This article originally appeared in MarketWatch.
Donald Trump thinks big.
He got his start when his father lent him “a small amount of money ... around $1 million,” which he used to begin developing properties in Manhattan. Now he wants to be president, and Threshold Books has published his policy platform, “Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again.”
It’s hard to believe that someone who indiscriminately insults people from Sen. John McCain to Fox anchor Megyn Kelly, among others, can be leading in the polls. But this is Trump’s position a year before the election, to the mystification of everyone except Trump.
Why the gross behavior? Trump explains: “I learned a long time ago that if you’re not afraid to be outspoken, the media will write about you or beg you to come on their shows. … If you say outrageous things and fight back, they love you.” Rather than spend over $100,000 on a full-page ad in the New York Times, he says, he can get a story written about him for free.
Trump blends mainstream Republican positions such as school choice and lower taxes with Democratic positions such as not fixing Social Security and expanding public infrastructure spending. Here are four good ideas and four bad ones from the 208-page “Crippled America.”
First, the good ideas
Education. “Competition is why I’m very much in favor of school choice. Let schools compete for kids,” Trump writes. “For two decades I’ve been urging politicians to open the schoolhouse doors and let parents decide which schools are best for their children.” As everyone knows, consigning children to failing schools is one of the main causes of inequality. Trump makes a strong case for eliminating the Department of Education and returning education policy, testing and all, to the states.
Obamacare. Trump wants to replace the Affordable Care Act with a private insurance system that would allow people to buy insurance across state lines, abandoning his earlier support of single-payer health insurance. Insurance companies could market the plans that people want to buy, not the one-size-fits-all plans that are currently being sold. Competition would raise the quality of the service.
Energy policy. Trump delivers a well-deserved critique of costly renewable energy. He wants to expand development of energy resources and correctly criticizes the development of expensive renewables, such as wind and solar. Trump has battled proposed windfarms near his resorts, and succeeded in derailing plans for wind turbines near his golf course in Scotland.
Tax plan. Trump wants to simplify and lower individual and corporate rates. He proposes lowering individual tax rates to 10%, 20% and 25%, and getting rid of all deductions except those for charitable deductions and mortgage interest. He wants to eliminate the estate tax, the alternative minimum tax and the marriage penalty. On the corporate side, he supports lowering the tax rate to 15%. Trump’s plan loses more revenue than other Republican proposals, but proposals always get changed when they are put through the legislative wringer.
The bad ideas
Social Security. Trump writes: “We should not touch Social Security. It’s off the table.” He suggests asking wealthy people to voluntarily give up Social Security payments if they don’t need them, but admits that this is unlikely to have much effect. Social Security benefits are paid to 58 million people, over 1,000 times more than in 1937. The program costs $808 billion per year, nearly 40,000 times what it cost in 1937, adjusted for inflation. Social Security and Medicare accounted for almost 40% of federal spending in 2014. It is impossible to solve our $19 trillion debt problem without adjusting those programs.
Infrastructure. Trump complains that America’s infrastructure “is crumbling, and we aren’t doing anything about it.” He suggests spending more money, even though “on the federal level, this is going to be an expensive investment, no question about that.” As a developer, he should be thinking of ways to get the government out of building infrastructure, and private companies in.
With today’s toll technology, the Trumps of the world can repair and maintain infrastructure and charge fees for its use. The use of project labor agreements, which require higher-paid union labor for federally funded projects, increases the cost of federal projects. The Davis-Bacon law raises construction workers’ wages. Highway Trust Fund rules require about 15% of funds to be spent on mass transit, even in states where residents don’t use mass transit. Moving more infrastructure construction to the private sector would save billions of dollars.
China. Trump writes that “we must stop certain countries from devaluing their currencies at the drop of a hat,” and accuses China of currency manipulation. Five years ago, China pegged its currency at a low level that gave it an advantage in importing to the United States. But today the yuan is overvalued, not undervalued. China’s trade surplus has declined to 3% of GDP, and exports are declining — not a sign of an undervalued currency, as AEI scholar Desmond Lachman has shown. China is keeping its currency high to prop up its tottering stock market. This helps, rather than hurts, the United States.
Immigration. The chaos of migrants flooding Europe proves even to skeptics that we need to do more to enhance border security. Trump proposes a wall along certain sections of the southern border, paid for by fees from visas. This is not unreasonable. But sending back 11 million undocumented workers, and then inviting some to return, makes no sense. Instead, they should pay a fine and receive a work visa. Trump writes that “when people are playing on one of my golf courses, or staying at a hotel, we supply the service personnel who keep these businesses running.” He needs these workers too.
Trump is a serious candidate, with field organizations in major states that rival those of other candidates. His lead in the polls is an indictment of the way government operates and reflects Americans’ dislike of politicians. So people should get the book, see what Trump says and judge for themselves. It’s an entertaining read.
Diana Furchtgott-Roth is a senior fellow and director of Economics21 at the Manhattan Institute. Follow her on Twitter here.
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