SIPA faculty experts discussed possible directions for U.S. policy under the incoming Trump presidential administration at a special event at the Columbia Club of New York on November 29.
In a wide-ranging and robust conversation before an an audience of alumni, students, friends, and media, the assembled professors considered both domestic and foreign policy—the latter in the context of emerging trends around the world. Dean Merit E. Janow moderated the faculty panel featuring Richard Betts, Richard Clarida, Steven Cohen, Ester Fuchs, Michael Nutter, David Rothkopf, and Joseph Stiglitz.
Rothkopf, a visiting professor who is CEO and editor of the FP Group, expressed concern about Trump’s lack of political experience and his support from the alt-right movement. But he assured the audience of SIPA students and alumni that the United States is subject to checks and balances by other nations, noting Angela Merkel’s observation that the United States’ ability to change world is limited by the fact that it’s a single nation.
Still, Rothkopf discussed a worst case in which different actors sought the end of TPP, NATO, and other agreements.
Betts, director of both the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies, said that movement toward cooperation with Russia could be positive.
“The objective of improving relations with Russia is okay, but this will be tested with Syria,” he said. “Trump is fixated on terrorism. Once he confronts this problem he’ll see his style of deal-making won’t always work.”
Stiglitz, a Nobel Laureate in economics, and Richard Clarida, a former assistant treasury secretary discussed potential shifts in global economic policy. The former highlighted recent rhetoric highlighting Trump’s plan to revitalize the economy through infrastructure, noting that the Obama administration had proposed a similar plan.
“We had a discussion about infrastructure eight years ago. The Republicans in the senate said it wouldn’t stimulate economy,” he said. “Does Paul Ryan feel as strongly about red deficits as he has about blue deficits?”
Stiglitz warned that infrastructure spending would take three to five years to have a visible effect and expressed concerns about using public-private partnerships as a financing mechanism.
“The general problem with [public-private partnerships] is that the private sector gets the profit and the government gets losses,” he said.
Stiglitz also addressed the prospect of cutting taxes, suggesting it would lead to greater inequality and little stimulus.
Fuchs, who leads the Urban and Social Policy concentration, and Nutter, who served eight years as mayor of Philadelphia, addressed urban policies.
“Federalism will be extremely important over the next four years,” Fuchs said.
With respect to education and other programs that receive the majority of their funding from state and city governments, she observed that “much of the United States’ [federal] support has already been gutted by both the left and the right. Trump can’t do much at this point.”
Fuchs saw child care and family leave as a possible bright spot, but shared concerns about health care. Efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, she said, “will negatively impact women and their health.”
Nutter expressed trepidation about the incoming president, criticizing his lack of engagement with the media and suggesting that Trump’s policy map is “unknowable.”
“Trump’s thoughts and ideas are episodic,” Nutter said. “I have no idea what he will do, but more importantly, he has no idea.”
Addressing the issue of global trade, Janow said possible outcomes range “from a modest disruption to a global trade war.” Clarida disagreed, saying that “corporate tax cuts are good for equities. The existing World Trade Organization helps settle disputes.”
Rothkopf suggested that Trump’s apparent negotiating strategy would not work for trade.
“Trump thinks he can take unilateralist approach to trade, but it doesn’t work well today,” he said. “Countries will respond. You can’t penalize China without consequences. Our economy relies on them.”
Stiglitz said increasing tariffs would not lead to more manufacturing jobs: “If auto parts become more expensive, there will be no auto work in the U.S.”
Steven Cohen, executive director of the Earth Institute, considered how climate and environmental policy might shift, noting that environmental policy becomes an issue for citizens when it doesn’t exist—when government fails to protect clean water and air.
He said he does not expect coal jobs to return: “Companies want to get off of fossil fuels because new technologies will continue to make alternative energy cheaper in long run. Coal isn’t coming back, even in the short term.”
One solution, Cohen said, is job training.
“We need more education to help prepare people for the new world of work, not the old world of work,” he said.
Clarida mentioned a procedural reform championed by Harry Reid, the outgoing Democratic leader in the Senate, that will make it easier for the Republican majority to approve Trump’s nominees. Requiring a majority of 51 rather than 60, he said, lessens the need for bipartisan agreement.
In closing, Nutter encouraged students to stay involved in the process and to engage in the policy debates of today and tomorrow.
“Run toward civil service and civic engagement,” he said, “not away from it.”
— Ginger Whitesell MPA ’17
Pictured: Richard Clarida, Joseph Stiglitz // photo by Barbara Alper