of our prosperity.

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