Fraser Forum

Clinton and Trump—similar policy prescriptions that may not bode well for the U.S. or Canada

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The highly contentious presidential campaign between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump often seems less about policy and more about trading insults, personal attacks and generally being unpleasant. This was particularly true in Sunday's second presidential debate. At first this may seem strange, as voters would presumably want to be informed on the policy platforms of each candidate. Yet, taken in a broader context, the emphasis on personal quirks rather than policy differences makes all the sense in the world.

To begin with, the state has its fingers in all aspects of the U.S. economy, with government spending accounting for some 35-40 per cent of the country's GDP. Given the complexity of all the different programs, funding mechanisms, jurisdictional oversight, tax and legal implications, accumulating even a working knowledge of public policy is very costly for the average voter who thus may rationally choose ignorance. This is slightly less problematic in Canada, where the federal role in the economy is far less.

But perhaps more importantly, the two candidates can really only debate and disagree on matters of trust, personality and likability when they both hold effectively the exact same policy positions. While there may be differences in such things as tax and regulatory outlook, Clinton and Trump fundamentally agree on the role of government:

• like Canada, the state should provide for health insurance for all Americans, whether it be by single-payer or otherwise.
• the state should provide a strong safety net for Americans including such programs as welfare, social security, food stamps and many others.
• federal spending will not be reduced.
• trade is hurting Americans and trade deals should be challenged or re-examined.
• the minimum wage should be increased.

And even where there’s disagreement, such as on tax policy, the implications are effectively the same—whether federal spending is funded by tax cuts (proposed by Trump, then later retracted) and more debt, or higher taxes but more spending (Clinton), the national debt of some US$20 trillion won't be meaningfully reduced.

While these policy positions are undoubtedly well-intended, they nevertheless reflect, at their root, a worldview heavy on centralized planning and light on economic freedom.

Over the past decade, America's place as world leader in economic freedom—allowing individuals to keep the fruits of their labour, own private property, and engage in trade free from the interference of others—has faltered. The "land of the free" is now just the 16th most free country in the world and this downward trend has contributed to the U.S.'s current economic stagnation. (By comparison, Canada has moved in the opposite direction, now ranking as the 9th most free country in the world.) This does not bode well for the future prosperity of America, nor that of its neighbours to the north or south, particularly if trade agreements like NAFTA come under scrutiny.

These policy similarities even spread over into the other big social issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion, where a moderate line, however awkward, is toed. And despite rhetoric suggesting otherwise, there are also strong threads of agreement on matters of immigration.

Taken in context, then, the personal attacks reflect a fundamental lack of substantive policy differences. The debate on the role of government, it seems, is long over. Big government is the flavour of the day; the only question is whether it's going to taste like corporatism, welfarism, or both.

The Clinton Foundation, where it seems likely the rich gained access to the secretary of state in exchange for donations, is just the latest warning. With the election seemingly between two modern day oligarchs, it’s not surprising that conservative politicians including President H.W. Bush have thrown their support behind Clinton.

Both Clinton and Trump claim they serve the little guy, yet their policy platforms will likely "deliver" goods completely contrary to his long-term interests: higher prices, weaker opportunity, and lower levels of wealth. From Starbucks to Netflix, many argue the culture of Canada has been Americanized. If this election is any indication, declining economic freedom is one American import Canada can do without.


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