Everyone—even the Obama White House—is hailing the move as a great political victory, and in the short term it is for those Indianapolis workers, who make more than $20 an hour on average. But as U.S. auto workers have learned the hard way, real job security depends on the profitability of the business. Carrier wanted to move the production line to Mexico to stay competitive in the market for gas furnaces. If the extra costs of staying in Indianapolis erode that business, those workers will lose their jobs eventually in any case.
This isn’t to fault Mr. Hayes’s decision, since Mr. Trump made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. The state of Indiana threw in $7 million in tax incentives, but those weren’t decisive. Mr. Trump’s real hammer is his threat to impose a tariff on Carrier imports to the U.S. Carrier has a 30% share of the U.S. gas-furnace market, and a 35% tariff could kill the business. That’s the same sword Mr. Trump previously held over Ford Motor Co.
[UTC, which owns Carrier] is no corporate scofflaw. It pays $2 billion a year in taxes and offers to finance four years of college for every employee. Its exports are worth $10 billion a year, mostly in aerospace products, which support some 40,000 American jobs.
A mercantilist Trump trade policy that jeopardized those exports would throw far more Americans out of work than the relatively low-paying jobs he’s preserved for now in Indianapolis. Mr. Trump’s Carrier squeeze might even cost more U.S. jobs if it makes CEOs more reluctant to build plants in the U.S. because it would be politically difficult to close them.
Mr. Trump has now muscled his way into at least two corporate decisions about where and how to do business. But who would you rather have making a decision about where to make furnaces or cars? A company whose profitability depends on making good decisions, or a branding executive turned politician who wants to claim political credit?
The larger point is that America won’t become more prosperous by forcing companies to make noneconomic investments. A nation gets rich when individuals and business are allowed to take risks as they see fit in a competitive economy. Politicians are rotten investors. Mr. Trump would help the economy, and his Presidency, far more if he focuses on getting the pro-growth parts of his agenda through Congress.