Ok, let’s imagine for a moment that Donald Trump becomes the next U.S. president, and meets his promises to build a 1,000-mile wall along the Mexican border, slap a 35 percent import tax on Mexican car imports and deport 11 million undocumented immigrants. How would all of this impact average Americans?
Trump says that these measures would help “make America great again.” But most economists agree that they would make almost everything more expensive for average Americans — from the car you drive to the lettuce you buy at the supermarket — and kill many more U.S. jobs than those they would help create.
Let’s start with Trump’s idea to build a border wall. It’s a dubious U.S. priority at a time when, according to U.S. Census figures compiled by the Pew Research Center, illegal migration from Mexico has dropped dramatically since 2008.
Furthermore, assuming that Trump’s proposed wall costs “only” $8 billion, as he claims, it may be a waste of money: more than 40 percent of undocumented immigrants don’t enter the United States by crossing the southern border, but come in by air with tourist visas, and overstay their visas. A border wall would do nothing to stop them.
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As for Trump’s constant assertion that “Mexico will pay for the wall,” that won’t happen. When I recently asked former Mexican President Vicente Fox about it, he laughed and said, “He’s crazy!”
Trump says that he would make Mexico pay for the wall by slapping a 35 percent tax on Mexican car imports. When CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer asked him during the Feb. 25 Republican debate whether he would start a trade war with Mexico, Trump responded, “Well, you know, I don’t mind trade wars when we’re losing $58 billion a year.”
Sounds very brave, but it’s based on a deceiving statistic. It hides the fact that about 40 percent of the content of U.S. imports from Mexico is of U.S. origin, according to a 2015 report on NAFTA’S impact by the U.S. Congressional Research Service. In other words, cars, auto parts and other products are often assembled in Mexico with many U.S. components.
Slapping a 35 percent tax on these imports would substantially raise the price of these goods in the United States. The price of a Ford Fusion car, which is made in Mexico and sells for about $24,000 in the United States, would go up to more than $32,000.
And producing more expensive cars would also make U.S. cars less competitive in world markets. If anything, Trump’s trade war with Mexico would make Japan great again.
Also, if Trump scrapped the NAFTA free trade deal to impose his 35 percent tariff on Mexican imports , Mexico would start charging U.S. goods with its average 7.5 percent import duty for products from countries with which it doesn’t have free trade deals. That would hurt U.S. exporters badly, because Mexico is the world’s second largest buyer of U.S. goods, after Canada.
Last year, Mexico imported $236 billion worth of U.S. products, more than China, Japan and Germany together. A trade war with Mexico could cost 6 million U.S. jobs, according to U.S. Chamber of Commerce figures.
Finally, Trump’s idea to deport the nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants would not only divide millions of parents from their children and turn the United States into a police state like China or Cuba, but would also raise the price of most labor-intensive goods — from food to housing — for average Americans.
My opinion: Many Trump supporters may dismiss these arguments saying that, as president, their candidate would me more flexible.
I don’t think so. I interviewed Trump in 2013, and — although I cannot claim to know him well — found him to be as brash and rigid as he comes across on camera. More importantly, I have interviewed many populist politicians — Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez among them — and they had many things in common with Trump. One of them is that, at first, nobody took them seriously.
That’s why it’s so important to imagine a Trump presidency, and look closely into the potential impact of his campaign proposals. I tend to think that with Trump, what you see is what you get.
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Watch “Oppenheimer Presenta” Sundays at 9 p.m. on CNN en Español