May 10, 2016

Now that Donald Trump has managed — against the odds and much to the chagrin of ‘war party’ loyalists — to become the Republican Party’s nominee in the Presidential election to be held in November, it is worth considering what a Trump presidency would mean. Here are some preliminary thoughts.

First, I expect that with the Primary campaign out of the way Trump will start to downplay some of the most hare-brained ideas he has spouted to date, such as building a giant wall along the US-Mexico border and banning all Muslims from entering the US. It’s unlikely that these wildly foolish ideas will ever be turned into actual policies, and in any case even if President Trump tried to implement them it’s unlikely that he would obtain the required parliamentary approval.

Second, I doubt that President Trump would go ahead with his threat to implement hefty tariffs on imports from China, because I don’t think he is stupid enough to believe that imposing such restrictions on international trade could possibly benefit the US economy. My guess is that when he uttered the protectionist nonsense he was pandering to voters who are struggling economically and willing to believe that their problems could be quickly fixed by someone capable of doing smart trade deals with other world leaders. But if I am over-estimating his acumen and he genuinely believes what he is saying on this matter, then President Trump would effectively be pushing for similar trade barriers to the ones that helped make the Great Depression greater than it would otherwise have been.

As an aside, just because someone relentlessly promotes himself as a great deal-maker, doesn’t mean he actually is. Also, the problems facing the US have almost nothing to do with poor deal-making in the past and could not be solved by good deal-making in the future.

Third, I doubt that the result of the November Presidential election will have a big effect on the US economy. The way things are shaping up, whoever gets elected this November will end up presiding over a sluggish economy at best and a severe recession at worst. This is baked into the cake due to what the Fed and the government have already done.

Furthermore, both Trump and Clinton appear to be completely clueless regarding the causes of the economic problems facing the US, which means that economically-constructive policy changes are unlikely over the years immediately ahead irrespective of the election result. For example, Trump has expressed a liking for currency depreciation and artificially-low interest rates, which means that he is a supporter of the Fed’s current course of action even though he would prefer to have a Fed Chief who called himself/herself a Republican. Trump has also said that he would leave the major entitlement programs alone, even though these programs encompass tens of trillions of dollars of unfunded liabilities.

Fourth, it currently isn’t clear that any major financial market will have an advantage or disadvantage depending on who is victorious in November. For example, regardless of who wins in November it’s likely that evidence of an inflation problem will be more obvious during 2017-2018 than it is today, resulting in higher bond yields (lower bond prices). For another example, how the stock market performs from 2017 onward will depend to a larger extent on what happens over the next 6 months than on the election result. In particular, a decline in the S&P500 to below 1600 this year could set the stage for a strong stock market thereafter. For a third example, gold is probably going to be a good investment over the next few years due to the combination of declining real interest rates, rising inflation expectations and problems in the banking industry. This will be the case whether the President’s name is Trump or Clinton.

Fifth, based on what has been said by the two candidates and on Hillary Clinton’s actions during her long stretch as a Washington insider, every advocate of peace should be hoping for a Trump victory in November. The reason is that a vote for Clinton is a vote for the foreign-policy status quo, which means a vote for more humanitarian disasters and strategic blunders along the lines of the Iraq War, the destruction of Libya, the aggressive deployment of predator drones that kill far more innocent people than people who pose a genuine threat, the intervention in Ukraine that needlessly and recklessly brought the US into conflict with Russia, the inadvertent creation and arming of ISIS, and the haphazard bombing of Syria. Based on what he has said on the campaign trail, a vote for Trump would be a vote for foreign policy that was less concerned about regime change, less eager to intervene militarily in the affairs of other countries, and generally less offensive (in both meanings of the word).

Summing up, a Trump presidency would probably be a significant plus in the area of foreign policy (considering the alternative), but there isn’t a good reason to expect that the US economy and financial markets would fare any better or worse under Trump than they¬†would under Clinton. At least, there isn’t a good reason yet.

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