Donald Trump is running on the erroneous belief that ending regulations, particularly environmental ones, is the key to faster economic growth. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-NY), who was assassinated June 6, 1968, explained just how misguided that view was just weeks before he was killed.
U.S. economic growth has emerged as a major issue in the presidential campaign. Donald Trump has many untenable ideas, as the Washington Post explained in an April piece headlined, “There is math, there is fantasy math, and then there’s Donald Trump’s economic math.”
That article quoted an economist at the Tax Foundation (who helped model Trump’s tax plan) saying, “It’s not consistent with historical experience. It’s more consistent with a world where we’re hiring butlers for our vacation homes on Ganymede” [Jupiter’s largest moon].”
I wanted to zero in on one of Donald Trump’s fictional strategies for boosting economic growth: As he explained last month to CNBC, “we’re going to be getting rid of a tremendous amount of regulations.”
In particular, when Fox News’ Chris Wallace pressed Trump in March on how he’d cut the federal budget, Trump answered “Department of Environmental Protection [sic]. We are going to get rid of it in almost every form.”
In reality, slashing regulations, particularly regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency, would be very counterproductive, as a 2015 Office of Management and Budget (OMB) report to Congress made clear. The OMB found that ten years’ worth of major Federal regulations provided annual benefits to the nation (in 2001 dollars) of between $216 billion and $812 billion, while the estimated annual costs were only between $57 billion and $85 billion.
Of that, EPA regulations delivered the majority of benefits ($132.5 to $652 billion) but only about half the costs ($31 to $37.5 billion).
Of course, lots of those benefits were things like reduced health care costs because the air got cleaner — and those benefits don’t show up in our primary measure of economic growth, GDP. Indeed, reducing sickness and death actually lowers GDP.
Who can doubt that our wildly unsustainable global economic system is now the biggest of Ponzi schemes — where the economy appears to grow faster the more we burn fossil fuels and destroy a livable climate?
Robert F. Kennedy explained why GDP is a useless measure of economic well-being back in the 1960s.
Robert Kennedy was one of the few national politicians ever to challenge our monomaniacal pursuit of GDP to the exclusion of true economic well-being. In Detroit on May 5, 1967 he pointed out: “Let us be clear at the outset that we will find neither national purpose nor personal satisfaction in a mere continuation of economic progress, in an endless amassing of worldly goods.”
We have the audio of his remarkable words:
Here are the key lines:
Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product — if we judge the United States of America by that — that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage.
It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl.
It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.
Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.
It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.
And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.
When you take this view of economic well-being, a President Trump could well bring this country greatest depression we have ever known.