Wednesday, January 20, 2016

What's conservative or libertarian about Trump?

When I shared a recent op-ed column from the National Review about Sarah Palin's endorsement of Trump's candidacy, which was not particularly kind to either of those public figures, a friend of mine made the suggestion that the National Review seemed to have abandoned its tradition of supporting conservatives and libertarians in their fight against the Republican establishment.

I conceded that he may have been right about the National Review's change but I had to ask my friend what was so conservative or libertarian about Trump. After all, whenever I listened to his stump speeches or debate performances, it mostly seemed to be about how he, through the apparent sheer force of his will, would ban Muslims from entering the US or about how he would get the Mexican government to pay for a giant wall separating the two countries or how he got a lot of flak for talking about these problems and how he's going to continue talking about them.

Everyone loves to pretend/believe that "president" is another word for "emperor," especially during election seasons and no one loves to indulge in that fantasy more than the political candidates themselves. As far as I am concerned, however, Trump and Sanders take the cake. My thoughts on Sanders are well known; as are my thoughts on Trump. As for Trump, I am almost convinced that he is a clown who has somehow accidentally misplaced his makeup kit.

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My friend persisted, however, and told me that I ought to visit Trump's official website and read his campaign position papers so that I may judge him more objectively. 

I have to admit that I had never bothered to read his campaign position papers. As someone who has often had to tell Ayn Rand-bashers that they ought to actually read Rand's works as opposed to what Salon has to say about her work, I realized that it was hypocritical of me to pass such judgments on Trump without getting the goods straight from the horse's mouth.

After all, considering the grueling nature of cable news cycles and the even more unforgiving beast that is the Twitterverse, it is easy to magnify one moment of stupidity to paint a person as something entirely that he may not be. Can anyone imagine how much more Howard Dean's scream would have damaged him had Twitter existed at the time of his candidacy?

So I went on Trump's website and I saw that there were a total of five campaign position papers. I did not have the time to read all five of them. The topic that I chose to read was the one that matters to me most among the available topics -- the one titled "Reforming the US-China Trade Relationship to Make America Great Again."

And, folks, it was a doozy!

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Right from the bat, the paper claims that since China's entry into the WTO in 2001, "Americans have witnessed the closure of more than 50,000 factories and the loss of tens of millions of jobs."

Aside from the fact that there is no data to back up that claim, even if that number were true, this is yet another example of post hoc ergo propter hoc. That is because that claim conveniently neglects to mention the effects of the dotcom bubble burst or the Great Recession or the battering effects of high oil prices on the construction industry in the mid-2000s.

So almost from the moment I started reading, I couldn't help but frown and shake my head.

The other theme that Trump's paper continually hammers on is that America needs leadership and strength at the negotiating table with China.

The moment people hear this sort of talk, anyone with any sense whatsoever should begin to ask themselves if that truly is an original thought that no one had before. It's not (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). Hell, Bill Clinton once called the Chinese government "the butchers of Beijing" before granting China "most-favored-nation" status after he became president.

Outside of the fantasyland called primaries season, neither the United States nor China can afford to be particularly difficult with one another because, whether they like it or not, the two countries share the largest trade relationship in the history of the world. A child might be able to take his toys and go home if he decides that he doesn't like his friend anymore, but that is not the way that effective international policy is made.

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Trump's other argument is that China's "Great Wall of Protectionism uses unlawful tariff and non-tariff barriers to keep American companies out of China and to tilt the playing field in their favor."

Trump says this unfair playing field puts American businesses and workers at a disadvantage -- that the game is rigged and that the outcome is for Americans to lose.

This is an old political chestnut and a dirty trick that is meant to distract people long enough to forget their own personal interests. This lie was exposed by Milton Friedman in his 1980 PBS documentary, Free to Choose. In the episode Tyranny of Control, Friedman said:

"When anyone complains about unfair competition, consumers beware. That is really a cry for special privilege always at the expense of the consumer. What we need in this country is free competition. As consumers buying in an international market, the more unfair the competition the better. That means lower prices and better quality for us. If foreign governments want to use their taxpayers' money to sell people in the United States goods below cost, why should we complain? Their own taxpayers will complain soon enough and it will not last for very long."

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Trump also thinks that declaring that China is a currency manipulator will somehow get the Chinese to think seriously about the United States. Currency manipulator! Then what the hell does that make the Federal Reserve?!

Also, the fact that people still believe in the myth of the Chinese government being "a currency manipulator" is a bad thing for the rest of the world just goes to show how desperately the vast majority of people in the world need to study basic economics. This entire myth can be punctured by just asking a few basic questions.

  • How can Beijing artificially devalue the yuan without such devaluation causing the prices of Chinese exports eventually to rise?

  • Even if Beijing could devalue the yuan for a long time, would that not raise Chinese producers’ costs of purchasing the many inputs that they buy on global markets? How could this possibly lead to economic growth?

  • Just like the case with "unfair" subsidies, how does the artificial lowering of the prices of Chinese goods harm consumers from other countries? Don't people typically like it when prices of the goods they buy fall?

In other words, isn't Trump saying that he believes that consumers should be forcefully prevented from spending their money in ways that they judge to be best for them, and instead be forced to spend their money in ways that he judges to be best for the benefit of a select few American corporations?

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Now it is true that China requires foreign corporations such as Boeing and Intel to transfer proprietary technologies to their Chinese competitors as a condition of entry into the Chinese market. However, Trump goes on to say that this is intellectual property theft.

But one has to wonder -- if Boeing or Intel felt that they were being bamboozled by Beijing, that the costs of such technology transfers were greater than the benefits of being allowed entry into the Chinese market, wouldn't those corporations voluntarily decide to cease all of their operations in China?

In other words, isn't Trump saying that if he is elected president, he will use Big Government to forcefully prevent American corporations from entering into voluntary trade agreements?

And lastly, he says that he will "strengthen the U.S. military and deploy it appropriately in the East and South China Seas."

I believe that is called the Asia Pivot.

So let's recap. Even Trump's trade policy proposals, which are supposed to be the branier arguments that take place away from the camera, are vague and can only be called economically illiterate at best or deceptive at worst. Even if they weren't unrealistic, his policies would require great expansion in the powers of the government, which is decidedly not a conservative or libertarian position.

Republicans do remember this guy, right?
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I have not read the other four papers on the website. Frankly, reading this one and explaining why it is so horrible has been enough for me. So is he a conservative or a libertarian when it comes to other topics such as immigration or gun control? I can't say. And frankly, I can't bring myself to read any more and I don't give a damn. 
But if this paper was anything to go by, I have some serious doubts about the claim.

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