Last night, upwards of 70 million viewers tuned in to watch the first of three presidential debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. They watched the candidates spar on issues ranging from race relations in the United States to combating ISIS to Hillary’s “fitness” to serve as president. The debate was high (edit: low?) entertainment, but hiding somewhere between the potshots and poor policy prescriptions was a real clash of ideas.
Jack Graham, a political commentator at CapX, highlights their philosophical differences on economics, race, and foreign policy.
Trump highlighted his usual scapegoat for economic failure, and the issue at the core of his campaign: trade.
Regardless of the businesses and jobs sustained by Mexican trade and labour, Trump talked about the US “losing our jobs” to Mexico. China, he added, are “beating us”, while he called NAFTA the worst trade deal ever: pointedly referring to the swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania, where “you will find devastation”. Meanwhile, in an attempt to woo Reaganites and fiscal conservatives, he announced his plan to cut income tax from 35% to 15%: “I’m gonna cut tax big league”.
For Clinton, on the other hand, people like Trump epitomize the problem. She spoke of the failure of “Trumped up, trickle down” economics which had failed working people, including the nine million who had lost their jobs since the financial crisis. She promised more regulation and progressive taxes to promote “broad-based inclusive growth” – contrasting to Trump’s low-tax, lightly regulated economy.
It is clear that both candidates leave much to be desired in their approach to economic policy. Their ideas betray fundamental misunderstandings of the workings of a market economy. On jobs and immigration, Trump has been sounding the same alarm for months, warning Americans that we’re “losing jobs” to both illegal immigrants and foreign countries. As Professor Don Boudreaux of George Mason University explains, however, this is a myth:
Foreigners are our friends, and the more we trade both goods and labor with foreign nations, the better off we become as a nation.
When it comes to economic philosophy, Clinton doesn’t fare much better. Claiming that more regulation will lead to broad-based economic growth is oxymoronic. Regulation is the enemy of growth and innovation, as Law Professor Christopher Koopman argues in this video:
It’s no surprise that Clinton has publicly decried the sharing economy, accusing Uber, Lyft, and other on-demand services of committing wage theft.
Additionally, while no economist that we know would call himself a “trickle-down economist,” the fact of the matter is that economic growth over the last decades and centuries has been precipitous. In 1900, the world had about 1.5 billion people, typically living less than fifty years. The average citizen of Earth survived on under $1,000 a year. In 2012, we had about seven billion people, typically living almost seventy years on about $8,000 a year. And world income per person grew about 33 percent from 1998 to 2008, way faster than during the previous three decades.
Race and Security
Now let’s take a look at the ideological differences between Trump and Clinton race and security in America. On Clinton, Graham comments,
Asked about racial tension in US society, Hillary Clinton spoke about the deep-rooted nature of the problem. She referred to “systematic racism in our criminal justice system”, the problems with mandatory minimum sentences, and having to work with communities to deal with implicit bias.
With American prison populations vastly dwarfing those of other developed countries, and dominated by young black men, one cannot ignore the depth and racial nature of the problem. Clinton spoke of the importance of community work, as well as pointing out the need for common-sense gun safety measures: “If you’re too dangerous to fly, you’re too dangerous to buy a gun.”
Clinton’s focus on mandatory minimums, systemic racism, and working with communities is commendable. Indeed, she called out the prison-industrial complex for incentivizing the imprisonment of African Americans and the legal system for fostering the prosecution of victimless crimes. And while she didn’t utter the magic words “War on Drugs”, Clinton is certainly somewhere in the pro-liberty ballpark on criminal justice reform.
Trump, however, took a different tone on race and security. Graham notes,
Trump’s top-down “law and order” approach is radically different. Indeed, he often seemed to be “whitesplaining” – effectively ignoring the racial aspect of the issue, and simply discussing the need for being more vigilant in tackling criminal gangs.
Trump did, in fact, almost entirely ignore race in response to the questions posed to him, on race, by debate moderator Lester Holt. But what’s more striking is Trump’s underlying philosophy on crime and power—that the way to reduce crime is to get tough on crime, to give more power to those who are likely to abuse it. Police brutality is a serious problem in this country, and as Law Professor Ilya Somin explains the way to fight it is not by further empowering the police, but by removing the legal incentive for police to act with lethal force.
Finally, as the temperature on the debate stage rose to its apex, Trump and Clinton butted heads on the proper American approach to foreign policy, particularly America’s involvement in NATO and the interminable War on Terror.
Clinton doubled down on her intent to go after ISIS by both airwave and air, saying,
“I have put forth a plan to defeat ISIS. It does involve going after them online. I think we need to do much more with our tech companies to prevent ISIS and their operatives from being able to use the Internet to radicalize, even direct people in our country and Europe and elsewhere. But we also have to intensify our air strikes against ISIS and eventually support our Arab and Kurdish partners to be able to actually take out ISIS in Raqqa, end their claim of being a Caliphate.”
But as the last 15 years since 9/11 have borne out, and as Professor Boudreaux elucidates here, sometimes attempts to combat terrorism both at home and abroad can have unintended consequences. Military intervention might be the politically feasible solution to terror abroad, but is it the best solution?
Trump, on the other hand, focused on American relations with its NATO allies, reinforcing his position that America cannot and should not get involved in the affairs of other countries unless they pay their “fair share”. While Trump’s foreign policy positions have been wildly inconsistent, and while he doesn’t seem to be able to articulate a plan of action in the Middle and Far East, there is much to be admired in his claim that, “We cannot be the policemen of the world. We cannot protect countries all over the world.”
Given the incentives that politicians face and the lack of local knowledge that both politicians and military leaders have abroad, it might behoove us to consider the potential costs and benefits of policing the world.