Donald Trump

Trump and Bernie on Trade: Dumb and Dumber

But liberals lambast Trump and love Bernie. Go figure.


Liberal commentators are aghast at President-elect Donald Trump's bullying tactics to prevent American companies such as Carrier from leaving for cheaper climes

Bernie and Sanders
Gage Skidmore via Foter

elsewhere. But when it comes to similar behavior on the part of liberal heroes, especially Bernie Sanders, most on the left have not an unkind word to spare. To the contrary, in fact.

Liberals are outraged by Trump's crude assertions of economic nationalism. For instance, this weekend, Trump went on Fox News Sunday and declared that letting companies shutter their American factories and move to other countries without facing any negative consequences wasn't free trade, it was "dumb trade." He wants a 35 percent border tariff on the imports of such companies — which, he says, he'll pair with reductions in America's ridiculously high corporate tax rates to diminish their incentive to move out in the first place.

Paul Krugman, the pugnacious New York Times Nobel laureate, declared Trump's antics "ridiculous" and "ominous," and warned that they mark a "descent into banana republic governance." Former Harvard University President Larry Summers, who served in the last two Democratic administrations, condemned Trump's tactics as "a change for the worse with regards to the operating assumptions of American capitalism." Vox's Matt Yglesias intoned that the "broader implications" of Trump's trade strategy are "menacing and banal."

They all happen to be right about Trump. But they were singing a very different tune when President Obama and his Treasury Secretary Jack Lew were engaging in similar rhetoric and worse behavior.

Take corporate inversion, for example. This is a practice where American companies merge with overseas subsidiaries to avoid not just America's sky-high corporate taxes but also its taxes on companies' foreign — as opposed to just domestic — earnings, something that no other OECD country does. Nothing really changes about the company except its street address on paper. No physical assets or factories are moved, hence there are no job losses.

Yet Obama and Lew went on a veritable rampage when Burger King merged with Canada's Tim Horton and Pfizer with Ireland's Allergan. They blasted these companies as "unpatriotic" and "corporate deserters" — actually scaring Walgreens into abandoning its plans to invert, not unlike what Trump has done with Carrier.

Instead of telling this Democratic duo to knock it off, the very same liberal commentators who are now going after Trump applauded Obama. Krugman accused these "artful corporate dodgers" of "shirking their civic duty." Summers dubbed the administration's moves "constructive" — while raising nary an objection to Obama's name-calling. Yglesias reported with a straight face that Obama was calling on these companies to show "economic patriotism" before voxsplaining all the good these anti-inversion policies might do.

What's more, many liberal pundits didn't want the president to simply stop at just bullying from the bully pulpit. They wanted him to do whatever it took to "halt inversions in their tracks" — including executive action if Congress refused to play ball. They counseled him, for example, to retroactively reclassify the tax-free debt of these companies as taxable equity. No qualms then, apparently, about America becoming a banana republic or the "menacing and banal" implications of such unilateralism for governance.

Hillary Clinton took their suggestions to heart, and pledged to not just take executive action against these companies but also impose a new "exit tax." There is no functional difference between her exit tax and Trump's border tariff. If anything, her exit tax is worse given that shareholders already pay taxes on their gains when companies invert. So it is a form of double taxation.

But the man who takes the cake when it comes to raising the hysteria level against free trade is none other than that old liberal darling, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. He hasn't just sailed into the sunset after matching Trump's anti-trade tirades decibel for decibel during his presidential bid. A couple of weeks ago, he proposed arguably the most draconian anti-trade legislation in living memory, called the Outsourcing Prevention Act.

His bill would bar companies such as Carrier that outsource "American" jobs from receiving any federal contracts. He would also impose a tax equal to the amount of savings achieved by outsourcing jobs or 35 percent of its profits, whichever is higher. Companies that outsource more than 50 jobs would be required to pay back federal tax breaks and loans and face tax penalties on stock options and bonuses.

Given that Sanders' anti-outsourcing crackdown, unlike Trump's, would be accompanied with no tax relief for companies, its net effect in the long run wouldn't be to save American jobs, but actually encourage even more automation by companies wishing to stay globally competitive.

This is all truly chilling stuff whose chief aim is to up the ante on Trump. So why aren't liberals directing some of their fire at him? Because Sanders is their populist demagogue.

Here is a truth about liberals: Whatever damage the Trump presidency will do to the cause of free trade — and it will be considerable — they would have allowed their leading contenders to get away with worse havoc, and in the name of economic nationalism to boot.

