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Trump Proposes Awful-Sounding 'Economic Development Bill' That Might Not Actually Exist

Is it just more bluster from the White House? Let's hope so.

J Gerard Seguia / Pacific Press/NewscomJ Gerard Seguia / Pacific Press/NewscomPresident Donald Trump says he has a secret plan for economic development. He wants to throw money at American businesses and punish—somehow—companies that don't do what he wants.

The president floated the idea of what he called an "economic development bill" during an exclusive interview with Forbes, published today. The bill, Trump told Forbes' Randall Lane, is a secret for now (or at least it was) and will reward companies for keeping jobs in America while those that move jobs overseas will be "penalized severely."

"An economic-development bill, which I think will be fantastic. Which nobody knows about. Which you are hearing about for the first time," Trump said, in language that can only be described as Classic Trumpian—teasing with just enough information to keep the viewer watching, while simultaneously trying to make himself sound like the smartest guy in the room.

Trump said the secret bill would be based on reciprocity.

"It's both a carrot and a stick," Trump said. "It is an incentive to stay. But it is perhaps even more so—if you leave, it's going to be very tough for you to think that you're going to be able to sell your product back into our country."

There's a very real possibility that this is all bluster. The White House apparently did not respond to requests from several media outlets that asked for more details about the president's secret economic development plan. An unnamed White House official told CNBC the plan would be discussed after tax reform and infrastructure bills are passed through Congress.

In the Forbes interview, Trump seemed to be struggling to explain how the proposal would work. "What I want to do is reciprocal," he said. "If somebody is charging us 50%, we should charge them 50%. Right now they charge us 50%, and we charge them nothing. That doesn't work with me."

One might be inclined to ask: 50 percent of what? Trump has been talking about slapping reciprocal tariffs on imported goods for a while—since at least the early stages of his presidential campaign—but it's unclear that he's proposing that here. Tariffs applied to goods from certain countries as reciprocal penalties for other governments putting tariffs on American goods would not punish companies for leaving. They would hurt American workers (by driving up prices) and American companies (for the same reason) and that, well, seems like an odd way to reward companies for keeping jobs here.

An economic development scheme would be similarly myopic. State governments have been throwing money at businesses for years with little to show for it, and the federal government already gives businesses piles of taxpayer money every year via loans issued by the Small Business Administration, grants through various green energy programs, backdoor subsidies such as the Import-Export Bank, and more. If the secret to economic development is government spending, we should all be tired of winning by now.

Lower taxes and less regulation—which Trump supports some of the time, though not when goods are crossing borders—will do more to boost American businesses' bottom lines and workers' paychecks than more special treatment for politically favored firms.

For all his posturing as an outsider, Trump is doubling down on years of failed government policies. Whether he's going after specific companies for making decisions he disagrees with—like he did last year by first threatening, then striking a special deal with Indiana-based air conditioner manufacturer Carrier—or threatening to punish entire industries for the "crime" of providing American consumers and businesses with cheap products, Trump seems consistently eager to stick his government's nose into business.

Or, as Forbes' Lane put it: "And so here we are, the first president to come solely from the private sector, representing the party that for more than a century championed laissez-faire capitalism and free trade, proposing that government punish and reward companies based on where they choose to locate factories and offices. Is the president comfortable with that idea?"

"Very comfortable," Trump said.

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  • Citizen X - #6||

    "An economic-development bill, which I think will be fantastic. Which nobody knows about. Which you are hearing about for the first time," Trump said

    I'm starting to suspect that Trump does a lot of brainstorming out loud.

  • Hugh Akston||

    His cabinet watches these interviews and sighs "okay, who wants to get started writing this one?"

  • Citizen X - #6||

    You've never seen so many fingers move to noses so quickly.

  • Hugh Akston||

    You're obviously unaware of my 3rd place finish at the 2013 National Nosepicking Championship.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Okay, but have you ever shouted "NOT IT" with such panicked force that you dislocated your jaw?

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  • Leo Kovalensky||

    Brainstorming might be a bit of a stretch. More accurately, Trump likes to do a lot of talking which is rarely preceded by much thinking.

  • Azathoth!!||

    Just say that you don't know what 'brainstorming' means, okay?

  • Bob Meyer||

    I'd argue about the "brain" part of "brainstorming".

  • creech||

    Ever time I hear another one of these "fantastic ideas" from President Trump, I lose a little more respect for Wharton School. Harvard Business School has always had its share of doofus grads but not Wharton.

  • colorblindkid||

    I still think Trump is a little senile. I know we're not supposed to talk about it, but the guy clearly was more intelligent and coherent 10-20 years ago. Nancy Pelosi is much further along in her descent into senility than Trump, though.

    Great government leaders all around.

  • JunkScienceIsJunk||

    Like a lot of my own family members, I think he just got caught up watching Fox News and co-opted their ideas as his own.

  • LarryA||

    Whatever. Trump was still the second worst candidate in the race.

  • ernieyeball||

    Dear leader Kim Jong Trump want's to give you a wedgie and he appreciates your support!

  • Jerryskids||

    "And so here we are, the first president to come solely from the private sector, representing the party that for more than a century championed laissez-faire capitalism and free trade,...."

    LOL. "Crony capitalist" is now the private sector? And the party that talked a lot about laissez-faire capitalism and free trade also talked a lot of shit about smaller government and repealing Obamacare, how's that coming along?

  • Uncle Jay||

    RE: Trump Proposes Awful-Sounding 'Economic Development Bill' That Might Not Actually Exist

    If Trump wants to reward companies, then he will reduce the excessively high corporate tax.
    The question is will the cowardly GOP go along with Trump?

  • vek||

    I have no problem with the THEORY of free trade as presented on paper. I believe it all pencils out. However the particulars of how trade, which is most definitely NOT free trade, actually works in the real world is another story.

    I thoroughly believe we never should have signed off on allowing any of these countries easy access to our market without reciprocal deals from them. It was just plain stupid. Since we're such a massive market they all would have buckled and dropped tariffs on our goods, which is what we really want. I believe we would have lost millions fewer jobs if we were practicing real free trade with countries like China, India, etc. After all the reading I have done I think a strong mathematical argument can be made that we have lost out on a lot of money from our current trade system, mostly because of other countries protectionism. If you're not arguing the individual right for anybody to trade with anybody anywhere, but are looking at the large systemic effects on an entire nations economy, I think the math shows a country CAN lose on trade, and in fact I think we largely have. If we didn't have fiat money we'd have had to balance our trade deficit a long time ago. We're only not feeling the full force of the pain because of economic manipulation like our fiat currency, the welfare state to support all the people on the dole, etc etc etc.

  • vek||

    I think Trumps plan the whole time has been to play chicken with China and others, knowing they will buckle.

    Think about it this way: The US is the single largest market on earth for selling goods into. If China says "Fucka you round eye, we not match rates! You jack up rates on you we jack ours higher!!!" AKA tries to go to trade war with us... So what? For US we're in the strong position. We can just say "Fine, we'll import our cheap crappy stuff from India instead because they caved on the tariff issue. Have fun with that depression China!"

    China can't replace us as a market to export to, but we CAN replace them. This is why we have next to nothing to lose by forcing their hand. And I'm all for it. Enough nations will cave that we won't be hurt much at all on imports, and it may very thoroughly improve our ability to export to these countries once they drop their tariffs.

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