Trump’s Version of “Shovel-ready jobs”

Donald Trump, fresh off saving America from affordable Korean washing machines, signing onto tax cuts with massive spending increases, promising the biggest infrastructure spending initiative in American history, negotiating the Republican Party into being the world’s most aggressive voice for citizenship for illegal aliens, and “killing” ObamaCare by saving it, is back to threatening tariffs, this time to “save” steel workers.

By saving steel workers, Trump means making steel products too expensive, thus undercutting businesses that need steel, thereby reducing their profits and jobs, and, in ultimate effect, decimating what’s left of the American steel industry, which in turn results in unemployed steel workers.

A little hint for a president lost in the remnants of early twentieth-century Marx/Rockefeller economics: There is no such animal as “a steel worker.” There are human beings who may, by chance or practical necessity of the moment, work in steel mills. These human beings may move on to work in other kinds of factories too, or in other forms of employment unrelated to manufacturing altogether. The concept of defining a man as “a steel worker” belongs to the early Western foray into progressive paternalism, whereby citizens outside of the elite halls of power and wealth were viewed as soulless, malleable worker-units to be trained for the specific tasks for which they are “suited” (according to the overseers’ judgment). These people are then to serve the collective by performing their allotted function in perpetuity. There shall be no opportunity for self-development, mobility, re-evaluation of one’s life based on new conditions, and so on. One is placed where one belongs, and it is the overseers’ responsibility to maintain the stability of the social arrangement by taking active measures to “protect” industries in order to keep the status quo immovable.

In the real world, beyond the feudalism of progressive economics, a “steel worker” is just a person who happens to work in a steel mill right now. He could work somewhere else, and he will very likely have to do so given the evolving nature of a free market. The neo-Marxist mythology that a man loses his identity if he cannot safely and permanently identify himself with his particular job is merely a denial of the essence of practical freedom, namely self-determination as a continuing process of growth, adjustment, and learning, rather than as submission to a static role within the static hierarchy of the collective.

Of course, Donald Trump, contrary to the tireless claims of his fans, has repeatedly shown that he understands very little about work, economics, and particularly economic liberty. So no one should be surprised that he instinctively favors protectionism. Protectionism is the economic manifestation of the vain paternalist’s self-aggrandizing fantasy of beneficence.

“Don’t worry,” the paternalist says to the weakened and fearful, “I won’t let anything bad happen to you.” 

What he really means, in practice, is a little more comprehensive: “I won’t let anything happen to you. You will be preserved (i.e., limited) exactly as you are, for clearly without my protection (i.e., limits) you could never make it in this world.”

Actually, normal men and women have been making it in this world for thousands of years. Their primary obstacle to making it in this world has always been the regulatory restrictiveness of authoritarian states, as is obvious from a cursory examination of the fate of men in societies which afford their citizens the greatest latitude in economic self-determination, versus the fate of men in societies (much greater in number, of course) which do the opposite.

No chance of explaining any of this to the business genius Trump, I’m afraid. He is of the Rockefeller-progressive school of economics. Power and flexibility are for those rich and connected enough to manipulate their way into the political establishment and buy favors; for everyone else, a carefully managed life and market are safest and best. 

Barack Obama spoke of his infrastructure initiatives as promising “shovel-ready jobs.” Donald Trump seems bound and determined to provide content to that vacuous Obama promise. He is proposing to provide the shovel with which America will dig itself right into the grave.

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