Editorial: Trump and his trade war

  • Donald Trump speaks at Saint Anselm College on Monday. AP

Published: 6/15/2016 5:52:00 PM

Credit where credit is due: Donald Trump is one hell of a populist candidate.

Are you sick of global and domestic terrorism? He is too, and that’s why he wants to establish a religion requirement for potential immigrants. So what if the seeds of this nation were planted by people fleeing religious persecution. That old “more perfect Union” chestnut is so 1780s; it’s time to reject the spirit of the greatest political document ever written so we can “Make America Great Again.”

Are you tired of people challenging your bogus arguments with indisputable facts? No kidding! He is too, so let’s just call people who confront lies with truth what they really are: politically correct haters. Then let’s rescind their press credentials. Who needs the First Amendment and all its freedom handouts?

Do you want a return to the glory days of U.S. manufacturing? What a coincidence – he does too! All you have to do is impose 45 percent and 35 percent tariffs on Chinese and Mexican goods, respectively. The man in the red hat says: “We’re losing $500 billion in trade with China. Who the hell cares if there’s a trade war?”

The appeal of populists like Trump is undeniable, but sometimes the little details get in the way. Take trade, for example.

On June 2, Hillary Clinton said: “I understand a lot of Americans have concerns about our trade agreements. I do, too. But a trade war is something very different. We went down that road in the 1930s. It made the Great Depression longer and more painful.”

Clinton was referring to the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930, a big increase to American import duties signed by President Hoover despite opposition from more than 1,000 American economists. Rational thinkers of the time understood what protectionism would mean for a country – and world – already heading toward economic disaster, and they were right. Clinton is right, too, both in her assessment of Smoot-Hawley and the subtext about Trump’s limitations: There is a huge difference between being a businessman and being an economist.

The National Foundation for American Policy studied Trump’s trade proposal, and this is what it found: “The impact would hit poor Americans the hardest: A tariff of 45 percent on imports from China and Japan and 35 percent on Mexican imports would cost U.S. households in the lowest 10 percent of income up to 18 percent of their (mean) after-tax income or $4,760 over 5 years.”

Another study by Moody’s Analytics found that if Trump levied his tariffs and China and Mexico retaliated (hence the “trade war” Trump sniffs at), it would cost the country 7 million jobs. Things would go terribly wrong in Mexico, too, so Trump would want to get that wall built ASAP.

And Jay Cost, writing in the conservative Weekly Standard, had this to say about Trump’s trade vision: “While protectionism is pitched as a way to guarantee stable employment and living wages, workers don’t benefit directly from tariffs. Employers receive the direct benefits in the form of higher prices paid for their products, which make tariffs a massive source of corporate welfare. This creates three political problems: partiality, gamesmanship and corruption.”

In other words, those “special interests” Trump is always railing against are the ones who benefit from his “who the hell cares” trade war – and workers and their families take the big hit.

Do American voters honestly believe that a man who has spent his entire career doing whatever he can to multiply his own dollars suddenly wants to fight for the little guy? It seems they do, even as Trump’s infatuation with protectionism suggests otherwise.

But enough about that. Macroeconomics is such a buzzkill during the delirious frenzy of Trump-style populism.

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