Through their economic policy speeches this week, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will lay out two very different portraits of America. One America celebrates enterprise and emboldens the individual. In that United States, innovation is welcome and American advantages – including cheap energy – are protected and exploited. That America gives its workers every tool to battle foreign competition including an excellent education and guarantees opportunity. Most important, perhaps, that nation expects its government to get its priorities straight – and to put America first.
That was Donald Trump’s message in Detroit yesterday. He proposed a program that would allow the country to resume its historic growth rate of better than 3 percent – a rate that after Obama’s 8 years seems almost fanciful. He talked about simplifying taxes and reducing regulations, offering sensible approaches to both, and about redoing our trade agreements to make them more beneficial for U.S. workers.
Hillary Clinton will deliver her economic speech on Thursday. We already know what it will say because Clinton has promised four more years of Obama’s policies as if that were a good thing. Clinton spoke at a rally in June with Elizabeth Warren at her side and revealed her economic plan.
Clinton will again argue that our economy is essentially unfair, with the richest Americans and wealthiest corporations not paying their “fair share.” She will decline to define what that share might be; she knows that the top twenty percent of the country’s earners already pays 84 percent of all federal income taxes and that a full 45 percent pay exactly zero. She also knows that her complaint that the wealthiest Americans pay a lower tax rate than their assistants is hogwash. Like so much else that Clinton says – it simply is not true.
Hillary will argue that if we just take a bit more from the wealthy, we could provide the kind of job training and infrastructure investment that would put lots of people back to work. She won’t acknowledge the folks who have lost their jobs because of regulations passed by the Obama White House and the kind of job-creating infrastructure project that some saw in the Keystone Pipeline. She means the 93 million working age Americans on the sidelines who can’t get jobs or who choose not to work.
Clinton will talk, as Obama did, about the wonderful wave of jobs that will be created through investments in clean energy. Jobs that so far mainly went to China, which captured the lion’s share of the solar power industry. Jobs that are underwritten by industries and the American people, who shoulder the cost of subsidies for cleaner energy. She will admit how the push for alternative energy will slowly but surely ramp up electricity costs in the nation – a reversal of decades of low and stable power costs that in recent years has encouraged foreign companies to invest here.
Hillary will say, as she did on June 22 in North Carolina: “When it comes to primary and secondary education, I pledge to you we’re going to make sure all kids have good teachers in good schools, no matter what zip code they live in.” We know that’s not true, because Clinton, like Obama, will refuse to take on the powerful national teachers’ unions. Without the get-out-the-vote muscle of that group, Clinton cannot win the election, and she knows it.
Clinton will also talk about restoring power to organized labor, and abolishing right-to-work laws. She will argue for better benefits and protections for workers, which will appeal to those whose incomes have been stuck for the past decade. She will not explain how higher costs for labor will discourage companies to build and produce in the U.S.
What Hillary will not do is extol the virtues of free trade, though she will be tempted to undermine Trump’s powerful assault on NAFTA and the TPP, both of which Clinton has historically championed. She sold out on the TPP to match rival Bernie Sanders’ passionate denunciation of trade pacts that have hurt U.S. workers. But, as Trump said in Detroit, Hillary will come round on the TPP. A tweak or two and presto! The deal will meet her “evolving” standards.
Here’s what Hillary also will not do: provide convincing data points that her economic nostrums will be successful. There are none. She could hardly cite the failed Socialist state of Venezuela, where bread lines grow longer by the day. She cannot point to France, a country that has adopted many of her policies, including strict protections for workers and robust climate change measures. French workers take to the street with depressing regularity to protest even the most modest loosening of the work rules crushing that economy. The IMF has cautioned that France cannot grow unless it weakens its labor laws.
Clinton cannot even cite the success of individual states. There are 31 Republican governors for a reason. GOP governors have typically delivered faster job growth and better budget control than their Democratic rivals. Think Indiana versus Illinois; Connecticut versus Florida. Ten of the fifteen states ranked most attractive to business have Republican governors. Appealing to job creators and adding jobs go hand in hand – a reality that Clinton and Obama fail to appreciate.
Trump, by comparison, backed up his comments with some excellent data points. It is true that Detroit is a failed city, where 40 percent of its citizens live in poverty and half the crime-ridden city does not work. It is, as he said, “The living, breathing example of my opponent’s failed economic agenda.”
Trump and Clinton’s two visions are as apart as can be. One imagines a race horse bolting from the starting gate; the other a draft horse plodding around the old mill for an eternity, going nowhere. Trump needs to convince voters we can and should do better – that they want to ride that thoroughbred nation to greater growth and success. His speech in Detroit was a good start.