Evaluating the Hundred-Day Plan

Trump has apparently unveiled a list of twenty-eight promises he will fulfill in his first three months in office.  On the whole it’s much better than I expected; only a handful of things I disagreed with, doubling-down on earlier promises instead of wriggling out, relatively few vague gestures, and specifics on what Trump plans to accomplish through executive action versus through acts of Congress. My thoughts below.

1/ Congressional term limits

Term limits are a bad idea.  First, congress-critters rely on private largesse in at least three ways: they need money to run campaigns, they need money to research policy, and they need money to live off of (during and after their term).  With more frequent competitive elections, they will need more campaign donations.  With less personal and institutional experience, they will need more assistance evaluating the likely consequences of the choices they face.  (This assistance will likely be outsourced to lobbyists and private think-tanks.  Would  publicly-funded research staff help? Only if you love technocracy.)  The one advantage of term-limits, from the  point of view of corruption, is that a congress-critter can probably return to his old life and career after one or two terms, so he has less reason to do favors for potential future employers.  (He also has less time to do such favors, which could make the quid pro quo impossible… or it could force them to speed up the pace of corruption to “earn” a job within one or two terms.)  Against this, you take away one of the main motives congress-critters have to please their constituents: their hope of re-election.

My impression is that when state governments tried legislative term limits in the 1990s it was a mess.  Maybe more recent analyses say otherwise.  Anyway, proposing a Constitutional amendment doesn’t cost anything, so there’s no reason not to play around with the theatrics of it, but this isn’t something you should die in a ditch for. If you think a major problem with Congress is length of tenure, we need to work on finding challengers.

 

2/ Federal hiring freeze

This is not a good idea as a general principle, because there is a sort of Gresham’s Law in effect: the best civil servants can most easily find jobs in the private sector, so over time a bureaucracy which isn’t hiring any new whiz-kids is going to be filled exclusively with incompetents. (By the way, not only can the best hires find such jobs, they often more-or-less plan to spend a few years serving their country before moving on to a salary that can support a family.) However, given the specific nature of The Swamp, I approve wholeheartedly.  Federal bureaucracy is not only too large/too incompetent, but it is filled with bolsheviks.  That means that any program of attrition will mostly get rid of civil servants who are politically undesirable; and, paired with an attempt to demoralize Trump’s opponents in DC over their collaboration with his policies, it could leave the bureaucracies much more conservative than when they started.  At that point they can start re-hiring for a workplace much more friendly to conservative applicants.  And on top of this, I suspect Trump knows exactly how to combine workforce attrition with gain.

3/ For every new regulation, two existing regulations eliminated

Pretty brilliant.  This not only gets at the heart of the rot afflicting our country (regulations matter more than most understand, probably because the GOPe always frames “fewer regulations” as an extension of “lower taxes”) but gives Trump and his congressional allies (if he has any, oy vey) a coordination point that will be tactically very important in legislative negotiations and in propaganda.

4/ Five year-ban on becoming a lobbyists after leaving a top government job

I will be relatively surprised if they manage this!  But I’m bullish on the advantages.  The nature of the game of tit-for-tat that politicians and their pimps play is that it works very well when little favors and promises are exchanged back and forth on a regular basis, but starts to fall apart if there is a big gap.  If for five years after leaving office the politician has no favors to give, but the pimp can’t hire him yet, the whole patchwork of corruption becomes shaky.

The one drawback is that, after many years in Washington DC, “lobbyist” is the one job for which you are arguably better qualified than the other candidates. There are many, many ways for special interests to employ their pets in firms that involve no lobbying; it’s more openly corrupt, but at least it breaks down the network in which a retired politician immediately converts his network of connections toward pimping and pandering.

5/ Lifetime ban on White House officials lobbying for foreigners

6/ Complete ban on foreign lobbyists raising money for American elections.

Can’t think of any real disadvantage.

7/ Announce intention to renegotiate NAFTA or withdraw from the deal under Article 2205.

I’ve always been much more bullish on ending immigration than on ending trade. Many of the losses from trade are front-loaded; first the formerly-protected industries collapse, then the resources are gradually redirected to comparatively more efficient sectors.  Once you inflict the collapse on the American economy, you can’t recoup those losses quickly, if ever.  Contrast immigration, where every new immigrant is driving down the wages of the natives he competes with (never mind the others costs…).  To the extent I’m interested in protectionism, my priorities are: (i) No new trade agreements that aren’t massively beneficial to the USA, (ii) cut back any trade agreements that seem to be inextricably bound up with immigration flows (I’m looking at you, Eurozone), and (iii) maximize domestic investment.  (The fallout from normalizing our trade relations with China was not because Chinese workers are cheaper — they are, but they are also much less efficient — but that investors who had been uncertain the future profitability of investments in China started shifting capital out of the US after the uncertainties disappeared.)

However, part of Trump’s schtick has always been that the US, in effect, doesn’t know when to fold, and by playing out every single hand we’re dealt instead of walking away from the table, we end up with bad deals and a bad reputation for future deals. So announcing our intention is an obvious move (if perhaps to hammy for me) even if Trump doesn’t particularly want to withdraw.

