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January 16, 2017

Trump doubles down against the EU

James Mattis, Donald Trump's nomination for defence secretary, took a different line on Nato during his confirmation hearing than Trump himself, so one might be tempted to play down some of the president-elects more eccentric comments. But our reading of his interview in the The Times and Bild is different. Trump has doubled down on everything he said about the EU, Brexit, and Nato. After reading this, we are left in no doubt that, for the first time, the US no longer sees the EU as a partner, but as a rival it wants to weaken. This is the passage which struck us the most:

“You look at the European Union and it’s Germany. Basically a vehicle for Germany. That’s why I thought the UK was so smart in getting out.”

Bild is getting into a frenzy over Trump's de facto pre-announcement of import tariffs of 35% on German car makers, and says BMW in particular should reconsider plans to build a factory to export cars into the US. In the interview Trump mentioned several times that Nato was obsolete. He did not want to pull out of Nato, or destroy the alliance, but it is clear that its usefulness to him is at best marginal. He also reiterated that he would offer President Vladimir Putin a deal to end sanctions in exchange for a nuclear weapons reduction agreement. 

The Times article also mentioned - without making a big fuss about it - that European travellers to the US might face restrictions starting next Monday. Since most Europeans are eligible for a visa waiver, this might imply a suspension of participation in the Esta registration programme.

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January 16, 2017

Fake maths

One of the points raised by Wolfgang Munchau is in his latest FT column is the notion of "fake maths", as he calls it, or fake news for numerically-literate people. This includes a tendency by economists to overstate the reliability of their economic forecasts, and the translation of opinion polls into electoral probabilities. Fake maths is one of the reasons the western liberal establishment has been losing the political debate, because they were not able to identify the nature of the threat posed by the populists.  

"Fake maths has given us, the liberal establishment, the illusion of certainty. Once the illusion crumbles, we are left with an uncomfortable question: is it possible that some populist demagogues will end up producing better economic policy than our friends in Davos? Take Italy as an example. The euro has been a disaster for the economy. If a populist were to win the Italian election, force a euro exit and default on foreign investors, is it not at least possible they would spur a genuine economic recovery? I do not know the answer; I know for sure that the present regime will not."

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