Taking seriously but not literally the trade-related comments that President-elect Donald Trump made at his long-overdue, frequently bizarre, and eminently watchable press conference today, a pro-trade observer might linger for a moment on the term Trump used to describe the act of moving a manufacturing facility from America to somewhere else. "There will be a major border tax on these companies that are leaving," our next president warned, "and getting away with murder."
What purpose does such over-the-top figurative language serve? Well, it's entertaining, for one, and Trump has derived enormous value from being able to hold our attention. (My favorite such moment from today was when he called BuzzFeed a "failing pile of garbage.") It's also a pretty direct political signal to his Rust Belt voter base that the incoming president takes their job displacement personally. He was explicit about that linkage today:
[T]hat was a beautiful scene on November 8th as those states started to pour in. And we focused very hard in those states, and they really reciprocated. And those states are gonna have a lot of jobs […]
[W]hat really is happening, is the word is now out, that when you want to move your plant to Mexico or some other place, and you want to fire all of your workers from Michigan and Ohio and all these places that I won—for good reason—it's not going to happen that way anymore.
A third and more far-reaching use of such hyperbole is that it probably helps in Trump's audacious yet preliminarily promising project (from his point of view, not mine) of transforming the Republican Party's fundamental views on capitalism, trade, and economics. While former free traders like Mike Pence, Reince Preibus, and Steve Moore look on and applaud, the standard-bearer of the GOP is mouthing words that would fit snugly in a Hillary Clinton speech:
Speaking of Democratic talking points, Trump in his opening remarks singled out Big Pharma as his second major industrial target, after the auto industry. Check out the lefty:
We've got to get our drug industry back. Our drug industry has been disastrous. They're leaving left and right. They supply our drugs, but they don't make them here, to a large extent. And the other thing we have to do is create new bidding procedures for the drug industry because they're getting away with murder.
Pharma, pharma has a lot of lobbies and a lot of lobbyists and a lot of power and there's very little bidding on drugs. We're the largest buyer of drugs in the world and yet we don't bid properly and we're going to start bidding and we're going to save billions of dollars over a period of time.
There's that "murder" word again….
Trump has been making this pharmaceuticals-bidding argument for a while now, and as Peter Suderman pointed out last year, his approach thus far has not been tethered to realism. And his browbeating of companies, sometimes on an individual level, is already becoming a recipe for crony capitalism, as Eric Boehm has pointed out here. But the big policy kahuna—and therefore the biggest threat to all Americans—will be his strong desire to enact a border tax:
You want to move your plant and you think, as an example, you're going to build that plant in Mexico and you're going to make your air conditioners or your cars or whatever you're making, and you're going to sell it through what will be a very, very strong border […] not going to happen. You're going to pay a very large border tax. So if you want to move to another country and if you want to fire all of our great American workers that got you there in the first place, you can move from Michigan to Tennessee and to North Carolina and South Carolina. You can move from South Carolina back to Michigan.
So will Republicans go along with the Hillaryification of GOP economics? Many of their voters appear ready, as Reason TV recently found: