Paul Krugman: Breaking Up is Hard to Do

As the October 31 deadline for Brexit — Britain’s exit from the European Union — approaches, things are getting wild. The wildness isn’t driven by concerns about Brexit’s long-run economic impact, although the professional consensus is that this will be negative but not catastrophic.

After all, Canada literally spent generations not having an open border with its giant neighbor to the south. In fact, it still doesn’t: NAFTA establishes free trade, not a customs union, so trucks crossing the border still have to present manifests certifying that they’re carrying U.S. or Canadian goods, not stuff transshipped from, say, China. Yet Canada hasn’t turned into a howling wilderness. Neither will Britain, in the long run; the best estimates suggest that once there’s been time to adjust, Brexit might take something like 2 percent off Britain’s G.D.P.

Instead, everyone is focused on the morning after — the first few weeks or months after Brexit (which still might not happen.)

Why is the short run scary? Being a member of the European Union doesn’t just mean zero tariffs on your neighbors, it means more or less frictionless movement of goods. Even goods from outside the E.U. pay tariffs at the port of entry, say Rotterdam, and can move freely once they’re inside Europe. Trucks arriving in Dover haven’t had to present a customs manifest to be reviewed before entering Britain, because there weren’t any customs. So they could just drive through. And the whole British economy has been structured around the expectation that goods could flow freely.

Given sufficient time and preparation, imposing new frictions wouldn’t have to be a huge problem. Britain is a modern country with a highly competent civil service. It could hire lots of customs inspectors, have sophisticated computer systems in place, and so on. Wait times for goods crossing the U.S.-Canada border are minimal, and eventually Britain should look the same.

But Britain isn’t ready. Last week the Times of London (as opposed to The New York Times) reported on a leaked version of Operation Yellowhammer, the British government’s contingency planning for a hard, no-deal Brexit. The expected consequences were scary: shortages of fuel, food, and medicine, a three-month “meltdown” at the ports, and more.

In response, officials in Boris Johnson’s government claimed that the leaked documents were out of date, and that more recent analyses were much less disturbing. And they announced that they would reassure the public today by publishing extracts from an updated version of Yellowhammer.

But plans for the release have been called off, reportedly because after scrambling over the weekend to produce a more benign scenario, officials still ended up with something grim enough to scare the public. This is the opposite of reassuring.

And it’s hard to see any legitimate public interest in keeping Brexit contingency planning secret. Why shouldn’t people and businesses be able to make plans based on the best available information? No, the secrecy is all about politics: the Johnson government doesn’t want the public to know what’s likely to happen.

Now, the truth is that it’s hard to know what will really happen (and the research economist in me is, rather ghoulishly, eager to find out.) I used to know a very good manager who had a sign on her desk that read, “When all else fails, lower your standards.” Can’t Britain mitigate the short-run disruption by making customs checks fast and sloppy? Of course, the outcome also depends on what happens in Calais — and we don’t know much about the E.U.’s contingency planning.

And the whole thing may yet be called off: I know nothing about British politics, but it does appear that there might be a snap general election before the Brexit date, and an opposition victory could put the thing on hold.

Anyway, interesting times.

Trump’s Attacks on Health Care Will Backfire

The administration’s chaotic reversals on Obamacare could deprive millions of coverage.

Meanwhile, the administration’s latest budget, released in mid-March, stands behind legislation known as “Graham-Cassidy,” which was pushed by Republicans in 2017 but never won enough support to be brought to a vote.

The Trojan horse of health care reform, the proposal provides for relatively small initial cuts in federal funding and then huge reductions starting in 2027.

According to a Brookings Institution reportGraham-Cassidy would cost 32 million Americans their health insurance by 2027, just as full repeal would. That’s Donald Trump’s idea of a “beautiful,” “terrific” and “unbelievable” health care plan.

.. The administration’s recent decision to submit a brief in a Texas case asking the court to declare all of Obamacare unconstitutional was well publicized.

Slipping by almost unnoticed was Mr. Trump’s instruction last June to the Justice Department, which was defending the A.C.A., to argue instead that certain key provisions — notably, the requirement that Americans with pre-existing conditions be treated equally — be declared unconstitutional.

