Stockman: Trump Is a ‘Hopeless, Mercantilist Protectionist’

welcome back to cheddar business
everyone on Monday saw the Dow suffer
its worst one-day drop since January 3rd
while the SP and the Nasdaq hadn’t seen
a day like it since early December
joining us now is David Stockman he’s
the former director of the Office of
Management and Budget under President
Ronald Reagan he’s also the author of
peak Trump the under a noble swamp and
the fantasy of manga David it’s great to
have you on chatter happy to be here
look a huge sell-off yesterday right
what do you make of the escalation of
the trade war between the US and China
well I think yesterday was a wake-up
call I don’t think this trade war is
going to end anytime soon
you got two fundamentally incompatible
economies you have a policy being driven
by you know a guy who’s you know lost
his lunch I think Trump has no clue what
he’s doing he’s sliding by the seat of
his pants he’s a hopeless protectionist
he doesn’t really know what he wants and
he has no clue how this is going to
unfold so I think we have big trouble
ahead
so why do Republicans the party of
Reagan right why do they seem to be
going along with Trump I think they’re
going along with Trump because the GDP
was had a three in it last quarter and
because we’re at the end of a business
cycle where the whole economy looks good
my point in peak Trump is the peak is
behind us the market peaked last
September at 29 41 we’re now triple peak
I don’t think we’re going back the
economy’s in month 118 of the longest
weakest expansion in history we got
headwinds everywhere we got a federal
debt that’s out of control we have a Fed
that waited way too long to tighten and
now doesn’t know what to do
we have Europe which i think is rolling
over into another recession we have what
I call the red ponzi and China’s
struggling with 40 trillion of debt none
of these things suggest there’s smooth
sailing ahead I think they all suggest
that there’s a huge risk that some kind
of Black Swan or orange Swan is the case
maybe is likely to upset the whole apple
cart you have to assume that recessions
haven’t been outlawed
and what’s going to happen when we get a
recession and the markets way up in the
stratosphere and the federal budget is
already running 1.2 trillion of red ink
and then revenue falls and expenditures
soar we’re gonna have the biggest mess
you can ever imagine so given all these
headwinds that you listed out you said
recessions haven’t been outlawed do you
think this is do you think Trump is
aware of these factors do you think he
feels the pressure to get a trade deal
done with China do you think he’s
capable of getting a deal done that will
be beneficial for US markets no I think
he’s delusional he thinks he has far
more power that he’s far more skilled at
the art of the deal in negotiation that
than he really is and so I don’t think
any deal is going to get done at all and
I think he believes the economy is far
stronger than it actually is because
we’ve had some aberration in the numbers
which aren’t sustainable in other words
we’ve had some inventory build-up and
we’ve had all this turmoil and trade
that pulled imports forward if you
strain that out the economy is growing
at less than 2% a year it’s not a boom
if you actually look at Trump’s first 28
report cards on jobs 200 2,000 per month
Obama‘s last 28 report cards before the
election
220,000 per month there’s been no
acceleration there’s no boom what we
have is an aging business cycle this
company to the end of the road and we’ve
done nothing to get prepared for the
trouble that’s ahead what is the Fed
going to do the interest rate is only
two point four percent and Trump is
complaining its balance sheet is still
almost four trillion what is the fiscal
policy going to do when we’re already
locked in to a borrowing rate at the end
the tippy-top of a business cycle of 1.2
trillion a year we’ve never been in
these circumstances before and so
therefore I think we have to get over
this recency bias which says well last
couple quarters look pretty good so
what’s to worry there’s everything to
worry because the last 30 years have
been taking us to a point of
much speculation in so much debt now
remember we had the financial crisis
people don’t even remember that anymore
but we did have it in 208 and they said
it was a wake-up call we got too much
debt we need to deleverage right well
there was 53 trillion of debt on the US
economy then this is mid 208 public
private business households government
today it’s 72 trillion all right we went
from 53 trillion which was too high to
73 trillion we’ve added 20 trillion debt
that did give us the kind of you know
appearance of a recovery in prosperity
but really we only doubled down and now
we’re gonna face the music in a far
weaker position with a madman in the
Oval Office who’s home alone and what I
mean by that is who are his advisers
nowadays okay I mean Steve minuchin is
an 80-pound political weakling who gives
yes-men a bad name okay Larry Kudlow has
been snorting bullish ethers down on
Wall Street for so long that he’s not
even in the economist Peter Navarro
would rather have a real war with China
rather than a trade war and you know
Wilbur Ross may have a heartbeat or not
I don’t know but he’s he’s as bad in
terms of trade policy as Trump so it’s
all being run by Bob light Howser who I
know from way back when I was on Capitol
Hill and in the Reagan White House in
the early 80s he’s a lifelong swamp
creature who wants to make government
bigger and better and more intrusive and
that’s the kind of trade deal he wants
it’s really for a big business it’s not
for jobs in the economy what do you
think Reagan would think of President
Trump he would be horrified he would be
horrified because Ronald Reagan was a
small government guy he was a free trade
guy he was a free-market guy he believed
in fiscal
you know rectitude and he was not for
hectoring the Fed for easy money when
Volker put on the brakes and interest
rates went into you know double digits
Ronald Reagan said we have to do it we
got to bite the bullet we got to get rid
of this inflation and let the Fed
restore sound money
so everything that Reagan stood for
Trump is really against okay
he is a hopeless mercantilist
protectionist he is the worst big
spender we’ve ever had in the Oval
Office on the Republican side and you
know he’s he’s a bombastic yes I guess I
go back to my earlier question I just
have a trouble understanding why
Republicans are buying into this and why
Republicans Senators and Representatives
don’t stand up for the party and stand
up for the legacy of the Republican
Party against Trump I could give you an
anecdote from my own history in January
1973 I was a young guy on Capitol Hill
Nixon was riding high he had won the
election 44 million – twenty-eight
million wasn’t a squeaker squeaker like
Trump but swept the whole electoral
college he told his whole cabinet you
got to resign I’m so strong I don’t need
you and within 18 months they had him on
the helicopter and sending him out of
town because the economy went down in
the interim in other words as long as
the economy was showing decent numbers
the Republicans kept quiet and when the
economy and the stock market went down
38 percent they were gone we only have
10 seconds for this answer but is there
a challenger to trump you’re behind
right now probably not okay well come
back when there is okay a former
director of the Office of Management and
Budget under President Ronald Reagan
he’s also the author of peak Trump he
under a noble swamp and the fantasy of
Nagas thank you so much for joining us

