Policy Institutes

Donald Trump is well known for his vociferous complaints about foreign trade.  Trump has also gained notoriety for offering very vague policy proposals, and trade is no exception.  This has left observers knowing that Trump wants to do something big on trade but without much sense of what, specifically, that will be.  Now that Trump is president-elect of the United States, that uncertainty is bound to vanish as Trump’s plans and intentions necessarily become more concrete.

For the moment, however, we are left to speculate based on Trump’s vague and bellicose announcements.  The most reliable indicator of Trump’s plans is probably Trump’s “100-day action plan to Make America Great Again” he produced in the closing weeks of his campaign.  That plan has reportedly been fleshed out a bit by his transition team.  The plan includes numerous executive actions and a list of legislative proposals. 

In one section, Trump lists “Seven actions to protect American workers,” four of which directly involve trade.  Let’s go through them one by one.

Renegotiate of Withdraw from NAFTA

It’s no secret Donald Trump really doesn’t like NAFTA.  He has said that NAFTA “destroyed our country.”  It’s safe to assume Trump means to act on this.  According to Politico, the longer version of Trump’s 100-day plan specifies that Trump will start renegotiating NAFTA on day one and withdraw from NAFTA “by day 200” if he hasn’t gotten what he wants yet.

Claims that NAFTA should be renegotiated are not unique to Trump.  Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton promised to renegotiate NAFTA.  Their concern, however, was that NAFTA doesn’t have strong enough provisions on labor and environment regulation.  Obama even claimed that the TPP—which does have stronger labor and environment provisions and includes all three NAFTA countries—is the embodiment of his promise to renegotiate NAFTA.

But for all the complaining Trump does about NAFTA, we don’t really know specifically what he doesn’t like about the agreement.  He has misguided concerns about bilateral trade deficits, so he probably wants to raise U.S. tariffs while keeping Mexican tariffs low.  Mexico, of course, will not want to do that.

The only leverage he seems to have to get Mexico to agree to those terms is the threat to withdraw from NAFTA.  And withdrawing from NAFTA is something Trump has the power to do.  Under the terms of the treaty, any member can withdraw after giving six months’ notice.  This sort of thing has never happened before and it’s not clear exactly what legal authority Trump will use to raise U.S. tariffs after withdrawing or what he will raise them to. 

What we do know is that ending NAFTA would be disastrous.  Americans conduct more than $3 billion per day worth of trade with Canada and Mexico.  Withdrawing from NAFTA would severely disrupt integrated North American supply chains that depend on zero tariffs and predictable trade laws.  Ironically, the only way Trump can “fix” NAFTA is by threatening to eliminate its many benefits.

So we need to seriously consider the possibility that Trump has no real intention of withdrawing from NAFTA.  It would make a lot of sense for him to secure some minor concession from Mexico and play it up like a big achievement.  That may be the best possible outcome for everyone.

Withdraw from TPP

This is action is pretty simple and straightforward.  Trump referred to the TPP as “a rape of our country” and shows no sign of letting up on his opposition. 

The TPP has already been signed by the United States but has not been ratified or entered into force.  President Trump could simply refuse to submit it to Congress and the agreement would die.  He’s bound to make an official announcement though, probably in the first few days of his presidency.  What the rest of the members of the TPP do afterwards will be interesting to watch, but it will happen without the United States.

Neither Trump nor his surrogates have said what he will do about the ongoing free trade negotiations with the European Union or various agreements in the works at the WTO.  That will be something to watch over the coming months.  As we learn who will fill key positions in Trump’s administration, we will learn more about the probable fate of these projects. 

Label China a Currency Manipulator

Thankfully, labeling China a currency manipulator has little to no meaning for actual trade policy.  It won’t raise tariffs or impact in any way the right of Americans to trade with people in China.

Unlike ripping up trade agreements, it’s also not an especially radical thing to do.  Mitt Romney made the same promise during the 2012 campaign and Hillary Clinton promised this year to crack down on foreign currency manipulation.

It will certainly be worth watching how the Trump administration deals with the issue of currency manipulation in the future, but labeling China a currency manipulator simply scores domestic political points and antagonizes the Chinese government.

“Use every tool under American and international law” to “end foreign trading abuses”

On one level, this is just a plan to maintain the status quo.  We have trade laws in the United States and agencies that exist to protect rent-seeking U.S. industries from foreign “abuses.”  Contrary to Trump’s campaign rhetoric, those agencies are not incompetent or failing to do their job.  Trump’s plan to support the use of trade remedies and bring challenges at the World Trade Organization simply continues a longstanding policy of previous administrations.

But there’s also a more alarming possibility.  There are a number of dormant U.S. trade laws that grant the President the power to raise trade barriers under various circumstances, and some of these laws are worded broadly enough to be used beyond their original purposes.  Gary Huffbauer at the Peterson Institute has provided a thorough explanation of how Trump might use these laws to impose high tariffs on goods from China or Mexico.  There’s a lot of uncertainty as to how this would all play out because, thankfully, past presidents have not been belligerent mercantilists. 

Considering the sort of promises Trump made during the campaign to keep Carrier and Ford from moving manufacturing operations to Mexico, it’s not unreasonable to fear Trump will use whatever powers he has available to punish U.S. companies that invest in foreign manufacturing.  There’s no indication that Trump already plans to do anything like that in his first hundred days, however.

The most ambitious and defining part of Trump’s trade plans will be his effort to renegotiate NAFTA.  If he succeeds, U.S. tariffs may go up and we will all be a little worse off.  If he fails and follows through on his promise to withdraw from NAFTA, we will all be even more worse off. 

It’s going to be an interesting year.

President-elect Donald Trump said on the campaign trail that he will balance the federal budget and cut wasteful spending. Here are some of Trump’s views on budget reforms:

  • “We are going to ask every department head in government to provide a list of wasteful spending projects that we can eliminate in my first 100 days.” Source.
  • “We can also stop funding programs that are not authorized in law. Congress spent $320 billion last year on 256 expired laws … Removing just 5 percent of that will reduce spending by almost $200 billion over a ten-year period.” Source.
  • “I may cut Department of Education. I believe Common Core is a very bad thing,” Trump said. “I believe that we should be — you know, educating our children from Iowa, from New Hampshire, from South Carolina, from California, from New York. I think that it should be local education.” Source.
  • “If we save just one penny of each federal dollar spent on non-defense, and non-entitlement programs, we can save almost $1 trillion over the next decade.” Source.
  • “We’re going local. Have to go local. Environmental protection—we waste all of this money. We’re going to bring that back to the states … We are going to cut many of the agencies, we will balance our budget, and we will be dynamic again.” Source.
  • “Waste, fraud and abuse all over the place. Waste, fraud and abuse. You look at what’s happening with Social Security, you look—look at what’s happening with every agency—waste, fraud and abuse. We will cut so much, your head will spin.” Source.

I hope my head does spin from cuts, although most of Trump’s proposals are vague and quite timid. Still, I’m hoping that the more the incoming president finds out about the federal budget, the more he will appreciate the need for major terminations.

So let me suggest some wasteful spending that the new administration should tackle, and the annual savings from terminating each:

President Trump will face major budget pressures in coming years as deficits and entitlement spending soar. Today’s $600 billion deficits are headed toward $1 trillion, and deficits will be even higher if a recession comes along.

Federal spending cuts would help avert a fiscal crisis and boost growth by reducing economic distortions. The incoming Trump team should start with some of the cuts here, and there are plenty more proposals at DownsizingGovernment.org.

On election night, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani told MSNBC interviewer Chris Matthews that Donald Trump’s victory, after a campaign against the elites and insiders, was like Andrew Jackson’s first presidential victory. At the end of his first term in office, Jackson cut the federal government’s ties to the Bank of the United States (by vetoing an Act to renew its charter), an institution that was in some respects the Federal Reserve System of its day. Might Donald Trump’s presidency have equally dramatic consequences for the Federal Reserve?

