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Adam Smith and President Trump

By Marvin Zonis

Joseph A. Morris (mdlrusk@aol.com) reminds us that Adam Smith was born on this day in 1723. Morris restates perhaps the most famous (and, I find, thrilling) lines from Smith’s The Wealth of Nations:

"It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages."

Morris goes on to observe:

“Political calculations are usually zero-sum matters; one side wins, the other side loses. Economic transactions are rarely zero-sum propositions; in most commercial transactions each party sees himself as having received a benefit and made a profit.

“It is no surprise, therefore, that Smith was an abolitionist and an opponent of bigotry.”

Surely, as Smith and Morris point out, the bigot loses, at least from the perspective of economic efficiency.

While Morris ends his reminder of Smith with this appropriate thought, I would like to extend Morris’ thought to recent happenings with President Trump.

The President spent his career before the White House as a more or less successful real estate developer – involved in a nearly endless series of commercial transactions.

From that, one would imagine him to have learned Smith’s lesson – that in such transactions both parties can enter a negotiation and complete a transaction and both can be winners.

But now the President is not in a commercial world but in a political world. Here the calculus of winners and losers figures more appropriately.

Nothing exemplifies this more than the President’s call to state governors on June 1, 2020. In that call he demanded that the governors “toughen up” and dominate.

In fact, President Trump repeated the need to “dominate” or “domination” 13 times.

In this political world, there are only winners and losers and the President hates losers.