Neocon political commentator, comedian, actor and “economist,” Ben Stein ridicules Donald Trump for his recent forecast of a “a very massive recession soon” in the US while labeling Trump’s views on the economy as “sheer idiocy.”
Stein played an economics teacher in the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, but has no advanced degree in economics. Much as he once derided Peter Schiff’s prediction that the US was experiencing a housing bubble and was heading for a financial crisis, Stein the humorist limply tries to mock Trump for having the temerity to call for massive tax cuts and challenge faulty and biased government statistics and the predictions of mainstream macroeconomists:
There’s just nothing factual about what [Trump’s] saying. We are not in a bubble. By the way, most of these metrics are measured. The unemployment rate is not 20 percent, something he’s been saying, … [he] might as well say it’s 2 million percent. Might as well count the dead as being unemployed. … He must know something nobody else knows. I don’t know where he gets this information, but maybe he’s getting it from people whispering in his ear. There’s no sign we’re heading for a recession, and if we are, he doesn’t know and there’s no way that he’s going to be able to fix it. Cutting taxes is not going to fix it.
Stein’s unhinged diatribe is worlds apart from a more balanced view of Trumponomics taken by Canadian columnist Stephen Michael MacLean, who soberly compares Trump to John Stuart Mill. While MacLean has no sympathy for Trump’s call for high tariff walls, he points out that Trump, like Mill, is focused on production rather than consumption as the driving force of the economy. And for Mill, a healthy and flourishing economy requires the removal of impediments to entrepreneurship and production, especially high taxes. This is in sharp contrast to Trump’s Keynesian critics, including actor-economist Stein, who incessantly harp on the need to stimulate and maintain a high level of consumption. In his Florida primary speech Trump channeled Mill, pointing out that much of the investment by US firms in foreign countries is driven abroad by relatively high business taxes in the US and the high costs of repatriating profits and capital. According to Trump,
[C]ompanies are actually leaving our country to get their money, not only because [our] taxes are too high, which we’re going to lower, by the way. But companies are leaving our country in order to go and get money, that’s their money, because there’s no way of bringing it in.
MacLean makes the subtle point that Trump’s single-minded focus on the importance of production is successfully changing the rhetoric of the economic policy debate away from what he calls “Depression-era madness, in the form of Keynesian stimulus that argues that downturns are caused by a lack of aggregate demand.” Not to put too fine a point on it, but implicit in Trump’s economic statements is Mill’s (and the Austrians’) central message that there is no need to ever worry about the level of consumption, because it will always naturally adapt itself to the level of production. Whether Trump’s economic policies, which are yet to be laid out in detail, will successfully stimulate a sustainable increase in the production of the things consumers demand most urgently is another matter. But as MacLean concludes:
Who would deny that Trump is the master salesman most attuned to Mill’s message?