During his campaign, candidate Trump mulled an idea for thoroughgoing reform of our monetary system: a return to the gold standard. As Ralph Benko noted, Mr. Trump told a New Hampshire television station in March: “We used to have a very, very solid country because it was based on a gold standard.” He added that a return would be difficult because “we don’t have the gold. Other places have the gold.” He similarly told GQ magazine that “Bringing back the gold standard would be very hard to do, but boy, would it be wonderful. We’d have a standard on which to base our money.”

It should be pointed out to the president-elect that in fact the US government does have enough gold in Fort Knox and its other depositories, at least if the US Treasury has been reporting its holdings honestly. At the current market price of about $1,280 per fine Troy oz., the U.S. government’s 261.5 million ounces of gold are worth $335 billion. Current required bank reserves are only $168 billion. Looked at another way, $335 billion is just a bit more than 10 percent of the $3,347 in current M1 (the sum of currency and checking account balances), which is more than a healthy reserve ratio by historical standards. In that respect, restoration of the gold standard is eminently feasible. After unwinding the QEs, the Fed could swap commercial banks’  required reserves for gold, and hold gold against its own currency liabilities, Federal Reserve Notes, which would once again be made redeemable in gold. Better yet, the federal government could allow commercial banks to issue their own currency again (or, if it already technically legal, promise not to penalize them).

Whether restoration of the gold standard will be politically feasible depends of course on how serious the new president will be about pushing it, and how receptive the Republican majorities in Congress will be.

Regarding reforms of Fed policy that keep fiat money in place, candidate Trump’s position seemed to evolve. In an April interview, he told Fortune that “The best thing we have going for us is that interest rates are so low,” and that the prospect of rate hikes was “scary.” During an October debate, by contrast, he accused Fed chair Janet Yellen of keeping interest rates artificially low for political reasons, namely to keep the recovery chugging along until the election and so to help the incumbent party. Even back in the April interview, when he thought that Yellen had been doing “a serviceable job,” he was already saying that “I would be more inclined to put other people in.” Thus it would be a surprise for Trump to reappoint Yellen as Fed Chair when her four-year term expires in February 2018. What he would look for in a new Chair is less clear.

As president, Trump will immediately have the authority to nominate two new Governors to the Federal Reserve Board, thereby to the Federal Open Market Committee. Normally the FRB has seven members, including the Chair. Currently it has only five members, all Obama appointees. Senate Republicans have deliberately left the two vacancies open by refusing to hold hearings on Obama’s latest nominees. The FOMC’s makeup is thus currently 5 Obama-appointed Governors plus 5 regional Federal Reserve Bank presidents, who tend to be more hawkish on inflation (apart from the New York Fed president, the only regional Bank president who is permanently on the FOMC). A pair of thoughtful nominations by the Trump White House could increase the hawkishness of the median (tie-breaking) voters on the FOMC.

In his October criticism, Trump said that the Fed was “keeping interest rates so low that the next guy or person who takes over as president could have a real problem.” He said elsewhere that artificially low rates were creating a “very false economy.” In these remarks Trump appeared to have recognized that overly low interest rates can misdirect investments and create unsustainable asset bubbles. He might then be favorable to Congressional proposals made in recent years, particularly by Rep. Jeb Hensarling, for fastening a monetary policy rule on the Federal Reserve. A Taylor Rule with teeth, for example, would mandate automatic adjustments in the Fed’s interest rate target based on publicly observable variables. Such a rule would strip discretion from the FOMC and avoid the problem of politically tinged policymaking.

[Cross-posted from Alt-M.org]

President-Elect Donald Trump has released his plans for his first 100 days in office. After outlining proposals for term limits, a trade war, and mass deportations, the plan includes the following paragraph on education policy:

School Choice And Education Opportunity Act. Redirects education dollars to give parents the right to send their kid to the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school of their choice. Ends common core, brings education supervision to local communities. It expands vocational and technical education, and make 2 and 4-year college more affordable.

The details are far from clear, but it appears that his education policy will focus on three areas:

1. School choice

Trump has the right instinct on school choice, but if he is planning to promote a national voucher program, then he’s going about it the wrong way. He has previously pledged to dedicate $20 billion in federal funds to school choice policies, and stated that he would “give states the option to allow these funds to follow the student to the public or private school they attend” as well as using federal carrots to get states to expand choice policies even further. Expanding educational opportunity is admirable, but using the federal government to do so is misguided. As David Boaz explained more than a decade ago in the Cato Handbook for Congress, the case against federal involvement in education:

is not based simply on a commitment to the original Constitution, as important as that is. It also reflects an understanding of why the Founders were right to reserve most subjects to state, local, or private endeavor. The Founders feared the concentration of power. They believed that the best way to protect individual freedom and civil society was to limit and divide power. Thus it was much better to have decisions made independently by 13–or 50–states, each able to innovate and to observe and copy successful innovations in other states, than to have one decision made for the entire country. As the country gets bigger and more complex, and especially as government amasses more power, the advantages of decentralization and divided power become even greater.

A federal voucher program would very likely lead to increased federal regulation of private schools over time, especially after a new administration takes over that is less friendly to the concept of school choice. As we’ve seen in some states, misguided regulations can severely undermine the effectiveness of school choice and induce a stifling conformity among schools. Moreover, as I’ve explained previously, those regulations are harder to block or repeal at the federal level than at the state level and their negative effects would be far more widespread:

When a state adopts regulations that undermine its school choice program, it’s lamentable but at least the ill effects are localized. Other states are free to chart a different course. However, if the federal government regulates a national school choice program, there is no escape. Moreover, state governments are more responsive to citizens than the distant federal bureaucracy. Citizens have a better shot at blocking or reversing harmful regulations at the state and local level rather than the federal level.

That said, the Trump administration can promote school choice in more productive and constitutionally sound ways. The federal government does have constitutional authority in Washington, D.C., where it currently operates the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP). The OSP should be expanded into a universal ESA that empowers all D.C. families to spend the funds on a wide variety of educational expenses in addition to private school tuition, including tutors, textbooks, online courses, curricular materials, and more, as well as save unused funds for later expenses, such as college. The Trump administration should explore similar options in areas where the federal government has jurisdiction, such as on Native American lands and military bases.

2. Common Core

Yet again, Trump has the right instinct but the policy leaves much to be desired. Ending Common Core is a noble goal, but it is primarily a matter of state policy and at this point there is little the federal government can do about. As Neal McCluskey noted yesterday, “the main levers of [federal] coercion—the Race to the Top contest and waivers out of the No Child Left Behind Act—are gone.” The only way for the federal government to get rid of Common Core would be to engage in the same sort of unconstitutional federal coercion that critics of the Core opposed in the first place.

Nevertheless, the Trump administration could ease the path for states to ditch Common Core by merely refraining from using its authority under Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to dictate state policy. As Neal explained:

What [Trump] can do—and I think, along with a GOP Congress, will do—is ensure that regulations to implement the ESSA do not coerce the use of the Core or any other specific standards or tests. This has been a real concern. While the spirit and rhetoric surrounding the ESSA is about breaking down federal strictures, the Obama education department has been drafting regulations that threaten federal control over funding formulas and accountability systems. And the statute includes language vague enough that it could allow federal control by education secretary veto. A Trump administration would likely avoid that.

3. College and Vocational Education

Here is where Trump’s plan is the murkiest. He wants to “expand” vocational education and make college “more affordable” but he does not explain how. His campaign website provides little more in terms of details:

  • Work with Congress on reforms to ensure universities are making a good faith effort to reduce the cost of college and student debt in exchange for the federal tax breaks and tax dollars.
  • Ensure that the opportunity to attend a two or four-year college, or to pursue a trade or a skill set through vocational and technical education, will be easier to access, pay for, and finish.

These vague bromides could just as easily have appeared on Hillary Clinton’s campaign website, which states:

  • Every student should have the option to graduate from a public college or university in their state without taking on any student debt. By 2021, families with income up to $125,000 will pay no tuition at in-state four-year public colleges and universities. And from the beginning, every student from a family making $85,000 a year or less will be able to go to an in-state four-year public college or university without paying tuition.
  • All community colleges will offer free tuition.
  • Everyone will do their part. States will have to step up and invest in higher education, and colleges and universities will be held accountable for the success of their students and for controlling tuition costs.

