Monday, July 15, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

Economics, as only he can.

Trump hosted a White House event aimed at showcasing American manufacturing. Trump used the occasion to repeat a number of outright lies about his trade war, which he claimed was helping American businesses. 

For example, he said that foreign countries were "paying a lot of money right into the Treasury." Although Trump has said it many times in the past, that's still not how tariffs work. In the real world, tariffs are paid up front by importers registered in America, and then that cost is passed along to American consumers. (Tariffs are about 2% of total U.S. government revenues.)

Trump also said that retaliatory Chinese tariffs weren't hurting farmers: "So our farmers didn’t lose anything by the fact that China targeted our farmers." This is totally false. Some—not all—of the tens of billions of dollars in lost farm revenue caused by the trade war were made up by American taxpayers in the form of handouts from an emergency farm support program dating back to the Great Depression. 

But farmers are also being hurt by being shut out of competition for Chinese markets, opportunities that will not be easy to regain when tariffs go back to normal. Also, artificial short-term government buying adds chaos to markets—something that actual fiscal conservatives oppose.

Trump insisted that "I never — I hadn’t had one farmer say, 'Please make a fast deal, sir. Please make a fast deal.' ...And the farmers are thrilled, I must tell you that." In reality, farmers are not "thrilled," and many (many, many, many, many) farmers have been openly calling for Trump to end his trade war immediately. (Although in fairness to Trump, it's fairly unlikely the farmers who feel this way would be allowed to talk to him.)

Trump also addressed the fact that he needs Congressional approval for the USMCA, his light re-working of the NAFTA free trade agreement between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. He claimed that Democrats were holding up approval, because "the Republicans are totally onboard." Actually, they're not.

Why should I care about this?

  • It's a real problem if the president can't get his mind around basic economic concepts.
  • It's bad if the president doesn't know that people oppose his policies, and worse if he knows but lies and says they don't.
  • The agricultural sector of the American economy is much, much more important than Trump's political fortunes.