Thursday, January 21, 2016

Donald Trump: Stupidity, Statism, and the End of America?

Stupidity, statism, and destruction. Here's the case.  I've tried to hold off commenting directly on the current presidential candidates, because it has been such a messy campaign.  On the Republican side, one candidate in particular -- Donald Trump -- has been extremely opaque.  I have always been extremely skeptical of Trump; he's always seemed to me to be a con man.  But this impression of mine was just that, only an impression, and I try to emulate David Ricardo -- I only want to opine when I understand a subject well...or when I can make a case that strikes me as close to irrefutable.  Well, I am ready.

From a libertarian, free market, individual liberty, limited government position, there are a number of very good Republican candidates for President in 2016: Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Carly Fiorina...pretty good, but not as good: Ben Carson and Marco Rubio...bad: John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie...awful: Hillary Clinton, Bernard Sanders, Martin O'Malley.  I will address all of these later, in other posts, if they seem sufficiently important to warrant it.  But none of them are mysteries.  There is, however, one opaque figure in all of this, Donald Trump, and he has finally revealed his true colors.  He would be an awful president.  I'll show this, using his own words.

Trump is a big government man who would expand government.  He's an opponent of the Constitution, a dictator wannabe similar to Obama, and a liar.  He also seems to be an ignoramous, although "seems" is important since one can't be sure how serious he is about some of things he says.  Let's not monkey around... on to the budget.

Trump will raise taxes.

Tea Party Patriots (TPP), a Tea Party organization, sent a survey to candidates they are considering endorsing: Carson, Cruz, Paul, and Trump.  Yesterday they released the results.  One question was whether the candidate would commit to the Penny Plan, which calls for an across-the-board $0.01 cut per year to each dollar of Federal spending, unless and until Congress balances the budget.  This is actually a rather drastic cut to spending, given our history.  Carson and Paul said yes.  Cruz said no, because instead he would propose targeted cuts in spending, including abolishing some government agencies (i.e. 100% cuts).  I think both are acceptable positions.  But Trump also disagreed.  He said:

"I will not support the Penny Plan but will propose strict budget discipline. I will propose budgets that freeze overall spending levels until such time as the budget comes into balance. This approach eliminates the criticisms associated with constantly increasing spending and allows the Executive branch to find the funds necessary within existing resources to reshape spending priorities. Congress, knowing that I will not sign a budget that increases spending until the budget is balance, will work with the Executive branch and the American people to do what is best for the country."

Trump will freeze, not reduce, overall spending until the budget is balanced.  Necessarily, the only way that the budget can balance then is by increasing tax revenues by more than half a trillion dollars annually.  That will happen only by raising taxes.  There's no other way.

Trumps' revenue proposals are incoherent and would lead to national bankruptcy.

Even worse, Trump has defended Medicare as being one government program that has worked.  Yet CBO projections show that Medicare is a financial catastrophe.  Medicare, along with Social Security and Medicaid (all three of which Trump has vowed not to cut) and interest payments on debt (which can't be cut without effectively declaring national bankruptcy) by themselves will, on the current course, lead to catastrophic increases in the national debt.  The CBO projections in the previous link assume that discretionary spending will fall as a share of GDP.  Trump won't cut the budget.  Trump won't cut entitlements.  None of what Trump says on this issue makes any sense... unless he drastically raises taxes. Yet two independent analyses of Trump's tax proposals find they would reduce Federal revenues.  Debt explodes under Trump.  This is national suicide.  (That's the "end of America" part.)

Trump will expand government.

In his response to TPP, Trump expresses willingness to expand the size of government if the budget is balanced.  What might he spend it on?  How about mandatory ethanol fuel programs and subsidies, for a start.  Trump has declared he will expand ethanol subsidies.  I've sat in on numerous presentations of economic analyses of the federal ethanol programs.  Every single one has concluded that ethanol is a terrible government boondoggle, a complete waste of citizens' funds that is economically and environmentally destructive.  Yet Donald Trump endorsed these ethanol programs, and accused Ted Cruz of having been purchased by "Big Oil" for opposing these insane and corrupt subsidies.  Trump offers no evidence that Cruz was paid by oil companies for opposing ethanol -- Trump is thus a liar -- but also, it does not make sense that ethanol would be any sort of threat to "Big Oil."  (There's no such thing as "Big Oil," by the way, unless one means Saudi Arabia and OPEC.  That's a long story, but it is pretty easy to show that the alleged powers of the so-called "majors," the big oil companies such as Exxon, Shell, and BP, are a myth.)

Ethanol is extremely expensive and would never survive as a vehicle fuel if left to the free market.  Gasoline is cost effective and less environmentally destructive.  The only use of ethanol programs is enriching mercantilists (a.k.a. crony capitalists) and gaining political power.  Trump insists on expanding this.  He's anti-free market and in favor of the political establishment; mercantilism, crony capitalism, is the fundamental establishment enterprise.  Trump is "all in."