So how will Trump try to expand vocational education and make college more affordable? It’s not clear. Ideally, Trump should work to phase out the various federal loan programs and higher ed subsidies that a mountain of research has shown are fueling rapid tuition inflation. Unfortunately, Trump has previously proposed an income-based student loan repayment plan. Such a policy could assist borrowers in repaying loans, but it would still create perverse incentives that fuel tuition inflation and overconsumption of higher ed while leaving the taxpayer on the hook for whatever the borrower couldn’t repay. When a student takes out a $35,000 loan to pursue a degree in puppeteering and then surprisingly can’t find a decent-paying job, taxpayers would pick up the tab. 

At this point, it’s not clear what Trump will do about education policy. His education proposals are vague and somewhat disconcerting, but there is also evidence that he wants to move in the right direction, particularly regarding school choice and a reduced federal role in K-12 education. What Trump needs now is a set of good advisers to help guide his commendable education policy instincts toward wise and effective policy.

In the hit musical Hamilton, King George, newly estranged from the revolutionary American colonies, challenges his former subjects to justify their choice. “What comes next?” he asks, “You’ve been freed. Do you know how hard it is to lead? You’re on your own. Awesome, wow! Do you have a clue what happens now?”

We might well ask the same question.

The unexpected elevation of Donald Trump to the Presidency presents a failure for pollsters, a reorientation of American politics, and raises the fundamental question of what kind of policies a Trump administration is likely to pursue. On foreign policy, Trump’s statements throughout the campaign have been profoundly incoherent, ranging from more traditional hawkish Republican views on issues like the Iran deal, to more unorthodox, restrained views on Syria and other Middle Eastern conflicts, to his more conciliatory approach to Russia and truly bizarre fixation with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin.

So what comes next? How will the Trump administration approach foreign policy? As Elizabeth Saunders notes over at the Monkey Cage, advisors wield substantially more power under an inexperienced president. So to a large extent, Trump’s foreign policy choices will depend on who he chooses, not just to be his key foreign policy advisors, but to staff his administration’s foreign policy positions more generally. There are two potential scenarios that we can imagine:

Scenario One: The Isolationist

President-elect Trump—assisted by advisors from the Breitbart wing of the Republican Party—could choose to double down on the America First, trade- and immigration-bashing policies that helped to get him elected. This approach would bring a few improvements on the Obama administration (or more likely, on the policies Hillary Clinton would likely have pursued): the potential for less U.S. involvement in civil conflicts in the Middle East, and for improved relations with Russia. Yet unlike the prudent, restrained foreign policies often erroneously described as isolationism, Trump’s policies would be truly isolationist, with a less active foreign policy combined with trade and immigration restrictions that would see America retreat from the world. Trump’s emphasis on winning at all costs would create zero-sum conflicts with other states, and potentially lead to dangerous trade wars against other major powers.

Scenario Two: The Imperialist

The other strand prominent in Trump’s campaign was his near-Jacksonian rhetoric, with its focus on the importance of military strength. His repeated calls for ISIS to be crushed, for terrorists’ families to be killed, and even his strange convictions about seizing Iraqi oil all fit into this paradigm, which would see an inwardly-focused America which nonetheless prizes military power. In addition to hawkish-leaning congressional Republicans, and his Vice President Mike Pence, the rumored candidates for cabinet appointments in a Trump administration include neoconservative thinkers like John Bolton and hawks like Gen. Mike Flynn. On the upside, like the first scenario, this would probably see the United States get involved in fewer unnecessary civil conflicts. Yet the downsides are again far more pronounced, with substantially increased military spending and military conflict likely.

Certainly, these are two extreme options. The most likely scenario for foreign policy in a Trump presidency is probably some milder combination of these choices, with Trump perhaps defending his conciliatory approach to Russia, but bowing to congressional hawks on other issues. His foreign policy could remain incoherent, simply reacting to crises on a day-to-day basis. Or it’s possible that Trump largely ignores foreign policy issues, or even that he will be effectively constrained by some combination of foreign policy elites and civil servants within the foreign policy bureaucracy.

But these scenarios still raise a serious concern: we simply don’t know what to expect from Trump’s foreign policy. So as we come to terms with the idea of a Trump presidency, we have to ask ourselves: what comes next? No one knows.

With Republicans retaining control of the House and Senate, President-elect Donald Trump might think it will be easy to push through his plans for “peace through strength” but he’s offered dubious rationales for why we need a much larger military. And his proposals for how he would pay for the additional spending are incomplete and inadequate.

He outlined his plans in a speech in early September. The high points include:

  • Active-duty Army: 540,000, up from 491,365 today, and currently projected to hit 450,000 in 2018, and stay there through 2020;
  • Marine Corps: 36 battalions, up from 23 now;
  • Navy: 350 surface ships and submarines, up from 276 today (the Navy’s current plans call for 308 ships by 2021, peaking at 313 in 2025);
  • Air Force: 1,200+ fighter aircraft; which is close to today’s inventory of 1,113;
  • A “State of the art missile defense system”; and
  • Major investments in cybertechnology, both offensive and defensive.

Estimates for what it would cost to implement these changes vary, but most experts doubt that Trump can make up the difference without raising taxes or adding to the deficit. His call for “common sense reforms that eliminate government waste and budget gimmicks,” is extremely vague, and it seems unlikely that Democrats will agree to relax the Budget Control Act caps on defense spending while leaving non-defense caps in place.

The bigger question is what Trump plans to do with this much-larger military. He is right to be skeptical of nation-building in foreign lands. He scorned Hillary Clinton’s support for the regime-change wars in Iraq and Libya. Those types of missions often require vast forces, especially ground troops, willing to remain in those countries for decades, or longer. But if he doubts that such missions are needed or wise, why does he call for increasing the active duty Army and Marine Corps? What does he expect them to be doing that they aren’t already?

Fighting terrorists doesn’t require a massive military, either. The hard part is finding terrorists, not killing them once found. Thus, the most effective operations against groups like al Qaeda involve timely intelligence, active cooperation with local actors, and occasionally the precise application of force.

ISIS is different, because it, unlike al Qaeda, chose to occupy territory that can be targeted by traditional military force. But if Trump follows through on his plans to “bomb the hell out of ISIS,” that doesn’t require massive U.S. ground forces either.

Lastly, Trump hasn’t adequately explained how he would ensure that the military spends the money that it has wisely and efficiently. In inflation-adjusted dollars, American taxpayers spend more on our military today than we did during most of the Cold War, and yet we appear to be spending more, and getting less. Increasing the military budget by 10 percent or more won’t make it easier to control rising costs; if anything, it will allow the Pentagon to forego difficult but necessary reforms.

I hope to hear more in the coming weeks about what President-elect Trump will do to rein in the Pentagon’s civilian work force, eliminate excess overhead, including unneeded bases, and modernize military compensation. Members of Congress have either failed to address, or actively blocked, reform proposals thus far. Time will tell whether having Trump in the White House will stiffen their spine.

Donald Trump has been touting staunchly protectionist and isolationist rhetoric on trade policy throughout his campaign. Whether this was merely campaign-talk is still to be seen.

However, at his core, Trump is a businessman. In the business world, isolationism is synonymous with self-destruction.

So when Trump brandishes protectionist rhetoric and sullies the role of international trade, he’s ignoring the fact that, in international relations, trade also serves as an expression of diplomatic goodwill and a means for constructive connectivity. Trade could also promote and advance free market principles abroad.

Take China, for instance. Beijing is embarking on a new era of “economic diplomacy”: trade and foreign investment have become the preferred tools for engaging with the international community, as well as for boosting domestic economic growth. China’s relatively new $1 trillion New Silk Road trade and investment initiative spanning several countries and continents attests to just that.

Instead of taking the opportunity to forge beneficial economic and trade ties with Beijing, Trump is instead threatening to impose high tariffs on China and declaring it a currency manipulator. However, doing so would actually isolate the United States’ economic interests rather than “protect” them, especially in the long run.

Trump will now have to quickly transition from a businessman into a statesman. In the business world, there is something to be said for taking a tough, zero-sum approach to negotiations. But in international relations, flippant threats and tough-talk—especially when it comes to the world’s second largest economy, as well as a nuclear power—is tantamount to recklessness, and likely to cause more harm than good.

