A few weeks ago after digesting another one of Donald Trump’s company-by-company “deals” to keep jobs in America, I suggested he might be offering a “miniature jobs strategy” for the country, negotiating small but symbolic “victories” in the fight to reduce outsourcing and then hoping the media and the citizenry at large go along with the false idea that that’s the sort of thing that drives the economy.
While Trump can be expected to continue his corporate horse-trading, calling it “miniature” may have been premature. In a meeting with a dozen or so CEOs today, Trump seemed to be trying to take this strategy to scale by offering a meta-deal to relieve businesses of all those nettlesome regulations (and much of their taxes, too!) in exchange for agreements to keep operations and jobs stateside.
In the opening hours of his first formal day in the White House on Monday, President Trump welcomed leaders from several of the country’s largest corporations and promised to wipe out at least 75 percent of government regulations that hinder their businesses, fast-track their plans to open factories and cut taxes “massively.”
That’s the carrot. The stick would be the tariffs or “border tax” Trump has threatened to impose, along with whatever damage the administration can inflict on an individual company’s or industry’s stock by bad-mouthing them.
It is impossible to avoid the impression that Trump is offering at a national level the kind of grand bargain with “job creators” that Republican (and some Democratic) governors so love: Give us jobs, and we will keep the cost of providing those jobs — whether it’s taxes or minimum-wage laws or collective bargaining requirements or workforce or environmental regulations — as low as is possible.
For the potential employees of companies taking advantage of this bargain, the implicit message is simple: You will have jobs — even if they may be crappy jobs with low wages, few benefits, and no labor or workforce protections.
Now to be sure, following his habit of throwing something self-contradictory into every statement, Trump isn’t admitting there’s any value in all the discarded regulations and reduced taxes:
“Now, we’re going to have regulation, and it’ll be just as strong and just as good and just as protective of the people as the regulation we have right now. The problem with the regulation that we have right now is that you can’t do anything … I have people that tell me that they have more people working on regulations than they have doing product.”
This should be interpreted alongside Trump’s promises to repeal Obamacare but offer something even more “terrific” at a fraction of the cost: It’s just noise until proved otherwise.
From Donald Trump’s point of view, there are two really good things about this national race-to-the-bottom strategy. First, it sets up employment figures as an economic metric that — excuse the phrase — trumps more qualitative measurements of economic well-being. Since slashing business costs will also boost corporate profits, GDP might temporarily benefit as well. Everything could look like it’s coming up roses, if you don’t look very closely.
Second, it involves a philosophy and set of policies that are much, much more consistent with standard conservative orthodoxy than is Trump’s company-by-company meddling. So long as taxes go down and regulations go away, the across-the-board nature of these concessions will insulate them in conservative thinking from any attribution of “corporate welfare,” even though they will together represent a massive public subsidy to private wealth.
So what could go wrong with this strategy, aside from the fact that among its victims will be millions of members of the white working class that did so much to put Donald Trump in office?