A win by Mr. Trump in this case could mean that nearly 20 million Americans would lose insuranceaccording to the Urban Institute.

The Conspiracy Theory That Says Trump Is a Genius

The theory is fascinating as an artifact of our current political derangement, but more than that, it’s profoundly revealing about the lengths to which some Trump supporters will go to convince themselves that his presidency is going well.

..  In the QAnon reality, Trump only pretended to collude with Russia in order to create a pretext for the hiring of Robert Mueller, the special counsel, who is actually working with Trump to take down an inconceivably evil and powerful network of coup-plotters and child sex traffickers that includes Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and George Soros.

.. “QAnon points out that this is the beginning of the end for the Clintons,” said Jerome Corsi — a prominent proponent of the lie that Obama was born in Kenya

.. the world would be forced to contend with “films of innocent children pleading for their lives while people are butchering them.” Once that happens, presumably, Trump will be revealed as a master of 12-dimensional chess who successfully distracted smirking elites with his buffoonery while he was quietly saving the world.

.. The creativity poured into QAnon is striking; it’s like something between a sprawling work of crowdsourced postmodern fiction and an immersive role-playing game.

.. But for many people, QAnon is very real. Barr has tried to make contact with Q on Twitter. InfoWars, the website run by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones — who has a close relationship with Trump confidant Roger Stone — has consistently promoted it.

.. Cheryl Sullenger, senior vice president of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, posted an article on the group’s website about an “intel drop” from Q revealing a White House plan to end Planned Parenthood. Sean Hannity retweeted a post with the #QAnon hashtag.

.. Some elements of the QAnon conspiracy theory — secret elites, kidnapped children — are classic, even archetypical. “In all Western culture, you can argue that all conspiracy theories, no matter how diverse, come from the idea of the Jews abducting children,”

.. Stories about globalists stealing children for sex aren’t that far removed from stories about Jews stealing children to use their blood making matzo.

.. One twist, however, makes QAnon unusual. Conspiracy theories are usually about evil cabals manipulating world events. QAnon, by contrast, is a conspiracy theory in which the good guys — in this case, Trump and his allies — are in charge.

.. It’s a dream of power rather than a bitter alibi for victimhood. It seems designed to cope with the cognitive dissonance caused by the gap between Trump as his faithful followers like to imagine him, and Trump as he is.

.. legislation many on the right deplored, was shortsighted. In releasing funds to the military, it said, the bill would set off a climactic series of events: “Swamp drain begins, military seizes TRILLIONS in cabal assets, returning them to the people.”
.. An inspector general report would then reveal the establishment’s unspeakable crimes, after which “the strings will be cut from the propaganda machine and people will stop falling for the garbage MSM,
.. You don’t create a wild fantasy about your leader being a covert genius unless you understand that to most people, he looks like something quite different. You don’t need an occult story about how your side is secretly winning if it’s actually winning.
.. Their desperate conviction that they will be proven right about Trump betrays a secret fear that they will be proven wrong.

Trump is looking more and more like a man without a plan

“Sounds like you’re applying the standards and the policy that the Obama administration put forward,” CBS News’s Major Garrett observed when Sessions finished his statement. “Are you taking any additional steps?”

“Well, that’s a good question,” Sessions replied. And the answer, apparently, is “no.”

Such policy anticlimaxes are becoming routine in Trump world. Tough rhetoric, big promises — and no substance. Trump looks more and more like a man without a plan.

.. During the campaign, he said he had a secret plan to defeat the Islamic State. He said he had a “foolproof” plan of “defeating them quickly and effectively and having total victory.” Now, it turns out, he has no plan. He has asked the Pentagon to create one. “We will figure something out,” he said last week.

.. During the campaign, Trump boldly vowed that he would eliminate the U.S. debt

.. He then said he would cut the debt in half. But when CNBC’s Eamon Javers asked about whether Trump would allow tax reform to add to the deficit (and therefore the debt), Spicer said it was “really early” to be raising such questions

.. How presumptuous to expect Trump, after campaigning on historic tax reform, actually to have a proposal!