Lastly, there are reasons to doubt whether Congress will comply with Trump’s trade and foreign policy stance. Members may instead insist that trade within a mutually beneficial arrangement, and not economic isolationism, will lead to more U.S. jobs and overall economic growth.

Donald Trump’s upset victory over Hillary Clinton last night is bound to stir up fears of instability and uncertainty in East Asia, a region that was almost entirely ignored during the campaign. Commentators have rushed to predict that Trump’s campaign rhetoric will turn into reality: the United States will pull back from East Asia, and China will take advantage of the ensuing chaos to seize geopolitical dominance of the region. This morning James Palmer at Foreign Policy writes, “Chinese leaders near me in the palatial complex of Zhongnanhai are surely cracking open the drinks.” This is a pretty scary vision of the future. However, such assessments, which focus solely on Chinese benefits, don’t take into account the complex nature of U.S.-China relations.

President Trump is by no means a clear victory for China. The uncertainty created by his victory could easily produce an economic and geopolitical climate that damages Chinese interests. For example, three of the seven points in Trump’s Plan to Rebuild the American Economy mention policies that would hurt the U.S.-China economic relationship: labeling China a currency manipulator; bringing trade cases against China in the World Trade Organization; and imposing tariffs in response to “illegal activities.” Igniting a trade war with China would pose a severe risk to China’s economy, which is already slowing down. Trump’s stated policies would likely deepen China’s economic woes, thereby increasing the domestic instability that Beijing is obsessed with avoiding, especially in the lead-up to the 19th Party Congress in late 2017.

In the realm of geopolitics, Chinese gains in the conventional balance of power resulting from a reduced U.S. commitment to traditional allies could be offset if other regional states turn to nuclear weapons. America’s regional partners have started to improve their conventional self-defense capabilities, but it will take a good deal of time and money to get their militaries to the point where they can resist Chinese coercion without U.S. help. With this in mind, and given the recent nuclear saber rattling by North Korea, if Trump starts shedding U.S. alliance commitments then partners may turn to nuclear weapons to defend themselves.

Japan would likely be the first country to develop a nuclear weapon in such a scenario. Its limited conventional capabilities create a pressing need for a deterrent if the United States would not come to its rescue, and its highly-developed nuclear energy program makes it relatively easy for Japan to acquire the materials it would need. It would still take a good amount of time for Japan to develop such weapons. For example, a 2006 article by Jeffrey Lewis at the Arms Control Wonk blog suggested a timeframe of 3–5 years. If Japan goes down this road, there is a chance that neighboring countries, such as South Korea, would also push for their own nuclear weapons. While Japan would face enormous resistance to nuclear weapons development, support for having nuclear weapons among lawmakers has increased in recent years in response to growing tension in East Asia. A nuclear-armed Japan is completely anathema to Chinese security interests, and would be a serious setback for China’s geopolitical position in East Asia.

While this analysis is almost purely speculative at this point, there is a case to be made that the Trump administration will not be as good for China as many commentators have suggested. China could reap some benefits from a United States occupied with domestic political turmoil and a president that disdains alliance commitments. However, the economic and geopolitical uncertainty that could be unleased by his victory should curb Beijing’s enthusiasm. As Isaac Stone Fish recently stated in Foreign Policy, “the Chinese elite seem to prefer Trump’s opponent because they feel she would be better … [for] global stability, which remains of great importance to Beijing.” The officials in Zhongnanhai should save those drinks for another day. 

Please excuse the haste, as I’ve spent the last week ignoring the “impossible,” focused instead on writing about the likely direction—including the copious double-talk and rhetorical pirouettes—of President Clinton’s trade policy. If you’re a sucker for transparency, congratulations! You’ll get that in spades from President Trump’s trade policy. It will be transparently awful—for a while, at least.

Having a Republican president and GOP control of both chambers of Congress was once the ideal formulation for successfully negotiating and ratifying trade agreements. That all changed when Donald Trump, an avowed critic of U.S. trade agreements, rose to the top of the party’s ticket. As of last night, there is no longer any realistic chance that the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement will be ratified in the Lame Duck session of Congress; there is no chance that the TPP will be implemented over the next four years without the deal first being reopened and revised to reflect terms desired by President Trump; there is much greater scope for trade frictions, especially with China, to erupt into deleterious rounds of tit for tat protectionism; and there is the distinct risk that policies intended to punish U.S. companies for outsourcing will slow inward foreign direct investment (insourcing) and chase U.S. companies off-shore, altogether, depleting capital, driving up interest rates, and hamstringing prospects for growth.

But there is a silver lining, which is that the worldviews of presidents tend to be more outward, engaging, and accommodating than the worldviews of presidential candidates. After repeatedly pledging to force Canada and Mexico back to the table to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement during his bid for the White House, President Obama phoned the Canadian prime minister and Mexican president within one week of his 2009 inauguration to reassure them that he had had a change of heart. 

President-elect Trump’s hardline, isolationist, nationalistic, protectionist proposals may be more difficult to walk back, especially if he fails to excommunicate some of his current advisors and branch out to obtain the counsel of economists and policy specialists who have a better understanding of international economics and the rules of global trade. If he is able to expand and diversify the pool of people advising him, there is a reasonable chance that President Trump’s actions will be less bellicose than his rhetoric has been. After all, as someone who wants to make America “great again,” President-elect Trump will want the policies implemented by his administration to help grow the economy. Trade agreements have succeeded in that regard and, in addition to the TPP, there are plenty of countries and regions willing to partner, including the European Union and the United Kingdom (separately), and plenty of alternative negotiating platforms for accomplishing trade and investment liberalization. 

In the short term, if President-elect Trump wants to encourage U.S. manufacturing to produce and hire more, he should ask Congress to eliminate tariffs on all imported intermediate goods – components and raw materials that go into U.S. production. That would immediately reduce U.S. manufacturing costs, which would give the sector a leg up in its competition for U.S. and foreign investment.

Trump might quickly grasp that removing tariffs—rather than imposing them—is the kind of protectionism we can afford.

Donald Trump’s signature policy issue during his campaign was forcing unauthorized immigrants out of the United States. But it would be a mistake for Republicans in Congress to fund any effort to make this dream a reality during his administration. Trump won the presidency, but he failed to convince anyone, including Republicans, on the issue that he spent the most time promoting, and history still shows that an anti-immigration agenda could become incredibly damaging to the GOP’s electoral prospects long-term.

Here are six reasons why congressional Republicans shouldn’t confuse a Hillary Clinton loss with a mandate to target immigrants.

1. The vast majority of voters still want to let the immigrants stay. A supermajority of Americans favors legalizing immigrants who are in the country illegally, according to exit polls from CNN (70%), Fox News (70%), the New York Times (70%), ABC News (71%), CBS News (70%), and the Wall Street Journal (71%). In fact, even more Trump voters favored legalization than favored deportation. This jives with Pew Research Center’s most recent poll that found that fully two-thirds of Republicans favored legal status for unauthorized immigrants. As the figure below shows, Trump failed to persuade Americans during his campaign despite making it his number one talking point. It would be foolish for the GOP to think that this will suddenly change.

Figure: Should undocumented immigrants be allowed to stay in the United States?

Sources: Pew (October 2014–March 2015); Wall Street Journal (November 2016)

2. GOP senators in close races who favored legalization performed better than Trump in their states. Trump’s immigration position did little, if anything, to advance his cause in the swing states. All of the incumbent Republicans who supported legalization in tight Senate races—Senators John McCain (AZ), Marco Rubio (FL), Mark Kirk (IL), Kelly Ayotte (NH), Rob Portman (OH), and Ron Johnson (WI)–outperformed Trump in their states. Sens. Richard Burr (NC) and Pat Toomey (PA) who tried their best to avoid discussing the subject while not supporting Trump’s deportation position netted the same share of the vote as Trump. Sen. Roy Blunt disavowed a path to legal status and did worse than Trump in Missouri.

