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Samizdata quote of the day

Admittedly it’s a low bar, but Trump is without a doubt the most conservative and most libertarian present of my lifetime, notwithstanding that he’s not really a conservative or a libertarian by instinct.

Glenn Reynolds

24 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • I think this is why the American Right is fracturing.

    Most of the conservative-aligned coalition who oppose Trump cite his pushing for tariffs as an intellectual justification for their opposition. However, while taxing goods in an attempt to stop them from crossing international boundaries is, indeed, anti-market, it’s still just one aspect out of many.

    Most of the conservative-aligned coalition who support Trump remember that the last Republican President gave us the “Troubled Asset Relief Program” (bank bailout), and the Republican-majority congress that didn’t repeal ObamaCare managed to renew the Export-Import Bank. Likewise, the last Republican candidate for president was famous for increasing the activity of his state in its healthcare market.

    Now, most of the conservative-aligned coalition who oppose Trump for tariffs also denounced TARP and RomneyCare, and agree that those who supported them are, at best, fools. However, TARP ended up becoming national law, and RomneyCare was Massachusetts law. Likewise, many other anti-market policies remain in place or gained ground. Meanwhile, conservative pundits celebrated free international trade agreements (or, at least, agreements that claimed to be free-trade; I confess I haven’t audited them to see just how “free” they really are).

    Eventually, significant cohorts in the conservative coalition began to suspect that a laser-like focus on international trade was actually hurting the free market in politics; since pro-market activists were ineffective on so many other fronts, supporters of socialism and cronyism could advance on those fronts as much as they wanted and then give up a pitiable concession on international trade. Of course, that’s the nicest conclusion. Many more cohorts concluded that the conservative coalition members who were denouncing tariffs simply never cared about free markets in the first place; they just wanted the government to not interfere with their business deals (unless, of course, it meant bailing out their troubled loans or lowering their borrowing rates).

    Furthermore, I’ve been calling it a conservative coalition, not a free market coalition. Getting enough support for free market policies requires convincing people that free markets are in their interest, even if they don’t particularly care much if a market is free in itself. This is true of all political philosophies, but a special challenge for free markets, since

    A. A genuinely free market won’t allow us to bribe voters to support us

    B. Supporting a free market means loosening control over schools, churches, and culture-producing institutions in general, which means they can be free to denounce markets, or even controlled by organizations opposed to them

    Trump’s nationalism appeals to the huge swaths of the conservative coalition that saw the free market as a means to an end (American Greatness, because we had a strong and innovative economy, because we didn’t have bureaucrats interfering with producers).

    Unfortunately, the conservative-aligned coalition who oppose Trump did a great deal of highlighting problems caused by tariffs and the fear thereof, and an even greater deal of accusing him of racism and/or collusion with Putin on fairly tenuous evidence. Had they instead audited the various regulations that Trump was repealing/refusing to institute/enforce, they might have been able to argue that he was being selective about the regulations to the benefit of his cronies and the detriment of people without connections… provided, of course, that he actually was being so selective; I haven’t studied the rules in question, so I don’t know if there’s a chance this conclusion is even plausible, let alone valid.

    Thus, while I assert that the American Right’s alliance around (at least pretending) the support of free markets is fracturing under Trump, I don’t think a genuine supporter of free markets can say the fracture is Trump’s fault.

  • Nico

    @CayleyGraph: It is now abundantly clear that Trump is not pro-tariffs except as a ploy via which to get lower tariffs for U.S. goods and services. He appears to be trying to balance trade, which would have the salubrious effect of also balancing the budget. He’s helping to improve health care as a market by adding pricing signalling to it (forcing hospitals to publish prices). And so on.

    I think Trump is the most libertarian President we’ve seen in a long time.

  • Albion's Blue Front Door

    I have said before that Trump is first and foremost a business man, and sees the running of a nation as a business. Most politicians (I’d say all but there must be one who isn’t so crass) and therefore presidents/prime ministers see running a country as either a toy for the elite in dusty corridors or an intellectual game to ‘score points’ in debates, perhaps to garner praise in a dull-witted media. In other words, the actual result of their actions is of little concern to them.

    If Trump does see running a nation–at least as far as he is able given the entrenched attitudes of the ‘administrators’–as a business he has to try to at least not make a loss. That has to be pretty revolutionary in the west these days.

