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Duke economics professors sign open letter opposing Trump’s reelection

<p>From top left: Professors Gayle Boyd, Edward Tower, Thomas J. Nechyba, and Xiao Yu Wang signed an open letter opposing the reelection of President Donald Trump.</p>

From top left: Professors Gayle Boyd, Edward Tower, Thomas J. Nechyba, and Xiao Yu Wang signed an open letter opposing the reelection of President Donald Trump.

Over 1,000 economists, including four Duke professors, have signed an open letter opposing the reelection of President Donald Trump. 

The letter, whose signatories include multiple Nobel Prize winners, criticizes both Trump’s economic policies and his personal behavior, charging that he has “rendered the United States unrecognizable” during his four years in office. 

The economists say that Trump has made the country a “less appealing place to do business,” and that his “chaotic and ineffective approach to negotiation” and “managerial incompetence” have prevented him from delivering on his campaign promises, such as increasing the gross domestic product or improving the trade deficit. 

Assistant Professor of Economics Xiao Yu Wang wrote in an email to The Chronicle her decision to sign the letter was straightforward after signing a similar letter in 2016. 

“I don't think there is a single well-founded argument for voting for Trump, and that has nothing to do with my party affiliation, or politics in general,” she wrote. “Trump is not a Republican. He has no thoughtful positions on anything. He is a delusional, hateful and ignorant narcissist who has no interest in the welfare of others, and these are not qualities I look for in any kind of leader.”

Wang also wrote that she thought economists could provide valuable pushback against popular beliefs about Trump’s business success prior to his presidential campaign. “I also think it's especially important for economists to take a stand, given that the myth that Trump is somehow a brilliant businessperson/economist continues to survive despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary,” she wrote.

Samantha Zager, a deputy press secretary for the Trump campaign, criticized the letter in a statement to Forbes, calling it a “baseless admonition of President Trump” by “left-wing academics [who] couldn’t name a single reason why they believe Joe Biden would do anything positive for the American economy.”

The letter references projections from analysts at Goldman Sachs and Moody’s Analytics that predict that Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s proposed economic policies would generate faster growth in both employment and real GDP if Biden were elected.

The letter also argues that many of Trump’s promised changes to the economy aren’t feasible using his policy proposals. 

Professor of Economics Edward Tower, a specialist in international trade issues who also signed the letter, criticized Trump’s use of tariffs and other protectionist economic policies, as well as his mischaracterization of the effects of trade deficits. “Trump has been a source of severe misinformation on thinking about international trade,” he said. 

The economists also address parts of Trump’s presidency that don’t directly concern economic policies, such as his response to the coronavirus pandemic and his encouragement of “a culture of unabashed corruption” at the highest levels of government. 

Professor of Economics Thomas Nechyba highlighted that the main reason he decided to sign on was because the letter outlines Trump’s role in the erosion of trust in U.S. institutions.

“Healthy societies require a reservoir of trust in institutions and a basic level of charity toward one another. In my view, by far the most damaging part of the Trump legacy is the shredding of this trust,” Nechyba wrote in an email. “As an economist, I can locate some of this in Trump’s zero-sum view of the world—if you think that one person’s gain must always be another’s loss, this reinforces the tendency to divide and pit groups against one another. But it transcends economics—it is fundamentally about who we are and how we can live together in a pluralistic society, and whether such a society can survive the egomaniacal viciousness that is at the center of everything Trump does.”

The letter’s final bullet point charges that Trump has a “poorly-informed, zero-sum view of economics that engenders needless viciousness and cruelty.”

Gale Boyd, an associate research professor in the Social Science Research Institute and the fourth Duke professor to sign the letter, did not respond to a request for an interview. 

For more election coverage from across North Carolina, visit One Vote N.C., a collaborative between The Chronicle and six other student newspapers that aims to help college students across the state navigate the November election.

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