Trump and the Art of the Flail

Protectionism is worse when it’s erratic and unpredictable.

The “very stable genius” in the Oval Office is, in fact, extremely unstable, in word and deed. That’s not a psychological diagnosis, although you can make that case too. It’s just a straightforward description of his behavior. And his instability is starting to have serious economic consequences.

To see what I mean about Trump’s behavior, just consider his moves on China trade over the past month, which have been so erratic that even those of us who follow this stuff professionally have been having a hard time keeping track.

First, Trump unexpectedly announced plans to greatly expand the range of Chinese goods subject to tariffs. Then he had his officials declare China a currency manipulator — which happens to be one of the few economic sins of which the Chinese are innocent. Then, perhaps fearing the political fallout from the higher prices of many consumer goods from China during the holiday season, which would result from the tariff hikes, he postponed — but didn’t cancel — them.

Wait, there’s more. China, predictably, responded to the new United States tariffs with new tariffs on U.S. imports. Trump, apparently enraged, declared that he would raise his tariffs even higher, and declared that he was ordering U.S. companies to wind down their business in China (which is not something he has the legal authority to do). But at the Group of 7 summit in Biarritz he suggested that he was having “second thoughts,” only to have the White House declare that he actually wished he had raised tariffs even more.

And we’re not quite done. On Monday Trump said that the Chinese had called to indicate a desire to resume trade talks. But there was no confirmation from the Chinese, and Trump has been a notably unreliable narrator of what’s going on in international meetings. For example, he made the highly improbable claim that “World Leaders” (his capitalization) were asking him, “Why does the American media hate your Country so much?”

To repeat, all of this has happened just this month. Now imagine yourself as a business leader trying to make decisions amid this Trumpian chaos.

The truth is that protectionism gets something of an excessively bad rap. Tariffs are taxes on consumers, and they tend to make the economy poorer and less efficient. But even high tariffs don’t necessarily hurt employment, as long they’re stable and predictable: the jobs lost in industries that either rely on imported inputs or depend on access to foreign markets can be offset by job gains in industries that compete with imports.

History is, in fact, full of examples of economies that combined high tariffs with more or less full employment: America in the 1920s, Britain in the 1950s and more.