3. Many Republicans in the House and Senate don’t agree with Trump. Well over a hundred GOP senators and congressmen have publicly backed legal status for unauthorized immigrants in the United States (here are some). Trump will need to lead a party that includes these members. Party leaders in Congress would be unwise to abandon such members now that they have helped the GOP achieve a majority. Ironically, the fact that Hillary Clinton did so poorly, with low voter turnout hurting Democrats in competitive races, actually helped to maintain this moderate wing of the Republican Party. The GOP would likely be in a worse position to support real immigration reform if the election had been a Democratic blowout.

4. California Republicans won on nativism in the 1990s—and it cost them everything. The Republicans made blaming unauthorized immigrants for crime and government deficits a major part of their campaign in 1994. Governor Pete Wilson championed a ballot measure, Prop. 187, intended to expel the state’s undocumented immigrants. The measure actually had the support of a majority of voters, but as my colleague Alex Nowrasteh has meticulously documented, the campaign turned California permanently blue. Wilson had an electoral mandate in 1994, and the Republicans still lost the state for a generation. Trump has no such mandate today.

5. Trump won a single election, but deportations could lose a generation of voters. One reason why misinterpreting Trump’s victory could be devastating for the GOP in the long-term is that barely any young people agree with him. Only 17 percent of Americans under 30 agree that unauthorized immigrants “should not be allowed to stay,” according to the latest survey from the Pew Research Center, and only 37 percent of these voters backed Trump. Republicans will still need a pro-immigrant strategy to address this issue.

6. Trump is the most unpopular president-elect ever. It is impossible to overstate the importance of this point. Americans have never elected a person that they find so disagreeable. Fully 61 percent of voters said yesterday that they had an unfavorable view of Trump. It makes little sense for Republicans to try to help the new president build goodwill by doing something that the vast majority of Americans do not want.

These political calculations all stand in addition to the multitude of economic and moral reasons to oppose removing from the country people who have built their lives in the United States.

Marijuana legalization keeps rolling. The legalization of recreational marijuana was on the ballot in five states yesterday. The people of California, Massachusetts, and Nevada voted to legalize.  As of this writing, legalization maintains a slim, too-close-to-call lead in Maine as well. Legalization failed in Arizona by a small margin.

Beyond legalizing marijuana in America’s most populous state, the vote in California also means the entire West Coast has now rejected marijuana prohibition. The vote in Massachusetts makes it the first state east of the Rocky Mountains to do the same.

In addition, medical marijuana was legalized in Arkansas, Florida, and North Dakota, while restrictions on medical marijuana were relaxed in Montana.  In Oklahoma, which prides itself on being “the reddest state in the nation” (Donald Trump won every single county last night), voters passed an amendment to state law that recategorizes a variety of drug offenses from felonies to misdemeanors.

All of these developments speak to a growing (and increasingly bipartisan) acknowledgment that Americans are tired of the failed drug war, and especially the government’s crusade against marijuana. More people are arrested for marijuana offenses than for all violent crimes combined in this country, and voters increasingly think it’s time to put a stop to it.

As my colleague Jeff Miron points out, marijuana prohibition is predicated on myths. The allegations that marijuana legalization leads to huge increases in use; causes increases in crime, traffic fatalities, and addiction; and leads to abuse of other, harder drugs simply do not comport with the data we’ve seen from legalization policies in the U.S. and around the world.

Despite this building momentum for reform, last night also injected a bit of uncertainty into the prohibition discussion. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law. The Supreme Court has already ruled that federal marijuana prohibition is constitutional, state-level legalization notwithstanding (although Congress has put temporary limits on federal funding for that purpose). As a result, the progress we’ve seen thus far has depended on President Obama’s commitment to respect the will of the states when it comes to marijuana enforcement. Essentially, President Obama has refused to enforce federal marijuana laws when those laws conflict with legalization bills passed by state voters.

President-elect Trump is not required to continue that commitment. He, along with his pick for Attorney General, could decide to begin enforcing federal marijuana laws in states that have voted to legalize (provided Congress provides funding), in which case the successful experiments in legalization would end virtually overnight. The more states legalize marijuana, however, the less likely it seems that the federal government will try to force the cat back into the bag.  

President-elect Trump should let the state experiments play out, and respect the will of the American voters who increasingly reject the failed policy of prohibition.

During the Republican primary season, most candidates railed against the Iranian nuclear deal promising to rip it up. Indeed, Donald Trump, our new President-elect, described the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the JCPoA) as “one of the worst deals I’ve ever seen.” With Trump’s unexpected success in yesterday’s election, the future of the Iran deal—one of the major diplomatic successes of Barack Obama’s presidency—has become murky.

Over the last year, Trump’s campaign was impressively inconsistent on the question of the Iran deal. Various Trump surrogates—including Rudy Giuliani in his speech at the Republican National Convention—suggested that Trump would “rip up” the deal on day one in office. Trump himself strongly criticized the deal, promising in a speech to AIPAC in March that dismantling the deal would be his number one priority. Yet later statements focused instead on the idea that he would “fix” the deal, by going back to the negotiating table with Tehran, a line later adopted by many of his campaign advisors.

Unfortunately, though this might indicate that Trump’s stance was more rhetoric than reality, he is likely to face strong pressure from the GOP-dominated congress to upend the deal. The pressure is liable to come from inside his administration too: not only did Mike Pence, Trump’s VP pick, take a hard line on the Iran deal in debates, but several of Trump’s potential advisors have similarly argued that the deal should be destroyed. It’s hard to imagine an administration featuring Bob Corker, John Bolton or Michael Flynn taking a conciliatory approach to Iran on any issue.

So can Trump actually end the Iran deal? Perhaps more effectively than many have assumed, though it would be politically and diplomatically costly. In order to end the deal, the United States would have to assert to the UN Security Council that Iran is violating the agreement. Though such a violation would technically be confirmed by an external party like the IAEA, the fact is that the “snapback” provision of sanctions relief found in the JCPoA allows the United States to exercise its veto power, forcing the reintroduction of UN sanctions.

The United States cannot force the European Union to reintroduce all its sanctions, which include some of the harshest measures on Iran’s oil and banking sectors. Nor can it apply sanctions retroactively; any deals made by companies during the last six months—like the Total oil and gas deal—are grandfathered in. But if he wanted to, President Trump could issue executive orders reinstating or creating new sanctions on Iranian individuals or companies. He could also direct the Treasury to apply those sanctions extraterritorially, preventing European or Asian companies which do business with Tehran from accessing the U.S. financial system.

Yet the choice to end the Iranian nuclear deal would be extremely costly for the United States. It would alienate key allies in Europe and elsewhere, discouraging them from participation in future U.S. diplomatic endeavors. A better deal is pretty much impossible to achieve, thus we would substantially increase the likelihood that Iran will return to nuclear development, bringing them closer to the bomb, and the United States closer to military conflict. And it would be a black eye for the United States, implying that we cannot be trusted to abide by international agreements which we negotiate.

It’s certainly possible for President-elect Trump to dismantle the JCPoA. But as with all questions about Trump’s foreign policy, it remains unclear whether he will choose to do so or not. If he does, the repercussions for U.S. foreign policy would be unpleasant. Tearing up the Iran deal may look good to the Republican base, but it’s the diplomatic equivalent of shooting ourselves in the foot: it achieves no foreign policy goals, runs the risk of destabilizing the Middle East still further, and does grave harm to America’s diplomatic reputation.

Even if one had the stomach for more prognostication after last night, when it comes to Trump foreign policy looking ahead seems like a fool’s errand (see my last op-ed if you don’t believe me). As Max Fisher notes in the New York Times today, Donald Trump has been so inconsistent on foreign policy specifics that no one feels confident in making bold predictions. Uncertainty, at home and abroad, rules the day.

However, even though the election can’t tell us much about what might happen in the future, Trump’s victory does reveal a great deal about how Americans think about politics in general and foreign policy in particular.

One thing we have learned is that the divide in Americans’ foreign policy views now mirrors the broader political fault lines in the nation. As I wrote after the final presidential debate, in the absence of a compelling external threat, Americans have become more polarized as the “national interest” has devolved into an array of competing interests. The foreign policy debate is no longer about how to keep America safe; it’s a clash over competing conceptions of America and its role in the world.

