The key to understanding Donald Trump's economic policies is the recognition that, for him, policy and principle are secondary to process. The over-riding concern for Trump is not money or wealth, but deal-making.
"I don't do it for the money ... I do it to do it," wrote Trump in The Art of the Deal. "I like making deals, preferably big deals. That's how I get my kicks."
This flippant disregard for money is the type of thing that is only said by saints and trust fund kids. And Trump is no saint.
Trump started out in business with a loan from his father worth almost $7 million in 2016 dollars. He also inherited between $40 and $200 million when his father died in 1999. As a rich kid, he'd be fabulously wealthy even if he never worked a day in his life.
Because he has never had to be concerned about earning money, he has always treated it as a measuring stick. For Trump, dollars are the main way that "deals" are measured. The more dollars you can extract from someone else, the more you "win."
This may sound like the normal process of capitalism, but it's not. In a free enterprise system (at least in an ideal one) "deals" are mutually beneficial to both parties. The deal may not be equally beneficial to both parties or even beneficial in the same way, but each side must believe they are better off for having entered into an economic exchange. If they did not, they would not have agreed to the deal.
There is a way, however, to "win" at a deal without everyone involved agreeing that it was mutually beneficial: Get the government to redistribute someone else's property to you.
Redistribution, whether of income or wealth, is the transfer of property from some individuals to others by means of a social mechanism. Although redistribution can take benign and voluntary forms (such as charity), the term is usually used to refer to redistribution by force using government means (taxation, confiscation, etc.).
Trump says that deals are his art form. If so, it is because he is a master redistributionist. Almost every dollar Trump has earned through his "deals" has come from some form of government redistribution.
Trump is notorious for using the government's power of eminent domain to "win" at deals. He has even said, "I think eminent domain is wonderful." (This is one type of redistribution that even makes the socialist Bernie Sanders uneasy.) Trump has also repeatedly abused the bankruptcy laws four times to score a "win" over his creditors.
It's not surprising, then, that his love for redistribution of wealth is seeping into his economic policy proposals. He has repeatedly hinted that if it helps him to win deals with the Democrats, he'll implement even greater levels of government redistribution.
For example, Trump recently implied that under his presidency taxes would go up on the rich. "I am willing to pay more," he said. "And you know what? Wealthy are willing to pay more. We've had a very good run. You know, we hear all about Obama, we hear all about—we've had a very good run." He also implied that individual states should raise the minimum wage.
(Since making these statements, Trump has done what he always does: flip-flopped and prevaricated. In accessing Trump's comments it's probably best to assume that he's telling the truth the first time, when he is unguarded, than later when his advisers point out that he shouldn't tell voters what he truly thinks. But because of his inarticulateness and economic ignorance, it's truly difficult to know what he really means, much less what he would actually do if he was president.)
It is distressing that crony capitalists like Trump are allowed to use the government to legally plunder the wealth of their fellow citizens. But it is downright frightening to think that our fellow citizens would choose to make a crony like Trump the plunderer in chief.
In the next article in this series we'll take a look at some of the reasons to consider Trump as one of the most economically ignorant candidates in the history of American presidential politics.
Joe Carter is a senior editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).
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