Free Market Opportunities for the Trump Administration

This election has given us one more demonstration that knowledge is dispersed and “trusting the experts” to know the future is foolish. The unexpected success of Donald Trump in the general election, however, has a lot of relevance for CEI’s policy work.

Trade: The core element of Trump’s rhetoric is that free trade has had an unfairly negative impact on American workers, especially in the manufacturing sector. This could lead to a policy that resists innovation and seeks to prop up uncompetitive industries with new tariffs. One of the things we need, but unfortunately have not yet seen, is an effective campaign to balance that demand with a coalition of consumers and workers in import-dependent industries. The financial well-being of those people matters too. Also, as CEI has emphasized as far back as the NAFTA ratification debate, trade agreements should be about trade – not labor, the environment, and other regulatory issues. Our earlier worries have been validated by the continual expansion of non-trade elements in supposed free trade deals. Recent negotiations have become a form of “regulatory imperialism” used to force other nations to adopt unrelated policy agendas being pushed by domestic activist groups.

Regulatory Reform: The work of CEI’s Wayne Crews is now in the forefront of this issue – his proposal to reinstate Ronald Reagan’s Executive Order on regulatory review and his detailed list of recommendations for rolling back bureaucracy need to be part of the new administration’s “First Hundred Days” campaign of economic liberalization.

Energy: The waste and corruption inherent in green energy policies will be a prime area in which the Trump team can cut spending while ensuring access to affordable energy for Americans. The Clean Power Plan, a major element of President Obama’s national energy policy, is also reportedly on the chopping block.

Environment: These issues will be part of the larger regulatory liberalization effort that has been a major theme of the Trump campaign. Hopefully Trump will cull the large population of climate alarmists currently on the federal payroll, and de-fund the attendant offices and policies that have been expanding throughout the executive branch for decades. The transition staff should also oversee a diminished role for the Environment Protection Agency – at least downgrading it from a cabinet level office. It should also open up all environmental laws to alternative private solutions – allowing insurance as an option to cleanups, allowing ecological adoption to augment regulatory approaches to species protection, extending the rules allowing private ownership of subsurface land rights. Many have noted that environmental issues encompass almost everything – to restrict solution options to one federal bureaucracy is foolish.

Interior: This is a great opportunity to push for reopening federal lands in Western states to privatization – and, more ambitiously, to consider extending subsurface mineral rights to aquifers. We’ll also have to take another look at the private, franchise-style management of National Park Service lands advocated by groups like the Property and Environment Research Center. The ban on fracking and other economically beneficial uses of resources on government lands should end.

Finance: One hopes that Trump’s promise to “get rid of” the financial industry regulations known as Dodd-Frank is realized, but disentangling even those relatively new rules from the federal bureaucracy will be difficult. It also remains to be seen how his administration will view financial services like payday lending. There’s a strong entrepreneurial and egalitarian case for a hands off approach, but they’re also under attack by nanny state ideologues who’ve mobilized populist front groups. Trump has championed entrepreneurship – such economic breakthroughs are most important (on economic and moral grounds) when they allow disadvantaged Americans access to the market. Encouraging entrepreneurs to reach out to these Americans should become an egalitarian goal of the Administration.

Labor: Europe has long experienced excessive levels of unemployment (and resulting higher levels of welfare burdens) because their work rules emphasize assistance to workers in place and skill. The result has been to slow the movement of workers to areas and sectors that offer greater economic value. The Administration should seek to eliminate policies that distinguish between part time and full time work and between paid and unpaid work. Individuals can better navigate the boundaries between these arbitrary divisions – seeking internships to gain skills, seeking part-time sharing economy roles when laid off or when they wish to spend more time at home. Reifying the work force in a growth oriented entrepreneurial economy is extremely counter-productive to workers.