Guest Commentary: Trump’s Forgotten What He Learned in Business School
By David Trone
President Trump recently reminded us that he was a “nice student” at an Ivy League school. He’s referring to his tenure at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. If his experience in the undergraduate program was anything like mine in the graduate program, it is clear he did not learn or has forgotten many of the lessons they teach there.
If Trump were true to his Wharton training, he would know that many of his proposals will aggravate existing problems rather than solve them. As scholars at Wharton and elsewhere have demonstrated repeatedly, income inequality, restrictive immigration policy and rapidly accelerating national debt undermine long-term economic growth.
We were also taught that our operating style and values are as important as our ideas and technical skills in effective leadership.
For example, in economic history we learned that economic prosperity in the U.S. was created and sustained by tax, education, infrastructure, health care and housing policies that fuel an innovative and consuming middle class. The president’s proposed tax cuts would have the opposite effect. They would accelerate a widening wealth gap and the resentment that goes with it while creating little if any economic benefit for most Americans. Adding trillions of dollars of debt to the national balance sheet will choke economic growth for future generations.
In economics we learned the United States benefits when its allies and trading partners are also doing well. This mutually reciprocal economic growth is threatened when we build walls of isolation or treat trade agreements as zero-sum games as the president does.
Our failure to do more to help communities and individuals hurt by trade deals is one of our biggest mistakes in economic policy. But retreating from the world does nothing to help those who have been hurt by previous deals; if anything, it will create even bigger problems as the economy slows, and supplies and prices of many goods increase.
The same is true of immigration. Much of our economic growth over the last century was fueled by newcomers to America. Immigrants and their children started 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies. Immigration is just as important going forward. Without immigration, our population growth is essentially flat. Sustainable economic growth requires a growing population, and at this point in our history, this depends on predictable and steady influx of immigrants.
The president’s operating style is equally at odds with the lessons I learned. Wharton students are taught to find solutions that work, not just ones that sound good. This requires a thorough knowledge of relevant facts and a dispassionate assessment of alternative approaches. Time after time, the president has shown himself not to understand the basic important facts, and his comparisons of his own proposals with alternatives depend more on exaggerated rhetoric than precise analysis.
In business school and in applying its lessons for more than 30 years since, I learned that the best solutions are those in which almost every party involved is satisfied with the outcome. This contrasts sharply with the words Trump uses to excite his followers and the way he treats others. Treating others humanely and respectfully is more likely to result in successful negotiations than calling opponents “bums,” “losers,” or encouraging darker instincts.
Where we learned to plan and act carefully for the long term, he acts impulsively. Where we learned to create teamwork based on mutual respect among talented associates, he cannot fill key positions and his administration is beset by leaks and back-biting. From everything we know, his style is the opposite of good leadership. I fear that what we do not know might be even worse.
This is unfortunate. Business school exposes students to best practices in budgeting, analysis, operations and management, all of which are useful in governing. Working with rigorous analytical tools trains us to integrate vast quantities of disparate data in making multiple interconnected decisions, an essential part of political leadership.
Donald Trump displays none of this, but it is wrong to assume that Trump learned this approach at Wharton or that all business leaders share his convictions. He certainly does not represent the school, the profession or the country I know.
David Trone, co-owner of Total Wine & More, is a Democratic candidate for Congress in Maryland’s 6th District.