- - Tuesday, July 19, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Now that Donald Trump has secured the Republican nomination, he must refocus his campaign on the economy to beat Hillary Clinton.

Both candidates have negatives that are not easily overcome — for example, Mr. Trump’s statements about women and minorities, and Mrs. Clinton’s assorted family foundation and email woes — but those largely cancel out.

On the economy, however, Mrs. Clinton may be more vulnerable if Mr. Trump gets more specific about how he intends to fix it.

The presumptive Democratic nominee has a fresh list of free stuff — all to be financed by raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy — and new mandates for business. For example, free pre-K education, free college tuition, adding adults over 50 to Medicare and sweetening Obamacare, and a higher minimum wage and a national version of the California Fair Pay Act.

At the outset, those appeal to ordinary voters weary from a terribly difficult economic recovery and who harbor a sense that folks at the very top are unfairly profiting at their expense.

Over the long term, such giveaways generally fail at both the micro and macro levels. For example, subsidized student loans and Obamacare have driven tuition and health insurance premiums out of sight, while many students receive a mediocre education and are burdened with onerous debt, and too many families can only afford insurance policies with terribly high deductibles and co-pays.

The Obama recovery has registered only 2.1 percent annual gross domestic product (GDP) and created too few good-paying jobs. It has left 7 million men between the ages of 25 and 54 too despondent to even look for work.

Mr. Trump needs to hammer the difference between that disappointing performance and the Reagan prosperity — 4.6 percent GDP growth and about twice the jobs creation. And then explain in more specific terms than he has so far how his proposals on trade, taxes and the like will deliver a more robust and fairer economy, make education more affordable, lower health care costs, and address the concerns of minorities and women.

Getting tough on trade with Mexico and China is easy to talk about but much harder to do. High tariffs will raise prices for everyday items at Target and Wal-Mart, and Mr. Trump has to explain how enduring those would put Americans back to work in now shuttered factories, raise incomes all around and make us all still better off.

Most fundamentally, he needs to articulate what a better deal for Americans would look like when he renegotiates NAFTA and our WTO relationship with Mexico and China.

Americans can’t get decent jobs and compete globally without affordable universities, and much of the stratospheric tuition increases have gone to finance faculty that spend too little time teaching, lavish athletic facilities and administrative bloat.

The next president could cut off federal aid to institutions that won’t slash tuition by 20 percent and limit future increases to the rate of inflation without doing any great harm to the quality of instruction.

Repealing Obamacare is rhetorically appealing but some features — such as requiring employers to offer coverage to employee children up to the age 25 — are attractive to many voters and businesses have rearranged their practices to accommodate it.

Mr. Trump has offered few specifics other than to say he would replace Obamacare with something terrific.

Health care in the United States is 50 percent more costly than in Germany and Holland, which also have mandatory private insurance and quality care. New legislation could require drug companies, doctors, hospitals and insurance companies to benchmark prices and practices against those in western European countries with private insurance.

Mrs. Clinton’s strong suits are gender and appeal to minorities. Many of them believe business practices and the labor markets still treat them unfairly. Mr. Trump has to convince them he feels their pain and will be aggressive about addressing their complaints.

Imposing greater transparency by requiring businesses to publish salaries and providing all Americans — men and women, white and minorities — opportunities for expedited hearings and specific remedies when they believe they are treated unfairly would go a long way to building a fairer economy and hardly be onerous.

From a traditional Republican perspective, it’s all very radical but conservatives should be about empowering ordinary people.

Peter Morici is an economist and business professor at the University of Maryland, and a national columnist.

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