How Trump offers a mixture of incentive and shame for business leaders

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Ford Motor Co. assembly workers listen during a news conference as Ford president and CEO Mark Fields makes a major announcement at the Flat Rock Assembly Plant in Flat Rock, Michigan, U.S. January 3, 2017. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook - RTX2XE76

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Today’s announcement by the Ford Motor Company that it would add 700 more jobs at a Michigan plant came after it became one of a number of companies squarely in the eye of President-elect Trump.

William Brangham follows up on what’s behind this move and others like it.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The Ford announcement follows moves from several other companies saying they too might keep some jobs in the U.S. that were planned for Mexico or elsewhere.

The president-elect has repeatedly tweeted about some of these companies, including Ford, and pressing them to keep jobs in the U.S.

Ford said today that it didn’t consult with Mr. Trump on their Michigan decision.

Josh Boak has been covering the story for the Associated Press. And he joins me now.

So, Josh, bring us up to speed. What did Ford agree to do today?

JOSH BOAK, Associated Press: Ford announced that it wasn’t going to build a $1.6 billion plant in Mexico.

There were a few reasons for that, one of which was that the plant was going to build Ford Focuses. And sales of that car have dipped as oil prices have fallen.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: This is a little, small, fuel-efficient vehicle.

JOSH BOAK: Exactly.

But the other major impact has been Donald Trump on Twitter talking about companies and what he wants to see them do, and those two seem to have combined together. Ford’s own CEO said he hoped that Trump’s policies on deregulation and taxes would be good for the company and good for the country.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: As we mentioned before, this follows moves where Trump has targeted other companies, Carrier, Boeing, Lockheed Martin. And companies have shifted their positions based according to what Mr. Trump seems to be saying.

Overall, how many jobs are we talking about here that are going to be staying in the U.S.?

JOSH BOAK: Well, as far as Ford’s announcement today, they’re looking to hire 700 workers starting in 2018.

When we look at Carrier, that’s 800 jobs. When we look last week at Sprint, that’s 5,000 jobs. OneWeb, that’s 3,000 jobs. Now, that sounds like a lot in an individual announcement, but the U.S. economy is massive. It added 2.25 million jobs last year alone. That’s so great, that this is really a drop in the bucket in the big picture.

But it’s massive symbolically. We can’t forget that part of economics is psychology and the animal spirits, and Trump is really stirring them right now.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, do you credit these moves to Donald Trump? I mean, he would love to take credit for them, and we have seen him do that many times in the past. Do you credit him with what we saw out of Ford today?

JOSH BOAK: Well, many of the chief executives involved in these decisions are crediting Donald Trump or attributing their decisions to him.

And they have benefited from that. Last week, with the Sprint deal, for example, we saw Masayoshi Son say this has been the result of actions by the Trump administration. And giving credit to Donald Trump has actually been good for these companies.

Sprint’s stock is up more than 40 percent, as of last Friday, since Trump became president. So, if the bottom line is what these CEOs really care about, then being on Trump’s side thus far has been profitable.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, how much of this — getting back to the point you made, how much of this is about economics and how much of this is about politics? Is this about a substantial change in manufacturing policy by these companies, or is this about being on the right side of public opinion?

JOSH BOAK: Well, it’s critical to note there actually hasn’t been a policy change, just a series of tweets and public statements and phone calls.

We haven’t seen a policy overhaul. We have seen the promise of policy overhauls on regulatory and tax issues, but those haven’t been manifest yet. So what this really appears to be is a president-elect able to exercise power on social media in a way that’s unprecedented. And corporations have seen benefits to responding to that.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: We saw President-elect Trump leaning on GM today. Is this, in your mind, just the new paradigm, that companies in the U.S. have to prepare for the fact that you might have the president-elect or the soon-to-be president just naming them and shaming them?

JOSH BOAK: It’s definitely possible.

Business leaders I have talked to have said that they expect to have a bullseye on them. But what we have also seen talking with members of the Trump transition team is that Donald Trump sees these actions and interventions as a way to stay connected with his voting base.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Do you think that these — as you mentioned, this is not necessarily a reflection of a new policy.

Like, do you have any sense how Trump might — how this might translate, these actions might translate into a more cohesive economic policy going forward?

JOSH BOAK: Well, he ran on the premise of America first. And that was all part of the greater make America great again theme.

He’s clearly said that he wants to increase manufacturing jobs. And so this seems to be a component of that. The question is how he goes about that. We don’t have the policy details, although he has suggested that he will impose a border tax of some kind on companies that move jobs overseas.

He’s also suggested that he’s going to cut regulation, which increases profits for a lot of these companies. What remains to be seen is whether he can create jobs on a meaningful scale and generate the kind of economic growth that’s he’s actually promised, about 3.5 percent a year.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: It seems to be he has got a carrots-and-sticks policy going here. He’s going to offer them, potentially, less regulations and thus lower taxes, and then also threaten to put this tax on them if they try to leave the country.

Do you think that there’s an appetite in Congress to actually put those measures into place?

JOSH BOAK: Well, that remains to be seen.

What executives like Ford CEO Mark Fields has said when he talks about his decision on Mexico is to say — is to emphasize the taxes and deregulation. He is focusing on the carrots, not the sticks.

Business leaders are emphasizing those carrots, which means that they either don’t want to address the sticks or they don’t think the sticks are likely to happen.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: You have obviously been covering economic policy for a long time. How unusual is this, to have a president-elect naming companies by name and singling them — singling them out, and then them responding?

JOSH BOAK: It’s unprecedented because he hasn’t assumed office yet.

More importantly, he’s doing so on social media and other venues that presidents historically have not had.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Just because it hasn’t existed.

JOSH BOAK: Exactly.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, Josh Boak, AP, thank you very much for being here.

JOSH BOAK: Thank you.

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