Bill Gross isn't one for hyperbole. Sure he's said that Janet Yellen “mastered the art of market manipulation” and called his own generosity “staggering, even to me.” But this time he's serious: The Donald kinda reminds him of Il Duce.
“Some of these pre-term policies, where he’s cajoling companies to move production back into the United States – that’s fine – but it reminds me to some extent of policies in Italy long ago associated with Mussolini and government control of corporate interests,” Gross said in an interview Friday on Bloomberg Radio. “I don’t want it to go too far.”
Asked if he would invoke the dreaded F-word, Gross demurred, but then offered that he wanted to issue a tweet that read “none dare call it fascism.” Alas, Gross is not on Twitter. Otherwise he might have seen Trump retweet a Mussolini quote from an account called @ilduce2016.
Trump's use of the bully pulpit in the weeks since the election evidently disturbs Gross. The president-elect “pinpoints certain companies and certain industries and makes them change their policies based on statements and threats,” the Janus Capital manager said, nodding to Trump tweets attacking companies like GM and Boeing over offshore manufacturing and contract costs.
Though the left has had no problem calling Trump a fascist, it's relatively rare to hear a financier of Gross's stature making the implication, especially during this post-election epidemic of animal spirits. Of those who have tried to puncturethe celebratorymood on Wall Street post-election, most have focused on the difficulty of Trump getting legislation passed or the possibility of a little trade war erupting with the second-largest economy in the world.
But in alluding to one Europe's most murderous twentieth-century tyrants, Gross is presenting a slightly different narrative. Trump isn't necessarily pro-business, as the prevailing narrative has it, but pro-Trump. Business is just a part of that equation. And if what Trump wants differs from what a company's shareholders want – such as opening up shop in a country with lower labor costs – Trump is going to look a whole lot less pro-business.
That doesn't necessarily spell ruin for the market in the short run, but economic control coming from on high runs counter to the supposedly free-market tilt of the business establishment. Regardless, presidential interventions into specific industries often backfire. Mussolini's policies, Gross said, “were supposed to make the trains run on time.” The trains were on time for a few years, Gross said, ominously. “But eventually they weren’t.”