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As long as there are tax cuts, the Davos elite seem prepared to live with Trump agenda

The non-Trump leaders who descended on Davos this week all said the same thing: Globalization is good, provided it is accompanied by policies to spread the wealth and protect the vulnerable, while multilateral efforts are needed to defeat the evils of populism and protectionism.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pushed his "progressive trade" agenda, telling the titans of capitalism gathered in the Swiss resort town that "you need to give back."

French President Emmanuel Macron called for a new "global compact" on taxation and regulation to avoid a race to the bottom and the "fragmentation of the world."

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Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted that "you need to have the patience to find multilateral solutions and not slip into the apparently easier solution of acting in national interests."

Everyone agreed with them, of course, then quickly turned their attention from the dream world of the multilateralists to the real one, where tax cuts and tariffs are making America great again.

Such is the irony of the World Economic Forum in Davos this year, where everyone pledges to combat the triple threats of wealth inequality, global warming and protectionism but where corporate leaders seem practically giddy about U.S. President Donald Trump's economic policies.

These include tax cuts that will increase inequality, the removal of regulations aimed at cutting carbon and the most aggressively protectionist discourse since Herbert Hoover.

Okay, they're not crazy about the last one, but they seem prepared to live with it, given the tax cuts and deregulation under way. It seems that global CEOs have decided that, if they can't beat Mr. Trump's border wall, they want to make sure their companies locate safely behind it.

"Think about large global companies – they can go anywhere," Bank of America chief executive Brian Moynihan told one Davos session. "They think the U.S. is the place to talk about investing in the next 12 to 18 months."

The International Monetary Fund unveiled its latest global forecast at Davos, projecting that tax reform would boost U.S. growth by 0.4 per cent to 2.7 per cent. Yet, several CEOs and bank economists in Davos suspected the IMF of lowballing its forecast for the U.S. economy.

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That's how bullish they are about Trumponomics. Mr. Trump's Davos speech faces "a lukewarm reception because of his America First policies," Dutch-based ING Group CEO Ralph Hamers told The New York Times, "but for a lot of companies, his policies have been very supportive."

Everyone in Davos has paid lip service to the overheated U.S. stock market and an uncommonly long economic expansion – which is slated to become the second-longest since 1857 if we make it through the year without a recession, according to the Wall Street Journal. With the U.S., European and Asian economies all on a stronger footing now, no one seems to expect the worst.

That's probably a pretty good reason to expect the worst. Tax cuts will dig the U.S. government into an even deeper hole, adding at least $1-trillion (U.S.) to the federal debt, driving down the U.S. dollar. And a weaker greenback risks triggering rising protectionism in Asia and Europe. Tit-for-tat policies seem inevitable if the Trump administration continues to slap tariffs on imports, as it did this week on Chinese solar panels and South Korean washing machines.

"Trade wars are fought every single day," U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in Davos, in advance of his boss's arrival there. "Unfortunately, every single day there are various parties trying to violate the rules and trying to take unfair advantage of things … The difference is that U.S. troops are not coming to the ramparts."

The mouthful of a trade deal Mr. Trudeau announced in Davos – the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership between Canada and the other signatories of the original TPP deal that Mr. Trump backed out of – sends a positive signal, even if its "progressive" elements are largely window dressing aimed at making it an easier sell at home.

But it does not have the transformational potential of the old TPP for the simple reason that the country that most matters in the global economy is not part of it. And what little Canada gains in access to Japan's auto and agriculture markets, it stands to lose in the tougher rules of origin and other compromises it will need make to save the North American free-trade agreement.

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That's why, as Mr. Trudeau was pledging not to cut taxes in Davos, he was already being upstaged by the tax cuts of the guest who had yet to arrive.

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