But unstable, unpredictable trade policy is very different. If your business depends on a smoothly functioning global economy, Trump’s tantrums suggest that you should postpone your investment plans; after all, you may be about to lose access to your export markets, your supply chain or both. It’s also, though, not a good time to invest in import-competing businesses; for all you know, Trump will eventually back down on his threats. So everything gets put on hold — and the economy suffers.

One question you might ask is why Trumpian trade uncertainty is looming so much larger now than it did during the administration’s first two years. Part of the answer, I think, is that until fairly recently most analysts expected the U.S.-China trade conflict to be resolved with minimal disruption. You may recall that after denouncing Nafta as the worst trade deal ever made, Trump essentially surrendered and declared victory, settling for a new deal almost indistinguishable from the old one. Most economic newsletters I get predicted a similar outcome for the U.S. and China.

At the same time, the U.S. economy is slowing as the brief sugar high from the 2017 tax cut wears off. Another leader might engage in some self-reflection. Trump being Trump, he’s blaming others and lashing out. He has declared both Jerome Powell, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, and Xi Jinping, China’s leader, enemies. As it turns out, however, there’s nothing much he can do to bully the Fed, but the quirks of U.S. trade law do allow him to slap new tariffs on China.

Of course, Trump’s trade belligerence is itself contributing to the economic slowdown. So there’s an obvious possibility for a vicious circle. The economy weakens; a flailing Trump lashes out at China, and possibly others (Europe may be next); this further weakens the economy; and so on.

At that point you might expect an intervention from the grown-ups in the room — but there aren’t any. In any other administration Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, a.k.a. the Lego Batman guy, would be considered a ridiculous figure; these days, however, he’s as close as we get to a voice of economic rationality. But whenever he tries to talk sense, as he apparently did over the issue of Chinese currency manipulation, he gets overruled.

Protectionism is bad; erratic protectionism, imposed by an unstable leader with an insecure ego, is worse. But that’s what we’ll have as long as Trump remains in office.

From Trump Boom to Trump Gloom

The smart money thinks Trumponomics is a flop.

Last year, after an earlier stock market swoon brought on by headlines about the U.S.-China trade conflict, I laid out three rules for thinking about such events.

  1. First, the stock market is not the economy.
  2. Second, the stock market is not the economy.
  3. Third, the stock market is not the economy.

But maybe I should add a fourth rule: The bond market sorta kinda is the economy.

An old economists’ joke says that the stock market predicted nine of the last five recessions. Well, an “inverted yield curve” — when interest rates on short-term bonds are higher than on long-term bonds — predicted six of the last six recessions. And a plunge in long-term yields, which are now less than half what they were last fall, has inverted the yield curve once again, with the short-versus-long spread down to roughly where it was in early 2007, on the eve of a disastrous financial crisis and the worst recession since the 1930s.

Neither I nor anyone else is predicting a replay of the 2008 crisis. It’s not even clear whether we’re heading for recession. But the bond market is telling us that the smart money has become very gloomy about the economy’s prospects. Why? The Federal Reserve basically controls short-term rates, but not long-term rates; low long-term yields mean that investors expect a weak economy, which will force the Fed into repeated rate cuts.

So what accounts for this wave of gloom? Much though not all of it is a vote of no confidence in Donald Trump’s economic policies.

You may recall that last year, after a couple of quarters of good economic news, Trump officials were boasting that the 2017 tax cut had laid the foundation for many years of high economic growth.

Since then, however, the data have pretty much confirmed what critics had been saying all along. Yes, the tax cut gave the economy a boost — a “sugar high.Running trillion-dollar deficits will do that. But the boost was temporary. In particular, the promised boom in business investment never materialized. And now the economy has reverted, at best, to its pre-stimulus growth rate.

At the same time, it has become increasingly clear that Trump’s belligerence about foreign trade isn’t a pose; it reflects real conviction. Protectionism seems to be up there with racism as part of the essential Trump. And the realization that he really is a Tariff Man is having a serious dampening effect on business spending, partly because nobody knows just how far he’ll go.

To see how this works, think of the dilemma facing many U.S. manufacturers. Some of them rely heavily on imported parts; they’re not going to invest in the face of actual or threatened tariffs on those imports. Others could potentially compete with imported goods if assured that those imports would face heavy tariffs; but they don’t know whether those tariffs are actually coming, or will endure. So everyone is sitting on piles of cash, waiting to see what an erratic president will do.

