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The Economist dubs Trump a ‘global risk factor’ — but not for the reasons you might think

Donald Trump gestures as he speaks at an event last December in Portsmouth, N.H. (Mary Schwalm/Reuters)
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In the most recent iteration of its global risk forecast, Economist magazine warns of the threats posed by a number of possible world events. If the Chinese economy were to slow down significantly — which it calls a "high probability" — the effects could be wide-ranging. That's the biggest risk. At the other end of the range is the long-term risk posed by lower investment in oil production. That's a risk, but less of one. And in the middle of the 10-item list, something of a different nature: "Donald Trump wins the U.S. presidential election."

The risk posed by Trump's election is scored a 12, versus the 4 scored by oil investment and the 20 scored by a faltering China. Trump's 12 — described by the magazine as a "moderate probability, high impact" risk — is equal to another item on the list, "The rising threat of jihadi terrorism destabilizes the global economy." That also scores a 12.

To put a fine point on it: Economist sees a Trump election as an equivalent global risk to terrorism destabilizing the world economy.

It's important to remember, though, the lens through which the magazine is looking at this. Trump's a risk not because of the violence that has swirled around his rallies or because of his rapidly evolving policy positions — at least not primarily. He's a risk because he hates free trade.

From the analysis:

In the event of a Trump victory, his hostile attitude to free trade, and alienation of Mexico and China in particular, could escalate rapidly into a trade war — and at the least scupper the Trans-Pacific Partnership between the US and 11 other American and Asian states signed in February 2016. His militaristic tendencies towards the Middle East (and ban on all Muslim travel to the US) would be a potent recruitment tool for jihadi groups, increasing their threat both within the region and beyond.

Problem 1: wrecking trade agreements. Problem 2: vastly increasing the scale of global terror.

The magazine notes that it doesn't think Trump will actually win the general election, given that he'll likely face Hillary Clinton and because of the antipathy many Republicans feel toward his candidacy. Plus he'd have to push most of his policy proposals through Congress, where they would likely not be warmly embraced. But still: He's rated a 12, the same rating that the threat of a rift between China and Japan earned in April 2014.

Looking at the April forecasts from the past five years, a number of things have been rated equally risky as the Trump election in the eyes of the Economist. Last April, it was the threat of our economy stumbling after the Federal Reserve raised interest rates, also a 12. In April 2012, interestingly, the magazine gave a 12 to "tensions over currency manipulation lead[ing] to a rise in protectionism" — which is one of the anti-Trump reasons cited in the new analysis. In each year from 2011 to 2015, Economist included the global risk of "economic upheaval lead[ing] to widespread social and political unrest" — a risk that was seen as less risky than a Trump presidency. It earned a 9.

Economist's inclusion of Trump earned some headlines, as the editors no doubt expected. But of all of the developments over the course of this campaign that might be expected to sway opinions of the Republican front-runner, this is probably the one with the least likely effects. Will Trump voters be dissuaded once they hear that a British magazine catering to a wealthy audience hates the candidate's trade protectionism?

Risk factor of that: zero.