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Explaining the Triumph of Trump’s Economic Recklessness

The Trump administration’s economic policy is a strange cocktail: one part populist trade protectionism and industrial interventionism; one part classic Republican tax cuts skewed to the rich and industry-friendly deregulation; and one part Keynesian fiscal and monetary stimulus. But it's the Keynesian part that delivers the kick.

PARIS – Since he was elected US president, Donald Trump has done almost everything standard economic wisdom regards as heresy. He has erected trade barriers and stoked uncertainty with threats of further tariffs. He has blackmailed private businesses. He has eased prudential standards for banks. He has time and again attacked the Federal Reserve for policy not to his liking. He increased the budget deficit even as the economy was nearing full capacity. On a policymaker’s Don’t Do list, Trump ticks many more boxes than any other post-war US president.

And yet the US economy’s longest expansion on record continues. Inflation is low and stable. Unemployment is at a 50-year trough. The unemployment rate for African-Americans is the lowest ever recorded. People who had left the labor market are returning and finding jobs. And wages at the bottom of the distribution are now rising at 4% per year, notably faster than average. On a voter’s economic wish list, Trump ticks more boxes than most of his predecessors.

The political question everybody is speculating about is whether this economic performance will win Trump a second term. But the equally important (and related) economic question is whether it will teach governments worldwide that reckless initiatives beat analysis-based economic policies. If it does, expertise will be ridiculed and international policy institutions will lose whatever credibility they still have. Independent central banks may well become chapels of a forgotten cult. Populists of all guises will feel emboldened.

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