In one corner are the previous champions, the liberal internationalists, who enjoyed a long, bipartisan run after the end of the Cold War. The liberal internationalists have seen globalization as a boon for the U.S. and the world. In this vein they have pursued free trade, an expansive network of alliances, and meddled a great deal in the affairs of other nations for a wide range of often dubious but usually well-intentioned reasons. In the other corner we have Trump’s surging nativists and nationalists—much more pessimistic about the benefits of globalization, much less supportive of free trade, far less interested in engaging the world, and far more concerned about what immigration might do to the United States.

Trump’s election last night might have been a shock, but the growing divide on foreign policy has been clear for some time. A great deal of polling data from the past several years has revealed that the public has lost much of its appetite for the liberal internationalist cause. Recent polling has discovered that record numbers of Americans think the United States should “mind its own business” internationally and fully 70% of Americans want the next president to focus on domestic policy.  When you add to that the widespread concerns about Obama’s trade deals and U.S. policies in the Middle East, it becomes clear that much of the nation is ready to rethink the Beltway Consensus on foreign policy.

The implications of this emerging foreign policy tribalism are profound. Without existential national security concerns to ground the debate, foreign policy has become just another arena for cultural and identity politics. Trump’s foreign policy, whatever it turns out to be, will not be constrained by broad-based public and elite support for a single strategic vision. Instead, Trump is free to pursue foreign policies that please his base.

Though I won’t dare to make predictions about which issues Trump will take up in earnest next year, a quick comparison of his supporters to Democrats on key issues is potentially revealing. 80% of Trump’s supporters see immigrants and refugees as a critical threat, for example, compared to just 27% of Democrats. 92% of Trump’s supporters support his proposal for a wall on the Mexican border while just 29% of Democrats do. Whereas 68% of Democrats believe international trade is good for the U.S. economy, just 42% of Trump supporters do.

I will boldly end with one prediction: Regardless of which way Trump goes on foreign policy, the divisions revealed during this campaign will not go away any time soon.

It happened.

Don’t worry, our country is strong enough to deal with what might be coming. Unfortunately, however, our Constitution has some holes in it, many of which were created by the last two administrations, that allow presidents to assert shockingly broad powers. We will gladly welcome back to the fold our left-wing friends who have spent eight years cheering for executive power. They resisted executive power during the Bush administration, and it should be like riding a bike. We hope we will be joined by principled people on the right who understand the need for constitutional limits. Maybe, in the process, we can create a new consensus around limiting executive power.

Constitutionally limited government exists to protect the freedom of the citizens from the vicissitudes of democratic rule. The Framers of the Constitution knew that a person of George Washington’s caliber would not always be chosen president. They knew about demagoguery and populism. James Madison, in particular, was terrified of how voters in states could be swept up in waves of populist fury and, in the process, enact policies damaging to the long-term prosperity and freedom of the people.

Unfortunately, after a century or more of erosion, our Constitution doesn’t limit our government the way it once did. In particular, the president is incredibly powerful, and able to make significant decisions without proper checks and balances. Democrats wanted this power when President Obama was in office, but the powers of the executive, especially after President Obama, are now truly concerning when held by someone as unpredictable as Donald J. Trump.

Here’s a basic principle of good government: Don’t endorse a government power that you wouldn’t want wielded by your worst political enemy. Democrats will soon be learning that painful lesson.

Obama’s most concerning legacy was to use congressional inaction as a justification for sweeping executive orders. In the DACA and DAPA immigration cases, the president decided that, if Congress didn’t do something about immigration, then he would. This is a shocking argument for asserting unilateral power in a constitutional system that depends on checks and balances, and it should not matter whether you agree with the policy outcome. Nevertheless, Democrats, by and large, endorsed Obama’s action.

Obama also used congressional inaction as a justification for claiming the power to decide whether the Senate was in session. After his nominees to the NLRB and CFPB were blocked by the Senate, President Obama used his recess appointment power—which gives the president the ability to appoint executive officers during Senate recesses—to push his nominees through. In so doing, he essentially declared that the Senate’s pro forma sessions, which were sham sessions first used by Harry Reid to block President George W. Bush’s nominees, were not “real” sessions of the Senate. It was a bold, reckless, unprecedented, and dangerous move that was struck down unanimously by the Supreme Court. On many types of executive overreaches, however, the Court will not be able to similarly intervene. If Obama had the temerity to push through those appointments, imagine how far Trump might go on other matters.  

Finally, the Congress hasn’t declared a war since World War II. Korea, Vietnam, First Iraq, Second Iraq, and Afghanistan were all fought without obtaining the constitutionally required declaration of war from Congress. We currently have the Authorization of the Use of Military Force, signed a week after the September 11th attacks and subsequently used by two presidents to fight “terrorists” wherever they wanted. President Trump will have that power too, which should concern anyone.

Like nearly every president, President Obama defined a new baseline of executive power. Now that power will be handed over to Donald Trump, and left-wing groups like our friends at the Constitutional Accountability Center will probably be on our side when Cato inevitably files briefs opposing Trump’s forthcoming executive overreaches. I’ll try to restrain myself from saying, “I told you so.”

If you work in education policy, you maybe should have seen Donald Trump’s monumental upset coming. I didn’t, and I would guess most other wonks didn’t either. But we all saw populist frustration boil over with the federally coerced Common Core national curriculum standards. Average Americans rejected the Core over the paternalistic, “you just don’t realize this is good for you” objections of establishment types on both the left and right, just as seemed to happen with Trump’s campaign that defied establishment predictions—and disbelief—almost from day one.

Of course, popular rejection of the Core does not capture nearly all that seems to have driven Trump’s support—immigration, dwindling manufacturing jobs, plain old fear—but it does capture a seeming disdain for elites.

What is this likely to translate into in education policy, especially with a Republican controlled Congress?

Let’s start with the Core. Candidate Trump, without specifics, indicated on the campaign trail that he would get rid of it, seeing it as an unacceptable federal intrusion. And it was federally coerced. The problem is that the main levers of coercion—the Race to the Top contest and waivers out of the No Child Left Behind Act—are gone. Race to the Top is over, and No Child has been replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Unless Trump tries to coerce states to dump the Core—make receipt of funds or regulatory relief dependent on ditching it—he can’t end the Core.

What he can do—and I think, along with a GOP Congress, will do—is ensure that regulations to implement the ESSA do not coerce the use of the Core or any other specific standards or tests. This has been a real concern. While the spirit and rhetoric surrounding the ESSA is about breaking down federal strictures, the Obama education department has been drafting regulations that threaten federal control over funding formulas and accountability systems. And the statute includes language vague enough that it could allow federal control by education secretary veto. A Trump administration would likely avoid that.

Trump has also promised to spend $20 billion on school choice. The inclination is right—the way to make education work for kids is to give parents control of the dollars—but “encouraging” with federal carrots or sticks is wrong. For one thing, the Constitution gives Washington no authority to meddle in education outside of the District of Columbia itself, federal installations, and prohibiting state and local discrimination in their provision of education. Perhaps more important, we do not want private schools becoming dependent on federal money because, inevitably, with federal money would come federal rules, which would, over time, render school choice much less of a real choice, with all schools—public or private, from California to Georgia—increasingly identical.

What about higher education, in which federal subsidies have fueled skyrocketing prices and massive waste for decades? The good news is that Trump is unlikely to propose a Clinton/Sanders style “free” college plan. The bad news is that, so far, Trump hasn’t signaled an intent to significantly curb self-defeating subsidies like federal student loans and grants. Rather, he’s proposed an income-based repayment plan for loans and threatened the tax breaks and subsidies of schools that aren’t deemed to be making “a good faith effort” to control student costs. Part of that would include going after schools with big endowments, something likely to make little difference because only a few schools have endowments that are typically considered big.

What will almost certainly come to an end will be the war on for-profit colleges prosecuted by the Obama administration and its allies in Congress. (Programing note: Big event on for-profit schools next week!) That’s good, because for-profit colleges—though they produce some pretty bad outcomes—are not the problem in higher education. Every sector produces bad outcomes. The root problem is the mammoth subsidies, which incentivize bad decision-making by students and price hikes by schools. They are what need to be attacked.

