LORD COPPER: Alice in Trumpland

Whisked to Trumpland, Alice ponders what the Mad Hatter would make of the president-elect's promises of an infrastructure rebuild and his plans to make America great again by putting up barriers to free trade.

Alice was excited as she buckled her safety belt. Another few hours and she’d be in Washington DC, ready to watch the handover of power from one government to the next.

True, she’s not directly involved, as a citizen of Wonderland rather than the United States of America, but nevertheless she was aware that the policies of the incoming president and his team would have a big impact on her favourite economic subject, the movement of metal prices.

The stewardess came round with a tray of pre-take-off drinks; Alice glared at her, and asked for a sweet, instead.

The next thing she knew, the aeroplane was dipping into its approach to Dulles International, and then, immigration queues finally negotiated, she was ready to set off on her voyage of investigation. Newspapers, TV screens, radio stations – all screamed headlines at her, as she tried to make sense of it all.

People in the street wearing red caps with the slogan “Make America Great Again”. Others with faces as long as someone who has just learned they are on the Red Queen’s hit list.

Where to start?

An article headlined “Infrastructure Development” looked promising, and Alice seized on it. That was surely good – after all, infrastructure almost without fail requires heavy usage of metals (and other commodities – Alice is not one-eyed). So she started reading.

The first article – the one that had caught her attention – was a bit thin on detail, so she searched further, and started asking some of the people she met about it as well. But it didn’t help; none of the pieces she read were anything more than bland assertions that infrastructure development was important to the new president.

Among the people, the ones with the red caps assured her all would be well, and that billions of government money would be poured into all sorts of schemes. No, they couldn’t tell her any specifics, but, hey, the projects would bring jobs back home. Well, that sounded good.

But the long-faced people just got even more miserable looking, and told her it would never happen, because there was no money to pay for it. Mmm, thought Alice, it sounds good, but I can’t get to grips with the detail. If it works, good for metals; but she wasn’t convinced.

When Alice made a plan, she always made certain that she looked hard into the detail before making too much noise about it, otherwise all her Wonderland friends – Cheshire Cat, Mad Hatter and the rest – just laughed at her.

But, as readers of her adventures know well, Alice doesn’t give up easily. This whole “bring jobs home” issue looked interesting. Reviving domestic manufacturing is a hot topic, and not just in the USA. Getting herself up to speed here was a bit easier, because there did seem to be some detail to look at.

Alice was interested to learn how much US automobile manufacturing had moved south of its border, to the neighbouring country. The new US president’s plan is to impose heavy import tariffs on products made down there, with the intention of driving the big manufacturers to move their plants back north of the border.

Well, in theory, that should create jobs and revitalise some rundown areas. But Alice found herself thinking a bit sceptically about the notion. You see, she knew a bit about what had happened when the auto plants had moved south. She knew that along with them had moved component manufacturers, steel sheet mills, wheel makers and all the other myriad parts of the wider auto industry.

And they had all moved because they could cut their production costs substantially, protected by the Nafta treaty, while keeping access to their major market. Alice was sceptical because the proposal seemed to be to erect trade barriers, and she had grown up in an era of free trade. She doubted that such a reversion to the past would be possible; in the end, people weren’t going to accept higher prices and reduced choice. She didn’t believe this one was going to fly.

Then all the US newspapers started spinning in front of her eyes; she caught a glimpse of the odd headline – “Tear up Nafta”, “Keep out Chinese Goods”, “Religion and Immigration”, “Scrap the Iran Deal”…

Suddenly, she was in a karaoke lounge and the new president was there next to her, microphone in hand. His eyes fixed on the screen showing a picture of a high concrete wall stretching out into the distance, he was belting out his song:
“But after all,
You’re my Wonderwall”…

Alice felt a tap on her shoulder, and the kindly face of the airline stewardess leaned over her. “Wake up, young lady. You’ve been asleep. Were you having a happy dream?’

A dream, thought Alice, it was only a dream…

With thanks and apologies to Lewis Carroll, whose wonderful characters I have borrowed.

Further reading
TRUMP SPECIAL: Trade policies could send steel prices, inflation soaring, experts say
TRUMP SPECIAL: Trump just might pan out for mining, energy
TRUMP SPECIAL: New US administration will feature familiar faces
TRUMP SPECIAL: US scrap industry cautiously optimistic about Trump
TRUMP SPECIAL: Analysts sceptical about Trump’s US infrastructure plans
TRUMP SPECIAL: Trump unlikely to set off US trade war with China, analyst says
TRUMP SPECIAL: Pressure from Trump ‘not driving’ US carmaker decisions
TRUMP SPECIAL: Trump already a bull in China’s shops

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