Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman is very concerned about the potential for corruption in the incoming Trump administration. On Monday, Krugman published the following in a series of tweets, edited together here:
“We’re about to enter, or may already have entered, an era of corrupt governance unprecedented in US history. What does it mean? Important to realize that the money stolen by the first family is a minor issue; $10 billion, say, skimmed off the top is rounding error. What matters much more is the distortion of policy in directions that can be monetized. Gratuitous private investors in infrastructure is just the start. Expect to see lots of privatization and a general shift from transparent to murky so that favors can be traded. And think about the pro-tyrant bias of foreign policy. Democratic regimes — say, in Europe — are by their own rules unable to offer de facto personal bribes to the U.S. president. Putin’s Russia or, for that matter, Xi’s China, will be fine with sending huge business to the profiteer-in-chief. And that will cause a tilt of U.S. policy toward authoritarian regimes. Stay alert.”
Krugman, who won the 2008 Nobel Prize in Economics and also writes for the New York Times, seems especially concerned about the implications of Trump’s proposed $550 billion infrastructure package. Trump’s proposal includes a heavy emphasis on public-private partnership, and could create opportunities for Trump to hand out lucrative contracts to friends, business partners, or even his own companies. The potential for large-scale “skimming” and other forms of corruption has many people worried.
The president-elect has already stirred up controversy about his business affairs, even before taking office. During the Republican primaries and general election campaign, Trump promised to release his tax returns, then later reneged on that promise, prompting speculation about potential conflicts of interest should he become President. Since the election, Trump has broken with the long-standing tradition of Presidents either liquidating their business holdings or placing their assets into a blind trust. Past Presidents have done this so that they would be truly unaware of where their business interests lay, making conflicts of interest – or the potentially scandalous appearance of conflicts – nearly impossible.
Donald Trump, however, has declined to place his assets in a blind trust, opting instead to turn the management of his businesses over to his children. Ivanka Trump sat in on her father’s meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last week, indicating that the line between Trump’s business interests and affairs of state is likely to remain blurred.
This apparent mixing of Trump’s personal business interests with U.S. policy is what has Paul Krugman most worried. In his view, such conflicts of interest could make Trump change U.S. policy to favor authoritarian regimes with the freedom to funnel hugely profitable business to Trump’s personal coffers. As Krugman said, “Democratic regimes — say, in Europe — are by their own rules unable to offer de-facto personal bribes to the US president. Putin’s Russia or, for that matter, Xi’s China, will be fine with sending huge business to the profiteer-in-chief. And that will cause a tilt of US policy toward authoritarian regimes.”
Stay alert, indeed.
Here is Krugman’s series of tweets: