The PJ Tatler

Donald Trump, Crony Capitalist

In Jim Geraghty’s “Morning Jolt” email, he talks about the praise bestowed on Donald Trump by Rush Limbaugh:

Rush read aloud a good portion of last week’s article, “The Words Donald Trump Doesn’t Use,” and concluded . . .

I must say, as the Mr. Big of the vast right-wing conspiracy, the headline, the words Trump doesn’t use, in my humble — and I do have humility — opinion, misses the point about Trump. I will admit, Trump doesn’t talk about liberty. But he sure as hell practices it, doesn’t he? I mean, there doesn’t seem to be any limits or boundaries out there. He’s not constrained by political correctness. He has escaped the surly bonds of that. That’s liberty and freedom. He’s not constrained by onerous local, state, federal laws. He’s made billions of dollars despite them. He’s made millions of dollars with a reality TV show, which is the belly of the pop-culture beast. I mean, he’s swimming around in the bowels of it in there, folks, doing a reality TV show. I mean, that’s like living with Jerry Springer.

He doesn’t avoid the media. He goes wherever they throw a camera or microphone in his face. Rolling Stone, he’ll go anywhere. He engages when some would suggest that he head for the bunker. I think to his supporters — and I’m not trying to be contentious here — I think to his supporters, Trump embodies. I think people wish they had the courage and the guts or whatever to be as free as Trump is. Free to speak his mind. Free to do what he thinks. This is before people start judging it.

Limbaugh repeats the carefully crafted narrative about Trump — the fearless buccaneer tycoon, who through brains, skill, and sheer chutzpah has amassed a fortune that few can match.

In the immortal words of Defense Secretary Albert Nimzicki from the film Independence Day, “That’s not entirely accurate.”

In essence, Trump represents everything that’s wrong with capitalism today. He did not beat the market by means of his superior negotiating skills, or any gifted insights into business opportunities, although like all successful people, he lucked out on occasion.

He got rich by gaming the system, using government as club at times to destroy the competition, or remove obstacles to his goal. He is, like most of the rich today, a crony capitalist who uses rigged rules to play a game ordinary Americans aren’t even invited to.

Geraghty offers a few examples:

“He’s not constrained by onerous local, state, federal laws. He’s made billions of dollars despite them.” Some might say he made billions because of them. Trump tried to seize private property through eminent domain, working with the government to claim other people’s homes. As Ilya Somin put it:

Trump did not merely claim that the Kelo vs. New London decision was legally correct; he argued that it was “good” to give government the power to forcibly displace homeowners and small businesses and transfer their property to influential developers on the theory that doing so might promote “economic development.”

Trump lobbied hard to restrict the opening of new casinos in New York State, which would have competed with his Atlantic City casinos. Some would argue that’s using “onerous local, state, federal laws” to impede other people from opening up their own businesses.

Trump Tower is enjoying $163 million abatement on commercial property taxes, a deal that began in 2004 and ends in 2016. Some of his development projects thrived from earmarks from New York members of Congress. He received federal loan guarantees to underwrite what were planned as luxury apartments.

Does Trump’s record in the world of business count as “practicing liberty”? Or is it closer to what you and I would call “crony capitalism”?

Trump should not be singled out for using government to bend the rules in his favor. It’s how amassing wealth is accomplished these days. Very few entrepreneurs earn success based solely on their insights into providing a product or service that is better and at a cheaper cost than the other guy.

Instead, Trump has legions of lobbyists plying their trade in Washington and state capitols, giving him an advantage unknown to others.

Of course, these charges are nothing new. They’ve been part of the anti-Trump mantra since he announced he was running.  The fact that it has had no bearing on his popularity and support shows how irrelevant the truth is when placed against the myth of Trump. People don’t believe because they don’t want to believe. It doesn’t help that the sources from which this damning information is coming have lost much of their credibility.

If Trump was upfront about how he really got rich, it wouldn’t matter. Instead, he has created a brand where he portrays himself as a swashbuckling king of the free market, his brilliance and daring the reason for his immense wealth. In truth, Trump has no more idea about how to ease the way for entrepreneurs and other small business people than the socialist Bernie Sanders.

And at least Sanders has the honesty not to pretend otherwise.