Donald Trump and the Fundamental Weakness of Economic Science

The New York Times this morning ripped presidential contender Donald J. Trump’s economic precepts to shreds, which got me thinking about the weakness in economic science as the basis on which a modern society arrives at optimal strategies for government policy, business strategy, and household behavior.

Wharton-trained Trump, the Times said, held “inherently contradictory perspectives that often lie far outside the boundaries of accepted economic thought.” Theses economic claims, the paper said, are “cynically misleading the American public.”

And that, I thought, is the greatest weakness of economics, namely, its capacity to be (mis)used to support ridiculous, nonsensical policies, such as fanciful stories in which a president Trump can rebuild U.S. infrastructure, repatriate millions of jobs lost through the inevitable process of globalization, deport 11 million undocumented immigrants, rebuild the defense department, modernize the VA, and strengthen Social Security and Medicare, all while cutting taxes.

True, they’re not the laws of physics, but the tenants of economic science do encompass some principles that are clearly right and contains some warnings about ideas that are clearly wrong. The weakness of economics it that it’s just way too easy to sell the public on economic propositions that by any reckoning are just plain wrong.

Economics is sometimes defined as optimization under conditions of scarcity. That’s a definition some politicians might want get familiar with the next time they tout an economic program that promises the moon but just doesn’t add up.

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