Saturday, April 6, 2019

Interview: Don Watkins says Donald Trump's victory "revealed how lukewarm many Republicans are to free-market principles"

Editor's note: This interview was originally published in February 2017.

This is the final segment of my discussion with bestselling author Don Watkins, a fellow of the Ayn Rand Institute. The firstsecond, and third parts of our conversation are available on-line. Text quoted below appeared in previous articles, offering background on the subject matter.
Story by Joseph Ford Cotto 
In the American political scene of today, few would dare argue that unfettered free trade is something worth aspiring to. Untold numbers of Make America Great Again-ers and Bernie Bros would pitch a fit should someone merely theorize such a policy. 
Nonetheless, a band of dedicated advocates for laissez-faire capitalism are not backing down. Far from it, in fact. 
Don Watkins is one of these people. An Ayn Rand Institute fellow who, in the words of his employer, "studies inequality, Social Security reform, the welfare state and the moral foundations of capitalism", Watkins formerly wrote a column at He co-authored of two books: Free Market Revolution: How Ayn Rand's Ideas Can End Big Government -- a bestseller -- and Equal is Unfair: America's Misguided FightAgainst Income Inequality. On his own, he penned Rooseveltcare: How Social Security is Sabotaging the Land of Self-Reliance.

As the title of each of book makes clear, Watkins's limited government philosophy is delivered with no holds barred. For more insight, this publication featured a review of Free Market Revolution which can be read here.
Watkins spoke with me about American trade policy, our national monetary program, and the Donald Trump presidency. Some of our conversation is included below. 
Joseph Ford Cotto: The Donald Trump Administration promises many changes to federal politics. Do you believe that his economic proposals, generally speaking, will bring typical Americans higher wages?

Don Watkins: Rising wages are the result of rising productivity, and rising productivity is the result of innovation and capital accumulation. To the extent the Trump administration loosens the regulatory straitjackets that are strangling innovation and cuts the government spending that deprives the economy of capital it will help to increase wages. To the extent it saddles Americans with economic controls, such as restrictions on free trade, it will be moving us in the wrong direction.

Cotto: A few years ago, certain political forecasters claimed that the future of America's center-right belongs to libertarians. Since the 2012 presidential election, protectionism has surged in both major parties. Now, in the age of Trump, libertarianism's once-ascendant nature seems a distant memory. Would you say that libertarian Republican politics have any serious potential under Trump?

Watkins: Although many Americans favor “smaller government” in the abstract, when it comes to specific free-market policies, the vast majority are at best skeptical of free-market solutions. As Yaron Brook and I explain in our book Free Market Revolution, this antipathy reflects deeply embedded philosophic beliefs—above all, the belief that the government has a duty to subsidize “need” via the welfare state and restrict and penalize “greed” via the regulatory state.

Trump’s election hasn’t changed that. Instead, it has revealed how lukewarm many Republicans are to free-market principles, as with their embrace of the protectionist policies Adam Smith discredited 250 years ago.

The good news, though, is that ideas can be changed. If we can make a genuinely compelling moral case for freedom, then it’s possible to gain public support for free-market solutions. And if there is widespread public support for free-market solutions, then we might see the Trump administration enact some of those solutions.  

Cotto: During the years ahead, do you see America playing a larger or smaller role in the global economy? 

Watkins: For all its problems, America is still the richest, most innovative country in the world—and it will remain so for the foreseeable future. But there is no guarantee that will last forever. As Brook and I argue in our latest book, Equal Is Unfair, it all depends on whether we protect the freedom of individuals to pursue success or whether we continue to limit and penalize the pursuit of success.