At the end of a hefty speech at Liberty University in Virginia on Monday, Donald Trump made what has been widely reported as a promise to force Apple to move its manufacturing operations to the United States.
That’s how most tech-media headlines put it, anyway.
- “Trump promises he’ll force Apple to manufacture in the U.S.” – CNet
- “Trump says he will force Apple to manufacture in the U.S. even though that makes absolutely no sense.” – Gizmodo
- “Donald Trump says he will force Apple to build its ‘computers and things’ in the United States.” – 9to5Mac
- “Stupid or not? Trump says he’ll force Apple to make its ‘damn computers’ in the U.S.” – VentureBeat
- “Trump: I’ll force Apple to make its ‘damn computers and things’ in U.S.” – ZDNet
The Verge captured the general tenor of the coverage by mocking Trump for allegedly thinking he can “flip a switch and make something like that happen,” because he has a “silly fantasy world” where he’s the King of America.
Oddly enough, in the very next paragraph, The Verge stumbles into an honest description of what Trump actually said, and admitted it’s not a new stance for him, nor is it part of any silly fantasy where the King of America can flip a switch and make manufacturing operations magically return from overseas:
Trump’s newly confident rhetoric is just a show, but for years he has suggested that Apple ought to bring manufacturing home to the US in more measured terms.
During the 2012 presidential election, he told Fox News it would be “a great thing” for Apple CEO Tim Cook to build plants in the US. “Maybe the incentive’s not there, but when 100-percent of Apple’s products, or virtually 100-percent, are made outside of this country, it’s pretty sad,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be great if Apple actually made these products in the United States?”
And as of December, it was still just a dream. “We have to bring Apple, and other companies like Apple, back to the United States,” he said at a press conference promoting his book, Crippled America. “We have to do it. And that’s one of my real dreams for the country.”
The comment about Apple comes at the very end of the video clip provided by Liberty University. As with most Trump speeches, it was not an oration that could easily be unpacked and hung out to dry on a line of bullet points. He riffs and bounces around between topics a lot.
In his closing remarks, Trump summed up his campaign theme as follows:
Very simply – and I didn’t used to say this, two or three weeks ago I wouldn’t say it, but I think I can say it now, because I’ve seen so many people, we have such amazing people in this country – smart, sharp, energetic, they’re amazing.
I was saying, “Make America Great Again.” I actually think we can say now, and I really believe this – we’re going to get things coming. We’re going to get Apple to start building their damn computers and things in this country, instead of in other countries.
And I honestly think I can say, and I’ve said it for the last two weeks, and I mean it a hundred percent or I wouldn’t say it: we’re going to make America great again… greater than ever before. And we can do that. We’re gonna win, and we’re gonna win a lot.
This portion of the speech begins just past the one-hour mark in the Liberty University video below:
Nowhere does Trump say anything about “forcing” Apple to do anything. Taken in isolation, his remarks could refer to convincing or persuading Apple to move manufacturing back to the U.S. because American work product and business taxes make it a smart competitive decision for the company to relocate – an impression reinforced by his talk of “winning” and making America “greater than ever.”
With that said, there is a passage much earlier in the speech – beginning, in Trump’s meandering way, about 40 minutes into the video clip, with a number of detours and asides – in which he talks about his notion of leveling the international trade playing field by imposing taxes and tariffs. He gives the example of using a 35 percent tariff on products manufactured overseas to convince Ford Motor Company to avoid offshoring its operations.
It may, or may not, be reasonable to extrapolate this idea to Apple, and ask Trump if he means to propose punitive taxes against the computer company to “inspire” them to bring manufacturing home. This could lead to a subsequent discussion about whether any size carrot or stick would be sufficient to make such an expensive relocation appealing. The Verge mentions a rumor that Steve Jobs told Barack Obama in 2011 that “those jobs aren’t coming back,” which would make a splendid epitaph for the entire Obama presidency, plus the series of hostile corporate tax moves long predating his arrival in the Oval Office.
