Establishment economics survives with Larry Kudlow in White House

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Former investment banker Gary Cohn stepped down as head of the U.S. National Economic Council on March 7, ending his tenure as presidential adviser. His resignation came after President Donald J. Trump announced plans to impose steep tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum, a policy against which Cohn lobbied fiercely.

The former Goldman Sachs executive was a voice for free-trade policies within a White House that promised protectionism. Most economists support global trade deals, such as NAFTA, which Trump opposes (Bloomberg). The Dow Jones dropped after Cohn’s departure became public, indicating growing fears that a 25 percent tariff on steel and 10 percent on aluminum imports could one day be a reality (CNNMoney). 

(Read and help report on President Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum and his protectionist agenda). 

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In August 2017, the Financial Times reported a power struggle between Cohn and former White House advisor Steve Bannon, who promoted a political brand that Bannon labeled as “economic nationalism.” 

Cohn joins a line of White House staffers who’ve either quit or were fired within the first year of Trump’s presidency. The turnover rate is currently over 40 percent according to the Brookings Institute, a left-leaning think tank, which exceeds the norm of the previous five administrations.

Cohn also joins a group of business leaders who have distanced themselves from an otherwise business-friendly administration. CEOs left en masse from presidential business councils in August 2017 after Trump’s controversial response to the Charlottesville protests where a neo-Nazi sympathizer killed a left-wing protester (Bloomberg).

Replaced by CNBC’s Kudlow

Trump appointed Larry Kudlow, a long-time CNBC pundit, as top economic advisor on March 15. Kudlow is a former economist who largely shares the same free-trade views as Cohn. Reuters columnist Rob Cox described Kudlow as a “great communicator.”

Larry Kudlow speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Credit: Gage Skidmore. 26 February 2015

Like Cohn, Kudlow is a critic of Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs. He compared them to “tax hikes” in an CNBC op-ed, a pejorative term for the conservative economist.

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