President Trump, Testosterone, & Trade Wars

President Trump famously said that trade wars are, 'fun and easy to win.' Research on testosterone suggests that trade wars might, indeed, be fun for President Trump and President Xi.

High Testosterone makes Fighting Fun

High testosterone people are different from low testosterone people. This suggests that the trade war with China might be much longer and more negative than the markets believe. The conventional says, "There will be a good ending to the US-China dispute because both countries are better off settling than fighting." This post has three parts.

1. High Testosterone People are different.
2. The Predictable Path to Chinese Conflict
3. The Unpredictable outcome of Chinese Conflict.

1. High Testosterone People are different.

When I was in the Marine Corps' boot camp, I had a huge, powerful platoon mate who love to fight. Recruit 'Massive' from Michigan was a state champion wrestler who trained by harnessing up a motorcycle to pull his brother through the corn fields of his family farm.

Marine Recruit Massive did his own tractor pull

Recruit Massive had a favorite weekend activity where he went to the mall to pick fights. Massive would stare at the largest, most muscular men in the mall. If the opponent refused to look away, Massive would walk up and open hand slap the person and say, in his high-T way, let's fight. In his terms, just good clean fun.

Scientific evidence confirms the street smart wisdom of recruit Massive. Among many primates, eye gaze is confrontational, and breaking eye contact is a sign of submission. Dwight, from the office, connects facial expression across primates, when he says, "when someone smiles at me, all I see is a chimpanzee begging for its life." (Click for clip).

Chimpanzees have societies too

High testerone animals are more willing to fight, and they are more willing to be confrontational. For most people, the sight of an angry male face is disturbing. When scientists subliminally flash angry male faces on a computer screen, most people modify their behavior to avoid seeing the angry face.

However, high testosterone people, both men and women, reveal that they get pleasure from seeing angry male faces -- High T people change their behavior to see more of the subliminal angry faces. Conflict, or its possibility, is exciting for high testosterone people.

Got High T? Do you like the Angry Face? 

2. The Predictable Path to Chinese Conflict

I am not a China expert. However, it was obvious to me that we would reach the current impasse. Here is what I wrote over the last year:

October 8, 2018

"China is willing to endure pain to win ... a HUGE trade war with CHINA is significant possibility.

China is ready for another Long March

November 10, 2018

"China is unlikely to concede ... a trade war with China looms. Both sides are digging in."

President Trump's trade negotiator wrote "death by China"

March 19, 2019

"it seems *extremely* unlikely that China will make any significant concessions because of tariffs."

Tariffs will not cause China to bend the knee

Today, May 27, 2019, China said, "At the negotiating table, the U.S. government has made many arrogant requests, including restricting the development of state-owned enterprises ... Obviously, this is beyond the field and scope of trade negotiations, (and) touches upon China’s fundamental economic system.”

China and the US trade talks are stalled

So US and China have reached the predictable impasse. An outcome that was easy to see for anyone (except almost everyone who writes about such matters or talks on TV).

3. The Unpredictable Outcome of Chinese Conflict.

What is next? Who will blink? President Trump or President Xi. The conventional wisdom is that rationality will prevail and that the US and China will reach a deal soon. The Wall Street Journal shows smiling photos and writes a completely bland version of this pablum today (May 27, 2019):

"Both sides in the talks are afraid of the consequences of a complete failure, for their economies and the world economy more broadly. The Chinese hierarchy includes a contingent of reformers who favor liberalizing the Chinese economy."

Conventional wisdom is all smiles

The conventional wisdom misses the fact that high testosterone people enjoy a fight, simply for the pleasure of engaging in conflict. I am not aware of any published testosterone measures for President Trump and President Xi, but I am willing to speculate that they have above average levels.

Successful politicians may have High Testosterone

What will happen now? Will cooler heads prevail? The US and China fought each other for years in the Korean War. They ended up settling at the 38th parallel, the same place that they started. So all the conflict was costly and unnecessary. No one won, and many people died. All because no one would concede.

Tariffs are much milder than tank shells. Thus, I believe the US-China trade war will be longer and more contentious than the conventional wisdom.

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