Foxconn

Trump's Foxconn Deal Became Just Another Government Development Debacle

The Taiwanese manufacturer promised Trump and then–Governor Scott Walker 13,000 new jobs and a state-of-the-art manufacturing plant. They've delivered a mostly empty building that's one-twentieth the promised size.

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In 2018, President Donald Trump teamed up with then–Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) to offer $4.5 billion in subsidies and tax incentives to the Taiwanese manufacturer Foxconn in exchange for building a 20-million-square-foot factory in the rural community of Mount Pleasant.

"I think we can say this is the eighth wonder of the world," Trump said at a groundbreaking ceremony in June 2018.

The project was supposed to employ 13,000 local workers, helping to make good on Trump's campaign promise to increase the number of domestic factory jobs.

More than two years later, planners have flattened a residential neighborhood and built an unfinished data center and warehouses, which are a fraction of the size of the state-of-the-art LCD panel factory that was originally planned.

After Foxconn failed to reach employment benchmarks, Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, who defeated Walker in 2018, clawed back some of the subsidies that his predecessor had promised. The major facility constructed by the company is one-twentieth the size of what was originally promised, and its planned use has changed from manufacturing to storage, according to an article in The Verge.

The Foxconn debacle is just the latest government-led development deal riddled with false promises in which the state provided the rich with giveaways and used the threat of eminent domain to push ordinary citizens out of their homes to benefit a private company. The Mount Pleasant neighborhood where the Foxconn factory was supposed to be built was flattened—questionably so, since the buildings that have been constructed occupy a tiny portion of the area that was demolished. 

When Reason did a story on the project in 2018, Kim and Jim Mahoney were some of the only residents left within 1 1/2 square miles. They were fighting the local government, which was attempting to bully them into selling their dream home by threatening that the state would step in and force them out.

"How can they take my house? To me, it's stealing," Jim Mahoney told Reason in 2018.

The Mahoneys, unlike all their neighbors, managed to stay put, and today their house overlooks a warehouse and unfinished construction site. It's unclear what ultimately will become of the project.

"You're setting people up for failure if you encourage them to locate in a place where they fundamentally shouldn't be locating," says economist Matthew D. Mitchell, a senior research fellow and director of the Equity Initiative at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Mitchell, who co-authored a study on the Foxconn deal, says it's a cautionary tale of what happens when politicians become private sector deal-makers.

"You're not spending your own money and you don't reap any upside reward from the benefits. So you have no incentive to minimize the costs and no incentive to maximize the benefits," Mitchell notes.

"If a private entrepreneur went to you and said, 'I've got this great plan. I would like you to invest $3.6 billion into my company. And here's the best part, it would employ 13,000 people. Isn't that awesome?' You would say, 'Why are you talking to me about the costs?'"

What the public doesn't see at a ribbon-cutting ceremony is all the economic activity that will never take place because of the burden that taxpayer subsidies shift onto other businesses and activities. Mitchell estimated that the Foxconn deal contained $2.8 billion in outright subsidies. The taxation needed to fund those subsidies would have reduced Wisconsin's gross domestic product by about $20 billion over that same period.

Using government funds to broker business deals remains popular among politicians. One survey of American mayors found that 84 percent favored using the government for targeted economic development.

"The very best thing that a governor could do is to announce that they will never, ever preside over any ribbon-cutting ceremony in which they subsidize a particular firm," says Mitchell. Even though the economics don't make sense, the political incentives encourage mayors and governors to "outbid" neighboring states to attract investment.

"There is a way to get around this that sort of appreciates the political economy of the situation," Mitchell notes. "States could enter into interstate compacts with one another, whereby they agree to a mutually disarm in the subsidy war—'I'll put away my subsidies if you put away yours.' This is really the same kind of logic that governs things like the WTO, and it's been extraordinarily successful."

He emphasizes that the Foxconn debacle isn't a story about Trump's unique incompetence, as some critics portray it. It's about the perils of government-led business deals, no matter who's in charge and what political party they belong to.

Democrats in the Connecticut town of New London partnered with a Republican governor to seize the land of homeowners like Susette Kelo in order to then hand it over to the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. The project was never built, leaving an empty lot where Kelo's house once stood 13 years later.

In 1981, Detroit and Hamtramck, Michigan politicians partnered with General Motors to use eminent domain to displace more than 4,000 people in the predominantly immigrant neighborhood of Poletown to make way for a car assembly plant.

