Refurbishing The Trump Economics Team

Refurbishing The Trump Economics Team

Rumors are floating on the internet that NEC Chair Lawrence Kudlow is looking for new people to join the team advising President Trump on economics.  Of course, the obvious place to start would be with him, a non-economist, although he has played one on TV a lot, who also has one of the worst documented forecasting records around, poo-pooing both the housing bubble and the early signs of the Great Recession a decade ago, along with forecasting a hyper-inflation out of Obama fiscal policy, although one must grant that he later admitted he was wrong on that one.  He can also be credited with mocking Trump’s proposed tariffs, until he was appointed to his current position, where he  now says all this will lead to improved trade deals.  We shall see.  Anyway, it might be worth reviewing the current troops, probably the sorriest collection of economic advisers any president has ever assembled.

We have Treasury Secretary Mnuchin.  Another non-economist, he can claim to be a billionaire and have a trophy wife, which certainly impresses Trump.  He has supported the Trump tax plan along with clearly flawed projections.  However, on trade, like Kudlow, he looks better than the three actually handling trade policies, and has had shouting matches in front of Chinese negotiators with Peter Navarro, an actual PhD economist out of Harvard, long at UC-Irvine, who now is chief adviser on trade.  Some decades ago he wrote not-too bad articles and books on various topics, but has not had an academic article in over two decades, not that this is the end of the world.  What is closer to that is that he has since written books  not only calling for trade war with China, but even outright war.  This is what caught Trump’s eye, and, of course, he has advocated harder lines than Mnuchin in those reported screaming matches.

I must note at this point my extreme annoyance that the media has completely dropped the ball on China openly bribing Trump with a half billion dollar payment to his organization in Jakarta three days before he announced that we must save jobs at certified national security threat Chinese company TZE.  I see references to our deal with them, but the press simply never mentions this massive payment to Trump, surely the largest presidential bribe in history, if not to any US government official ever, although maybe in real terms some of those payments in the Grant and Harding admins were larger. But they were not to the presidents, and they all came from domestic bribers, not involving national security threats.

Also on trade we have none-economist Wilbur Ross.  He comes from the steel industry, enjoying the first round of protection from Trump tariffs.

The we have non-economist Trade Representative, Attorney Robert Lighthizer.  Now he does have some experience, having been Deputy Trade Rep in 1983-85 when Reagan had his round of trade protectionism, mostly directed at Japan.  Lighthizer notes that when defending current policy, but his firm has also supported the steel industry in trade issues.  He has become entrenched in his full hawk position since leaving the Reagan admin.

We get a slightly brighter light if we look at powerless CEA Chair Kevin Hassett, another actual PhD economist formerly at the Heritage Foundation.  People tell me that he is actually a nice guy personally, and mostly not just batshit insane or incompetent.  OTOH, he was coauthor in 1999 with James Glassman of that insightful best selling book, _Dow,36000!_.  Yes, still waiting on that one.

One area where somehow Trump seems to have been more cautious is the Fed.  Of course he should have reappointed Janet Yellen as Chair, but she had to go as an Obama person, not to mention a short woman.  Jerome Powell is more central casting and a Republican.  While not an actual economist, he is like Hassett not too unreasonable, “Janet Yellen lite,” and indeed probably better than some of the gold bugs and general loonies that some GOP Congresspeople were pushing.  Maybe that is his real estate background wanting someone who will not make interest rates go blooey all of a sudden.

I close by noting that among those Kudlow is reportedly mumbling about bringing on board as something or other, the only name I recognized was Stephen Moore, who has been at Heritage at times, not sure he is now.  Last I heard out of him his one suggestion of what needs to be done, and supposedly this is being seriously vetted by some on the current team as well as some in Congress, is more tax cuts for the rich.  Really.  Clearly at the top of our needs.

Oh, I suppose one could also list non-economist Mick Mulvaney, currently running both the budget shop while taking apart the consumer protection agency. But then he is rumored to be possibly about to become Chief of Staff replacing John Kelly.  Oh goody.  What a crew.

Barkley Rosser