There was a short while last week when I liked Donald Trump and (sort of) wished I’d voted for him. It was probably Monday to Wednesday, I thought maybe I’d been wrong about him.
His first days were sort of thrilling. Finally, a president was keeping his campaign promises as he moved to cut red tape that strangles economic growth, mocked political correctness and sneered at leftist reporters. And his cabinet picks – Andy Puzder, Scott Pruitt, Betsy DeVos, Mick Mulvaney, Mike Pompeo … actual reformers every one, not the political hacks that the Oval Office usually picks … that Hillary Clinton certainly would have inflicted upon us. These people understand the limits of government control and are eager to dismantle the opportunity-strangling bureaucracy.
Trump revised the Keystone Pipeline and froze federal hiring and took the initiate step toward rolling back the ill-conceived Affordable Care Act.
Things were looking good … and then Friday came. Actually, my stomach began to feel funny when he said he’d impose a 20% tax on Mexican imports and said he wanted the Keystone pipeline built with American steel.
He’d said those things during the campaign too, but presidents usually lie while campaigning, so I hoped he knew history well enough to know that a trade war helped create the Great Depression.
Tariffs is counterproductive.
Trump fans will sneer, but they need to apply some of Economics in One Lesson to this scenario.
Yes, some steelworkers’ jobs are saved by buy-American edicts, but more jobs will be lost. We can just focus on what we see, but we also need to be aware of what we don’t see or won’t see immediately.
We see the jobs at a steel plant. If it closes, television cameras record the moment. Reporters interview the workers on their last day. Our hearts break at them. Many won’t find other jobs, or jobs that pay as well. We want to “do something” to help.
What we don’t see, or don’t see as easily, are the many jobs created if companies are free to use steel that’s a little cheaper. We don’t see the jobs created when people are free to buy and sell all over the world. We also don’t easily see the jobs that never get created because tariffs or “buy American” rules make ingredients more expensive.
The media never show those jobs because it doesn’t make compelling content, but those jobs mean the different between a prosperous society with a thriving economy and a struggling country with a restricted and stagnant economy.
In 1400, China led the world. They invented gunpowder, the compass, the clock, real paper and printing. Then they walled themselves off. They burned the trading ships. The emperor wanted to “protect” the Chinese from outsiders.
Stagnation results and until the late 20th century, before free market reforms, China was one of the poorest nations on earth.
In his inaugural speech, President Trump promised to take power from Washington and give it “back to you, the people.” America “must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.”
That’s absurd. Foreigners who peacefully offer to sell us stuff we want at low prices are not invading armies. Trade barriers promise to reduce each American’s freedom to spend his or her money as he or she chooses, which just gives Washington DC bureaucrats more authority.
I want to give Trump the benefit of the doubt. It’s just not working out.
Throughout the election, I kept wondering why some libertarians liked Trump. Yeah, I get that they liked that he was making the DC establishment look bad. But what about the rest of the package? Trump has an opinion on a lot of subjects … some of which he’s qualified to speak on … but the one thing I never heard him mention was freedom. He never brings it up. He sees government as the solution to what ails the people and that doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for we the people to solve our own problems to our own satisfaction.
I could be wrong, but as of a week ago, I’m increasingly convinced that I’m not.