In 2009, the Obama administration directed a $535 million government loan to the solar manufacturer Solyndra to construct a manufacturing facility in California, but the company went bankrupt soon after, costing U.S. taxpayers more than half a billion dollars.

"Democrats were very enthusiastic about the subsidies to Solyndra during the Obama years, and they were very down on the subsidies to Carrier and Foxconn during the Trump years," says Mitchell. "Unfortunately, I think that partisans see target economic development incentives pretty clearly when the other side is doing it, but they have an extraordinary blank spot when it comes to their own incentives."

Produced by Zach Weissmueller; graphics by Isaac Reese 

Photos: Mark Hertzberg/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Brian Snyder/REUTERS/Newscom; Mark Hoffman—Pool via CNP/picture alliance / Consolidated News Photos/Newscom; Yichuan Cao/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Brian Cassella/TNS/Newscom; Brian Cassella/TNS/Newscom; SMG/ZUMA Press/Newscom; DARREN HAUCK/REUTERS/Newscom; Kevin Lamarque/REUTERS/Newscom; Pete Souza/PSG/Newscom; Chris Bergin/REUTERS/Newscom; Brian Cassella/TNS/Newscom

Music: "Wonder" and Moment in Time" by Tristan Barton.

NEXT: Citizen vs. Government (Vol. 5)

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  1. The US will thankfully invest in clean, green energy under a Joe Biden administration!

    1. To be fair, if you could get closer to energy independence, that is overall a good thing. Creates jobs and frees us from unnecessary intervention in the Middle East (and the world truthfully.) Less pointless wars, less lives lost, way less money spent fighting them naturally, etc. Not to mention the positive impact of not contributing even more to climate change.

      1. 1. Why is it a good thing?

        2. Jobs are a cost, not a benefit – everyone in a job is someone who can’t do something else.

        3. We haven’t been ‘intervening’ (interesting euphamism) in the Middle East because of oil. Oil is fungable. If no one in the ME will sell to us then they’ll sell to someone else – who won’t be buying it from Russia or Venezuela, etc and who then will sell to us.

        4. How do you think renewable energy systems are made? How do you think they are designed to handle highly variable loads – fossil fuels.

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      2. “To be fair, if you could get closer to energy independence, that is overall a good thing”

        You mean when it happened?

        https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/us-energy-facts/imports-and-exports.php

        In 2019, total U.S. energy exports were greater than total energy imports, and the United States became a net total energy exporter for the first time since 1952.

        1. Jeff is stupid but he makes up for it by being poorly informed.

          1. …and then arrogant about it; “who cares about that old news”.

            1. The Leftist trifecta.

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  2. “Unfortunately, I think that partisans see target economic development incentives pretty clearly when the other side is doing it, but they have an extraordinary blank spot when it comes to their own incentives.”

    Maybe this is where Democrats realize the error of their ways when they cheered on the Kelo decision in the service of grand Urban Planning.

    1. And flying pigs, and purple elephants, and snowballs in hell, and the Tooth Fairy.

  3. This “debacle” is an excellent reason to vote in Joe Biden and the Democrats–along with their $2 trillion crony capitalist Green New Deal.

    Is that what I’m supposed to think?

    P.S. Joe Biden is a crook.

    1. I’d rather have a 2 trillion green new deal than 2 trillion given to the 1%. At least you get *something* out of it.

      P.S. You’re a dunce.

      1. We know what you would prefer. Why do you shove your choices down on the rest of us. Perhaps instead you reflect on why you wish to be that way, and why others would resist you.

        PS Shut the fuck up forever.

      2. Your an idiot. Who do you think will get Joe Biden’s give aways other then the 1%? Just look at the Obama admin and all the 1% give aways they did. THE MOTHERFUCKER SOLD OUT THE AMERICAN PEOPLE TO 1% IN THE INSURANCE INDUSTRY FOR CHRISTS SAKES!

        PS. All politicians are crooks.

        1. A real example of that, from Wisconsin no less:

          Before a single penny went to a patient, the ACA required the federal government provide hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies for the implementation of its own electronic medical records requirement. Those subsidies were a huge windfall for a little Madison-based web-programming company called EPIC that makes medical records software, and whose founder was a major Obama-campaign donor. (She’s now a major Biden-campaign donor) She was rewarded with a seat on the Health Information Technology Policy Committee, where she had the power to regulate her own industry.

          Before the ACA, EPIC was notorious for abusing the H1B visa system, underpaying workers and requiring them to work long hours.

