David R. Henderson  

Trump's Picks versus Reagan's

An open letter to America's CE... Automation and trade...

As someone who has, to put it mildly, not been a fan of Donald Trump (see here and here, for example), I've been pleasantly surprised by many of his picks for cabinet positions. Looking at them, I conclude, at least for the present, that they are on average better than Ronald Reagan's picks.

Here are what I regard, given my current information, as the best picks, with, alongside, the ones Reagan chose for that position. They are not necessarily in order of strength because I don't know enough to do that.

Secretary of Education: Betsy DeVos. She, according to a Philadelphia Inquirer article meant to be a hit piece, is "an ardent school choice advocate." The Philly Inquirer adds, sarcastically, "Sorry, kids." Right, because not being able to choose a school is what's really good for kids.
Compare that to Terrel Bell, Reagan's choice. Reagan had said during the 1980 campaign that he wanted to get rid of the newly formed Department of Education. He didn't try hard and his choice of Bell sent a signal that that wasn't about to happen.

Secretary of Health and Human Services: Tom Price. Price has pledged to dismantle Obamacare. He even has a plan to do so. It's not particularly to my liking, but just to have a plan going in puts him one up on Richard Schweiker, a "liberal" Republican Senator from Pennsylvania, who was Reagan's pick. Schweiker did not attempt any serious deregulation of health care. (Although, to his credit, he was a strong opponent of the draft.)

Secretary of Labor: Andy Puzder. Puzder has been an outspoken critic of minimum wage increases. If he persuades Trump to hold the line on the current federal $7.25 minimum wage rather than raising it to $10.10 an hour or even higher, he will have helped preserve jobs for at least a few hundred thousand people, mainly young people. Compare that to Reagan's pick of Ray Donovan. I worked for Ray in the Labor Department and found him to be a nice man and an opponent of raising the minimum wage. But he was fairly ineffective. Yes, there was a policy success: Reagan held the minimum wage constant in nominal terms. But that was more Reagan than Donovan. Puzder will have his hands full persuading Trump to keep his hands off.

Head of EPA: Scott Pruitt. The EPA is out of control. In a forthcoming review in Regulation, I lay out the problem with its push for higher fuel economy in cars. But it's out of control in other ways too. Pruitt will likely rein in, and even reverse, some of its most extreme excesses. One good sign: he is a global warming skeptic. Maybe he'll also avoid EPA-created environmental disasters like the 2015 Gold King Mine waste water spill. Reagan's pick was Anne Gorsuch, who did manage to deregulate but, as far as I could tell, didn't do it well.

Those are the good picks.

There are some that could well be as bad as, or worse than, Reagan's. I have in mind two.

Attorney General: Jeff Sessions. One of the areas where Obama made some progress was in laying off drug enforcement in states that allow medical marijuana. But Sessions would almost certainly try to reverse that progress. Someone who says "Good people don't smoke marijuana" is not an ideal pick. (Of course, even if it were true that no good people smoke marijuana--and it's not--that belief would not be a problem if Sessions were willing to tolerate people being bad. But he's an enforcer of (his) morals.) Reagan's pick was William French Smith. Smith federalized a lot of crime and amped up the drug war substantially. He also proposed a national ID card, a proposal that my late Hoover colleague Marty Anderson, then an adviser to Reagan, shot down by speaking out of turn at a Cabinet Council meeting. (See his Revolution: The Reagan Legacy, pp. 275-276.) Sessions could be worse than, better than, or equal to Smith.

CIA Director: Mike Pompeo. Pompeo has advocated the death penalty for Edward Snowden. That's bad. On the other hand, Pompeo at least wants to give Snowden due process. That's better than Hillary Clinton's proposal for Julian Assange, which was to murder him with a drone, assuming this report is accurate. Reagan's pick was Bill Casey, who got the United States heavily intervening in Nicaragua. Both Pompeo and Casey were bad picks. It's hard to know who's worse.

I haven't covered the whole waterfront. Also, I haven't backed up here the various judgments I've made here about the minimum wage, global warming, CAFE laws on fuel economy, etc. If you want to see my backing for these, do a search on my EconLog posts.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (15 to date)
James Hanley writes:

The problem with DeVos is that her expressed goal is to use school choice to bring God back into the schools -- e.g., using taxpayer dollars to support Christian indoctrination. Hopefully the Courts maintain a hard line on the Establishment clause, I don't mind.

