An Economic Agenda for Disruptor Trump

An Economic Agenda for Disruptor Trump

REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

What happens if nothing changes? With tens of millions of voters supporting Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders’ promises of political revolution, will the country accept the status quo? That’s what Hillary Clinton promises: four more years of Obama’s policiesTPP. Trump, on the other hand, offers disruption. Does that mean chaos, or could it mean progress?

Donald Trump could turn the country’s animus towards the Washington “establishment” to his advantage. He can and should run on taking power away from Beltway Bureaucrats, and retuning it to the states where it belongs. Taking on the DC cartel, as Ted Cruz describes it, would be popular. More important, it could get the country working again. 

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The exciting thing is --- it’s not that hard. Across the country, there are plenty of talented governors -- 31 of them Republican -- working hard to beef up their states’ economies. At the Milken Global Conference this week, two Republican and two Democrat governors described their practical and successful agendas for improving their states’ fortunes.

They both focused on job creation -- as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker said, “Everything we want to do requires jobs. We have to grow the workforce.” With higher payrolls come higher tax revenues, allowing for investments in transportation, education and job training that in turn attract more jobs.

It is the ultimate virtuous circle, but one that has been missing from the national agenda for the past seven years.

Republicans Walker and Rick Scott of Florida joined with Democrats Terry McAuliffe from Virginia and John Hickenlooper from Colorado in boasting about the reduced unemployment and deficits recorded in their respective states. All four talked about steps they were taking to develop and improve their workforces.

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Hickenlooper discussed providing tech training to kids not likely to go to college; Scott Walker has doubled the number of apprenticeships being offered to young people and emphasized opportunities for returning veterans. McAuliffe is also offering training for veterans, especially in the area of cyber security.

All four men are actively seeking increased investment for their states. McAuliffe has traveled extensively internationally, pitching foreign companies on building in Virginia. He just landed a $2 billion deal with a Chinese company, insisting that it was more profitable going after foreign inflows that trying to “buy”  companies moving in from other states.  

Scott took a different tack. He has often approached companies in California, pitching them on Florida’s lower tax and lighter regulation. Ditto Walker, who has poached companies from neighboring Illinois.

The nations’ governors are not allowed to print money, and most must balance their budgets. As a result, the collective income statements and balance sheets of the states are fairly healthy. Those that are not, like California, have to raise taxes to cover the budget hole; that drives businesses and tax revenues out the door. It’s not too long before saner policies take hold.

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These four governors – Republicans and Democrats alike -- expressed extreme frustration with the federal government. McAuliffe bemoaned the impact of sequestration, which had cut deeply into Virginia’s Department of Defense revenues, while Scott related his tortuous efforts to resolve the status of the Everglades, which meant dealing with no less than four federal agencies…one at a time.

When asked why none of them appeared to engage with the federal government’s 47 separate job-training programs – instead, creating their own approaches – all cited D.C waste and red tape. Questioned as to whether there were other activities they would prefer to handle without the “help” of the feds, all had plenty of suggestions.

The point is these and other governors around the country are making important improvements in the welfare of their residents. Common sense approaches to building their local economies are working and our political leaders should encourage more of the same by restoring power to the states.

For instance, the nation is currently convulsed over whether or not to support free trade. These governors are pro-trade and they’re proving the merits of a free flow of goods and services by arranging bilateral deals with foreign companies and their states. Instead of monster legislation that contains – always – the seeds of unintended consequences, these transactions are discrete and comprehensible.

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If such deals result in a loss of jobs, these governors will be held accountable. If and when President Obama’s TPP results in more jobs heading out the door, he will be long gone, as will many of the legislators who cooked up the agreement.

Ditto the ambition to improve the nation’s infrastructure. Anticipating the expansion of the Panama Canal, and in response to the labor problems impeding upgrading of West Coast ports, Rick Scott moved quickly to enlarge and refurbish Florida’s seaports, anxious to cash in on the increased cargo traffic. The federal government did not provide the funding, so Florida moved forward on its own.

Congress spends years crafting hideously complicated and often poorly written multi-thousand page bills dealing with trade or transportation, which few read or understand. Voters are pretty sure those mega-laws contain hidden goodies and glitches; they can’t imagine there isn’t a better way. There is a better way, but it is not through Congress.

The federal government is propped up by legislators in the House and the Senate whose impact is measured by bills passed, not bills implemented. Their success is measured in monies appropriated, not by deliverables. President Obama takes victory laps for instituting Obamacare, notwithstanding the high deductibles and limited doctor choice that come with the healthcare law.

Ted Cruz is forever reminding us that he is the only “true Conservative” in this race. His problem is that voters today associate conservatism with social issues like opposing abortion and same-sex marriage rather than smaller, more efficient federal government. That is a failing of the past two Republican presidential candidates, neither of whom made the case so ably articulated by Ronald Reagan, for shrinking the D.C. bloat.

Donald Trump should make state empowerment the centerpiece of his economic agenda. It would not only be a popular campaign message, it is actually good policy.