      3. I’d rather have a 2 trillion green new deal than 2 trillion given to the 1%

        Lol, the .001 percent are the guys who will be gobbling up every penny of the green new deal.
        How the fuck did you think the average factory worker would be able to effect its policies?

        I’ve never met IRL people as blatantly dishonest as internet lefties.

      4. “I’d rather have a 2 trillion green new deal than 2 trillion given to the 1%.”

        There’s so much wrong with this, it’s hard to know where to start. It ends with, “get a real job”.

        Do you work for the government? That would explain why you can’t tell the difference between Biden and the Democrats squandering our future paychecks on the Green New Deal and the 1% earning income.

        You might be surprised to hear that the upper 1% pay 38.5 times their proportion of the population in income taxes, too.

        https://taxfoundation.org/summary-of-the-latest-federal-income-tax-data-2020-update/

        Where do you think the government gets the money it spends? Do you imagine the government makes a profit?

        P.S. What a fucking retard!

      5. “I’d rather have a 2 trillion green new deal than 2 trillion given to the 1%.”

        In the case of Foxconn, they never received the subsidies. The deal required them to build factories and employ people before they could qualify. It also spelled out the types of development and hiring that could qualify.

        That’s a lot more oversight and accountability than, say, education sending. For example, the blue state to the west of Wisconsin spends $30,000 in taxpayer cash per four-year degree issued by a state college. Unlike the Foxconn deal, that money isn’t tied to employment in a related field, or at a minimum pay grade; it’s a no-strings-attached handout. Most of those graduates end up working in lesser jobs, quite a few of them drawing government stipends through Americorps and similar programs. I’ll take the Foxconn deal over that any day.

    2. No. That is not what you’re supposed to think.

      Not everything Reason prints is about Biden.

      Sometimes its just a cautionary warning about not believing the bullshit politicians spout.

      1. “Not everything Reason prints is about Biden.”

        You’re aware that there’s an election in a few days, right?

        I am too.

    3. Is that what I’m supposed to think?

      That its a bad deal, that Reason wants to educate their readers (not my strongest point), that even if you like Trump you should still be able to call a spade a spade.

      1. “…that even if you like Trump you should still be able to call a spade a spade.”

        Absolutely. By the same token you should be able to disagree with Trump on issues like deficits, the death penalty and Mideast politicking (as I do) and still acknowledge that the Foxconn deal was not bad for taxpayers. It was a pay-for-performance agreement and Foxconn never collected the tax breaks.

        Criticizing or excoriating eminent domain is fair, but incorreclty insinuating for two years that Foxconn received billions in state subsidies is out of bounds for a news magazine.

    4. “Is that what I’m supposed to think?”

      How do you read one of these boilerplate “both major parties are bad, have you tried libertarianism?” articles and come away thinking it is an endorsement of Biden?

      1. Probably because there’s no article on the boondoggle where Biden laundered millions in foreign bribes through his son, and set policy accordingly?

        1. Go read Breitbart if you want the Russion intelligence propaganda that Rudy Guiliani courted.
          https://www.politico.com/news/2020/10/19/hunter-biden-story-russian-disinfo-430276

          1. Russion intelligence propaganda

            Seriously Tony? Still trying to blame the Russkis and their $150k budget?
            Joe McCarthy has nothing on Tony.

          2. Let’s break down the Biden laptop thing:

            – We have a computer that Hunter Biden gave to a repair man and forgot about because druggies forget things.

            – We got his signature on the papers.

            – We got his lawyer demanding it back.

            – We got the testimony of a veteran whistleblowing it, and Politico said last year that it’s literally treason to doubt whistleblowing veterans.

            – On Thursday, a Department of Justice official confirmed that the FBI opened an ongoing criminal money-laundering investigation into Hunter Biden and his associates last year.

            – Cybersecurity firm Errata Security were given a full copy of the laptop hard drive for forensic analysis and stated that “the only way the email could have been faked is if someone hacked into Google’s servers, found the private key and used it to reverse engineer the email’s DKIM signature”, which is impossible unless Google itself did it.

            And yet here we have Tony peddling a propaganda petition by 50 DNC agents who never ever saw the laptop or the emails but somehow miraculously knew it was fake.
            Fuck off clown.

    5. Please stop insulting…crooks.

  4. I the like the idea of states developing mutual agreements fight back against companies looking to pit states against each other in a bidding war.
    I do believe that governments at all levels have a responsibility to assist businesses that provide jobs and tax revenues. But this has to be done sensibly. What marks the Foxconn fiasco is that so many local Wisconsin businesses were cast aside in the quest for this big fish. Government can help local businesses develop in a number of ways, helping to find and expand markets, universities provide trained workers as well as advice to improve business performance. There may even be a place for tax incentives if these are limited, directed and sensible.

