By Tom Still
My Oct. 16 Business Commentary concluded with this thought on the race for president: “For voters who care most about the economy, it’s coming down to a choice between a candidate who offers few or no details and another who may offer too much.”
In President-elect Donald Trump, the nation has elected the detail-free choice. Time will tell whether that’s good for the economy.
While Trump spoke out during the campaign on issues such as immigration, trade, energy and repealing Obamacare, he usually stopped well short of explaining how he planned to carry out his ideas or explaining how much they might cost.
He never came across as a deficit hawk, one reason conservatives cringed at his nomination. In fact, Trump left himself plenty of room to spend more on infrastructure — roads, bridges, airports, rail lines, ports, telecommunications and pipelines — in the hope of propelling the economy.
On Obamacare, Trump must go beyond talk of repealing the Affordable Care Act to a discussion about replacing it — at least in terms of access to health care. A failure to address that question means 225,000 people in Wisconsin alone would lose health care coverage, practically overnight. That will disrupt health care quality and delivery.
On trade, Trump has talked about renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement and withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The natural question is: How would those trade pacts be changed or replaced? That’s particularly important in the case of the TPP, because China is busily negotiating with most of the same Pacific Rim nations over a multination trade agreement of its own.
On energy, Trump promised to “make America energy independent,” but that process is already well underway due to hydraulic fracturing and the tapping of new oil and gas reserves. Most businesses are paying attention to conservation and green building practices, and Trump never said he opposed those trends. In fact, he often talked on the stump about “private conservation” efforts.
While he urged reviving America’s coal country, Trump also said “energy independence means exploring and developing every possible energy source including wind, solar, nuclear and biofuels. A thriving market system will allow consumers to determine the best sources of energy for future consumption.”
On immigration, he famously promised to build a wall along the nation’s southern border and to make Mexico pay for it. That’s a specific and controversial pledge, but Trump otherwise focused on curbing illegal immigration through more traditional means and pledged to “reform legal immigration to serve the best interests of America and its workers, keeping immigration levels within historic norms.”
One area of concern for the tech world is Trump’s war of words with Silicon Valley. Apple CEO Tim Cook, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos were among tech titans called out by Trump at one point or another during the campaign over issues such as immigration, off-shore manufacturing, taxes and terrorism. He also questioned the tech industry’s push for an increase in high-skilled H-1B immigration visas.
On the other hand, Trump has generally praised entrepreneurs and innovation and spoken directly to the value of academic research and development.
“Scientific advances do require long-term investment,” he told ScienceDebate.org, a coalition of 56 groups. “This is why we must have programs such as a viable space program and institutional research that serve as incubators to innovation and the advancement of science and engineering in a number of fields.”
Such statements did not come with positions on federal R&D funding, technology transfer and commercialization, support for start-ups and small businesses, internet governance and reform of the patent system. Trump was basically silent on each.
Trump’s victory in Tuesday’s election was not about details but rather about broad themes and values, many of which could be interpreted in different ways by different listeners. That lack of specificity may hurt him if voters decide he’s not adhering to those themes and values, but it may also help him in terms of negotiating with Congress on a host of knotty economic issues.
After a campaign that was seemingly endless, the American people still don’t know much about how President Trump will use his office to manage the economy. In this case, less detail may mean more room to maneuver.