This column originally appeared in The Week

NEXT: President Obama Warns Trump About Executive Orders, Unilateral Foreign Policy and War Making

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Paul Krugman, the pugnacious New York Times Nobel laureate, declared Trump’s antics “ridiculous” and “ominous,” and warned that they mark a “descent into banana republic governance.”

    Pugnacious isn’t the word I’d use to describe him. We have words, simpler words, that help us to make sense of Krugnuts. Words like: moron, idiot, and dolt. That anyone is still paying attention to this huckster is entirely owed to his Swedish Bankers’ Prize and not his economic acumen.

    1. And honestly, just look at the guy. Imagine him in a dirty shirt and ripped jeans, put a “The End is Nigh” sandwich board on him and imagine him chasing you around the streets yelling at you incoherently about prophecy and Revelation. Actually, if he did that I think I could at least have feel some sympathy for him. Then his mental illness would be a lot more obvious to everyone and people would give it as much credence as it is due.

  2. I have a prog friend and a alt-righter friend; it really is fascinating to watch them talk because on economic issues they say pretty much the same thing. Please tell me how Trump’s BS about trade and immigrants taking our jerbs is different that Bernie’s protectionism

    1. Trump at least is talking about the corporate tax rate. We’ll see whether the GOP does something about it, or does something stupid to make it revenue neutral. I’m not holding my breath.

    2. Because, obviously, one is patriotic, nationalistic, common sense fair trade, job saving protectionism and the other is bigoted, racist, unenlightened, sexist, homophobic, oppressive protectionism. Sheesh.

  3. Jesus Christ, Reason, when are you going to stop shilling for Trump?

    1. Yes, this partisan quackery is getting old. Didn’t they see the movie? Bernie’s dead, woman!

  4. It’s nice to be reminded just how much of a joke Bernie really was. I really think he might have been the worst of all options available

  5. This article was significantly less retarded than Dalmia’s usual. Good job, my heart cockles are all warm.

    1. I had to actually go back and check to see if you were right. Maybe they somehow fucked up the author credit?

  6. I’m was for Trump because he’s better on trade and student loans than HRC was.

    1. Shut the fuck up

    2. That’s nice.

  7. I feel like Shikha’s articles before, say, December have been a deliberate trolling attempt to trigger all the conservative-leaning libertarians who read Reason, just so she can then cause their heads to explode with all the recent, high quality, reasonable, and unquestionably liberty-oriented articles she has written since December.

    1. I think someone spanked Shikha on the buttocks.

    2. She was firmly in camp Hillary. I think this is a recognition that the fact that they didn’t meet their donation targets this year and a bunch of people specifically said it was partially because of her biased reporting.

      1. She was firmly in camp Hillary.

        No, she wasn’t. She said she was considering voting for Hillary Clinton (which I think is still stupid) simply to defeat Trump. In her own words: this time I am seriously contemplating going with Hillary Clinton (provided she gets no worse) for the simple reason that there is no more important task than defeating Donald Trump.…..ur-votes/1

        Don’t make shit up.

        1. Waste of time. This site has consistently skewed right for the dozen years I’ve read it, they skew a little bit left this election, and the commentariat lost their fucking minds. Half the people here are Republicans, pretending. If that wasn’t obvious before, it certainly is now.

  8. Do you honestly not understand the difference between a corporate inversion and outsourcing? Or the difference between structuring a tax code such that companies that rely on US educated and supported employees can’t skirt corporate tax laws versus blatant corporate welfare (as was the case w/ Trump and Carrier)?

    It may be convenient to equate these things, but they’re completely different approaches. You may disagree with both of them but they are not opposite sides of a coin.

    1. “skirt corporate tax laws”
      Any tax laws that try to make a company pay the US government taxes for goods sold in France or Canada deserve to be ‘skirted.’ Burger King isn’t taking advantage of a ‘loophole.’ They’re completely morally in the right to not want to pay taxes the US has no right to try to impose.

      In any case, what’s your point?

  9. As bad as Trump is (maybe down in the Bushpig area by 2019) Bernie would be even worse.

  10. Shika Dalmia? This guy is an American? Cares about America? Get him off your site.

  11. Je Je Je… I remember the last time Walgreens was scared into changing its modus operandi.
    But seriously folks, someone needs to sit down with Shikha and a couple of dictionaries and explain the meaning of the word “liberal.” We live in a globalized world now, and it is embarrassing to have Reason pseudo-libertarians belching nationalsocialist equivocation slurs like it was 1932 in Freehold, Iowa. This is the 21st Century for Bob’s sake! American Liberals could become libertarians with just a bit of linguistic honesty and mebbe hormone treatment. Nowhere else in the world do communist infiltrators call themselves liberals.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.