That said, I prefer to eliminate the Department of Ed rather than use it to push gor school choice.

Having heard DeVos speak, I'm also not impressed with her. I'm reminded of Jim Hightower's claim that George H. W. Bush was born on third base and thought he'd hit a triple.

Thank you for your review of Trump's cabinet picks, informative for me.

Kevin Lindsay writes:

I personally believe that Trumps picks for staff were the middle ground of both conservative and liberal values. The Reagan era ideology still roams the United States Political system. For instance, during reagan's presidency, there was an all time high in drug enforcement and military expenditures. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is beginning to dial back and rethink the war on drugs. On the more conservative side, Tom Price, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, is moving to dismantle Obamacare. The United States is one of the free countries without a Universal Healthcare system. Trump ran his entire campaign on his promise of killing it. One can only hope he has a plan that will not only fix the mishaps of Obamacare but make something even better.

What I am really for excited for is President Elects pick for Sec Def. Retired General James "Mad Dog" Mattis. This Marine is an excellent choice due to his outstanding service record in the war in iraq and Afghanistan. This Marine pushed through fallujah , one of the most dangerous provinces in Iraq. Mattis's famous quote "Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet." was paid homage in the Meet the Sniper video for Team Fortress 2. The quote became "Be polite, be efficient, have a plan to kill everyone you meet." No one will mess with the USA with this man as our Sec Def. God Help them if they do.

John writes:

My biggest concern with the cabinet right now is that the security picks seem to be hard-line anti-islamists who seem to be the types who would love to start wars and limit civil liberties in the name of holy war against Islam. NatSec appointee Flynn in particular seems to be unusually hardline, even by the standards of Obama or GWB appointees.

Would love to hear your thoughts on Flynn in that regard.

Kevin Lindsay writes:

Hardline you say? I'll Agree that Flynn is a bit rambunctious to say the least but you have to realize that he is tasked with the responsibility of keeping this country safe. We need to draw a hard line. To make it clear that we are a the land of the free and the home of the brave and we will not tolerate acts of tyranny and oppression. Flynn is suggesting that we have a more stringent vetting process for all immigrants.There's nothing wrong with an added sense of security. As far as the rampant islamophobia that is running through this country is sickening and I do not tolerate it. Make no mistake, in order to establish security and peace we must find people who are willing do what's necessary. whether or its contrary to popular belief. if this man was solely making the decisions. Id have the some serious trepidations but the fact that he still has to work with a team that can check his actions. I think we'll be fine. Jack Kennedy kept his people in line during the cuban missile crisis and so have other presidents before and after his time. I expect nothing less from President Trump.

BC writes:

@James Hanley, has DeVos said that vouchers should not be used at Jewish, Muslim, or secular schools, only at Christian schools? If not, then they are religion-neutral and don't endorse or favor any set of religious beliefs (or non-belief) over any other. In fact, a restriction that vouchers could not be used at a religiously-affiliated school would be not religion-neutral.

First Amendment issues arise *when government runs schools* because the government can neither endorse a religion nor prohibit the free exercise thereof. That gives rise to questions about the constitutionality of mandatory prayer, quiet time set aside where students can either pray or not, prohibiting even student-initiated prayer, and allowing or prohibiting religiously-affilated student groups from using school resources. With vouchers, the government is neither setting school policy nor choosing schools so it is straightforward to be religion-neutral by neither requiring nor prohibiting vouchers to be used at religiously-affiliated schools.

Think of food stamp vouchers. They can be used to purchase kosher or other religiously-compliant foods. However, if instead of vouchers the government ran grocery stores that gave out free food to aid recipients, then there could be First Amendment issues. One could argue that providing kosher foods violated the Establishment Clause. But, one could also argue that *not* providing kosher foods while providing foods that Christians could eat also was unconstitutional. Issuing food stamp vouchers with no religious requirements nor prohibitions solves the problem.

Ben H. writes:

"One good sign: he is a global warming skeptic." Yes, because we really want people in charge of government agencies who are not reality-based, and don't listen to scientific facts when making policy decisions. (sarcasm alert...)

MikeP writes:

Yes, because we really want people in charge of government agencies who are not reality-based, and don't listen to scientific facts when making policy decisions.

