Ford has already canceled its plans to build a new $1.6 billion factory in Mexico. President-elect Trump has taken credit for this, and Ford is at least playing along, calling its decision to instead create 700 new jobs in the U.S. a “vote of confidence” in Trump’s impending presidency, even though the company denies that it was “a deal” with Trump or that it was done under pressure. “We did it for our business,” as CEO Mark Fields put it.

But why does Trump pick on Ford, when in fact its presence in Mexico is the smallest of the Big Three U.S. automakers?

[Trump] has rarely mentioned its two other large competitors: GM and Chrysler. But among America’s “Big 3” auto companies, Ford actually has the fewest number of workers in Mexico.
Ford employs 8,800 people in Mexico, according to the company and data from the Mexican government.
Fiat Chrysler has 12,800 workers and GM (GM) has 15,000 in Mexico.

President Obama once tried to use such pressure tactics, along with carrots and sticks, to shape industries — among them the auto industry — and even to destroy the soundness of the market for U.S. automakers’ debt. At the time, conservatives were outraged. Some of them even came just short of accusing his administration of persecuting Toyota over a questionable sudden-acceleration issue as a means of helping the domestic automakers he was bailing out.

Ford is free to make whatever crowd-pleasing business decisions it likes, even if the crowd comprises just one important person. But the precedent for presidential meddling in business is really not something Republicans should want to see one of their own continue.

This isn’t just a matter of consistency, but also one of economic viability. A free market economy works best when every buyer and seller, every producer and consumer, is making decisions based on self-interest and not on arbitrary, market-distorting commands of government that favor one company or one product over another.

Trump’s economic plan seems to consist of two prongs: first, conduct an occasional scolding of an American business (like Ford) solely for public relations purposes; meanwhile, try to enact more meaningful and effective policy in the long run that will encourage economic growth.

That’s well and good, but if he pressures businesses to make unsound or even just suboptimal decisions about how they invest, then the consumers of automobiles and every other kind of product will end up paying an awfully large bill for all this presidential PR, perhaps without ever realizing it.

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