In his March 4 Outlook essay, “Trump is so obsessed with winning that he might make America lose,” Ian Bremmer made a valid point about President Trump seeing every issue as a zero-sum game, but there is another misconception on the president’s part that is perhaps even more disturbing: his notion that there is a singular American interest on trade and other public policy issues, such as jobs. In fact, there are many divergent interests that should be taken into account in making policy.
That is why, when it comes to public policy, economist Thomas Sowell famously proclaimed that “there are no solutions; there are only trade-offs.” The trade-off in the case of steel quotas in the 1980s was a cost to society of $113,622 per job created or saved, many times the average wage in the steel industry at that time. The inability to recognize trade-offs may be a natural consequence of the president’s lifelong experience in business. A businessman worries first and foremost about his own company’s prospects, not those of his competitors or his customers unless it serves his own interest to do so. Those who make public policy have to be able to weigh the trade-offs across society that inevitably result from their decisions, a condition for which is a willingness to acknowledge that there are trade-offs in the first place.