by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Last week, President-elect Trump intervened to keep the Carrier air-conditioner company from moving part of its operation to Mexico and shutting down its plant in Huntington, Ind. Then, on Tuesday morning, Trump tweeted that aerospace firm Boeing was overcharging to design and build the new Air Force One fleet, adding in a brief interview at Trump Tower that he thought Boeing might be “doing a little bit of a number.” With plenty of American companies looking to lower their bottom line, Trump will no doubt locate a new company of concern next week.
It’s hardly unprecedented, of course. The United States has a long history of federal intervention in the affairs of large companies, and not always for the worse. It’s not impossible (though it’s perhaps improbable) that Trump’s deal with Carrier will end up in the country’s best interest, and, as I wrote recently, it’s not unreasonable to ask whether the federal government is getting the best bang for its buck in defense contracts, the Pentagon not being the most conscientious of spenders.
But it’s not clear yet that President-elect Trump’s interest in Carrier and Boeing is part of a coherent approach to big business. Many firms are considering offshoring jobs. Why was Carrier favored? The government has more than 1 million defense contractors. Why single out Boeing? Will the president intervene with every firm that offshores? Will he squint at every defense contract? Unfortunately, there is the distinct impression that Trump is primarily responding to whichever events happen to penetrate his consciousness.
This would, of course, fit the Trump mode. It was just a few weeks ago that he tweeted about flag-burning because he’d seen protesters burning flags on a Fox News broadcast. And perhaps singling out a few firms is meant to send a message to others. But, at first blush, this does not look like a foundation for a healthy economy. Rather, it looks like arbitrary government intervention.