If I was running for president, there isn’t much I would do differently than Trump on the economy:
1.) First, the useless wars have sucked trillions of dollars out of our economy and run up the national debt, much of which we now owe to China, Japan, and the Gulf States. Just imagine all the things that money could have done had it been invested here instead of on a crusade to bring democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan.
2.) Second, Trump understands the most important problem with the American economy is globalization. Corporations can relocate overseas to avoid paying taxes. Rich people can hide their money in overseas tax shelters. Corporations can lay off their American workers, relocate to countries like Mexico, hire foreign workers at a fraction of the cost, and export back to the United States duty free and avoid paying taxes as well as our healthcare, environmental, and labor laws. We have also allowed a huge influx of immigrants to compete with American workers in non-tradable working class jobs like construction. If you are not going to address that fundamental problem, you are not serious about creating working class jobs.
3.) Third, everything else about the American economy turns on globalization. You can tinker with the tax code, but it isn’t going to make much of a difference (i.e., a 33% or 38% rate) if you can relocate your corporate headquarters to Ireland, or hide your wealth in the Cayman Islands. You can expand healthcare to millions of uninsured people, but you might just be creating another incentive to relocate production overseas. You can raise the minimum wage and heavily regulate the economy, but the jobs will flee a Michigan to an Alabama and then beyond to a Guatemala as long as free-trade exists. Finally, free college tuition and childcare might improve the life of some at the margins, but without millions of new jobs being created it will just drive up the national debt.
4.) Fourth, resource extraction industries – oil, coal, natural gas, timber, etc. – are the easiest way to stimulate working class employment. The Democrats want to ban fracking and shut down the coal industry in order to create “green jobs” in solar and wind. Not only is it ludicrous (too little energy generated), but it creates a false choice in energy policy. Texas is the king of oil, solar, and wind. Most Northern states are neither windy or sunny, but Ohio, New York, and Pennsylvania have lots of gas. California has offshore oil.
5.) Finally, every other major country addresses trade policy from the standpoint of their national interest instead of dogmatic adherence to liberal abstractions. If it suits a Japan or a South Korea to be for free-trade, they are pro-free trade. Right now, it doesn’t suit China to care much about intellectual property rights, but that could change as it did in the past with Japan and South Korea. We lack the language and the concepts to even talk about a trade policy that is “good for the Americans.”
It is the morning after the first debate and I can’t remember anything Hillary said she was going to do about the economy except raise taxes, create a childcare entitlement, and create jobs in the solar industry. If nothing else, that was heard loud and clear in many parts of the country.
Update: RE: labor unions.
Labor unions are another issue that turn on free-trade and globalization. Within the Union, states that have right-to-work laws will have an advantage over those which do not in a common market. Businesses will flee states that offer fewer subsidies, have higher taxes, and stricter labor and environmental laws. See the exodus of jobs and people from states like California and Illinois to Texas and Florida.
The same principle applies to the world at large. It will be cheaper for many businesses to ship jobs and plants from Alabama and South Carolina to Vietnam and Mexico. Unless there is an external tariff that counterbalances the costs of production in the United States (taxes, labor, environment, civil rights, etc.), working class jobs will continue to be sucked overseas to low-tax, low-wage, low-regulation Third World countries.
If you are looking to reduce income inequality, the ideal economic system would shackle finance and banking to discourage speculation, encourage unionization, strongly discourage immigration, and maintain a much higher external tariff. This is the system we effectively had after the Second World War. The difference is that the wartime devastation overseas compensated for the reduction in the tariff for a few decades. When Japan and Western Europe rebuilt, the American economy became less competitive.