Friday, January 20, 2017

What if Trump Skeptics, Like Me, Turn Out To Be Wrong?

I have been thinking back to the early 1980s, when I was graduating from college, and compiling a list of events that I never would have expected to see--but that have in fact happened. If you had asked me circa 1985:
  • I would have said that the Berlin Wall would not come down in my lifetime.
  • I would not have believed that the nations of Europe, and Germany in particular, would ever give up their traditional currencies for the euro. 
  • I would not  have believed that China would within a few decades become the largest economy in the world. 
  • I would not have believed that the Federal Reserve would take the federal funds interest rate down to near-zero and leave it there for seven full years. 
  • I would not have believed that the real estate developer who in 1983 opened Trump Tower in Manhattan and in 1984 opened the Harrah's casino at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City would ever become the President of the United States.
Just to be clear, I wouldn't have just said back in the first half of the 1980s that these events were merely unlikely. I would have viewed them as essentially unthinkable. Additions to this "I would not have believed" list are welcome: send them to For example, one friend contributed: "I would not have believed that the US presence in space would end up being spearheaded by the private sector."

It seems to me a useful mental discipline to admit when you are wrong--and especially when your errors demonstrate a substantial failure of imagination. Donald Trump was not my preferred or expected choice, either among those running for the Republican nomination or in the presidential election. I fear some of the potential consequences of his election. But I can clearly be wrong on major events, and I could be wrong about the effects of a President Trump, too. 

If a Trump presidency turns out badly in various ways, then Trump skeptics like me will certainly say so.  But if matters don't go wrong, then in fairness, then it seems to me that Trump skeptics should take a pledge to admit and acknowledge in a few years that at least some of our doubts and suspicions were incorrect--and indeed, we should be pleased that we were wrong.  Here's my version of that pledge on a few economic issues. 
  • If the US economy experiences a resurgence of manufacturing jobs, I will say so. 
  • If US economic growth surges to a 4% annual rate, I'll say so.
  • If the US economy does not actually retreat from foreign trade during four years of Trump presidency (which may well happen, given that globalization is driven by underlying economic forces, not just trade agreements), I will say so. 
  • If US carbon emissions fall during a Trump presidency (which may happen with the resurgence of cleaner-burning natural gas and the larger installed base of noncarbon energy sources), I will say so.
  • If the budget deficit does not explode in size during a Trump administration, despite all the promises for tax cuts and a huge boost in infrastructure spending, I will say so. 
  • If the Federal Reserve has maintained its traditional independence after 3-4 years, I will say so. 
  • If the number of Americans without health insurance is about the same in 3-4 years, or even lower, I will say so. 
These statements are not intended as predictions of what will or won't happen. My mother didn't raise any sons silly enough to make definite predictions about the future in print, and I have not tried to put a personal probability estimate on these outcomes. They are just possibilities. Of course, one can expand this list to include an array of other issues: what will happen in foreign policy hotspots from China and Latin America to the Middle East; patterns of economic and social inequality; fair treatment under the law for every single American; and many more.

On this Inauguration Day for President Donald Trump (and frankly, I still can't believe I am writing those words), I sincerely hope that I will turn out to be deeply incorrect about his readiness and fitness for office. I will try to observe what happens during a Trump administration clearly, without distortion through the prisms of my fears and disbeliefs, and without trying to justify my preexisting skepticism. After all, I've been wrong on big topics before.