Politics & Policy

The Corner

Prime Time

The Donald Trump interview with The Economist is . . . interesting. There’s one exchange in particular I find fascinating:

But beyond that it’s OK if the tax plan increases the deficit?

It is OK, because it won’t increase it for long. You may have two years where you’ll . . . you understand the expression “prime the pump”?

Yes.

We have to prime the pump.

It’s very Keynesian.

We’re the highest-taxed nation in the world. Have you heard that expression before, for this particular type of an event?

Priming the pump?

Yeah, have you heard it?

Yes.

Have you heard that expression used before? Because I haven’t heard it. I mean, I just . . . I came up with it a couple of days ago and I thought it was good. It’s what you have to do.

It’s . . .

Yeah, what you have to do is you have to put something in before you can get something out.

Now, where to begin? It would be a bit dismaying if the president of the United States, who prides himself as something of an expert on matters economic, had never heard the expression “prime the pump” before, never mind believed he coined it. The phrase has been a standard Keynesian refrain for nearly a century.

But fear not. Donald Trump has heard the phrase before – from his own lips. For instance, he used the phrase with Time magazine last year:

And he has little patience for the organizing principle of the Tea Party: the idea that the federal government must live within its means and lower its debts. Instead, he seems to favor expensive new infrastructure spending and tax cuts as economic stimulus, much like Obama did in 2009. “Well, sometimes you have to prime the pump,” he says. “So sometimes in order to get jobs going and the country going, because, look, we’re at 1% growth.” The next day, the third-quarter gross-domestic-product estimates would be released, showing an increase of 3.2%, up from 1.4% earlier in the year.

At a rally in Iowa in December of 2016 he said:

We are also going to lower our business tax rate from 35 percent all the way down to 15 percent. That’s going to be big. Going to prime the pump. Got to prime the pump. Got to get the jobs. Got 96 million people out there. We got to get them going.

A Lexis-Nexis search finds other examples from him and a great many of his surrogates as well.

So, I’m honestly curious. What is the right way to interpret Trump’s statement that he coined the phrase “prime the pump” a few days ago? Did he forget? Was he playing a game with the editors of The Economist? If so, what possible benefit would he get? I’m really interested in knowing what the best possible explanation could be?

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