Monday, December 14, 2015

Back on the Subject of Donald Trump

Let's face it.  Donald Trump's views on most subject other than immigration are pretty unremarkable. He is the only Republican in the pack who isn't devoted to trashing Medicaid and undermining Medicare and Social Security, although his tax plan isn't too different from anyone else's.  His foreign policy seem just a noisy and chest-thumping as any other Republican's, but less mindless hawkish. He isn't a hard-core culture warrior on abortion, same sex marriage, and the like.  His only extreme proposals are on immigration and perhaps foreign trade.

At this point some of the nativists I meet on other threads would no doubt say that Trump's views on immigration only seem extreme because our whole immigration debate has been driven so far in the "open borders" direction.  To which I say nonsense!  Trump's views on immigration seem extreme because they are extreme.

Building an impermeable wall along our Mexican border is an immense and costly undertaking. Making Mexico pay for it is fantasy.  And given that numerous illegal immigrants actually enter on visas and then just stay, developing a surveillance of all visa entrants so thorough-going that the government will catch anyone who overstays and promptly deport them -- well, that simply is not feasible and would be immensely costly and intrusive even to attempt.  And deporting 11 million people in 18 months or whatever Trump is promising is well beyond the resources of ICE, so yes, Trump is making a bunch of promises that are not in any way feasible to keep, which is a perfectly good working definition of extremism.

But suppose Trump deputizes all his followers in the undertaking, sets up an immense network of informants, and encourages a general campaign of harassment, economic boycott and persecution to make staying so uncomfortable that all our illegal immigrants self-deport.  Well, aside from the matter of collateral damage to citizens who just look too foreign, removing 11 million people from the country in 18 months is going to prove highly disruptive to industries that rely heavily on immigrants and don't always check immigration status too closely.  The whole talk of immigrants stealing our jobs ignores that fact that most anti-immigration activists don't actually want a lot of the jobs illegal immigrants are taking.  

But, one may say, there are some jobs which citizens would take.  Granted, illegal immigrants and citizens probably do compete for at least some jobs, in construction, for instance.  After some initial disruption over losing so many workers, the industries will manage to carry on, at higher wages.  Will Trump supporters accept the higher costs as an acceptable sacrifice to be made?  Who knows?

There are other jobs that citizens are unlikely to take, but that only a small segment of the population, much richer than most Trump supporters, actually make use of.  Landscapers and nannies, for instance.  Our political class in both parties may weep and wail over the loss of nannies and landscapers, but my bet is that most Americans will not be sympathetic.

But then there are jobs that US citizens are most unlikely to step up and take, but that produce products that most Americans, Trump supporters included, will want to consume.  Picking fruits and vegetables, or working in a meat packing plant, for instance.  How many Americans are mad as hell about immigration because they really wanted that job at the meat packing plant, but some illegal took it for lower wages?  I am guessing not many.  But a whole lot of Americans, including many Trump supporters, want to eat meat, fruits and vegetables and will get upset if supplies are disrupted or prices go through the ceiling.

So, once again, wanting to take an action that will devastate industries that produce products most Americans use is an extreme position.

Or there is trade.  Trump is proposing heavy protective tariffs to punish companies for shipping jobs overseas.  But his promises to slap heavy tariffs any time he sees a country stepping out of line are empty, since only Congress can impose taxes.  And Trump will presumably be dealing with a Republican Congress that believes that no tax increase can ever be justified.  And even if he agrees to offset the increased tariffs with a cut in income taxes, the result will be a whole lot of products will get a lot more expensive and a lot of people, many Trump supporters included, will be upset.  (In fairness, Bernie Sanders will have exactly the same problem).

So yes, Trump is not only fanning the flames of xenophobia, he is taking extreme positions that are not going to prove workable in the real world.  Perhaps we should let him try so he can learn the hard way.  But people trying to do unfeasible things only to learn the hard way that they are not feasible can make quite a mess along the way.  

In some ways his tax plan is emblematic of his overall approach.  Its overall cost is slated to be about $10 trillion over the next decade, or about a trillion a year.  Point of comparison.  The 2014 budget  had approximately $3.5 trillion in spending and $3 trillion in revenue. That means that about a half-trillion in federal spending, or about 14% of the total is financed by borrowing.  And given that about 6% of the budget is devoted to debt service, this means that the percentage of the budget devoted to debt service will grow over time, i.e, we have a problem and will need to close the budget gap by about 8% to be sustainable.  (Closing the gap can be either through tax increases or spending cuts, or some combination).

By contrast, Trump's plan would be a $3.5 trillion budget financed by $2 trillion in revenue, or about 43% of the budget financed by borrowing.  That is extreme, even by the standards of today's Republican Party.  The other Republican tax cut plans have at least a basic logic to them.  Blowing such an immense hole in the budget will divert more and more spending into debt service and squeeze everything else. Other Republicans have at least a method to their madness -- the old "starve the beast" strategy. By diverting more and more of the budget into debt service, making any tax increase (including reversal of their immense cuts) politically impossible, and waging lots of wars that increase defense spending, conventional Republicans hope at last to force "entitlement reform," i.e. cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Trump, by contrast, is promising tax cuts that exceed most of his rivals and to keep his hands of entitlements.  In other words, I was wrong when I said that only his position on immigration are extreme.  His budgetary position goes beyond extreme into fantasy land.  His proposed immigration policies are merely extremely difficult and disruptive.  His proposed budget violates the laws of basic arithmetic.  Difficult and disruptive courses of action can be forces through, but arithmetic is forever.

My ultimate views on Donald Trump are perfectly expressed in this comment on a blog thread:
The problem with Trump is not that he is a radical, but that he is a petulant, juvenile, clown, who, in the words of my late driver’s ed teacher (some decades back) puts his mouth in gear before making sure his brain is engaged. He’s utterly capricious. He’s a playboy millionaire who is used to doing whatever he wants when he wants, any way he wants, being accountable to nobody, least of all the voters he bamboozles into supporting him. We wouldn’t really know what we were getting, and whatever he did in a four year term, it would confound almost everyone who did or did not support him. We need a grown-up in the White House.
Let's just hope the voters figure out the fraud before the 2016 election.

No comments:

Post a Comment