by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
During each episode of the N.C. Channel’s “Front Row,” host Marc Rotterman asks panelists who’s up and down politically in North Carolina and nationally. During the most recent episode, this observer assigned his “down” assessment to free-traders — thanks to the fact that both major-party presidential contenders appear to have a distaste for the results of free-trade policies.
One of the strangers aspects of this strange election season has been prominent Republican “supply-sider” types giving a thumbs up to Trump-onomics.
Let me explain just how weird this is. See, Republican policymakers and pundits typically use the phrase “supply side” in a narrower or niche sense than most economists. GOP “supply-side economics” largely focuses on the importance of reducing marginal tax rates as the key policy to boost output and living standards.
Reaganomics, the Laffer Curve, all of that.
Since the Reagan era, supply-side economics has been the driving economic theory within the GOP. One typically doesn’t run for the Republican presidential nomination without proposing a sizable tax cut. …
… And, I would add, it’s been freer global trade and investment which have pulled a billion humans out of extreme poverty since 1980. This only reaffirms and supports the idea that free trade and open markets — what the British called “God’s Diplomacy” in the 19th century — reside at the moral and economic core of any agenda to broadly boost human flourishing and prosperity.
Now, as you may have heard, the Republican presidential candidate views protectionism as a smart, “America First” policy. To the extent Donald Trump has a core economic belief, protectionism might be the one. He’s been talking about it since the 1980s. …
… Of course, Trump has endorsed other policies that supply-siders favor, such as income tax cuts and deregulation, but hasn’t much talked about them until this week. For Trump, protectionism — or what Milton Friedman would call “consumer exploitation” — and zero-sum mercantilism aren’t just sections of his broader policy agenda. Rather, they’re central to his economic cosmology. It’s how the world works, according to Trump.