Of course, Trump isn’t the only problem here. Other countries have their own troubles — a European recession and a Chinese slowdown look quite likely — and some of these troubles are spilling back to the United States.

But even if Trump and company aren’t the source of all of our economic difficulties, you still want some assurance that they’ll deal effectively with problems as they arise. So what kind of contingency planning is the administration engaged in? What are officials considering doing if the economy does weaken substantially?

The answer, reportedly, is that there is no policy discussion at all, which isn’t surprising when you bear in mind the fact that basically everyone who knows anything about economics left the Trump administration months or years ago. The advisers who remain are busy with high-priority tasks like accusing The Wall Street Journal editorial page of being pro-Chinese.

No, the administration’s only plan if things go wrong seems to be to blame the Fed, whose chairman was selected by … Donald Trump. To be fair, it’s now clear that the Fed was wrong to raise short-term rates last year.

But it’s important to realize that the Fed’s mistake was, essentially, that it placed too much faith in Trumpist economic policies.

  • If the tax cut had actually produced the promised boom,
  • if the trade war hadn’t put a drag on growth,

we wouldn’t have an inverted yield curve; remember, the Fed didn’t cause the plunge in long-term rates, which is what inverted the curve. And the Trump boom wasn’t supposed to be so fragile that a small rise in rates would ruin it.

I might add that blaming the Fed looks to me like a dubious political strategy. How many voters even know what the Fed is or what it does?

Now, a word of caution: Bond markets are telling us that the smart money is gloomy about economic prospects, but the smart money can be wrong. In fact, it has been wrong in the recent past. Investors were clearly far too optimistic last fall, but they may be too pessimistic now.

But pessimistic they are. The bond market, which is the best indicator we have, is declaring that Trumponomics was a flop.

Trump’s Tariffs, Once Seen as Leverage, May Be Here to Stay

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s tariffs were initially seen as a cudgel to force other countries to drop their trade barriers. But they increasingly look like a more permanent tool to shelter American industry, block imports and banish an undesirable trade deficit.

More than two years into the Trump administration, the United States has emerged as a nation with the highest tariff rate among developed countries, outranking Canada, Germany and France, as well as China, Russia and Turkey. And with further trade confrontations brewing, the rate may only increase from here.

On Tuesday, the president continued to praise his trade war with China, saying that the 25 percent tariffs he imposed on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods would benefit the United States, and that he was looking “very strongly” at imposing additional levies on nearly every Chinese import.

I think it’s going to turn out extremely well. We’re in a very strong position,” Mr. Trump said in remarks from the White House lawn. “Our economy is fantastic; theirs is not so good. We’ve gone up trillions and trillions of dollars since the election; they’ve gone way down since my election.”

He called the trade dispute “a little squabble” and suggested he was in no rush to end his fight, though he held out the possibility an agreement could be reached, saying: “They want to make a deal. It could absolutely happen.” Stock markets rebounded on Tuesday, after plunging on Monday as China and the United States resumed their tariff war.

Additional tariffs could be on the way. Mr. Trump faces a Friday deadline to determine whether the United States will proceed with his threat to impose global auto tariffs, a move that has been criticized by car companies and foreign policymakers. And despite complaints by Republican lawmakers and American companies, Mr. Trump’s global metal tariffs remain in place on Canada, Mexico, Europe and other allies.

The trade barriers are putting the United States, previously a steadfast advocate of global free trade, in an unfamiliar position. The country now has the highest overall trade-weighted tariff rate at 4.2 percent, higher than any of the Group of 7 industrialized nations, according to Torsten Slok, the chief economist of Deutsche Bank Securities. That is now more than twice as high as the rate for Canada, Britain, Italy, Germany and France, and higher than most emerging markets, including Russia, Turkey and even China, Mr. Slok said.

[A trade war with China could be long and painful.]

The shift is having consequences for an American economy that is dependent on global trade, including multinational companies like Boeing, General Motors, Apple, Caterpillar and other businesses that source components from abroad and want access to growing markets overseas.

While trade accounts for a smaller percentage of the American economy than in most other countries — just 27 percent in 2017, compared with 38 percent for China and 87 percent for Germany, according to World Bank data — it is still a critical driver of jobs and economic growth.

Mr. Trump and his economic advisers say the administration’s trade policy is aiding the American economy, companies and consumers. And despite the tough approach, the administration continues to insist its goal is to strike trade agreements that give American businesses better trade terms overseas.

