Back

Latest In

Butler Experts

Two Butler professors explain what's going on in the trade relationship between the United States and China.
Butler Experts

Understanding the Trade War

BY Katie Grieze

PUBLISHED ON Aug 09 2019

When China weakens its currency, lowering the yuan’s value in comparison with the U.S. dollar, what exactly does that mean for America? It seems like the move would only damage the Chinese economy, right?

Even if the yuan’s sliding value does hurt China in some ways, says Butler University Professor of Economics Bill Rieber, it could be a strategic play in the ongoing trade war between China and the United States.

“And in the concept of a war,” Rieber says, “no one is really gaining.”

Rieber, an expert in international economics whose research focuses mostly on Asian economies, explains that a weaker Chinese currency means cheaper Chinese products. This seems appealing on the surface—American companies who trade with China can buy more for less money. And the savings trickle all the way down to consumers, who pay less for the final product.

But for businesses selling American-made goods, that competition can be hard to beat. Rieber says products might need to be priced cheaper than they would be otherwise, which essentially ends up lowering the wages of some American workers.

In response, President Donald Trump has placed tariffs on Chinese imports, trying to make these otherwise cheap goods less appealing. But China is playing the same game, Rieber explains. The nation’s recent decision to stop buying U.S. agricultural products threatens a vulnerable part of the American economy, which Rieber says could put a new kind of tension on Trump.

“It may be that [China is] trying to retaliate in those states that were big supporters of President Trump during the election,” he says. “They are trying to hurt agriculture in the Midwest.”

But Su-Mei Ooi, an Associate Professor of Political Science at Butler and an expert in U.S.-China relations, says we should be careful not to make assumptions about China’s adversarial intentions toward the U.S. Within her studies about the ways China is depicted within American political rhetoric, she’s found U.S. politicians and media outlets often villainize China in a way that exacerbates conflict between the two countries.

For example, Ooi’s research has analyzed whether China intentionally devalues its currency to give Chinese exports an unfair advantage and make it impossible for the U.S. to close the trade deficit it has with China. She says American leaders often frame it that way, painting China as “a cheat” in order to justify their own actions in the trade war. In the past, China has devalued the yuan to give Chinese goods a competitive advantage, but Ooi says this no longer holds true.

“There was a time when China was manipulating its currency,” she says, “but that has been long gone. In fact, more recently, economists have claimed that China’s currency is overvalued compared to similar economies.”

That’s because China’s government has been intervening in currency markets, buying and selling currencies in ways that have made the yuan’s value artificially high. This is the very opposite of what they are being accused of now, Ooi says. She explains that the yuan’s recent drop in value was actually an appropriate market response to the new round of U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods.

Villainized ideas about China within “popular imagination” have fueled a lot of unfounded anti-Chinese sentiment among Americans, Ooi says. And that’s what has helped U.S. leaders justify their actions in the trade war.

“There needs to be some kind of justification, right?” she says. “Some kind of rally around the flag effect to motivate people to suck up the costs of this trade war. And I think it’s the use of these kinds of tropes that perpetuate misunderstanding and allow the current administration to do that.”

Ooi explains that this political technique of “othering”—capitalizing on fear of difference to unite supporters—is nothing new. But she says within Trump’s presidency, it’s been a little more blatant, fueling long-held stereotypes about China.

“These are powerful assumptions that we hold that we don’t question,” she says. “‘Oh, of course China is a rival power and must want to dislodge us from our pedestal.’ But this may or may not be true—we are inferring China’s intentions from a deep-seated fear of our own decline.”

 

Media Contact:
Katie Grieze
News Content Manager
kgrieze@butler.edu
260-307-3403 (cell)

Two Butler professors explain what's going on in the trade relationship between the United States and China.
Butler Experts

Understanding the Trade War

Two Butler professors explain what's going on in the trade relationship between the United States and China.

Aug 09 2019 Read more
Nancy Whitmore says merger of Gannett and GateHouse Media could help save money, but at a cost.
Butler Experts

Butler Prof: ‘Local Newspapers Near Crisis Point’

BY Katie Grieze

PUBLISHED ON Jul 30 2019

To understand media mergers like the proposed one between Gannett and GateHouse Media, Nancy Whitmore says “you need to understand the state newspapers are in. And it is a sad state.”

Whitmore, a Professor of Communication at Butler University, explains that mergers are often meant to help papers hold on long enough to figure out a more permanent business model for surviving the digital age. In the time when local print papers provided the main source of information, advertising dollars were key. Now, as most of that money goes to big technology companies such as Google and Facebook, more newspapers have tried to hold their ground with funding from subscriptions. Whitmore says this model mostly works for larger national outlets, but local newspapers struggle to convert readers into digital subscribers.

So mid-sized and smaller papers are “really in a tight spot.” Gannett and GateHouse both focus on these sorts of local outlets.

Horizontal mergers between similar companies can help save money, often by combining and sharing human resources, editing, design, and printing teams. The combined company would also be able to boast a more widespread audience—a draw for advertisers looking to reach the most people.

But good journalism will still be expensive, and combining companies usually means cutting jobs. Whitmore says it’s hard to tell how many layoffs a Gannett-GateHouse merger could cause, since most local newsrooms are already spread thin, but some job cuts would be likely. And there would be consequences.

“I think we are almost at a crisis point here,” she says. “If you’re not getting local journalism, you are losing the independent voice that is monitoring those in power.”

According to Pew Research Center, the number of Americans working in the newspaper industry has been slashed almost in half since the early 2000s. Wages are down, closures are up, and many of the papers that survive have started to publish less frequently.

While mergers and acquisitions can keep some struggling outlets on their feet, about 1,300 communities in the United States have lost local newspaper coverage altogether.

Whitmore says ethical concerns sometimes surround the idea of big companies owning so many media outlets, but a financial need to merge for the survival of local journalism might start to outweigh those worries. Plus, since GateHouse and Gannett own mostly local papers that aren’t in direct competition with one another, Whitmore says combining the two companies might not raise regulatory concerns.

“But mergers are expensive,” she goes on to explain, “and they don’t always work out well. You’ve got different cultures—different ways of doing things. It’s not always smooth sailing.” 

Whitmore predicts that, if anything holds back a merger between Gannett and GateHouse, it will probably be the financing. Given the already-dismal state of local outlets, she’s not sure a deal can be done. But for the sake of local newspapers, she hopes it works.

Because without journalism, even at the most local level, Whitmore says communities will be left vulnerable to “people in power doing unseemly things.”

 

Nancy Whitmore (Professor of Communication at Butler University) specializes in research and teaching about the laws, ethics, and economics surrounding the media industry.

 

Media Contact:
Katie Grieze
News Content Manager
kgrieze@butler.edu
260-307-3403 (cell) 

Nancy Whitmore says merger of Gannett and GateHouse Media could help save money, but at a cost.
Butler Experts

Butler Prof: ‘Local Newspapers Near Crisis Point’

Nancy Whitmore says merger of Gannett and GateHouse Media could help save money, but at a cost.

Jul 30 2019 Read more
Of the 37 climate scientists Carol Reeves has interviewed across the United States, all of them feel a moral obligation to help save the planet.
Butler Experts

Global Warming? Climate Change? How do we talk about what’s happening? Butler prof looks to set the rhetoric record straight

BY Katie Grieze

PUBLISHED ON Jul 22 2019

Of the 37 climate scientists Carol Reeves has interviewed across the United States, all of them feel a moral obligation to help save the planet. All of them want to tell the world how bad things will get if we don’t take better care of our Earth. The thing is, not all of them have the right words to make people listen.

An English Professor at Butler University, Reeves studies how climate scientists communicate with one another, with policy makers, and with the public about their research findings. While not a climate scientist herself, she teaches courses about the rhetoric and language of science. Through working with students on how to talk about climate change, as well as through interviewing climate scientists over the past several years, Reeves has learned about the nuanced challenges scientists often face in discussing their research.

“In science, you don’t talk about absolute facts: You talk about evidence,” Reeves says. “But normal people listen to dramatic claims. They have trouble getting that we have loads of evidence from research to support that we are heading into a really terrible time if we don’t do anything about it. We are going to have more extremes, more heat waves and draughts, more heavy rains, more wildfires, and stronger hurricanes.”

Reeves says we might view this summer’s heat waves as a sort of “test run” for what climate scientists are warning about the future, and how that heat will continue to affect us.

“Extreme and prolonged high temperatures place an enormous burden on communities and citizens, especially the most vulnerable,” she says. “If you’re wealthy enough to be sitting in your cooled home, you may dismiss this very clear sign of climate change. But if you’re poor, or if you have to work outdoors, you probably wish someone would get to work on the problem.”

Starting in 2008, Reeves decided to start conducting interviews with climate scientists to gain more background for the unit of her class that discusses climate change. She focused on those scientists involved in writing climate assessment reports for the United Nations—reports that analyze where the climate is now, and what will probably happen in the future. These scientists also look at how climate change is already affecting the Earth, and they build recommendations for what humans can do to help.

Researchers see a stark future in the data, but they struggle to spread the word. Reeves says policy makers and members of the public often misunderstand the concept of climate change, especially the way scientists talk about it. This has caused climatologists to sometimes disagree among themselves about what kind of language to use when sharing their research.

“You have a set of data,” she says, “but you have to write about that data, and you have to decide how strong your language is going to be.”

Reeves explains that scientists need to balance the ethical responsibility to stay within their data with their desire to help the public understand.

“It is a tenuous balance between explaining the science in a simple and clear way without simplifying and over-stating,” she says.

But it doesn’t matter what the studies show if people don’t want to think about the future. Scientists want to convince the population that, even though we are facing so many other problems, we need to put climate change at the top of the list. They just aren’t sure how.

 

Media Contact:
Katie Grieze
News Content Manager
kgrieze@butler.edu
260-307-3403 (cell)

Pages