Big countries lose trade wars, too


One of the more mystifying features of recent economic debate is how many people seem unbothered by the very real possibility of an old-fashioned trade war. US President Donald Trump, of course, relishes the possibility of such a battle — as he would, no doubt, any war he didn’t have to fight personally.

Naturally, he’s convinced that the US would “win” one.

Rarely is much to be gained from unpacking the president’s thought processes, so I won’t try. But others, too, are alarmingly sanguine about the effect that a major destabilisation of trade would have on their nations or businesses.

Consider the Indian auto magnate Anand Mahindra, who recently tweeted he was “not sure why Indian markets seem so perturbed by the threat of global tariff wars”. Only smaller, export-focused countries stood to lose, he argued; “countries with large domestic economies can easily withstand tariff threats.” His conclusion: “India can stand tall in a trade war”.

Mahindra’s argument — because he does have an argument to make, unlike Trump — is worth looking at more closely.

He’s a particularly thoughtful and influential business leader; many in the Indian government and business community appear to think similarly.

Nothing is simpler for politicians than to erect walls of one sort or another: Walls against immigrants, against goods, against capital.

Those who benefit from them are easy to identify. Those who suffer — citizens at large, consumers, everyone who benefits from global growth — are more numerous, but tougher to organise.

You’d think at least companies with a worldwide vision would recognise the dangers of this protectionist moment and speak up against it. But I fear that, once again, Indian business might fail India’s people — and itself. — Bloomberg

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