How Economic Ideas 15 years ago created Trump

By Margot Marston

In Great Transformations, Mark Blythe explains the importance of ideas in shaping our interests and the power they have to transform institutional order: both an empowering and terrifying thought, depending on the idea. It can be argued that through the ideas of the Republican party 15 years ago, interests were altered and gave rise to the most polarising figure in US politics today: Donald Trump. 

The Republican party, a strong adherent of free trade and neoclassical economic thought ensured the passage of a bill in 2000 which extended the status of permanent normal trade relations to China. Its aim was to to target the comparative advantage of cheap labor and promised greater economic prosperity for Americans. As a result of the expanded trade, the US outsourced, which economists estimate cost the US at least 2 million jobs in the first decade. Those mostly affected were men with high school level education that saw their wages fall by 15% (adjusted for inflation). A group today that firmly stands behind Trump and his anti-trade ideas and most importantly, more jobs. The initial idea of free trade has been cornerstone of Republicanism, but when this had unintended consequences and yielded economic uncertainty, a form of populist protectionism promising employment and anti-trade, a reversal of former “Washington mistakes,” took its place. “Make America great again,” the slogan ofTrump, the front-runner of the GOP uses the fear and anger harboured after the economic crisis in combination with antagonistic feelings towards China to his advantage to shape interests, and to promise an alternative solution: a change to existing institutions.