One of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's stronger economic appeals to working-class voters is his position on trade. Trump understands that people are upset that "trade" deals have moved so many jobs out of the country and he offers solutions that sound like he is saying he will bring the jobs back so wages can start going up again.
But a deeper look at what he is really saying might not be so appealing to voters.
Trump says the U.S. is not "competitive" with other countries. He has said repeatedly we need to lower American wages, taxes and regulations to the point where we can be "competitive" with Mexico and China. In other words, he is saying that business won't send jobs out of the country if we can make wages low enough here.
Trump even has a plan to accomplish this. He has said the way to make U.S. wages "competitive" is to pit states against each other instead of using China and Mexico to do that. He has said, for example, that auto companies should close factories in Michigan and move the jobs to low-wage, anti-union states. After enough people are laid off in one state, he has said, "those guys are going to want their jobs back even if it is less." Then companies will be able to "make good deals" to cut wages. He says that companies should continue this in a "rotation" of wage cuts, state to state, until you go "full-circle," getting wages low enough across the entire country. Then the U.S. will be "competitive" with China and Mexico.
Yes, Trump Actually Said These Things
Trump discussed this in an August 2015 interview with The Detroit News headlined, “Trump suggests moving some car production from Michigan.“ In the interview, the subject of moving jobs out of the country because other places offer lower wages, "free or nearly free land on which to build, and fewer regulatory hurdles" came up. "Trump suggested one way to stop automakers’ expansion to Mexico is by moving some production out of Michigan to lower-wage states."
He said U.S. automakers could shift production away from Michigan to communities where autoworkers would make less. “You can go to different parts of the United States and then ultimately you’d do full-circle — you’ll come back to Michigan because those guys are going to want their jobs back even if it is less,” Trump said. “We can do the rotation in the United States — it doesn’t have to be in Mexico.”
He said that after Michigan “loses a couple of plants — all of sudden you’ll make good deals in your own area.”
Trump has made similar arguments on other occasions. That same month The Washington Times reported, in Donald Trump: ‘Having a low minimum wage is not a bad thing for this country’, that Trump said the following, using the same state vs. state argument (emphasis added).
Saying the United States needs to be able to compete in a global economy, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said Thursday having a low minimum wage isn’t a bad thing for the country.
“... I think having a low minimum wage is not a bad thing for this country.”
... “It’s such a nasty question because the answer has to be nasty,” Mr. Trump said. “You know, we’re in a global economy now. It used to be people would leave New York state and companies would leave New York state or leave another state and go to Florida, go to Texas, go to wherever they go because the wages … you know, all sorts of different things.”
“Well now, it’s not leaving New York or New Jersey or wherever they may be leaving — now they’re leaving the United States, and they’re going to other countries because they’re competing for low taxes and they’re competing for low wages and they’re competing for all sorts of things ...”
“So what’s happening now is people are shopping, companies are shopping. ... They’re shopping their companies to [other] places, and we can’t have a situation where our labor is so much more expensive than other countries that we can no longer compete.”
Mr. Trump said if he wins the White House, he would “make us so competitive as a country.”
Again, in November 2015, The New York Times reported, in "Donald Trump Insists That Wages Are ‘Too High’":
“We are a country that’s being beaten on every front, economically, militarily. There is nothing we do now to win,” said Mr. Trump, adding at another point that “our wages are too high.”
... “Our taxes are too high. Our wages are too high. We have to compete with other countries."
Again and again, Trump says U.S. taxes, regulations and wages are too high for American companies to "compete."
Trump repeated the same argument in his "Economic Speech" Monday at the Detroit Economic Club, saying that high taxes and regulations make America uncompetitive so businesses move away. He left out his – and every other Republican's – position on wages.
Run The Country Like A Business?
Trump talks about how he is a "businessman" who is a great "negotiator." He wants to run the country like a business.
But people who run businesses always push for lower taxes, fewer regulations and lower wages. Trump used to talk openly about his desire to cut all three, in order to make America more "competitive" with Mexico and China. Lately he only promises to radically cut taxes and regulations on businesses. Of course, he has learned to keep quiet about his desire to cut the third leg of that argument, wages.
But Trump is, after all, the Republican candidate. He is, after all, a businessman. He has, after all, openly expressed his wish to bring American wages down in the past and even voiced his plan to pit states against each other to accomplish that.
So we should, after all, understand that a Republican businessman who has made it clear that he thinks wages need to go down does not suddenly have the best interests of American workers at heart. He is also a politician, and in this one instance he has learned to keep his mouth shut, at least when it comes to his argument that wages are too high. That doesn't mean his argument has changed.