Before I could understand economics, I had to understand the minds of economists. Some of my earliest insights into the field came from observing the often-eccentric lot of professors at Columbia University, where I began my doctoral studies in 1980. Here are four anecdotes about four professors that have stuck with me over the years. The first told us in our first week that economics would take over our minds like something out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers; he was correct, but the results weren’t ominous, as we imagined. The second saw a world of traffic congestion and other annoyances and set out to change it—only to die quietly in traffic after his greatest triumph. The third was a prodigy who, against all good sense, kept a car in Manhattan and knew the foolishness of doing so. The fourth exhibited a tiny, but deeply moving, act of humanity that brings a tear to my eye when I think about it four decades later.
In 2020 Covid hit. Trump supporters initially went along, trusting institutions. But the pandemic soon exposed the politicized incompetence of the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the scientific establishment. Lockdowns destroyed lives. Officials made up rules and ramped up censorship. Inquiries about whether the virus came from a lab leak, or anything negative about masks or vaccines, became “misinformation” subject to censorship. Trump supporters saw media, tech companies and national-security bigwigs suppress the news of the Hunter Biden laptop just in time for the election.
When schools went remote, parents found out what was actually going on inside the classrooms. Teachers were coaching students to hate themselves, their country and their religious traditions and sexualizing young children. The FBI treated angry parents as domestic terrorists. After Oct. 7, Trump supporters learned that universities are incompetent and politicized and disdain people like them. They saw that once-trusted mainstream-media outlets had become political advocates long ago.
What should Democrats do? Listen. Stop screaming your talking points and hyperventilating that Mr. Trump is a dictator in waiting. Stop falling into the obvious trap. Mr. Trump is gifted at provoking ridiculous overreaction from his opponents. You promised moderation, openness, conciliation and simple competence. You delivered the opposite. It is still possible to acknowledge, listen and pivot.
Donald Trump’s ignorant assertion that the U.S. can pay off the national debt by increasing oil production is said by GMU Econ alum Domino Pino – writing at National Review – to demonstrate “the total unseriousness of today’s fiscal conversation.” A slice:
Trump said in his Iowa victory speech, “We’re going to drill. We’re going to use that money to lower your taxes even further. We gave you the biggest tax cut in history, and we’re going to lower them further. And we’re also going to pay off national debt.”
First of all, lowering taxes, even if desirable for other reasons, would contribute to increasing the debt if not offset with spending cuts. So Trump’s own promises are already working at cross purposes.
But the larger idea — that proceeds from energy production will pay off the national debt — is pure nonsense. Many of the things Trump says are difficult to take seriously, but given that he is increasingly likely to be the Republican nominee, and he has said this line repeatedly, it’s worth illustrating that this is simply a Trumpian version of the fiscal delusion that both parties are now committed to.
Congress has proven its inability to reliably manage retirement income for American retirees. Using the savings of Americans who have diligently saved for their future, to compensate for the deficit created by Congress, is troubling to say the least.
Second, he defended business people who are trying to make a profit. Klaus Schwab, in a talk on the WEF site, took great pride in having introduced the term “stakeholders” in 1970. The term, he noted, refers to people who have an interest in a business’s behavior and future but don’t actually own any of it. Milei stated clearly the case for corporations to stick to their business and work for their owners. Along the way, he took a swing at those who want corporations to give in to “stakeholders.” It was like Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations, with a little Ayn Rand thrown in.