Am I exaggerating?

Trump loves Kelo.

In Kelo, SCOTUS voted that private developers can use government to seize other peoples' private property if they think they can profit thereby.  Trump loves it.

Trump is actually opposed to the free market and support mercantilism, systematic rent-seeking, crony capitalism.

Trump is a liar, and possibly an ignoramous.


"Sign a repeal of Obamacare."

No, that's impossible.  He's a liar.  Never mind his slander of Ted Cruz.  The PPACA, Obamacare, is a law passed by Congress.  The President is not a dictator who can eliminate legislation.  If Trump believes he can, he is also a stupid, ignorant man.  It's hard to believe Trump is that stupid, but who knows.

Trump's answer goes on to state other things he would do, and he makes it very clear he really means the first day.  It's number 8, read it.  Trump is a liar, placing his faith in what PPACA designer Jonathan Gruber called "the stupidity of the American voter."

Trump really is an ignoramous.  He doesn't understand Obama's Iran deal.

In the second Republican debate, when a number of candidates were trashing Obama's horrible nuclear agreement with Iran and saying the would "rip it up" on entering office (Ted Cruz' words), Trump agreed it was bad, but then observed that it is a contract and we have to abide by it, but that he would renegotiate harder terms.  Good grief!

No, it is not a contract.  It is not a treaty, it was never ratified in Congress.  It is not binding and has no enforcement mechanism. Congress did indeed allow some legislation -- sanctions -- to elapse based on signing of the agreement, and those can't be reimposed by tearing up the agreement.  But everyone paying attention knows that this is a "gentlemen's agreement (sans gentlemen) between Obama and Khamanei.  Cruz, Paul, Fiorina, and the others who said they would trash the agreement were correct, and on on completely solid ground from a moral, Constitutional, and strategic respect.  Trump really does not understand this, I think.  He's a boob who has no understanding at all of the Constitution.   Maybe he really does think he can single-handedly repeal Obamacare.  And no, he's not going to renegotiate anything.  Does he imagine he can simply fly into Iran and start haggling with the mullahs?  One can certainly do this in the private sector... good luck with doing this in international diplomacy.

Trump is a demagogue, without principles.

The above are not small points.  They are fundamental.  Everyone can be taken down on petty points.   But Trump's flaws are not petty errors, they are major flaws.  And on top of them,Trump's blathering is incoherent.  He tends to speak without framing complete sentences.  He almost never makes clear statements.  He throws labels around -- good, bad, fantastic... he makes judgments such as "no one likes him, he's not liked," he says he'll do things that are "great..." none of this makes any sense.  No specifics, no facts, no details, no substance, no meat... no principles.  It's all image.  Because Trump cannot be intimidated (an admirable trait) he can get away with it.  And it is very dangerous.

As late as 2012 Trump said about Hillary Clinton:

"Hillary Clinton I think is a terrific woman.  I am biased because I have known her for years. I live in New York. She lives in New York. I really like her and her husband both a lot. I think she really works hard...I think she really works hard and I think she does a good job. I like her.”

Or on gun control: "...I support the ban on assault weapons and I support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun."  There is no federal waiting period for buying a gun, and I believe none anywhere for buying a long gun.  That one ever supported confiscation of firearms, including so-called "assault weapons, is enough to disqualify one for the Presidency.  Of course, his new position on guns is entirely different, it's one I endorse wholeheartedly.  But does Trump really endorse it?  Why did he change his mind?  He never talks about pis principles.  I think he has none.

Trump's donation to political campaigns have overwhelmingly been to Democrats.  This is not something way back in the past; he donated $50,000 to Rahm Emanuel in Chicago.  He donated large amounts to Harry Reid.  He donated to Hillary Clinton.  Good grief.  He's a big government Democrat, by all evidence.

Conclusion: Unprincipled and Dangerous Opportunist

So who is Donald Trump?  I still can't figure out exactly what he would do as President, but he is not a libertarian, not a conservative, not a Constitutionalist.  He never makes arguments for any of these positions.  He never makes logical arguments, for that matter.  But in "Art of the Deal" he lays out a strategy for negotiating that advocates staking out an extreme starting position, and then negotiating to a different deal.  That's what he's doing now.  Trump's bombastic and admittedly intoxicating pronouncements stake out a position that many find extreme.  Some love it, some hate it.  But it is incoherent and by all evidence it is insincere.  Trump is a dangerous demagogue.

Postscript: what if the election comes down to Trump vs. Clinton, Trump vs. Sanders (i.e. Juan Peron vs. Hugo Chavez), or Trump vs. Warren or some other last minute entrant?  Well, Trump's politics appear to be a throwback to 1960s Hubert Humphrey-LBJ Democrat party.  If I am right about that, Trump stinks, but is certainly preferable to today's neo-Marxists.  At least he doesn't seem to want to destroy the United States.  But if these are our choices, Trump vs. some Marxist, terrible things await us.

