Can A President Trump Follow His Signature Agenda?

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This has been the first presidential election in living memory where it was difficult to cast a vote. As the voting numbers show, many stayed away.

Better the devil you know … goes the adage. The choice between ‘crooked’ Hillary and, well, the Donald … He who thumbed his nose at the establishment, was labeled a neo-Nazi, was shunned by the press and the leadership of both parties, offered magic potions in lieu of policy and spent the least amount of money (adjusted for inflation, population growth and income growth) since Bob Dole in 1996.

Astute observers tell us it is rare for a party holding the presidency for eight years to repeat. The voters want a change. Change is what the current incumbent promised them; instead it was more of the same. So it was Donald Trump, warts and all, including a wall. He still wants to build a wall although it now includes a part fence! Hillary is no long labeled ‘crooked’ but a ‘very strong and very smart woman’. And he is rethinking Obamacare. Incumbency is so different from candidacy.

Of concern to the world is the future of trade policy, and for US allies the threat to military alliances. President Obama has met with President-elect Trump and discussed the issues facing the US. That the president is now off to Europe implies an effort to prepare allies for the new administration — the telephone would have been adequate for reassurances. Europe is not without strengths, however, and can stand for itself in negotiations with the Trump administration.

On the issue of trade with China, the US cannot unilaterally raise tariff rates above the bound rate. If it does, China can seek resolution through WTO (World Trade Organization) dispute settlement process. The right to retaliate or to receive lower tariffs on other goods exported to the US are possible eventualities. Retaliation of course means trade war and very negative economic consequences defeating Trump’s original objective.

China also holds $1.185 trillion dollars of US government debt (as of August 2016) and the threat to unload it in untimely fashion damaging the dollar could be the trump card trumping Mr. Trump.

On immigration, it is worth noting according to Pew Research Center figures that in the period 2009 – 2014 immigration from the US to Mexico exceeded the numbers from Mexico to the US, and the same was true for the period 2005-2010 but only just. The largest influx of Mexicans occurred in the period after NAFTA from 1995-2000 when almost three million came to the US. The reason was straightforward: cheap US grain exports allowed through NAFTA bankrupted small Mexican farmers who had no choice but to leave.

The commonly held belief that immigrants hold down the wages of native workers is also doubtful. The economic literature is mixed although a paper by Marco Manacorda, Alan Manning and Jonathan Wadsworth of the London School of Economics found that economic migrants to the UK have little effect on natives’ jobs or wages. New arrivals apparently affect the pay of recent immigrants. A President Trump may build a wall wasting $40-60 billion dollars, but for what?

As with most things in life, the reality within is much more complex than the view from outside. Mr. Trump might find his hands are tied for his signature issues.
Dr Arshad M Khan (http://ofthisandthat.org/index.html) is a former Professor. A frequent contributor to the print and electronic media, his work has been quoted in the U.S. Congress and published in the Congressional Record.

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