  • Runcie Balspune

    I’d have to agree with Nico, I followed Scott Adams’ (Dilbert) analysis of Trump from when he was running for the candidacy, and he has constantly done the “pace and lead” strategy, the reason he is successful for the time being is because none of the established politicos have found a way to counter it.

    Trump has offered zero tariffs on many occasions, even bringing it to the G7 table. Whether he is a libertarian by nature or not, there is only so much he can do to convince others and forge an agreement, he is playing the long game, strange for someone who traditionally has less than a decade to play with, actually quite a breath of fresh air.

    I am trying to find a precedent to his tactics, we’ve always viewed the US as flip-flopping between interventionist and non-interventionist, here is someone who is neither, but just asks “what’s in it for us?”.

    Sounds strangely libertarian if you ask me.

  • Snorri Godhi

    The good professor’s claim might be correct, but it seems premature to me, considering that Glenn Reynolds’s lifetime includes the Reagan years. And that is not a low bar!

  • SteveD

    It is now abundantly clear that Trump is not pro-tariffs except as a ploy via which to get lower tariffs for U.S. goods and services.

    Given that Trump has been in favor of tariffs his entire adult life and has essentially shouted his support for them from the mountaintops it would seem that his offer of zero tariffs is a bluff. But if they call it, his ego might force him to take the deal. However, consider that NAFTA was essentially a zero (or almost zero) tariffs deal and Trump called it ‘one of the worst deals ever made’.

  • pete

    Libertarians like to leave people to their own devices to run their own lives.

    Trump has made progress in this regard by saying that the US will no longer bankroll the defence of affluent European countries.

    And by reducing US involvement in the UN.

  • Paul Marks

    On trade President Trump wants to open the markets of other nations to American goods – to think he is a Protectionist in the Patrick Buchanan sense is wrong.

    So SteveD is partly right – accept that Donald Trump always said what I have just typed. As far as I know he has never said “I want tariffs – even if other countries do open their markets to American goods”, but I could be mistaken (after all I took no notice of the man before 2016 – other than to see him as somewhat of a joke figure, MY MISTAKE).

    Glenn Reynolds appears to have a good case.

    President Trump has cut taxes, and he has deregulated (to some extent) and he has not introduced any new “entitlements” (unlike Obama, or Bush 43 or Bill Clinton, SCHIP, or Bush 41).

    So Donald Trump is easily the least collectivist President since Ronald Reagan.

    Donald Trump has utterly failed to roll back GOVERNMENT SPENDING (he has introduced no new entitlements – but the existing ones have kept growing as they have since the 1960s), but then Ronald Reagan failed as this as well.

    The West (not “just” the United States – all of the Western powers) is doomed to bankruptcy, in fact even if not in legal theory, Donald Trump has not prevented that – but perhaps no one can prevent it.

    After all the “orthodox conservative” Republicans who have controlled Congress for years (up to today when they lost the House) have done NOTHING to roll back the “Entitlement State”.

  • RRS

    Can someone tell us what else is on offer other than what is currently actually being implemented by the “Trump” administration?

  • Eric

    The good professor’s claim might be correct, but it seems premature to me, considering that Glenn Reynolds’s lifetime includes the Reagan years. And that is not a low bar!

    Most American conservatives remember Reagan fondly, but more for his ability to re-invigorate the country after years of Carter’s “malaise” than for policies. He made some terrible blunders, from trading weapons to Iran for hostages, to posting US marines as peacekeepers in a war zone, to the being the first president to incur large peacetime deficits.

  • pete

    I remember President Reagan implementing huge tariffs on large foreign motorbikes to ensure the survival of Harley Davidson.

  • Fraser Orr

    So I think I agree with him, but let’s be clear: saying Trump is the most conservative or libertarian president in a lifetime isn’t necessarily saying much. One might well be right by also saying that Susie is the most chaste girl in the whorehouse. Lovely as Susie might be, chaste is a word that one can only use relatively, perhaps even ironically, with respect to her.

    It’s not like Trump has done anything like, you know, reduce government spending or anything like that. When it comes to politicians I am reminded of the phrase “be thankful for small mercies.”

