The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Economists blasting Trump — and the right as a whole

Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Las Vegas on Sunday. (John Locher/Associated Press)

The Wall Street Journal reports:

A group of 370 economists, including eight Nobel laureates in economics, have signed a letter warning against the election of Republican nominee Donald Trump, calling him a “dangerous, destructive choice” for the country. …
The letter is notable because it is less partisan or ideological than such quadrennial exercises, and instead takes issue with Mr. Trump’s history of promoting debunked falsehoods.

The letter, however, does not ridicule only Trump. The ideas the economists debunk have become popular on both the right and the left:

[Trump] has misled voters in states like Ohio and Michigan by asserting that the renegotiation of NAFTA or the imposition of tariffs on China would substantially increase employment in manufacturing. In fact, manufacturing’s share of employment has been declining since the 1970s and is mostly related to automation, not trade.
He claims to champion former manufacturing workers, but has no plan to assist their transition to well-compensated service sector positions. Instead, he has diverted the policy discussion to options that ignore both the reality of technological progress and the benefits of international trade.
He has misled the public by asserting that U.S. manufacturing has declined. The location and product composition of manufacturing has changed, but the level of output has more than doubled in the U.S. since the 1980s.
He has falsely suggested that trade is zero-sum and that the “toughness” of negotiators primarily drives trade deficits.

Republicans used to reject trade know-nothingism; now it’s an article of faith in a party given over to populism, nativism and self-delusion.

Follow Jennifer Rubin's opinionsFollow

The economists have other complaints about Trump that apply equally to many others in the GOP: “He uses immigration as a red herring to mislead voters about issues of economic importance, such as the stagnation of wages for households with low levels of education. Several forces are responsible for this, but immigration appears to play only a modest role. Focusing the dialogue on this channel, rather than more substantive channels, such as automation, diverts the public debate to unproductive policy options.” It also overlooks the key role of immigrants in innovation, job growth and reducing the debt (because most are young and therefore help pay for retirees).

And the economists rap Trump for being utterly unconcerned with the national debt. “He claims he will eliminate the fiscal deficit, but has proposed a plan that would decrease tax revenue by $2.6 to $5.9 trillion over the next decade according to the non-partisan Tax Foundation.” That takes dead aim at a number of supply-side cranks who worship at the altar of marginal tax rates to the exclusion of virtually every other economic concern. Far too many “respectable” Republicans have cheered Trump’s ridiculous tax plan.

In short, the economic gurus confirm what we’ve been arguing for years. It is not just Trump, but also the right as a whole that has too often resorted to “magical thinking and conspiracy theories over sober assessments of feasible economic policy options.” In the right-wing media bubble, magical thinking becomes conventional wisdom. The line between charlatan and “respected Republican” gets erased. Too few people who know better are willing to challenge the mob. Let’s face it: Trump never would have done as well as he did had not ground been eroded by non-facts, ignorance and wishful thinking.

There are genuine policy differences between the right and the left — and within the right itself — but those are distinct from well-established economic realities (e.g. tax cuts do not pay for themselves; legal immigration is important for our sustained growth and technological advantage). If the right wants to recover from Trump, it first has to discard the nonsense on which he based his campaign.