8/ Announce withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Great. TPP has been a disaster.  The ostensible benefits to the US are tiny in the first place, but they’re not big for our allies either. It’s a bit of a shame that it’s not at all in our interests because it was really hard to negotiate the deal as it is; it now seems likely there will be no further trade liberalization on any of these issues.  (Of course, that is good news in that it binds future presidents, who won’t be able to put the pieces back together again.)

9/ Label China a currency manipulator.

Does this have specific ramifications under WTO rules?  The cat is out of the bag on this one; China was manipulating their currency to keep the trade deficit big (keeping their industries humming at our expense), but has not been for several years.  They’re not even at the right phase in the business cycle to want to manipulate their currency.

What’s the point?  It may be Trump’s uncharacteristically gentle way of telling the Japanese (who are currently doing what China was doing a few years ago) to knock it off.

10/ Foreign trading abuses

I assume this is an opening gambit in Trump’s campaign to renegotiate certain trade deals.  It may also just be his mindset: he makes deals and then he wrings out the last percentage-point of profit by making sure the deal is followed to the letter.  Doesn’t seem important to me: risk is a big trade war, but much of Trump’s platform is promising to threaten trade wars.  Can’t threaten a trade war without showing you’re willing to risk one!

11/ Lift the restrictions on the production of $50T of energy reserves

12/ Keystone Pipeline

No idea on these.  I’m skeptical.  In general if there was any reason to limit resource-extraction in the first place, there is no strong reason to remove the limits.  This is basic option value.  An untapped oil reserve is basically like a bank account.  You can’t get richer by making a withdrawal from your bank account.  But unlike a bank account, there are circumstances under which a future “withdrawal” might be much more profitable: if energy prices rise, if extraction technology become more efficient or cleaner.

Possible reasons to push this: a/ If the lifting of restrictions would be focused in economically morbid areas. b/ If one had in mind technocratic fixes like the idiotic worries about “fracking”. c/ If one wanted to drive down energy prices for macroeconomic effects. d/ If one had a very strong expectation that energy prices will drop in the future. e/ If one were worried about how the resources would be handled by a future administration.

13/ Cancel payments to UN climate change programs

Seems like small fry

14/ Cancel Obama’s executive orders

15/ Appoint Scalia’s replacement

16/ Cancel all federal funding to Sanctuary Cities

Seems obvious.  Good to see him reiterate the commitments.

17/ Begin removing the more than 2 million criminal illegal immigrants from the country and cancel visas to foreign countries that won’t take them back.

It’s good to see him take the specific step of promising to cancel visas as a way to pressure foreigners.  This could be a good tool for the EU to use with their “refugees”, if the right ever regains power.  This is a cleverly-chosen collective punishment tactic: it is certainly relevant to the prevention of the problem, but the cost will be mainly borne by foreign elites, the ones whose consent we need to make repatriation smooth.

18/ Suspend immigration from terror-prone regions

Thank God.

18/ Middle Class Tax Relief… 4% GDP growth/year…  family with 2 children will get a 35% tax cut… business rate from 35 to 15 percent… corporate money overseas can now be brought back at a 10 percent rate.

I’m not opposed but I would want to study more (especially on the repatriation of overseas profits) before offering an endorsement.  It’s a bit mysterious to me how he thinks 4% growth could offset revenue losses from his plan to the extent that he could meet his dream of paying off the national debt — was that retconned out of the campaign platform?

19/ End Offshoring Act, establish tariffs

Devil is in the details.  We have limited freedom to act on tariffs under our current trade agreements.

20/ $1T in revenue-neutral infrastructure

Worth a shot. In general it’s proper for the people who use the infrastructure to pay for the infrastructure, although in practice these schemes always seem to foul up the American way of life by ensnaring you in all sort of details about how the payment is collected.

21/ School Choice and Education Opportunity Act

“School choice” can mean draining money out of the bolshevik education system to make it easier for parents to privately associate with one another and have their children educated together in the manner their parents prefer, or it can mean giving ferals the right to choose to send their kid to a still-functional school system at taxpayer expense. You can guess how I feel about the former and the latter.

The bill also promises to expand vocational education and make 4-year college more affordable.  My own take is that there should be more vocational education, and that college tuition should be lower, but I doubt either should be the government’s job.  More than any other part of the educational system, vocational training needs market pressures to shape it; and the college-tuition bubble should be popped with an end to subsidies (and possibly research grants!) that will force students to come face-to-face with what they are actually willing to pay for that degree.

22/ Repeal Obamacare

He promised it, it needs to be done, but we will just stumble from one systemic healthcare fiasco to the next until we start letting people die.

23/ End Illegal Immigration Act

It’s particularly nice that he has saved the most compelling parts of his program to be put in an act of Congress… it will be amusing to see Democrats try to oppose strict penalties for felons who re-enter the country.

24/ Crime bill

Theatrics? All Trump needs is to start interpreting the Justice Department’s mandates in a sane way

25/ Restoring National Security Act

I’m actually happy with the defense sequester.  But I knew Trump was promising a stronger military, oh well.

26/ Ethics act

Du vague, toujours du vague

(Somehow I lost two of the twenty-eight in the copypasta, but it’s not like I haven’t written enough for one day.)

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