Actually, we want people in charge of government agencies who don't think that science dictates policy. It is one thing to recognize the threat of climate change. It is quite another to call for policies that have massive effects on the economy and humanity's future wealth. Even if the case of global warming is open and shut, the remedies proposed by global warming alarmists invariably cost far more than they gain while thwarting only a small amount of the warming. Science doesn't tell us that such policies are bad: only economics and public choice theory does.

The EPA nomination is certainly my favorite pick. The EPA committed an awesome overreach beyond the spirit of the original law when it claimed CO2 as a pollutant it can regulate. That is goalpost moving of the highest order, with cost-benefit analysis that is speculative beyond imagination. If the EPA nominee just gets rid of that, he will have done a great job.

Peter Gerdes writes:


Yes, one can quite reasonably oppose attempts to limit CO2 emission while believing in global warming. Had Trump selected someone to lead the EPA who had such a position I would be open to their arguments and potentially even supportive.

However, the only reason to appoint someone who is actually a global warming skeptic is either that one doesn't believe in anthropogenic global warming at all oneself (suggesting bad judgement) or because one has made a deliberate choice to push your policy agenda via simplistic misrepresentations rather than policy arguments. Both of which are very concerning.


As far as whether the EPA went beyond the spirit of the original law I don't see how you can't claim it isn't at least a reasonable (even if you would prefer otherwise) interpretation. After all CO2 is a gas emitted into the atmosphere as a result of industry and it does have harmful effects on the environment (you might say they aren't on *net* harmful but if you admit that anthropogenic global warming is real it makes CO2 analogous to emitting some nitrogen compound that fertilizes some plants while killing others).

I suspect what you are reacting to is the fact that regulating CO2 goes far beyond the *EFFECT* envisioned by the drafters of the underlying regulation establishing the purview of the EPA. However, it is a well established principle of our legal system to interpret laws in ways that do go far beyond their intended effect so long as that application is required by the text (or arguably even spirit) of the law.

Besides, regulating greenhouse gases isn't a constitutional matter. Congress can revoke that authority whenever it sees fit and hasn't even seriously tried.

caryatis writes:

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James Hanley writes:


I await the support of Betsy Devos and conservative Christians for funding for a Wahabbist school, and eventually a Satanist school. Because once we set the precedent of funding religious schools we will not constitutionally be able to exclude them.

For my part, I strongly object to anyone who wants to use taxpayer dollars to, in DeVos's words, "Advance God's kingdom." It's an illegitimate project in itself and can be expected to signal an intent to give preference to the speaker's vision of God's kingdom over other visions of it, and over non-religious social orders.

Granite26 writes:

I think, for political reasons, it would be better to have a global warming 'believer' that didn't think we should have interventions than a 'skeptic', but I'm not convinced such a person exists.

It seems you either think gw is real and the only way to stop it is a socialist utopia, or you think it's a hoax by people who wanted to create a socialist utopia anyway.

Jeremy writes:

Kevin Lindsay writes,

"Attorney General Jeff Sessions is beginning to dial back and rethink the war on drugs."

Really? Is there any evidence for that? I haven't seen anything about him dialing it back. If anything, Sessions will ramp up the War on Drugs and try to force the states who legalized marijuana to reverse it.

James Hanley writes,

"For my part, I strongly object to anyone who wants to use taxpayer dollars to, in DeVos's words, "Advance God's kingdom.""

James, I have been told by a good friend of mine, who is a Christian, that basically everything is "advancing God's kingdom." It's not meant to say she'll institute a theocracy; just being nice to someone on the street could advance God's kingdom. I don't know what to make of it, honestly, being an atheist for a long time and not being in the Christian community, but take that as you will. I'm not terribly concerned myself, but I will try to at least stay alert in case she does anything theocratic.

Phil writes:

@ James Hanley,

The whole point of vouchers is to give the parents a choice in how they educate their children, regardless of whether they enroll them in a secular private school, home school, or a religiously-affiliated school.

Discriminating against one of those categories simply because it is religiously based runs afoul of the free exercise clause of the Constitution.

Jim Glass writes:

"I await the support of Betsy Devos and conservative Christians for funding for a Wahabbist school, and eventually a Satanist school. Because once we set the precedent of funding religious schools we will not constitutionally be able to exclude them."

Because we can't constitutionally ban selected disapproved religions in the US?

The horror!

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