Gary Cohn lashes out at former White House colleagues: ‘Living in chaos’

Former White House chief economic advisor Gary Cohn lashed out at some of his former colleagues, charging in an interview that the U.S. is losing the trade war as administration officials pursue a strategy that hasn’t worked.

Cohn, the first director of the National Economic Council under President Donald Trump, specifically pointed his finger at Peter Navarro, who serves as director of the National Trade Council, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for drawing the country into a misdirected tariff battle.

“Tariffs don’t work. If anything, they hurt the economy because if you’re a typical American worker, you have a finite amount of income to spend,” the former Goldman Sachs executive told Freakonomics Radio in an interview broadcast Wednesday. “If you have to spend more on the necessity products that you need to live, you have less to spend on the services that you want to buy.”

When interviewer Stephen J. Dubner suggests that all other economists except for one — Navarro — would agree on that point, Cohn said, “There’s only one in the world. That we know of.”

Among the other revelations from his time in the White House, Cohn said a tipping point for him leaving was a meeting Navarro and Ross secretly set up with heads of the steel and aluminum industry to notify them that the administration was planning to levy tariffs on imports of the metals.

“What happened in the White House is we got to a point, unfortunately, where one or two people decided that they were going to no longer be part of a process and a debate,” he said.

Asked to confirm that it was Navarro and Ross who set up the meeting, Cohn said, “Yes. Those are the two people. When the process breaks down, then you’re, sort of, in my mind, living in chaos. I don’t want to live in a chaotic organization.”

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