Donald Trump

The Only Solution to the Trumps' Conflicts of Interest

The heart of the potential for conflicts of interests is not the Trump business empire. It's the presidential power to steer benefits to particular interests.

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Pundits at CNN and other news outlets are much distressed over the report that Ivanka Trump's clothing and accessories company won trademark recognition from the government of China just as that country's president was sitting down with President Trump and the First Daughter for dinner at Mar-a-Lago.

"Conflict of interest!" they protest. "Conflict of interest!" They then set off on an inquiry into how such conflicts can be prevented, an effort beset by a growing sense that nothing can be done about the problem.

They are justified in that sense of futility because within the range of options they would consider acceptable, nothing can be done.

Ivanka Trump is a federal worker, albeit at a salary of zero. But it would make no difference if she had no job in the White House because she would still be the president's daughter and that's not going to change. Any foreign leader—or anyone else, for that matter—who wants to curry favor with President Trump can easily calculate that doing something nice for his daughter at least can't hurt. After all, she doesn't have to be a Special Adviser to the President to be a special adviser to her father, the president. And if she is talking to her father about the country, her comments could be colored—even unconsciously—by her business interests. But even if they were not, Trump himself, who is famously a sucker for flattery and, presumably, for praise for his family, might be influenced by the kindness of strangers.

So how can conflicts of interest be avoided? It would be unreasonable to demand that Ivanka Trump divest herself of her company and have no business interests: she does have rights. She no longer manages her company, but she still holds a stake, even if she has put her assets into a trust. Moreover, she also has resigned as executive vice president of the Trump Organization and sold her common stock in it.

CNNMoney reported that her lawyer says that "Ivanka Trump has converted her stake in her father's company into fixed payments, which means she can't benefit from the financial performance of the Trump Organization…. At the White House, Ivanka Trump's role will be to advise her father and concentrate on issues related to women in the workplace, child care, parental leave and job training, [the lawyer] said." In another story CNNMoney reported that Ivanka's lawyer "said her client would recuse herself from certain policy matters, like trade agreements, that are specific enough to affect her line of clothing and accessories."

But, as I said, this makes no difference whatever. People seeking Trump's good will might still think it advantageous to direct benefits to Trump family business interests. Even with her reduced roles, Ivanka Trump surely wants to see her company and the Trump Organization prosper.

So we appear to be stuck with four to eight years of potential conflicts of interest. We'll never know if decisions coming out of the executive branch were ultimately influenced by conduct calculated to please Trump.

But maybe all is not so hopeless after all. Recall that I said the pundit class knows no solution that it would regard as acceptable. That leaves open the possibility of a solution that is unacceptable to them. "Unacceptable," however, does not necessarily mean unreasonable.

The heart of the potential for conflicts of interests is not the Trumps' business empire. Rather it's presidential power to steer benefits to particular interests. So the surest way to eliminate the potential for conflicts is to eliminate the president's power to steer benefits to anyone. This would include not only favors granted by executive action but also those that a president can push through Congress.

Here we have an analogy with campaign finance. Those who fret over that issue don't want to understand that no one would make mega-contributions to candidates if officeholders had no favors to sell. Who shops where there's nothing to buy? By the same token, no one will do favors for a presidential daughter if the president has nothing to bestow in return.

If politicians could not impose trade restrictions (and therefore could not selectively lift them either) or provide foreign aid or grant any of the other favors the government today can grant, we wouldn't have to worry about conflicts of interest.

Of course, the people who do worry are the same ones who think the government should have the power to do all those things — and more. They want to have their cake and eat it too. But they can't because logic is logic.

This may sound like a call for "limited government," but that's just a slogan. In the real world, states seek missions and expand. Therefore, nothing less than abolition will do.

This piece was originally published by The Libertarian Institute.

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  1. It all comes down to coercive monopolistic government. The only real monopolies are those granted by government: patents anc copyrights, unions, tariffs, subsidies, charters, and so on.. But top of any such list is government itself, granting itself the monopoly on granting monopolies, laws, and legal opinions.

    It’s the lack of competition that makes government so deadly and corrupt. What burns me about socialists is how they can possibly imagine that government bureaucrats are somehow immune to corruption and bias simply by virtue of receiving a government paycheck.

    Thus it has always been. But it doesn’t have to be that way forever. I think there’s a real opportunity for technology to make government obsolete, or at least to move enough of daily life into a technological realm that government can’t touch. Churches used to be absolute rulers, probably the easiest way for ancient tribes to scare people into following crude leaders. Now they are relegated to advisory and voluntary realms, where I think technology will relegate current governments. Christianity may be given a lot of lip service by politicians, but the church and state power structures are mostly distinct. Even some Muslim countries separate religion and state to some extent.

    1. Religion still reigns supreme. Only they call it “science” and “democracy” now. Anyone who disagrees with “science” is a heretic, and instead of the divine right of the king our rulers have the will of the people.

      Only the costumes have changed.

