Calm before the storm. West Lake in Hangzhou, China. Photo: Johannes Eisele / AFP / Getty

With billions of dollars in tariffs threatened on both sides, the U.S. and China look like warring nations. But experienced trade hands tell us these are only appearances — it's the chest-thumping brinksmanship stage of negotiations, they say.

Okay, but if so, when will we know we are watching war?

After all, in a report this week, Brookings estimates that Chinese tariffs just threatened to date — a "shrewdly chosen 'hit list' of hallmark American industries" — could cost 2.1 million U.S. jobs.

  • "We are in uncharted territory," says Chad Bown of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, tells me. "It’s more like we’ll know it when we see it."
  • Cornell University's Eswar Prasad says it's not all that inscrutable. "When both sides actually start levying the tariffs, then we will be in a trade war," Prasad told me.

Bonus: The nearest example of out-and-out trade war is the 1930s, after the U.S. enacted the Smoot-Hawley tariffs. Read this description by Bown and his Peterson colleague Douglas Irwin.

Go deeper

Updated 8 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 8 p.m. ET: 33,495,373 — Total deaths: 1,004,314 — Total recoveries: 23,259,632Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 8 p.m ET: 7,186,527 — Total deaths: 205,895 — Total recoveries: 2,809,674 — Total tests: 103,155,189Map.
  3. Health: Americans won't take Trump's word on the vaccine, Axios-Ipsos poll finds.
  4. States: NYC's coronavirus positivity rate spikes to highest since June.
  5. Sports: Tennessee Titans close facility amid NFL's first coronavirus outbreak.
  6. World: U.K. beats previous record for new coronavirus cases.
  7. Work: United States of burnout — Asian American unemployment spikes amid pandemic

Misinformation thrives on social media ahead of presidential debate

Joe Biden speaking in Wilmington, Delaware, on Sept. 27. Photo: Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images

A baseless conspiracy theory that Joe Biden would wear an electronic device in his ear during the first presidential debate on Tuesday went viral on social media hours before the event.

Why it matters: The conspiracy originated on social media before appearing in a text message sent by President Trump’s re-election campaign to supporters. It was then regurgitated by media outlets like Fox News and New York Post, who cited the Trump campaign, throughout the day, according to NBC News.

Amy Coney Barrett says Trump offered her nomination 3 days after Ginsburg's death

Barrett speaks after being nominated to the US Supreme Court by President Trump in the Rose Garden of the White House. Photo:; Olivier Douliery/AFP

Amy Coney Barrett said in a questionnaire released by the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday that President Trump offered her the Supreme Court nomination on Sept. 21, five days before he announced the pick to the public.

Why it matters: According to the questionnaire, Trump offered Barrett the nomination just three days after Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, suggesting that the president knew early on that Barrett was his pick. Minutes after offering Barrett the nomination, however, Trump told reporters that he had not made up his mind and that five women were on the shortlist.