Monday, January 23, 2017

My Trump Nightmare

I've seen a number of posts recently trying to show some humility regarding Trump being a disaster and giving some boilerplate regarding hoping he does make things better. I had my own moment of this right after the election. Most of this seems to hinge on Trump using relatively traditional tools to enact economic and social policy. Now, if Trump backs away from everything he has said, I guess I have no problem with this position.

But, after some reflection, my thoughts are that I hope Trump doesn't succeed. Even in its mildest form a Trump success has the potential for people to associate racism and misogyny with economic success for a long time to come; this isn't a price I'm willing to pay for a bit of GDP growth.

My nightmare scenario comes from remembering that Hitler ushered in a pretty good economy for Germany before military reverses began to bite. While I don't think Trump will be another Hitler this has made me consider that there are a number of polices that are long term destructive that could let Trump meet some of his promises in the short term.

The first scenario would be a policy of explicitly targeting his supporters and screwing over everyone else. This isn't that uncommon in one party states. Given the level of support Trump received in rural areas, small towns, and small cities it seems not impossible for Trump to reallocate funds to benefit these areas at the expense of America's urban areas. Think the Japanese LDP's bridges and highways focused in rural areas.

To make this scenario a bit worse, imagine if Trump funded programs targeted to his supporters through discriminatory taxation policies. On a small scale this could be Federal excise taxes on things urban dwellers are more likely to buy, such as Uber rides, or it probably wouldn't be impossible with a unified House, Senate, and Judiciary to cut off funding for liberal states while leaving it in place for conservative states provided some paper thin justification is given. Simultaneously, we could see an income tax surcharge on immigrants followed by making it more difficult to gain US citizenship. Trump could also balance the budget in the short term by selling off assets such as Federal land. In a real pinch he could even resort to tax farming to recognize multiple years of tax receipts during his time in office, like the city of Chicago did when it gave the rights to collect parking meter fees to a private firm.

To continue my trip into economically successful nightmare, imagine if Trump started using forced labor. Detained immigrants could be leased to companies for below market wages. Prison work programs could be expanded. Welfare programs, including food stamps and Medicaid, could have work requirements added complete with a waiver for the minimum wage for these workers. To add to these, new laws, beginning with anti-press legislation, could be drafted which would provide legal mechanisms to seize companies that offend Trump and sell them off to the highest bidder.

To complete my decent into nightmare, Trump could also embark on a campaign of outright plunder. He has brought up Iraq's oil more than once. I believe it seems obvious to most people that war costs more than it could possibly return, but remember that Trump also seems enthralled by our nuclear weapons. While it is far too costly to hold large population centers, a complete monster could simply nuke these and then embark on ethnic cleansing to clear out any remaining people in the area that has the oil. This would be rather economical and help Trump to hit his impossible growth targets.

Very little of this is stuff that I think has any chance of happening. However, when people write that they hope a racist, misogynist, authoritarian warmonger succeeds economically they should be stopping to consider that such a person will not feel restrained by liberal democratic norms. We have seen many dictators in the third world that managed a few economically successful years as a result of policies that we find highly distasteful. This isn't good for these countries in the long term but if you have no respect for others it is not difficult to post good economic results for a few years by simply taking what others have.

So I hope he fails, if a racist succeeds in his policies it opens the way for the next one to do something worse, this is a script we have seen before. The only path to long term growth lies through inclusiveness but Trump reminds us that we can achieve personal success through hate and divisiveness. I don't want to see this extended into the economic sphere, this creates a world whose horror we haven't seen in decades. Again, none of the above seems likely but I think it needs pointing out that economic success over two or four years can be obtained through policies that are horrible to contemplate; judging Trump solely on economic performance just isn't enough.