At a briefing last week, Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, praised the president’s trade policies for helping economic growth thus far and said the administration supports “free and fair reciprocal trade.”

But if the goal really is freer trade, the administration has never been further from achieving that goal than it is today, said Chad Bown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

“They’re heading in the opposite direction,” Mr. Bown said.

Beyond an update to the United States agreement with South Korea, no other free trade deals have been finalized. Mr. Trump’s revisions to the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico still await passage in Congress, while trade talks with the European Union and Japan have been troubled from the start, with governments squabbling over the scope of the agreement.

Mr. Trump came into office fiercely critical of the failure of past administrations and global bodies like the World Trade Organization for failing to police China’s unfair trade practices. He withdrew the United States from multilateral efforts like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multicountry trade deal negotiated by President Barack Obama, and the Paris climate accord.

That shift has created an opening for other countries to step forward as global leaders, including Europe, Japan and China, despite its position as one of the world’s most controversial economic actors. On Tuesday, China submitted its proposals for overhauling the World Trade Organization, including broadening the privileges of developing countries, a status that China claims for itself.

Advocates of free trade fear that governments in India, China, South Africa and elsewhere might find Mr. Trump’s model of protectionism appealing and erect even higher barriers to foreign companies.

While the United States and China could still strike a trade deal that would roll back many of their tariffs, that likelihood has appeared to diminish in recent weeks.

Progress toward a deal came to a sudden halt this month when China backtracked on certain commitments and Mr. Trump threatened to move ahead with higher tariffs.

“We had a deal that was very close, and then they broke it,” he said on Tuesday.

The two sides continue to disagree over whether the deal’s provisions must be enshrined in China’s laws. But they are also arguing over Mr. Trump’s tariffs, which were intended to prod the Chinese to agree to more favorable trade terms for the United States. China insists those tariffs must come off once a deal is reached, but the Trump administration wants some to remain in place, to ensure China abides by its commitments.

In an interview on Tuesday on CNBC, Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, supported the administration’s tactics.

“Ideally, you wouldn’t have tariffs,” he said. But the United States already faces “all kinds of impediments” to gaining access to the Chinese marketplace, including tariffs, subsidization of industries and theft of intellectual property.

“We already have a series of hundreds of billions of dollars of Chinese penalties against the United States which are threatening our long-term viability,” Mr. Rubio said.

Canada and Mexico have repeatedly pressed the administration to lift its tariffs on steel and aluminum now that negotiations over the Nafta revision are done. The three countries signed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement in November, but the pact awaits passage in all three legislatures.

The Trump administration still views the tariffs as a source of leverage in case it needs to demand final changes to the deal from Canada and Mexico. But Canadian and Mexican officials — as well as many in Congress — say the levies are actually an impediment because all three legislatures will refuse to finalize the deal while they are in place.

A similar standoff could soon unfold with the European Union, which Mr. Trump has accused of being a “brutal trading partner” and being “tougher than China.”

The president, who wants Europe to open its markets to American farmers and companies, has already imposed tariffs on European metals and is threatening to levy a 25 percent tax on imports of European cars and car parts if the bloc does not give the United States better trade terms.

Europe has absorbed Mr. Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs without too much damage. But car tariffs would strike the most important industry in Germany, which has the Continent’s biggest economy. European officials would regard car tariffs as a breach of a truce they worked out last year with Mr. Trump, and they have said they would refuse to negotiate as long as car tariffs were in place.

Cecilia Malmstrom, the European commissioner for trade, repeated on Monday that the European Union had prepared a list of American products worth $22.5 billion — including ketchup, suitcases and tractors — that would face immediate retaliatory tariffs.

“We’re prepared for the worst,” Ms. Malmstrom said in an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper in Germany.

European officials still hold out hope that Mr. Trump will see them as allies and not geopolitical rivals like the Chinese. And he could ultimately delay the decision and extend the Friday deadline for countries that are in trade talks with the United States.

But the president shows no signs of backing away from his stance that tariffs have helped the United States.

On Tuesday morning, Mr. Trump posted on Twitter that tariffs had rebuilt America’s steel industry and were encouraging companies to leave China, making it “more competitive” for buyers in the United States.

“China buys MUCH less from us than we buy from them, by almost 500 Billion Dollars, so we are in a fantastic position,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “Make your product at home in the USA and there is no Tariff.”