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Trump's economic team has a lot of billionaires, very few economic experts

Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump Holds Rally In Daytona Beach, Florida Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Donald Trump announced his economic advisers on Friday, and the list is about what you’d expect from the real estate tycoon.

Trump has vowed to bring a more business-like approach to government; his list is dominated by businessmen — including several billionaires. Trump has railed against political correctness; his economic advisers are entirely white men. Trump has disparaged conventional policy experts; the list includes only one academic economist:

  • Tom Barrack, Colony Capital
  • Andy Beal, Beal Bank
  • Stephen Calk, Federal Savings Bank
  • Dan DiMicco, Former CEO of Nucor
  • Steve Feinberg, Cerberus Capital Management
  • Harold Hamm, oil and gas investor
  • Howard Lorber, Vector Group
  • David Malpass, Encima Global
  • Steven Mnuchin, Dune Capital
  • Stephen Moore, Heritage Foundation
  • Peter Navarro, University of California, Irvine
  • John Paulson, Paulson & Co.
  • Steve Roth, Vornado Realty

But while nothing about the list is that surprising, it does provide some valuable insight into how a Donald Trump administration would actually govern. Trump is famously uninterested in policy details, which means that his advisers would have even more influence than usual in a Trump administration.

Trump recruited some distinguished business leaders

Republican National Convention: Day Three
Harold Hamm, CEO of Continental Resources Shale Oil Company, is a Trump economic adviser.
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

The business people on Trump’s list include several distinguished names. Hedge fund manager John Paulson became famous in 2007 when he made billions betting against the housing market. Steve Roth built a billion-dollar real estate empire in New York

Andy Beal made billions in real estate while also becoming an accomplished poker player and number theorist. He developed the Beal conjecture, a mathematical proposition related to Fermat’s Last Theorem, and then funded a $1 million prize for anyone who could solve it. And like Paulson, he saw the 2008 crash coming. He stopped buying during the last years of the real estate boom from 2004 to 2007, leaving him with plenty of cash on hand to snap up bargains in the post-crash environment of 2009.

Private equity investor Stephen Feinberg is worth more than $1 billion, but he doesn’t share Donald Trump’s taste for ostentatious displays of wealth. "In general, I think that all of us are way overpaid in this business," he said in 2011. "It is almost embarrassing."

The list includes a couple of prominent real estate tycoons and several people who made their fortunes in finance. Also on the list: oil and gas billionaire Harold Hamm and Howard Lorber, who has major holdings in cigarettes as well as real estate.

In short, Trump has assembled an independent-minded and opinionated collection of rich businessmen. They could provide a valuable conduit for dissenting points of view in the insular Trump campaign.

The list is short on real economics and policy expertise

It’s customary for presidential candidates — especially Republican presidential candidates — to include some business leaders among their economic advisers. But most candidates also include people with significant academic expertise and government experience as well.

John McCain’s list of economic advisers, for example, included six economics professors and three more people who were chief economists for private companies. McCain’s list also had about a dozen people with government experience, including several veterans of the George W. Bush administration. Mitt Romney also drew heavily on credentialed economists with senior government experience.

In contrast, Trump’s list is thin on both economics PhDs and government experience. There’s only one academic economist, Peter Navarro of the University of California at Irvine. David Malpass served in several mid-level government positions during the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. Tom Barrack was deputy undersecretary for the Department of the Interior during the Reagan administration. The list also includes activist and former Wall Street Journal economics writer Stephen Moore.

And that’s about it when it comes to economics training and government experience. This might be because Trump believes he’ll get along fine without the help of government veterans and credentialed academics. It also might be because the most experienced economic policy hands in the Republican party have largely shunned Trump.

Greg Mankiw, for example, is a Harvard economist who served in the George W. Bush administration. In a recent blog post, he wrote that Trump won’t get his vote because he finds Trump’s protectionist views "disqualifying." John McCain’s top 2008 economic adviser — and former head of the Congressional Budget Office — Douglas Holtz-Eakin savaged Trump's economic ideas. Glenn Hubbard, Mitt Romney’s top economic adviser and former adviser to George W. Bush, hasn’t been too kind to Trump either.

The result: a man who needs seasoned policy advice more than any other recent major-party nominee is going to struggle to get it.

And that’s a problem, because while business people have a lot of valuable insights about the economy, there are some aspects of economic policy where formal training is indispensable. A successful career in business doesn’t give anyone insights about monetary policy or allow them to navigate the intricacies of the federal budget process. For some aspects of federal policy, there’s no substitute for careful study combined with practical experience.

Aside from trade, Trump’s agenda doesn’t look that different from past Republicans

Mitt Romney Receives Endorsement From Former President George H.W. Bush Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The economic advisers Trump has managed to recruit suggest that his policies wouldn’t be radically different from previous Republican administrations.

The one obvious exception here is trade. By naming former steel executive Dan DiMicco as an economic adviser, Trump is underscoring his commitment to protectionist trade policies. DiMicco wrote a 2015 book calling for manufacturing jobs to be brought back to the United States. Like Trump, DiMicco blames recent trade deals and foreign countries that don’t "play by the rules" for declining employment in the manufacturing sector. That runs counter to the decades-long tradition of Republicans supporting free trade deals.

But Trump’s other choices suggest more continuity with past Republican policies. Stephen Moore now works for the Heritage Foundation, which has played a key role in Republican policymaking since the Reagan administration. He’s a devoted supply-sider, and we can expect him to push Trump to follow through on his promises for big tax cuts.

Republicans have traditionally been closer to the petroleum industry and more skeptical of environmental regulation than Democrats. Naming oil and gas entrepreneur Harold Hamm represents a continuation of that posture. Hamm has blasted the Obama administration for being too tough on energy producers.

"While we've been doing this the last seven or eight years — doubling US production — we've had an onslaught, a tsunami if you will, of punitive regulations designed to put us out of business," Hamm said on CNBC earlier this year.

And while Trump has sought to paint Clinton as a tool of Wall Street, his own economic advisers have extensive Wall Street connections. One of them, Steven Mnuchin, is even a veteran of Goldman Sachs, a frequent target of Donald Trump’s ire. That does not, of course, prove that Trump wouldn’t be tougher on banks and hedge funds than Hillary Clinton would be. But it does suggest that voters should take Trump’s populist rhetoric about Wall Street with a grain of salt.


This election is about normal vs. abnormal

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