Sunday, December 11, 2016

The mindset of the Trump Administration: Amorality

The mindset of the Trump Administration: Amorality

Pundits on the left and right of the political spectrum have taken to analyzing the direction of the Trump Administration through the lens of progressive or conservative perspectives.  In my view, they are missing the most important characteristic of the President-election and his economic appointees:  they are amoral thinkers.

Two weeks after starting Meditations on Money Management, I wrote a post called, “The particular problem of money management[1]” in which I described the dangerous flaw at the heart of the business:

“[T]he core function of money management, investing in financial markets, is an amoral pursuit.  It is not about right or wrong.  Rather it is a game of building collections of securities based on one’s predictions of corporate profits (stocks) or interest rates (fixed income).  It’s about deciding when to buy and sell those securities.  Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives, believers, and atheists can be equally good or bad at the game as their personal views are irrelevant when it comes time to invest. 

President-elect Trump has spent his entire career in the amoral pursuit of amassing an ever-larger fortune for himself, and he will become the first President steeped in this corrosive way of thinking.  Moreover, he is building a cabinet filled with amoral thinkers who have benefited greatly from their years in and around the money management business.  I’ve previously written about Wilbur Ross, and Steve Mnuchin, who will soon be Commerce and Treasury secretaries.  The President has also nominated Andrew Puzder to head the Labor Department and Gary Cohn to chair the National Economic Council.  Puzder’s association with two private equity firms is largely responsible for generating his wealth, although he has been the CEO of CKE Enterprises (Carl Jr. and Hardees).  Mr. Cohn is the President and COO of Goldman Sachs.

Our government will be a ship without a moral rudder, which is very dangerous in the world of politics.   In a conventional administration, the public interest has often been sacrificed to benefit special interests and especially Wall Street.  However, in the Trump Administration, the public interest will play no role because amoral thinking does not allow for such a concept.    Conflicts of interest, which would be a concern of a conventional administration, will be completely acceptable in the Trump Administration.  Money management is a business infused with conflicts of interest.  Money managers don’t eliminate them; rather they force their clients to accept them.  Mr. Trump and his associates will try to force us to accept the many conflicts between their roles in government and their business interests.



All that will matter to Mr. Trump and his economic cabinet is furthering the image and brand of Mr. Trump and setting policies that pave the way for Wall Street and money managers to make a lot more money.  You may think that the public will quickly reject this direction.  However, money managers tend to be great marketers, so they will be able to disguise their amoral outlook in rhetoric, images, and deals that give the appearance that they are pursing the greater good.

In Iowa recently, Mr. Trump said, “I want people that made a fortune!”  Clearly, he’s looking for people to serve in his Administration who know how to set aside the concept of right and wrong in the pursuit of vast sums of money.  Fortunately we have a rich and diverse country that has survived greater challenges than Mr. Trump.  However, his amorality is going to inflict some real damage, especially on the most vulnerable among us.



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