      1. There are a lot of priests of all types wielding lots of power. But we do not live in a theocracy of scientificish bureaucrats.

        It is also not true that science rules; witness the left’s denial of GMO safety and benficience, their obeasance to warming disaster, and their acceptance of wage and price controls in defiance of basic economics.

        So no. We no longer live in any kind of theocracy.

      2. You are correct. Science damn you!

  2. Lowering the level of involvement of the federal government in the lives of individuals and private sector business will never – NEVER – be an option for Trump’s critics. No matter what terrible thing he might be doing, they will never advocate for smaller government. It’s not in their DNA. The only option is to nationalize Trump’s businesses and impeach the president.

  3. Ivanka and her husband (and the other Trumps) are greedy, greedy, greedy for wanting to leverage their positions into fat cash, no better than the Clintons or (as you’ll soon see) the Obamas. Or any other life-long humble public servant that somehow manages to own three houses while endlessly railing about the greedy bastards not paying their fair share.

    1. no better than the Clintons or (as you’ll soon see) the Obamas.

      Obamas are out of office. Leveraging what exactly?

      1. Leveraging their political connections.

  4. who think the government should have the power to do all those things ? and more. They want to have their cake and eat it too. But they can’t because logic is logic.

    This may sound like a call for “limited government,” but that’s just a slogan. In the real world, states seek missions and expand. Therefore, nothing less than abolition will do.

    Starts out great. I long said that the way to reduce influence peddling is to reduce the influence not the peddling.

    But then Richman takes the express train to crazy town with that abolition line. I don’t understand how any adult that can tie his shoes can think anarchy is a viable social or political solution.

    1. So a little bit of slavery is okay? Where and how do you draw the line?
      As he says, logic is logic. Disliking a conclusion does not invalidate it nor refute it.
      The problem of political authority is intractable, the only solution is Alexander’s to the Gordian Knot.
      Or find a solution that does not boil down to “a little slavery is okay, and other people get to decide the extent to which you will be enslaved.”

      1. Your proposed society is untenable and unstable. It falls apart as soon as two well-armed groups of freely-associating volunteers have a vigorous disagreement about which side of the river their property ends on, or a sufficiently big group says “F*ck the NAP, we’re gonna kill them and take their women.”

        I swear, every anarchist in existence must live on a college campus. That’s the only place outside of an insane asylum where you can be so divorced from reality.

        1. Or, you people constantly ignore what the anarchist really is. You boil everything down to absolutes. These so called anarchists might just recognize that stopping said armed groups is a function of government but whom I choose to conduct business with is none of their business.

          Oh. And I dropped out of college years ago.

          1. stopping said armed groups is a function of government

            As soon as you have an armed government — or armed volunteers — taking on the “legitimacy” to stop another armed group you no longer have voluntary association. Certainly the person at the other end of the barrel does not voluntarily associate with the interests represented by your group and does not recognize your legitimacy to judge their actions (you don’t automatically assume your “voluntary group” will always be in the right, do you?).

            In all probability each group thinks it’s right and is merely defending its interests. Bye-bye “anarchy” and voluntary government.

            1. Anarchy isn’t a stable form of anything; it’s the in-between stage of government’s before someone or something takes over. Advocating for Anarchy is advocating for some form of Dictator since that is what will (historically speaking) arise from it.

              If mankind balanced itself well enough for Anarchy to work, it would have worked already organically.

        2. As opposed to governments, which never go to war over vigorous disagreements?

          1. Of course they do. And any “anarchic” group of citizens will immediately form a government to do so.

            Anarchy is based on the idea that first you must create an entirely new species of human that behaves nothing like any humans that have ever existed on this planet.

        3. So how come border wars between countries are not more common? Most borders are peaceful. Why would it be any different between property owners in a society with no monopoly on use of force?

          1. They used to be very, very common. Witness our own Mexican and French & Indian Wars and so many other historical wars that it’s probably nearly impossible to count.

            Border wars are less common because governments are stronger and war between them has worse consequences now than ever. Rag-tag bands of freely-associating groups of people would be back to feudal and pre-feudal barbarism in nothing flat.

      2. Slavery is ok when it’s a bunch of hot chicks chained up for sexual slavery at my place. Any other slavery is bad.

    2. If you start from the state of nature and apply the NAP which comes from, at least in part, the idea that man is naturally equal… how can you ever justify a state of any kind outside of a fully liquid, voluntary based organization of defined authority that does not posses perpetuity or a monopoly over all peoples and can be dissolved at any time( which isn’t, therefore, a state in any real sense)?

      A state can only derive just authority from consent. Yet no state can obtain consent from all its people and therefore is unjust in imposing on those who did not consent. The only just option of organization left is anarchy… Or in other words pure volunteerism.

      1. Which is why no one, generally, will take you seriously. Most people realize that some theoretical notion of “freedom” isn’t something worth maximizing at the expense of all other considerations. Stability and safety are just as important to human flourishing as personal autonomy is.