    1. I do believe that governments at all levels have a responsibility to assist businesses that provide jobs and tax revenues

      Why? Doesn’t this just incentivize government’s to ‘pick winners’ – done by people who have no idea what the market is, have no idea how these businesses work, have no skin in the game since they’re spending other people’s money on other people?

      And why businesses specifically and not anyone that provides tax revenue – like, you know, the people living there. Who also make up each business. Why is it that an out-of-are business should get support from the government at the expense of the people who elected that government in the first place?

      1. “Why is it that an out-of-are[a] business should get support from the government at the expense of the people who elected that government in the first place?”

        Preach!

    2. Nah, 1 law for all. If they think lowering taxes gets them some shiny new company then they should have to lower taxes for all the businesses within the jurisdiction.

  5. Poor unreason.

    If only Democrats hadn’t nuked the economy over Kungflu hysteria. I guess we’ll never know if Foxconn would have done more with an economy not nuked by Wuhanvirus hysterics.

    BTW: Virus comes out of Communist China, who want to conquer Taiwan, and Taiwan company struggles to convince the purchased US media of job plan….

    1. I can tell ya, if Wuhanvirus was a biological attack by the Commies in China, turn China into glass.

      Then we go for the Commie media types here in the USA and send them to China to turn the soil.

      1. I’m hoping like hell that if Sleepy Joe and Kamaltoe do become president, that at least they will have enough basic human decency and mercy on us to finally end this fake pandemic they foisted on all of us.

  6. Isn’t this the second story on Reason about Foxconn in the last 2 weeks? But crickets about Hunter Biden’s emails and how Joe Biden is complicit? I wonder why the commenters here blast Reason as MSM garbage…

    1. ” I wonder why the commenters here blast Reason as MSM garbage…”

      Because it too is garbage; but they get away with comments here that would get them disappeared elsewhere.

  7. Why does Reason hate Trump? Trying to make this look like Trump’s failure! It’s not his fault! Nothing is ever Trump’s fault! The savior can do nothing wrong!

    1. Your life doesn’t matter

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  8. On the other hand, to be sure, all government giveaways are debacles.

  9. What a surprise. More of the same sham deals Trump has built his entire career/facade on.

    1. Except Foxconn never got a penny so it isn’t even a sham deal. The only reason that this is appearing here is that there’s an election next week and you need to be reminded that orangemanbad.

      You want to know what else:
      – They try to make it sound like the people who were eminent domained were victims of the factory instead of the town expanding infrastructure.
      – They fail to mention that incoming Democrat Governor Evers deliberately fucked the deal over because Walker and Trump had arranged it. It’s Evers fault, not Foxconn’s that the employment targets weren’t met.

      1. They fail to mention that incoming Democrat Governor Evers deliberately fucked the deal over because Walker and Trump had arranged it. It’s Evers fault, not Foxconn’s that the employment targets weren’t met.

        Can you explain how he did that? Not challenging you, would like to know because that’s not the story here. Thanks.

  10. Of course. But Trump wanted to put his stamp on something, and Walker certainly didn’t mind. Indulging a few politicians in a showcase is a small price to pay, versus installing ones who really believe in industrial policy.

    Fortunately there’s not a whole lot of the latter even among Democrats. There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of clamor either from the grass roots or leadership for dirigisme, the idea of a government takeover of economic sectors. Rather, it’s just a “bright idea” here and there: a bullet train, a wall, a bunch of redevelopment projects. This is in considerable contrast with other democracies.

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  12. This is what happens when you give government control over business.

    Free markets. Free movement of goods, services and people. Individual rights. What is so hard about that.

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  14. Poor Reason.This really had very little to do with Trump. He used it as a photo op and tweet material. State governments make this deals routinely and they routinely implode. The author is a shill and typical Trump hater.

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  16. “And Masa Son — you want to talk about another successful guy — he was in my office. He said — a friend of mine set it up — said, “I want to invest $50 billion in the United States.” I said, “You don’t mean $50 billion. You mean $50 million.” And that would have been okay. That would have been worth about a five-minute meeting. $50 million. (Laughter.) And so I thought he was saying $50 million.“

    Trump at the Foxconn ceremony.

    Foxconn brokered the deal through Trump. In using it as photo op and tweeting proudly about it criticism is legitimate.

    Trump was conned along with everyone else.

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