  • Jacob

    Reagan also banned Japanese car imports in order to support the weak US auto industry. (He forced the Japanese to assemble their cars in the US).

  • Mr Ed

    It’s not like Trump has done anything like, you know, reduce government spending or anything like that.

    He has put two Constitutionalist justice on the Supreme Court, that is a hell of a difference. He has also changed the narrative and openly defied the Student Union antics of the Left.

    More than 12 years of Bushes achieved. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

  • Paul Marks

    The United States Federal budget was in deficit from 1970 onwards – in spite of Presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter allowing the American military to run down (the state of it by the late 1970s was utterly awful).

    Under President Reagan tax revenue from “the rich” went UP – but government spending went up even faster.

    No President since Calvin Coolidge has really controlled domestic spending – and no President since Warren Harding has dramatically cut domestic spending. However, the so called “do nothing Congress” elected after World War II refused to continue a lot of 1930s statism (“Food Stamps” and so on did not come back till the 1960s).

    So the period of the “Do Nothing Congress” in the late 1940s is the last period good American governance – and (like Warren Harding’s Administration) is hated and lied about by establishment “historians”.

    By the way – I found out the other day that the Finance Minister of West Germany in the 1950s (a Bavarian) was OPPOSED by Chancellor Konrad Adenauer – so like President Clinton after the Congressional election of 1994,. Chancellor Adenauer actually gets the credit for policies he was AGAINST.

    History is full of such ironies.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Trump is nowhere near as libertarian as any other US president has been in my lifetime, and I’m including Richard Nixon. I would say that the top of the list is probably Reagan, followed by Carter (yes, Carter, really, most people have no idea how good his policies were.) I’d rank Trump at the very very bottom, substantially trailing Nixon who would come in behind nearly everyone but Trump. Lyndon Johnson and Jerry Ford are ahead of Nixon in the rankings, though by less than most would imagine.

    I suppose one can engage in revisionism and pretend that Trump is something he isn’t because one would like him to be that thing, but he’s pretty much an unmitigated disaster on nearly every axis I can name. His economic policies, his social policies, all of them are terrible. It is true that he outrages my enemies, and that this is sometimes entertaining, but the enemy of my enemy can still be my enemy.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Criticism of Reagan and Trump in the comments, ranges from one-sided to delusional (in my arrogant opinion).
    Instead of detailed rebuttals, however, i prefer to make a list of my favorite Presidents:
    John Adams*
    Abraham Lincoln
    Warren Harding
    Calvin Coolidge
    Ronald Reagan
    Donald Trump…provisionally: 2 to 6 years to go.

    * last month i read parts of his Defense of the Constitutions of the United States of America, and was amazed at his intellect and erudition; and he was the 1st President who did not own slaves.

    Honorable mentions:
    the Founding Fathers generation: flawed because slave-owners
    John Quincy Adams (2nd President who did not own slaves)
    Grover Cleveland
    Harry Truman: arguably the greatest President, because, without him, we might be speaking Russian. I disagree with his political philosophy, however.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Snorri, not a bad list at all. But why doesn’t your opinion on Truman also hold for FDR, without whom we might be speaking German?

    That’s a good comment, by the way. Makes me think. 🙂

  • Snorri Godhi

    Julie: I should have said that my list is only tentative, since i know little about some of those guys, and even less about some other Presidents … but if i can’t even remember their names, then they cannot have accomplished much, can they?

    As for FDR, i fear that his record was mostly if not entirely negative before the war; that probably any other President would have gone to war after Pearl Harbor; and that he probably made too many concessions to Stalin. None of this applies to Truman.

    Another thing about FDR: he had a bond of reciprocal admiration with Mussolini until the latter invaded Ethiopia … and then, in 1944, FDR started the tradition of accusing the Republicans of being fascists! (But i admit that Truman kept up this tradition.)

  • As for FDR, I fear that his record was mostly if not entirely negative before the war; that probably any other President would have gone to war after Pearl Harbor; and that he probably made too many concessions to Stalin. None of this applies to Truman. (Snorri Godhi, January 5, 2019 at 8:54 am)

    I generally agree with your points regarding FDR before the 1939 outbreak of war, and that any president would have gone to war after Pearl harbour (after which Hitler also declared war on the US), but FDR did a fair amount to support the UK between the start of WWII and Pearl Harbour – would a different president have managed to get lend-lease passed? He also greatly outperformed Woodrow Wilson (admittedly, a very low bar) in gearing up the US for war, cooperating with allies, etc. There is much room for criticism and debate on FDR in those areas but the contrast with the wretched Wilson is huge, and there is also scope for saying FDR actually did well (not just better than Wilson) in some areas.

