Putting aside analysis, calculation and any semblance of substantive thought, President Donald Trump once more bounced off intuition in calling for a big-time tariff on Mexico. The purpose? To get Mexico to help more with the immigration flood from Central America. The possible consequences if he follows through? Economic punishment on both sides of a border even more in crisis.
Trump apparently doesn’t get any of this, or the fact that the move, if carried out, could rip apart relations with fellow Republicans in Congress, further inspirit impeachment enthusiasts, help undo his foremost achievement of economic flourishing and reduce his chance of reelection in 2020.
What he did was trust his gut. He talks frequently about how he does just that, as he must have in his cockeyed governmental shutdown. To him, an automatic, impulsive gut is more reliable than a rational, deliberative brain that knows what it doesn’t know, and here, in my view, is his chief fault as president.
A terrific book on the subject is “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman, a cognitive scientist who tells us that, yes, intuition can tie our shoes and handle a mighty list of everyday tasks. But if an issue is complicated, such as requiring the multiplication of two six-figure numbers, you are going to have to slow down enough to do the math. Kahneman gives an engaging example of how knee jerks in complicated situations come in a distant second to actual, more prolonged, careful, step-by-step thought.
Suppose you are told that the combined cost of a bat and baseball is $1.10 and are then told that the bat cost $1 more than the baseball. The question is how much did the baseball cost, and the quick, intuitive answer in various quiz exercises has been 10 cents. Wrong. If the baseball cost 10 cents, the bat would be just 90 cents more expensive. If the ball cost a nickel, the bat would cost $1.05, which is a dollar more than the baseball.
Trump would insist after hearing all of that that the bat still cost $1 more than the baseball and add that Central American immigrants are pouring through Mexico and Mexico could stop it but won’t and that the threat of ruination will bring them around. The fact is that Mexico has been doing quite a bit, believe it or not.
Minus an agreement, Trump says we could soon have a 5% tariff that could climb to 25% and be economically devastating for this nation from which we imported $346 billion worth of goods in 2018.
Too often, Trump does not listen to his best advisers who have helped lead him to grand accomplishments and are surely saying he should now go after the Democrats instead of the Mexicans.