Opinion | Trump’s Trade Grade

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It’s a neat microcosm of President Trump’s economic policy: He picks a yardstick to measure the American economy — the trade deficit — that’s mostly meaningless. He spends years criticizing it as too high and promising to reduce it. And under his administration, it surges.

“By just about any measure you pick,” Slate’s Jordan Weissmann writes, “his effort appears to have been an absolute flop.”

“He set out to fix a non-problem (a trade deficit) and created real ones including international conflict, higher consumer prices and gross inefficiency in our economy,” The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin writes.

Left v. center-left, continued

Paul Krugman, writing on Twitter, offers his take on Brad DeLong’s recent writings on the rise of left-wing Democrats and their economic proposals. Paul argues that the newly ascendant left — personified by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — plays a productive role on labor policy, fiscal policy and climate policy but a self-defeating role on health care policy. I largely agree.

On labor: Democrats should indeed put more emphasis on increasing workers’ bargaining power than they have in recent years.

On the budget: Democrats have been the party of fiscal responsibility for a quarter-century now, and they have earned little political credit for it. Bond markets also don’t seem worried about the deficit or national debt. So there are multiple reasons for Democrats to prioritize other issues — like lifting living standards — over deficit reduction.

On climate: This is one place I’d be somewhat more critical than Paul. The Green New Deal — that is, simultaneously addressing climate change and trying to create good-paying jobs — is a great concept. But the rollout was needlessly sloppy, and the substance was weaker than it should have been.

On health care: An ambitious Medicare expansion makes all kinds of sense. But mandatory Medicare for All, with the elimination of private insurance, is a pipe dream. The country has too many important challenges for the next Democratic president to make single-payer health care — as opposed to universal health care — the No. 1 priority.

“Single payer is not, in itself, a principle,” as Harold Pollack, the health care expert, recently wrote in the journal Democracy. “The end — the core principle at stake — is universality. A wealthy and humane democracy must provide decent health coverage to everyone — coverage that actually works to prevent and treat serious illness, injury, and disability. On this principle, progressives are in total agreement.”

And speaking of my colleague Paul Krugman: He is starting his own weekly newsletter, and you can sign up for it here.

The little ones

Elizabeth Warren’s proposal for universal child care has brought some needed attention to the topic. On this week’s episode of “The Argument,” I debate it with Ross Douthat, Michelle Goldberg and the editorial board’s Mara Gay. I think universal child care is an excellent and important idea, but I’d broaden the program to help working-class parents who want to stay home with young children.

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David Leonhardt is a former Washington bureau chief for the Times, and was the founding editor of The Upshot and head of The 2020 Project, on the future of the Times newsroom. He won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, for columns on the financial crisis. @DLeonhardt Facebook

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