Dinesh D'Souza: Milton Friedman is 'politically dumb' on Trump's trade tactics

politics | Mar 12, 2018 | By Martin Barillas

Official Washington and foreign governments are scrambling to respond to President Donald Trump's decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum. On Monday, for example, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull tweeted he had gotten a “commitment” from Trump that the tariffs will not apply to Australian exports. Other allies of the United States, including Japan and the EU, are expecting to be exempt from Trump’s decision to hike aluminum import taxes by 10 percent and steel import taxes by 25 percent. Some observers contend that Trump is merely using a negotiating tactic to win concessions from trading partners.

According to CNBC, Luisa Santos of BusinessEurope compared Trump’s tariff to an “atomic bomb.” "The issue is that these measures are mainly affecting (U.S.) allies. They claim that the measures are directed to China, but it's basically Canada, EU, Japan, South Korea, these are natural allies of the U.S.," Santos said.

Officials from Japan and the EU are meeting with their American counterparts to discuss exemptions from the tariffs. 

Support for Trump’s tariff has been mixed. Some Democrats, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have spoken in favor. She told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, “When President Trump says he’s putting tariffs on the table, I think tariffs are one part of reworking our trade policy overall.” Even so, former Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean tweeted on Monday, “The U.S. will gain 36,000 jobs by implementing Trump’s tariffs. Problem is we will los 179,000 by implementing Trump’s tariffs.”

Republicans have expressed doubts about the tariffs. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who has been among Trump’s most vocal GOP critics, said on Sunday. He told Chuck Todd on ABC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that a Republican presidential candidate should challenge Trump in 2020 by opposing tariffs. Flake is himself rumored to have presidential ambitions. However, Flake is aware that such an anti-tariff candidacy "would be a tough go," while acknowledging that the GOP "is the Trump party right now." Flake is retiring from the Senate.

Other Republican critics of Trump’s tariffs are Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Sen. John Thune of Colorado. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who serves as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said on Thursday, "I think there's a good chance that we will nullify the tariffs." Saying that he is "very upset" about the tariffs, Hatch added, "I'm disappointed ... because we just passed a tax bill and this kind of flies in the face of that." The veteran Hatch is also retiring. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Majority Leader Paul Ryan issued statements expressing concern over Trump’s initiative, but did not mention legislative roadblocks.

In May 2017, author and movie director Dinesh D’Souza described for students at Brandeis University what he saw as Trump’s tactics to win trade deals. D’Souza, who has long been a gadfly of leftists and liberals, said that Trump engaged in what he called “telephone strong-arming” during the 2016 political campaign about trade relations. Since his inauguration, D’Souza said, Trump has not been doing that. As a supporter of free trade, D’Souza recalled that famed free-trade economist Milton Friedman would prefer no tariffs but would also advise against a country from imposing countervailing tariffs. “It is better for one guy to have tariffs than to have both guys have tariffs.” But he added, “I think that on this point, actually, Milton is politically wrong, and in fact politically dumb, which is not an insult because he was an economist and he actually wasn’t trying to be politically smart, and so he never succeeded.”

By way of explaining the president, D’Souza said, “Trump’s idea is this: If the Japanese want to put tariffs on our cars, it is time to call up the Japanese and say ‘Listen, pal. If you stick 30 percent tariffs on our cars, we’ll stick 30 percent tariffs on your cars until you take the tariffs down.’” Describing this as a tactic to achieve free trade, D’Souza described a tactic used by Abraham Lincoln during the midst of the Civil War. Saying that when captured, black soldiers in the service of the Federal army were executed while white soldiers were not, D’Souza said that Lincoln resorted to a “ruthless” tactic. “Lincoln issued an executive order that for every free black captured and executed by the Confederacy, one Confederate soldier will be summarily shot. Describing this as an example of “extreme barbarity in complete contravention of the laws of war,” D’Souza said “But in Lincoln’s view, ‘If I don’t do it, how will I get them to stop?’ And in fact they did stop.”

“I use this as an extreme example to show that in the world of politics and war, it is sometimes necessary to do to them what they are doing to us, not because you are not a free trader, but you are trying to get to a free trade that you’ll never get to any other way,” D’Souza said finally.

No trade war for Trump

In an interview with Spero News, Paul Bonicelli of the Acton Institute said identified himself as a “purist” with regard to free trade, adding that the “benefit of free trade is the benefit of free people buying and selling to each other as they see fit.” Admitting that the U.S. exists in a “political world,” Bonicelli said that politicians say what they need to say in order to stay in power. He said that he believes that President Trump is a natural protectionist, “but is smart enough to say what he needs to say, in order to get the supporters that he wants.” However, Bonicelli said that he does not believe that Trump is seeking a trade war but wants “the rhetoric of protectionism...to drive the politics, but also to send a message to the trade partners about what are some very real violations of the free trade agreement we’re involved in.”

As for trade relations with China, Bonicelli said that Trump can use his tactic to discuss with trade partners, such as China, trade barriers that hamper the free exchange of goods and services. However, he said that there are other ways to achieve Trump’s goals for international trade that are found within trade agreements such as NAFTA. “Trump is the first president since [Harry S] Truman,” Bonicelli said, “to say ‘I have a national security concern and therefore I will use executive authority to let tariffs against trading partners.” Bonicelli cautioned that Trump should use existing trade agreements to obtain the results he wants, and move to “harsher measures” if he does not get results. He then predicted that the president will soon move to modify the tariffs he has initially imposed.

Bonicelli has served as executive vice president at Regent University (VA), provost at Houston Baptist University (TX), and dean of academic affairs at Patrick Henry College (VA). 




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Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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