Thursday, December 1, 2016

Should Government Pick Winners and Losers?

An interesting contradiction took place yesterday, and the next 4-8 years promises a whole slew more of'em. The specific one here is Trump claiming he's negotiated to keep almost half of the jobs at a Carrier plant which Carrier had previously pledge to move to Mexico, in Indiana. There are a number of reasons to dispute his claims, principally the fact that Indiana put up $7 million to pull this off. That's a state action, not a federal one. (Note that once he officially takes office, the number of governors Trump will be able to force to put up millions of dollars for manufacturers will dwindle from Mike Pence to zero.) But say Trump was actually responsible for negotiating this "deal" - can Republicans of principle defend him?

When I lived in Michigan during the financial crisis, the state was hemorrhaging jobs as the auto industry and everything around it looked like it would crumble. Governor Jennifer Granholm promoted various tax incentives meant to attract businesses to Michigan, and Republicans dismissed the efforts as a shell game (you give tax breaks one place, but tax another. Then in four years you'll repeal those tax breaks and put them somewhere else. Shell game.) The larger point was that the government shouldn't be in the business of picking winners and losers. And when Solyndra failed as part of the larger, largely successful Clean-Energy Technology program, conservatives said, "hey - why is the federal government picking winners and losers?" And when the State of New York put up close to a billion dollars to support the building of a solar plant in Buffalo, I said, "hey - should we be spending all this money picking winners and losers?"

The point is, Trump has signaled a willingness to get his hands dirty and pick winners and losers. We can expect a presidency full of similar stunts, claiming to save every manufacturing and coal job in America, regardless of the actual circumstances. And as he claims to pick winners and losers, will Republicans be consistent in pointing out that they don't believe it's the government's place to do so?

That's a rhetorical question.

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