Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Interview: Richard Ebeling says Donald Trump "challenges respect for rule of law and human life", explains why

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

This is the final article of my discussion with Dr. Richard Ebeling. The firstsecondthirdfourthfifth, and sixth pieces are available. 
Story by Joseph Ford Cotto
"Soon after taking the oath of office, President Donald J. Trump signed a series of Presidential Memoranda to fulfill his promise to make America Great Again on trade and other issues," the White House's public relations arm declared shortly after Trump assumed office.
It continued: "The first executive action the President took was to permanently withdraw the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multinational trade agreement that is not in the best interest of American workers. 
"This action ushers in a new era of U.S. trade policy in which the Trump Administration will pursue bilateral free trade opportunities with allies around the world, wherever possible, to promote American industry, protect American workers, and raise American wages. It is the policy of the Trump Administration to represent the American people and their financial well-being in all negotiations, particularly the American worker, and to create fair and economically beneficial trade deals that serve their interests."
A few days later, the Donald announced his plan to change the conditions of America's participation in the North American Free Trade Agreement, a trilateral commerce bloc which binds us with Canada and Mexico.    
“I’m deeply concerned by President Trump’s statements today reaffirming his commitment to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)," John McCain said shortly after. "While renegotiations could help to strengthen and modernize NAFTA to benefit American businesses and consumers, any effort to restrict or impose new barriers on our ability to trade with Mexico and Canada could jeopardize the future of this trade agreement and have serious consequences for Arizona and the country." 
McCain later added: “The free flow of trade has been the foundation of U.S. economic policy for decades, and a major factor in our prosperity and greatness. We should not have to relearn the lessons of history. Retreating from NAFTA and other international trade agreements will harm our ability to compete in today’s global economy, raise costs for consumers, threaten jobs, and undermine our relations with our closest neighbors.”
What is going on here? So many sparring perspectives on trade from such powerful people.
The Trump-McCain spat is but one theater in a battle of ideas between protectionist and laissez faire personalities. This disagreement has come not only to dominate the right, but our country's left -- think of the difference between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton on economic policy.
Few people are so familiar with the limited government perspective as Dr. Richard Ebeling.
As his employer, The Citadel (South Carolina's prestigious military university -- an unlikely site for such a titan of libertarianism), tells, he "is the BB&T Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Free Enterprise Leadership .... Among the courses he offers are "Entrepreneurial Leadership and Capitalist Ethics" and "Ethical Entrepreneurship and Profit-Making."
"Dr. Ebeling is recognized as one of the leading members of the Austrian School of Economics and is the author of Austrian Economics and Public Policy: Restoring Freedom and Prosperity (Future of Freedom Foundation, 2016); Monetary Central Planning and the State (Future of Freedom Foundation, 2015); as well as the author of Political Economy, Public Policy, and Monetary Economics: Ludwig von Mises and the Austrian Tradition (Routledge, 2010) and Austrian Economics and the Political Economy of Freedom (Edward Elgar, 2003)." 
Ebeling recently spoke with me about several issues concerning the American economy. Some of our conversation is included below.
Joseph Ford 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?

Dr. Richard Ebeling: This is a tricky question. After all, nothing is more difficult to predict than the unpredictable! I fear that the classical liberal/libertarian idea and ideal will be seriously tarnished by the policies and politics of the Trump Administration.

Virtually all of Trump’s proposed policies involve a continuation or an intensification of government involvement in social and economic life. He acts as the all-knowing government central planner when he calls in business executives and tells them where to invest and what products they should make to “create jobs.” He undermines respect for and protection of essential civil liberties when he ridicules the freedom of the press and their way of reporting on his administration’s actions and his words.

He threatens America’s tradition as a refuge and haven for those from other parts of the world when he closes the door of immigration based upon terror hysteria. He challenges respect for rule of law and human life when he says he believes that government agents should torture people who may (or may not!) have information about possible terrorist threats.

The problem is that these policy views and proposals are mixed in with promises to lower taxes and reduce regulations on the business sector, and sometimes with a rhetoric laced with seemingly free enterprise sentiments.

I’m concerned that with the assistance of the mainstream media the Trump Administration’s anti-freedom policies will tarnish the real case for a free society and a free market. That is, people who want lower taxes and fewer regulations on business will be identified as the people who also believe in torture, discrimination against immigrants, violations of civil liberties, and the instigation of trade wars because of aggressive nationalist attitudes.

This will be exacerbated by the willingness of some freedom-oriented Republicans and even libertarians to collaborate with the Trump Administration because they think that they can move Trump’s economic policies in less statist directions, when, in fact, Trump’s policies all point in a continuing statist direction for America.

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

Ebeling: If Donald Trump has his way, America will increasingly be a less open and less friendly participant in the global community. His fundamental misguided premise is that he views international trade as a zero-sum game. If others prosper in their economic dealings with the United States, it must be because the U.S. does more poorly. His views reflect the crudest and most primitive conceptions of economic nationalist and Mercantilist notions of foreign affairs.

If government more heavy-handedly intrudes into people’s affairs in the misguided idea that “national” prosperity requires government oversight and control over how and what people do in the marketplace, we will lose more of our freedom and reduce the mutual benefits betterments that improve the material and culture conditions of all people around the global, including in the United States.

Nor does Trump’s stated policies suggest less U.S. government intervention in the foreign affairs of other nations, including military intervention. What Trump wants are better “deals” with America’s allies and other governments, as the price for America’s participation as a global policeman. So I do not expect the long arm of American military and diplomatic might to be less operative around the world. Just more on the basis of what Donald Trump tells us is in the “national interest,” as he defines it.