Donald Trump Jr.’s Halloween trick to “teach” his kid about socialism? An economist just gutted it.
Donald Trump Jr.’s daughter Chloe maybe did not have a very fun Halloween, if a now viral Tuesday tweet from the president‘s son is to believed. According to the tweet, Trump said he planned to use Halloween as an opportunity to illustrate the principles of “socialism” — by confiscating half of her candy to “give it to some kid who sat at home.”
It wasn’t just Jr.’s failure to correctly spell “too,” or the timing of his message (during Halloween evening trick-or-treating: a tradition of sharing across U.S. communities) that was widely panned.
Fundamentally, giving candy to a kid who, for whatever reason, had to miss out on Halloween is a kind thing to do. That point was perhaps most powerfully made by Betsey Stevenson, a former chief economist at the Labor Department — who emailed a full reply about the situation to Mic Wednesday morning.
Here’s how Stevenson replied on Twitter to Trump Jr.’s tweet, telling about a time she had to skip out on Halloween because she had a fever and was too sick to go out.
In a statement emailed to Mic, labor economist Stevenson elaborated on her point: Trump Jr. “seemed to be confusing social insurance with socialism,” she said. “He seems to believe that the reason the kid sat home is that he’s lazy.”
What “struck” Stevenson about the tweet was his lack of compassion: “There is an important parallel here to how many conservatives view those who are without work. They see them as lazy people who choose to sit home, rather than unfortunate people who deserve the community’s support.”
Indeed, other academics pointed out that responsible parents do, in fact, provide social safety nets to their kids in the form of care and education, a point University of Chicago political scientist Justin Grimmer made on Twitter by inverting Trump Jr.’s premise.
Yet Stevenson agreed with Trump Jr. on one point — that the October holiday is a good moment to share life lessons with children: “When it comes to Halloween,” Stevenson said, “I do think it’s a great opportunity to teach kids about a well-functioning democracy with a successful market economy.”
She and her partner, economist Justin Wolfers, actually use economics after trick-or-treating to teach their kids about sharing and maximizing everyone’s happiness, she said: “My children collect candy and are taught the benefits of trading with others to make improvements that make each kid better off. One of my kids loves chocolate and the other one hates it so they make a lot of welfare improving trades, like in any good market economy.”
Stevenson said she and Wolfers — an economics “power couple” according to the New York Times — even levy a kind of “tax” on her kids by asking them to turn in some portion of their candy for their parents to control: “Those taxes are used to smooth their consumption over time (they would eat too much today and not have enough during candy dry spells),” she wrote, “to redistribute toward those too old to collect their own candy (grown-ups), and to share with friends who didn’t get candy.”
Wolfers also got in a corrective tweet in Tuesday: “Where did you get all your candy, genius?” Wolfers wrote, referring perhaps to the Trump family’s historic use of government assistance or its inherited wealth. Wolfers clarified in an email to Mic, saying: “It’s odd that an adult would confuse the generosity of strangers with the returns to hard work. Although given how Mr. Trump has accumulated his wealth, one can understand how he — but very few other human beings — might sometimes confuse the two.”
Ironically, Trump Jr.’s vision of socialism already sort of exists within the United States, a point made by the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake. Using numbers from the Tax Foundation, Blake points out that Trump Jr.’s illustrative 50% tax rate is pretty similar to what the Trumps would likely pay in state taxes, depending on their bracket.
Even conservative pundit Bill Kristol joined the pile-on, accusing Trump Jr. of being smug and oblivious to his privilege.
This one is not the first time Trump Jr. has been criticized for a candy metaphor: In 2016, he shared an image of a bowl of Skittles — three of them “poisoned” — to make a point about the dangers of a relaxed immigration policy. It was widely criticized by activists, the Skittles manufacturer and even the photographer, who successfully pressured Twitter to remove the image.
Finally, of her experience as a kid, Stevenson said being too sick to trick or treat has stuck in her mind. “It was awful and is a vivid memory from my childhood,” she said. “But I also remember how much my friends recognized that a bad thing had happened to me, and wanted to help.”
Stevenson argues that children have to be taught selfishness: “Kids have an inherent sense of fairness and if you asked most young kids to share with another kid who had less, they would willingly. Adults train them out of this behavior over time.”
Sign up for the Payoff — your weekly crash course on how to live your best financial life.