        1. Doesn’t mean he is wrong. As Walter Williams said, I don’t care if you want to have socialism. Just leave me out of it.

          1. And what difference does it make if he (she?) is right? Again, most people are wise enough and mature enough to know that real life requires sacrifices, trade-offs, etc., and that rigid maximization of one particular ideal probably does not lead to good outcomes.

        2. Yeah, governments have a great historical record of ensuring stability and safety for their people…. more like endless wars and constant financial parasitism.

          1. No, the real question is why are governmental organizations so ubiquitous in human history. People everywhere, from every (farming-based) culture, have created some form of government. Not just a tribal leader, but a recognizable government. I wonder why that is.

      2. See my reply to Shirley.

  5. And who else steer benefits to particular interests? Senators, Congressmen, Governors, Assemblymen, County Commissioners, Mayors, City Council member…

    1. It’s benefits-steerers all the way down. But this is Richman writing about Trump and, for Richman, any stick will do to beat a dog.

  6. Seems much simpler for the orange moron to resign or get removed from office.

    1. Well yes, these concerns didn’t exist until Trump became president and will disappear once he’s gone.

    2. Yes, we would be much better with one of those saintly altruistic democrats in office, right Tony?

    3. Obama just got booked for a $400k speaking gig at Cantor Fitzgerald, a Wall Street investment bank.

      Of course it would be crazy to think that this was quid pro quo for special treatment he provided for them while in office. Because Democrats never have conflicts of interest.

  7. So the surest way to eliminate the potential for conflicts is to eliminate the president’s power to steer benefits to anyone.

    And if my aunt had balls she’d be my uncle.

    It’s not gonna happen. The nice thing about advocating solutions that are outside the realm of possibility is that you can never be proven wrong, ain’t it?

    1. Welcome to Reason and libertarianism.

      1. Phony Tony prefers the crone crony.

    2. So said the slaver owners in the 19th century.

  8. The only way is stop Drumpf from being president.

    Not happening till late 2024

  9. The only way is stop Drumpf from being president.

    Not happening till late 2024

  10. The heart of the potential for conflicts of interests is not the Trumps’ business empire. Rather it’s presidential power to steer benefits to particular interests. So the surest way to eliminate the potential for conflicts is to eliminate the president’s power to steer benefits to anyone. This would include not only favors granted by executive action but also those that a president can push through Congress.

    Voters had an opportunity to decide this at the ballot box.

    Personally, I didn’t care about the kinds of conflicts of interest that Trump is supposedly having.

    I suspect a billionaire like him is a lot less likely to be swayed by money than someone like Hillary or Sanders, who seem to be for sale rather cheaply, even with something as little as a future consulting gig, book deal, or academic job.

    1. “I suspect a billionaire like him is a lot less likely to be swayed by money than someone like Hillary or Sanders, who seem to be for sale rather cheaply, even with something as little as a future consulting gig, book deal, or academic job.”

      ^^^ This.

      Anyone who has been around old rich people will quickly learn that they care far more about their legacy then they do money. They want to be remembered for something. Whether it’s a charitable foundation, a cancer wing at the local hospital, a land grant for a national park, or some other narcissistic monument to their name, it typically is something on the more positive side of things. Can’t be a ‘monument’ if most people hate it.
      Trump may screw up in an effort to put his legacy in place, but worries about corruption are likely misplaced.
      Corruption seems to end up circling around people who don’t have money and sell themselves to obtain it.

      1. He’s likely rich enough, and egotistical enough that no one could buy him.

  11. Only way to avoid conflicts of interest in politics is to have been an abject failure in every field in your life before you got into politics.

    Funny seeing the same people going apoplectic over Trump still have no issue over the Clinton “charity”

  12. The only thing that I will add to this is that it is no different than the prior 3 administrations or a hypothetical Hillary administration.

    In fact, we have seen the Clinton Foundation have some very questionable dealings that directly correlated with her function at the State Department – so no need of a “once removed” modifier to the conflict of interest / appearance of corruption.

    Obama populated his early administration largely with Wall Street folks, particularly from Goldman Sachs, at a time when a couple of trillion dollars was being funneled about – largely winding up in the hands of Wall Street firms and always impacting the business dealings of Wall Street.

    So I don’t see Ivanka as any sort of special case.

    In fact, since I have a strong suspicion that this administration has a high degree of incompetence running about, it may actually impact the world less than Obama, Clinton and Bush’s buddies did.

  13. RE: The Only Solution to the Trumps’ Conflicts of Interest
    The heart of the potential for conflicts of interests is not the Trump business empire. It’s the presidential power to steer benefits to particular interests.

    Trump could learn a lot from Obama and conflict of interests.
    Be rest assured Obama never had any conflict of interests in his administration any more than Trump the Grump lost money in his investments in casinos in New Jersey.

  14. Odd how no one complained about the conflicts of interest in the last administration.

    1. What do you mean? Obama’s and Hillary’s interests were perfectly aligned with those of their financial and political masters! No conflict of interest there!

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