On Tuesday, we in Asia woke up to the sparring of the first U.S. presidential debate. The contest was great to watch over my customary cup of English breakfast tea.
Many of the topics are domestic. But issues such as immigration and, in particular, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal cross national borders and give Asia an interest in the outcome of the election.
Both candidates have criticized the TPP, which would free up trade between 12 nations around the Pacific Ocean, from Chile to Brunei. But a victory for Donald Trump would likely result in ditching the prospective agreement. Many people in this part of the world believe that Hillary Clinton, despite her harsh words on the partnership, would re-ignite that particular multilateral deal. President Barack Obama sees it as one of his key legacies.
In the debate, Trump attacked Clinton as using the words that the TPP is the "gold standard" of trade deals, support that Clinton clearly expressed, in those words, which she did in a televized speech in New Zealand.
That flies in the face of her most-recent statements. But she has qualified her criticism.
"I will stop any trade deal that kills jobs or holds down wages, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership," she said at a campaign stop in Ohio in August, as the Los Angeles Times explains here. "I oppose it now, I'll oppose it after the election, and I'll oppose it as president."
Since her husband parsed what exactly an "inappropriate relationship" means, it's worth asking what "it" means in that sentence. The TPP itself, or any deal that holds down wages or kills jobs?
I hope, above all hopes, that the TPP goes ahead. To me, freer trade is a universal good. Products become cheaper and the world becomes more connected. Yes, people have to be retrained for higher-end jobs in economies where companies are off-sourcing production to benefit from lower wages. But the government should be aiding that process.
I hope Trump is posturing when he depicts China as the enemy, President Xi Jinping as someone he would take to McDonald's instead of a state dinner. It's not a time to close off the world's largest economy to the second-largest one.
Wages in the United States have essentially gone nowhere since the 1970s, according to the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, who spoke here in Hong Kong last week in an address.
"For more than 40 years, what the people in the middle have seen is a struggle just to tread water, just to stay where their father and their grandfather were," Stiglitz said in a speech at the Grand Hyatt. "For someone who has just graduated, things are much worse."
His point of view is that "trickle-down economics" do not work. The "evisceration of the middle" is occurring, with the 1% benefiting from the rest of the economy.
The good news, Stiglitz said, is that these results are "the laws of men" rather than the "laws of nature." They are the result of policies that have given companies more power than workers. And public policy could return the "middle" to pride of place once again.
Trump and Clinton are, frankly speaking, both part of the 1%. Who would, however, be better for the United States, and the rest of the globe, as a victor in this November's election?
A poll by CNN/ORC says that Clinton "won" the debate, with 62% saying she was the victor compared with 27% for Trump. Markets were upbeat after the occasion. The Nikkei 225 closed up 0.8%, and the broader Topix up 1.0%, coming off lows of almost two months. The Hang Seng in Hong Kong closed up 1.1%, although the main Australian index closed down 0.5% before the debate concluded.
But political decisions are not something markets, so focused on earnings and the bottom line, are particularly good at predicting.
North Korea's attempted development of nuclear weapons, for instance, is particularly troubling in Asia, Christopher Wood, CLSA's equity strategist, said last week. It is hard to factor in correctly for investors, he believes.
"Markets are no good at discounting geopolitical risk," Wood said.
As the CNN poll showed, and many other talking heads have said, Clinton had the upper hand on Monday. But there are two more head-to-heads to go.
"Hillary Clinton should win easily if her natural support turns up," Wood said. "The question is, are there banana skins in the debates?"