Donald Trump lost me when he praised Putin. But I shiver at the thought of another Democrat in the White House. The world is in a free fall already.
Yes, his Putin comment is chilling. He also earlier said he would push Putin around in negotiations (which I doubt). I think Trump says almost anything at all, and it doesn't mean anything. For him, the things he says are tools to get results, not the communication of ideas. He's a demagogue, of course.

He reminds me of the wannabe US president in Stephen King's Dead Zone. Life imitating literature.
I, too, have been looking for Trumps views on "economic liberty." The support of ethanol subsidies is disappointing. So is the erroneous nonsense that immigrants cause economic harm (hint: they create as much demand as they do supply, thus both taking and making jobs opportunities.) Now, there may be other dimensions to the immigration issue worth discussing but this protectionist nonsense isn't one of them.

Still, I would like a broader sample of his views. Minimum wage? Regulatory de facto nationalization of banking? Government mandates that preempt any freedom and competition in health insurance? Government underwriting of virtually the whole mortgage banking portfolio? Sarbox? The student loan bubble and government's role? Regulatory overreach in every business? His silence is a loud statement, in my book.

I wouldn't judge by his professional dealings. NYC real estate, on his scale, necessarily requires government involvement, with out which he'd be at a competitive disadvantage. Even the Koch brothers acknowledge some of their subsidies but rather than refuse them and suffer the competitive disadvantage they fund political action to oppose these subsidies. It's disappointing that Trump rationalizes his subsidies rather than regrets that this is the way the world currently is. But I'd accept a "change of heart" if I saw some evidence. I see none. Yes, on rare occasions he tries to catch up to Cruz by eliminating federal departments. I'd like to see some initiative in his economic liberty proposals, not an echo.

Everything you say is true. Just a few thoughts for your comment.
I am extremely happy to hear from you, Jason. Your warnings about Islam on Liberty and Culture were prescient.

I don't believe Trump has a well-defined set of ideas. Trump simply pursues his own self interest, narrowly defined. That does him well enough as a businessman because a businessman largely serves his own interest by serving others, i.e. meeting consumer demands. Yes, it sometimes also means using govt to an extent, but so long as one isn't advocating more govt involvement, this simply amounts to playing by the rules one is given.

But in the political sphere, one sets the rules (or helps set them). In politics, self interest isn't so constrained, and principles, ideas, ideology, matter. Trump doesn't rationalize subsidies, he endorses them. I don't think Trump has a set of principles, and if he does, it is the left-liberal one he expressed before he was a politician, back when it didn't matter what he said. He has supposedly changed his politics recently to conservative, but doesn't say why. Why the complete reversals on gun control, immigration, abortion, Democrat vs. Republican (in 2011 he donated $50,000 to Rahm Emanuel, and another $12,500 to Cook County Democrats), or for that matter whether Hillary Clinton was a good Sec'y of State or not?

I think he simply says what he thinks he needs to say to win. In "Art of the Deal" Trump's strategy is to begin with an extreme or outrageous position, and then work to one's desired position, which is a different one. Trump's a demagogue. His penchant for ad hominem attacks makes him a nasty one. He should never have political power, because, so far as I can tell, he has no compunctions about using and abusing it to promote his own personal interests.

Glad to hear from you, and hope to see commentary from you in the future.
I'm honored that you remember me so fondly. It's been too long.

Yes, everything you say about Trump's character is true and I could personally dismiss him on that basis.

Still, there are liberty-leading voters who are seduced by his "sudden change" posture. Aside from an occasion position there just isn't any attempt to deal with the leviathan state. Part of the problem is that Republicans have passed-off their massive spending and regulatory regime as the "free market;" all the subsequent harm was therefore blamed on liberty. An attribution analysis would show that it's the government's role that's at fault. I'm afraid Trump's false facade of pro-capitalism will only bring liberty in more disrepute. He is a great danger.

Hope all is well for you professionally and personally. Best regards, Jason.
Thanks, Jason. Trump deserves accolades for his refusal to respect political correctness (but not for his refusal to observe the rules of basic politeness and civility, which sometimes is muddled with PC). He deserves praise for raising the illegal immigration issue and refusing to be intimidated on it (although exactly what he really believes or would do is unclear). I understand and appreciate a great deal of his appeal and sympathize in many respects with his supporters.

But he's not a libertarian, a constitutional conservative, a free market advocate, or any other sort of advocate of limited government. He's another big government man.

Personally and professionally -- I think you know where I teach -- when I moved in 2006 you mentioned you wondered what it would be like. Well, it's been far more rewarding professionally than I had expected, owing first of all to the quality and dedication of our students and also the leadership of our college.
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