    Your Stalin point has much content but is often discussed from the point of view of people who know what is going to happen: who know the atom bomb will work late in the war; who know Stalin will fail to make a Brest-Litovsk-style peace with Hitler early in the war. I think there is much scope for criticism of FDR re Stalin after these points are noted, but they need to be incorporated into any assessment.

    Another thing about FDR: he had a bond of reciprocal admiration with Mussolini until the latter invaded Ethiopia

    FDR was not alone in praising and/or tolerating Mussolini in his early years. This article explains well why that was (though I would agree – as part of generally agreeing with you about FDR before the war – that his early-30s interest in Italian fascism has a sinister undertone).

  • Snorri Godhi

    Niall: if you are in broad agreement with what i said about FDR, then i am more than satisfied.
    The problem with assessing FDR, as i see it, is that the good and the bad are difficult to compare, like apples+oranges; or more aptly, like the good and the bad in Pinochet.

    As for Wilson, i would rate him as the worst US President to date. In fact, the reason i rate Harding and Coolidge so high is that they undid the damage done by Wilson: in philosophy, i guess that they were similar to Cleveland. (Although Cleveland found support in a very different set of States; because he had a D after his name?)

    Your Stalin point has much content but is often discussed from the point of view of people who know what is going to happen

    Very good point; i implicitly admitted it with that second “probably” in my previous comment 😉 but it is good to make it explicit.

    I first found David Ramsay Steele’s essay about 10 years ago, but it is very much worth (re)reading.
    I think that there is no mystery as to why FDR found Mussolini a congenial figure, though: they belonged to the same philosophical tradition; a tradition that, sadly, has largely replaced that to which John Adams belonged.

  • Paul Marks

    “and I am including Richard Nixon”.

    So President Nixon, who introduced general wage and price controls (as well as the EPA – and on and), was more pro liberty in his policies than Donald Trump.

    Mr Ed once called you a “contrarian” Perry M. – I can think of other words, but “utterly wrong” will do.

    As for denouncing lower taxes and deregulation as an “utter disaster” and “terrible” – well that is very nice Perry M.

    No doubt you think the same of the Criminal Justice Reform Act – as you denounced the “social” as well as the “economic” policies.

  • Eric

    The idea Trump is less libertarian than the last guy, who airily dismissed the whole idea of private property by assuming “you didn’t build that” and “there comes a point at which you have enough money” beggars belief.

  • Nico

    @Paul Marks: The U.S. government has been in deficit since the end of the gold standard for international trade. International trade used to be settled in gold, but now it’s settled in dollars. The whole system is stacked so the U.S. imports more than it exports. That trade deficit necessarily means there has to be a budget deficit of similar magnitude as well for the simple reason that most of the nations that count on exporting more forever also have financial repression, so their central banks end up holding all those dollars. Central banks need simple and safe dollar denominated assets to buy with those dollars, so they buy U.S. treasuries.

    If the U.S. started running a budget surplus then those central banks would have to start buying U.S. companies, corporate bonds, munis, land, houses, …, and there would be a political backlash against that in the U.S. after a while. Keeping up those trade surpluses would get difficult. They’d have to relax financial repression and let their citizens invest in dollar-denominated assets, or they’d have to hold dollars, or they’d have to let trade balance out.

    Congress, meanwhile, is addicted to the cheap money made possible by the mercantilist nature of today’s international trade setup, and so it sees to it that the U.S. continues to have a massive budget deficit, which permits a massive trade deficit. The American people are also addicted to this deficit spending, and the cheap imports that go with it.

    If Trump succeeds at balancing trade, he will succeed at balancing the budget as well. The only other way to achieve either result would be for China et. al. to reach the point in their development where they are more interested in consuming than in facilitating consumption in the U.S. That surely will eventually happen, so it’s only a matter of time. I suspect it will be less disruptive to have this happen sooner than later.

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