The point is that it’s a fair question to ask of Trump, rather than assuming what he meant about Apple from a couple of lines of dialogue at the end of a speech. He’s hardly the only politician that likes to toss out a few quick applause lines at the end of his speeches. Trump’s applause lines can feel a bit more… spontaneous than most.
Free traders want to bring jobs and investment back to America by calling off money-hungry Washington’s long jihad against the market, building a business environment where bringing capital to these shores makes sense. It should be a no-brainer to do business in America and hire American workers, not a no-brainer to abuse our deeply corrupt immigration system and replace U.S. workers with imported labor en masse, or moving production to less deranged and unstable tax and regulatory environments overseas.
(Yes, unstable. Big-money operations can read spreadsheets. They know fiscal collapse is coming for the U.S. government, and they don’t want their valuable capital to be within reach of Obama’s ideological heirs when it comes.)
Trump insists he’s a champion of free trade, but his protectionist ideas are necessary to level the playing field against foreign powers that can use short-term central planning techniques to damage American competitiveness. He made such a case at Liberty University. It should be possible to engage this argument without misrepresenting it.
It’s also incredible to hear people on the Left howl about Trump supposedly “forcing” Apple to comply with his vision, because that’s what Obamanomics was all about, and Hillary Clinton offers nothing different. Their whole agenda offers liberty at a price, and compulsion to those who can’t afford to pay it. Individually and in corporations, Americans are nominally “free” to do many things they can’t actually afford to do, because the State will extract huge fees, or impose a crushing regulatory burden on the endeavor. It’s particularly rough on small operations and upstart competitors, which is why Big Business loves Big Government.
(Bernie Sanders would bring the aforementioned collapse down on our heads years ahead of schedule, and we’d probably end up with Venezuela-style nationalization, instead of carrot-and-stick manipulation.)
Yes, Trump’s tariffs are a form of government compulsion – and so is every other tax, regulation, and subsidy liberals cherish, without giving much thought to their practical effects. It’s not “free choice” to tell a CEO he’s “free” to manufacture stuff in China, provided he doesn’t mind paying a little 35 percent tax when he brings it to America… but that’s exactly the same shriveled notion of “freedom” Democrats offer to every company, and every employee, in America.
One of the most infamous examples was Obama’s early promise that he wasn’t going to kill the coal industry… he was just going to make it so expensive to do business that they would commit suicide. “If somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can; it’s just that it will bankrupt them, because they’re going to be charged a huge sun for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted,” he said in 2008.
By all means, let’s have a great national discussion about how all taxes, regulations, and barriers to market entry are forms of compulsion, and discuss just how much compulsion from their central government a “free” people should put up with, especially when precious few of the Beltway elites knows the first thing about how to run a business.
While we’re at it, let’s be honest and admit supposedly “benevolent” regulations are exercises of destructive compulsive force. For example, as Murray Rothbard pointed out in 1988, the minimum wage is “compulsory unemployment,” because it effectively “outlaws” jobs that employers would otherwise be willing to offer, and employees might voluntarily accept.
Let’s be honest enough to admit that all those sunshine-and-rainbow subsidies liberals love to promise are exercises of compulsive force, too… and not just against the people who are forced to pay for them at gunpoint. Subsidies are compulsion against those who receive them, too. Actions that would forfeit the subsidy become undesirable, or even unthinkable. As with Trump’s example of playing hardball against Ford Motors, you’re not really “free to choose” if all but one of your free choices involves paying a fine, or giving up a subsidy you have been taught to depend on.
Trump promises to turn the compulsive powers of the Beltway empire against different targets, guided by someone who knows how to make money. Those who would rather see those compulsive powers dissolved can earnestly lament the possibility of the Republican nomination going to someone who claims he can “fix” statism, harness the Leviathan to a million plows, and turn a profit.
But let’s not pretend Trump is uniquely wedded to regal fantasies, in a way Obama or his aspiring successors are not. And let’s not forget that plenty on the Left have been railing against offshoring and corporate inversions as tantamount to crimes – even treason – for years.