Few progressive economists would characterize Trump's trade agenda as an unadulterated good. But several of them allow that a good trade policy would overlap with what Trump has done in several respects.
For instance, Scott said Trump's steel and aluminum tariffs "are sorely needed," and America's industries "have been greatly harmed by rising imports and falling prices, caused by massive, state-supported excess capacity in China, Vietnam, Russia, and other countries." He also argued that mainstream warnings vastly overstate the damage that Trump's tariffs will do to the American economy.
Meanwhile, Sitaraman and Meyer argue that the WTO and NAFTA really do need deep reform, as Trump argues. In language that's almost Trumpian, they advise the U.S. to use hardball tactics both within these deals and institutions to reform them, and outside them to propose new trade regimes entirely. A willingness to "remake institutions through tough, innovative negotiations is the only way to achieve a trade policy that works for all Americans," they say.
More broadly, Scott, Baker and others agree with Trump that the U.S. trade deficit is harmful and should be brought down.
Clearly, many progressive economists agree with Trump as to the general nature of America's trade problem. Some even agree on some solutions.
But they still disagree on a whole lot more.
Scott, for instance, argues that Trump's tariffs lack any broader strategy. He notes historical examples like the Reagan administration, which used the threat of tariffs to convince trading partners to systemically reduce the value of the U.S. dollar and close the trade deficit. He also listed a wealth of policy options, such as countervailing currency intervention, that the Trump White House simply hasn't mentioned. Even Trump's steel and aluminum tariffs "are a tremendous missed opportunity to assemble a coordinated plan designed to reduce overcapacity in steel and aluminum."
Meanwhile, Boushey, Tucker, and Gallagher all suggest focusing on domestic policy to undo the damage from trade: stronger unions, a higher minimum wage, a strengthened welfare state, and a sweeping increase in U.S. industrial policy. Trump seems utterly disinterested in such things.
Baker sees many existing licensing and intellectual property laws — which Trump is defending — as culprits in protecting America's professional upper class from the same global competition that has confronted blue-collar workers. And Friedman said he'd prefer a big push for domestic public investment in the U.S., combined with a broad effort to get international capital flows under control.
Needless to say, this is all a muscular vision of progressive fiscal, regulatory, and labor policy that would be utterly anathema to Trump's Republican Party.
"We invented the wheel with the New Deal that put tight reins on financial speculation, provided health care, enabled collective bargaining so that workers gained their share of profits, and created a trading system that prioritized global trade while allowing for nation states to deploy policies for employment and prosperity," Gallagher wrote.
"In that sense, what the U.S. economy needs is a return to those very sensible roots."