For the youngest children, Trump has not proposed a wide expansion of preschool such as Head Start, which is good. The top-quality research does not support its effectiveness, despite what politicians and advocates pronounce. But he has proposed federal incentives to expand childcare, and that could include an education component. We’ll have to wait and see.

Overall, Trump has inveighed against federal intrusion in education, including talking about eliminating the U.S. Department of Education. The semi-concrete proposals he has put out there, however, seem somewhat at odds with that. One thing, however, seems certain: wonks and pundits would be wise not to dismiss his proposals as political pie-in-the-sky. Trump may well have a better sense for what is politically viable than they do, and his supporters don’t seem inclined to do what Beltway types tell them.

Some thoughts, with thanks to Josh Blackman for getting the ball rolling:

  • The Garland nomination is dead. Does this mean that Trump will indeed pick someone from his list of 21 potential nominees? That list was perhaps most notable for including 9 state jurists; will we get one of those on the Supreme Court for the first time since Sandra Day O’Connor was picked in 1981?
  • Senate Republicans’ strategy of not even considering D.C. Circuit Judge Merrick Garland, of letting the American people decide who gets to fill Scalia’s seat, worked. Not only that, but it didn’t at all hurt vulnerable senators running for reelection.
  • Anthony Kennedy will almost certainly continue to be the “swing justice” on most controversial issues; he may have been the biggest winner last night.
  • I feel sorry for Garland, a respected jurist and honorable man who’s been in limbo for nearly eight months. That said, this wasn’t about him and I would’ve advised voting against him.
  • An open question is what happens when Trump realizes that the sorts of judges he’s been advised to appoint would rule against him on various matters.
  • If you live by executive action, you die by executive action—which means that many high-profile cases looming on the Supreme Court docket will simply go away. DAPA (executive action on immigration) and the Clean Power Plan will be rescinded, religious nonprofits will be exempt from Obamacare, Trump’s HHS won’t make the illegal payments that have led to House v. Burwell, and more. That may include the transgender-bathroom guidance, which if rescinded would remove the biggest controversy from the Court’s current term.
  • With the election of (my friend and University of Missouri law professor) Josh Hawley as Missouri’s new attorney general, the not-yet-scheduled Trinity Lutheran case will likely be settled.
  • The New York Times editorial board better include “It turns out that Ilya Shapiro was right” in its editorial urging senators to reject Trump’s judicial nominees. Also, I can’t wait for the Paul Krugman column making that point.

Trump’s victory in the Presidential election is a tremendous political upset. The biggest issue raised by Trump was immigration—and he didn’t waiver from his restrictionist position. Although the polling data doesn’t show support for Trump’s position and the election was not a blowout, depending on whether he wins the popular vote (unclear at this time) he and other restrictionist Republicans will take this as a mandate to follow through on his immigration promises. 

Trump’s stump speeches were superficial but his immigration position paper was detailed and specific. Simply, it calls for a 20 percent to 60 percent cut in green cards and a huge increase in immigration enforcement. Here are the details from his immigration position paper fleshed out:

  1. Border wall. The completion of a border wall or at least 1000 miles of it (there are about 700 miles of walls and barriers currently). This wall could be virtual but he sold it as a physical barrier. His border wall is meant to address illegal border crossings that began subsiding a decade ago and are now near their post-1970 historical low point. There is a perception of chaos on the border that doesn’t reflect reality, but perception is all that matters in politics. The best way to further reduce unlawful immigration would be to create a low-skilled guest worker visa program or expand the existing ones, but Trump’s position paper precludes such a policy option.
  2. Nationwide E-Verify. Mandated nationwide E-Verify for all new hires in the United States as a means to exclude illegal immigrants from employment. E-Verify is an electronic eligibility for employment verification that checks a new hire’s identity information against government databases to approve or deny them employment. My colleague Jim Harper and I published a policy paper last year detailing all of the problems this system poses from economic, privacy, civil liberties, and effectiveness standpoints. E-Verify will add to the more than 13.48 man-hours spent by employers annually dealing with the I-9 form, unintentionally deny and delay many American workers legal employment due to inaccuracies, boost the black market in identity documents, and cost billions in taxpayer and economic costs to implement. E-Verfiy is also unenforced and ineffective at dimming the wage magnet in states where it is already mandated. E-Verify will fail to live up to its expectations and will be followed by calls for a national biometric identity card to seal gaps in the system.    
  3. End birthright citizenship. This would most likely require a constitutional amendment although Judge Richard Posner, noted legal scholar, thinks it can be changed by statute. Birthright citizenship is a lot older than the Fourteenth Amendment and has aided in the assimilation of generations of immigrantsin contrast to the experiences of assimilation in European nations without birthright citizenship. If implemented, jus sanguinis (citizenship through blood relations) would replace jus soli as the most important citizenship law of the land—an embrace of Carthaginian over Roman values.
  4. End DACA. President Obama’s executive action for unlawful immigrants brought here as children gave temporary work permits and relief from potential deportation (not a path to citizenship) to about 665,000 people. The continuation of this program depends on the actions of the President. Although this is not spelled out in his immigration position paper, it’s likely that Trump will decline to continue the program by stopping the periodic renewals required by law, thus opening up this population to deportation. Trump’s administration will also now have access to the identities of all the beneficiaries of DACA who had to submit their personal information to benefit, a source of information that could be used to more efficiently deport them. This has the potential to be a heart-wrenching humanitarian disaster for the DACA beneficiaries, their families, and those of us who count some of them as friends.  
  5. Mandatory detention. Detain all illegal immigrants apprehended while entering the United States. This policy is already partially implemented but could be greatly expanded. It would require new detention facilities similar to those used to detain Unauthorized Alien Children from Central America at serious economic and humanitarian cost
  6. Immigration moderation. Trump’s paper calls for a “pause” on the issuance of new green cards to workers abroad so that “employers will have to hire from the domestic pool of unemployed immigrant and native workers.” There were 151,596 employment-based green cards issued in 2014. 86 percent of them went to workers already in the United States on other visas. The other 14 percent went to workers abroad. The government also issued 645,560 family-based green cards in 2014, all of which allow recipients to work in the United States. 61 percent of these family-based green cards went to immigrants who were not in the country on another visa.  Depending on how you dice it, this provision could cut between about 140,000 and 540,000 green cards annually.
  7. Increase prevailing wage for H-1Bs. This policy proposal will reduce the number of legal skilled temporary migrant workers. Just over 124,000 H-1Bs were approved in 2014 for initial employment in the United States, with 85,000 of them for employment in firms and the rest in non-profit research institutions. These workers have an average salary of $75,000 so they do not compete with low-skilled America workers. If the minimum salary for H-1B visas was bumped up to $100,000 then the number of H-1Bs hired by private firms would decrease while they’d also shrink for research institutions. The 75th percentile for wage compensation for H-1B workers is $81,000. Even including all of the petitions for high wage workers that are rejected each year, this reform would significantly shrink the number of H-1B visas issued at an enormous economic cost. The H-1B system is also the feeder to the employment-based green card so any change here could disrupt future flows there even if no other changes are made. 
  8. Requirement to hire American workers first. This policy would increase the regulatory cost for American firms hiring skilled foreign workers in specialty occupations. Congress considered this policy for the H-1B visa in 1990 and rejected it because the regulatory costs would be so high. If Trump is the anti-regulation candidate he claims to be then he’ll reject this provision.
  9. Refugee program for American children. This policy would raise the standards for refugees and asylum seekers to cut down on supposed abuse and fraud. Assuming the worst case scenario, Trump’s policy proposal would decrease humanitarian immigration by 70 percent if trumped up fraud statistics are to be believed. That policy, if in place in 2016, would have cut the number of refugees by about 60,000 under the worst case scenario. 

The taxpayer cost of enforcing America’s immigration laws to the point where all illegal immigrants are removed and future flows stopped would be $419 to $619 billion over 20 years, according to estimates by the American Action Forum. These estimates do not include negative economic effects and lost tax revenue from a subsequently smaller economy. The Bipartisan Policy Center estimates that an attrition through enforcement policy would increase projected deficits by about $800 billion over the next 20 years. Those estimates don’t include the cost to the economy and government finances of slashing legal immigration.    

