Tag Archives: Icahn

Trump’s Economic Ignorance

One of the reasons I was a Republican back when that party actually existed was my belief in markets. I certainly understood that there are areas of the economy where markets don’t work–health care, for example–and I also understood the need for an “umpire”–regulations to ensure that competition occurs on that all-important level playing field. But with those caveats, I was–and remain– decidedly pro-market.

So was the GOP that used to be.

Last Thursday, Trump announced that he intends to impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum; he evidently thinks that such tariffs fulfill his half-baked “America First” approach to trade.

Speaking at the White House, the president said he had decided to levy tariffs of 25 percent on foreign-made steel and 10 percent on aluminum.

The move prompted an immediate slide in the stock market, uniform condemnation by economists (you know, the people who actually understand how these things work–or more accurately–don’t), and threats of retaliation from the EU and Canada, among others.

The Washington Post reported that Trump had ignored warnings from members of his administration:

The president went ahead with the unexpected announcement even after Gary Cohn, his top economic adviser, reportedly threatened to resign. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Trump that the stock market gains he loves to boast about would reverse themselves. Defense Secretary James Mattis, who he’s normally inclined to defer to, warned that this would hurt U.S. relationships with allies.

Companies that use steel and aluminum, including automakers, account for vastly more jobs than producers of the metals, and they argued that as many as 200,000 jobs were lost when George W. Bush imposed steel tariffs in 2002 that were later ruled to be illegal by the World Trade Organization.

Trump’s move, under a little-used national security provision of U.S. trade law, is expected to trigger legal challenges by China, the European Union and Brazil at the World Trade Organization. It also prompted predictions that it will backfire on American farmers and other exporters.

“It’s pretty much our worst fears,” said Rufus Yerxa, president of the National Foreign Trade Council, which represents multinationals such as Microsoft and Caterpillar. “This is a pretty clear indication that the Trump administration cares more about the old economy than it does the new economy.”

This wasn’t Trump’s first effort at protectionism; the announcement follows an earlier round of tariffs on solar panels and washing machines. Economic history tells us that all of these moves will lead to higher prices for consumers.  The recent ones will raise costs for manufacturers who use steel and aluminum (automobiles and beer in cans come to mind), and they will pass those increased costs to consumers.

The tariffs will also cost American jobs; the earlier ones have already caused at least one U.S. company that imports solar panels to announce layoffs.

Trump’s anti-competitive moves aren’t the only reason columnist Catherine Rampell now dismisses the GOP’s long-professed support for markets.

Republicans say they favor free markets. They’re not like those pinko-commie Democrats, who prefer “picking winners and losers.”

Oh, come off it already.

Republicans love picking winners and losers, too. They just choose different winners and different losers than Democrats do. In the case of today’s Republican officials, the winners are mostly donors, incumbents, culture-war favorites and cheats.

Rampell points to Trump’s efforts to prop up the coal industry, and the “carve-outs” and other favorable treatment given to donors and Republican governors. And she is especially scathing in her criticism of the Georgia legislature.

Republican officials there vowed to punish Delta Air Lines, one of the state’s largest employers, for canceling discounted prices for National Rifle Association members.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who is running for governor, gave Delta an ultimatum: restore the NRA discount, or forget the $50 million sales-tax exemption on jet fuel that Republican lawmakers had been considering. In other words, restore our special discount, or we won’t give you your own special discount. Delta didn’t budge, so lawmakers axed the tax break Thursday afternoon.

It takes a funny formulation of free markets to punish a private company for not giving your favored political group a good price.

It is also a perversion of market economics–not to mention a blatant violation of the rule of law–to tip off your advisor and good friend Carl Icahn about your intentions, so that he can unload nearly $31.3 million in a steel-related stock company before the news hits.

The GOP to which I once belonged no longer exists. What goes under that name today is an unholy merger between a cult and the mafia.