As I write, the presidential race has just been called by the media: barring fantastical litigation, Donald Trump will be moving into the White House. But even if he had fallen just short, it’s no understatement to say that Trump shocked the nation and the world—or at least the elites (conservative, progressive, libertarian, and every other kind). Pollsters are eating crow, as are political campaign professionals. I’m not either of those, but here’s my first stab at sketching an explanation for what we just witnessed.

Here are five reasons behind the Trump phenomenon, in no particular order and using purely qualitative analysis:

  1. Hillbilly Elegy – J.D. Vance’s book touched a nerve in the political culture by capturing the zeitgeist regarding the plight of the white working class, particularly in Appalachia. This phenomenon will be a source of many sociology dissertations in coming years.
  2. Shy Trump Voters – Just like the “shy Tories” who reelected David Cameron and the “shy Brexiteers” who voted the U.K. out of the E.U., many people didn’t want to tell pollsters that they planned to vote Trump, or simply declined to be polled.
  3. Hollywood and General Progressive Smugness – People don’t like being condescended to. I missed my chance to write an op-ed citing schadenfreude as the best reason to vote Trump, but maybe now I’ll get to do it as a silver-linings piece.
  4. Celebrity – Down-ballot GOP primary challengers tried to use Trump’s schtick and they failed. A majority/plurality of Republicans reject much of what specific policies Trump has offered. Yet The Donald has such name recognition, such a brand, that he pulled it off. We can expect many more celebrities entering the political arena in future.
  5. An Opponent Who Is a Truly Horrible Candidate – Hillary Clinton was no Democrat’s dream candidate (even the ultra-feminists would’ve preferred someone who hadn’t already been first lady) and she ran a campaign devoid of meaning—apart from the very identity politics that proved to be her undoing. She’s like Martha Coakley, the former Massachusetts attorney general who somehow managed to lose “Ted Kennedy’s” Senate seat.

As we all ponder the election, I welcome suggestions for refinement of and additions to these theories.

One clear message from yesterday’s election is that many voters—and many others who stayed home from the polls—were underwhelmed by the major-party candidates for president. Several factors conspired to deliver the Democratic and Republican nominations to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. One of those factors that sorely needs to be reformed before the next election cycle is the lousy format used for candidate debates.

Typically, candidates are given scarcely a minute or two to answer moderators’ questions about complex policy issues, and even less time to rebut an opponent or offer a response. Candidates aren’t given the debate questions ahead of time, and though they have some idea of what they might be asked, they can’t prepare and deliver careful, detailed responses. The candidates aren’t permitted notes or electronic devices, so they can’t quickly reaffirm facts or double-check complex arguments. And they can’t use visual aids to help explain their ideas or provide full references.

These limitations punish candidates who are thoughtful, have nuanced policy knowledge, offer innovative ideas, and who want to communicate with and persuade a broad, diverse audience. The limitations favor candidates with little knowledge or concern for facts, who spout standard ideologies, who play to partisan bases, and who are dishonest and incivil.

If the coordinators of the 2020 debates truly want to provide a public service, they will dispense with the current format and instead provide candidates an opportunity to show if they are informed, pensive, respectful leaders who can talk to Americans about sophisticated public policy. If, on the other hand, these coordinators continue using the same debate formats as 2016, we will likely have party nominees similar to 2016’s.

No matter who wins this year’s presidential election, believers in monetary freedom will have their work cut out for them.

A newly-elected president Trump will quickly turn from making the Fed a scapegoat for his own campaigns’ tribulations to blaming it for his economic policy failures — starting with the equities market nose dive that’s likely to follow his surprise victory. But instead of continuing to rail against the Fed’s supposedly easy policy stance, you can bet that president-elect Trump would soon be blaming it for keeping money too tight.

In any event, a newly-elected Trump administration, through its unveiled hostility toward the Fed, could not fail to make that already “political” institution even more so, for the Fed knows very well that, if it wants to preserve its vaunted independence, it had better heed the administrations’ wishes. That’s what former Fed Chairman William McChesney Martin, who understood the true nature of the Fed’s independence better than anyone, meant when he explained that the Fed was independent, not “from,” but “within,” the government.

And if it doesn’t? Then at the very least we can expect President Trump to make life very unpleasant for Chair Yellen, in the hope of making her resign before the end of her term in January 2018. And even if she resists, we can expect to have a Trump-appointed Fed chair in place for at least half of his term. If you think that might be an improvement, then presumably you believe that Trump is a better judge of monetary policy experts than he is of economic policy experts generally.

In any event, it is another Clinton presidency that champions of monetary freedom are most likely to have to contend with. And what will that mean? Although the Fed would be bound to accommodate her own administration’s wishes to some extent, Clinton’s championing of Fed independence during her campaign would at least make it necessary for her administration to proceed relatively gingerly in trying to sway its conduct. But while the Clinton administration is unlikely to influence Fed policy directly, it can be expected to do so indirectly, in the name of “diversity.”

In fact, as our own Mark Calabria has written, however much the Fed may suffer from a lack of optical diversity, and especially diversity of gender and race, it suffers more from a lack of diversity of ideas, that is, from an excess of group-think. And it suffers from group-think not because its leaders are mainly white, or mainly male, or even mainly bankers, but because the most influential ones are mainly PhD economists from the same handful of mainly Ivy-League universities. It’s easy for such economists to dominate discussions of policy matters rendered increasingly arcane by their own past efforts, leaving little for others to do but hope that they know what they’re talking about.

Diversity reform of the sort that Clinton seems likely to push is unlikely to overcome such group-think. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t serve as a cloak packing the Fed with persons subservient to the administration — I mean, even more subservient than ordinary bureaucratic survival instincts require. And such abuse of any diversity mandate is something fans of sound monetary policy will have to be prepared to combat. For starters, they would be wise to start thinking of potential, diversity-enhancing persons who actually have a good grasp of what it takes to have a sound monetary system.

Then there’s Glass-Steagall. So far Clinton has refused to yield to popular and misplaced pressure to restore parts of the Depression-era banking law that were repealed by Clinton 42 in the 1999 Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act — and which had nothing to do with the crisis (as Bill Clinton correctly pointed out in supporting his wife’s position). But thanks to Wikileaks we know that candidate Clinton came very close to yielding to Elizabeth Warren and other progressive Democrats to restore the old Glass-Steagall provisions; consequently there is some risk that she’ll be persuaded to reconsider her position once in office.

Needless to say, owing to partisan gridlock, a Clinton Presidency threatens those legislative initiatives favoring greater monetary freedom that have been wending their way through Congress recently, including the FORM Act and the Financial CHOICE Act.

But Clinton’s most obvious threat to monetary freedom consists of her resolve, not only to retain, but to reinforce, Dodd-Frank’s encroachments upon that freedom. Evidently candidate Clinton is less interested in what Dodd-Frank has actually accomplished than in what it pretends to accomplish. We can only hope that President Clinton can be persuaded to take reality more seriously. At the very least, one hopes she can be persuaded that so far as small banks are concerned Dodd-Frank’s influence runs entirely counter to her proclaimed desire to “cut red tape to streamline the process of starting a small business” and to “unlock” non-bank small businesses access to capital.

As for Clinton’s call for a reform that would allow the government to break-up banks deemed “too large and risky to be managed effectively,” how should lovers of financial freedom respond? That depends, in part, on the extent to which they regard existing financial behemoths as so many Frankenstein monsters given life by past government guarantees.

The sad reality is that the battle for monetary freedom has for some time now taken the form of a rearguard action, aimed at resisting as much as possible ever-increasing government incursions into the ever-shrinking realms of monetary freedom. The election’s outcome, whatever it may be, won’t change this. Instead, it will make it all the more necessary for those of us who recognize the virtues of monetary and financial freedom to rise to the defense of those pockets of financial liberty that we still hold, even as we renew our struggle to recover ground already lost. Eternal vigilance… .

[Cross-posted from Alt-M.org]

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