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“All Hands On Deck!”: A Trump Presidency Would Sink All Boats

Hello, investors. Come join the foreign policy experts in daily panic attacks over what a President Donald Trump would mean for your world. What does one do about a candidate whose tax plan would send America into the fiscal abyss — who flaps lips about not making good on the national debt?

Should we be investing in the makers of Xanax and Klonopin? And on the personal side, are there enough benzodiazepines to go around?

We’re not talking just about the very rich. Anyone with a retirement account or a small portfolio has something to lose. The economic consensus is that a Trump presidency would sink all boats. And that certainly applies to Trump’s own economically struggling followers in the least seaworthy craft.

“Most Rust Belt working-class Americans don’t get it,” Bob Deitrick, CEO of Polaris Financial Partners in Westerville, Ohio, told me. “The working class thinks he’s going to stick it to the elites.”

The facts: The Trump tax plan would deliver an average tax cut of $1.3 million to those with annual incomes exceeding $3.7 million. The lowest-income households would get $128. (No missing zeros here.)

Folks in the middle would see federal taxes reduced by about $2,700, which sounds nice but would come out of their own hide. Medicare and other programs that benefit the middle class would have to be slashed. So would spending on science research, infrastructure and services essential to the U.S. economy.

Or we could skip the very deep spending cuts and see the national debt balloon by nearly 80 percent of gross domestic product, calculation courtesy of the Tax Policy Center.

Some might think that Trump’s tax plan — including the repeal of the federal tax on estates bigger than $5.43 million — would impress the income elite, but they would be wrong. In a recent poll of Fortune 500 executives, 58 percent of the respondents said they would support Hillary Clinton over Trump.

Most in this Republican-leaning group are undoubtedly asking themselves: What good is a fur-lined deck chair if the ship’s going down?

Then there are the others.

“Do middle-class Americans have any idea what could happen to the economy or the stock market if our president ever vaguely suggested defaulting on the national debt?” Deitrick asked. (His clients tend to be upper-middle-class investors.)

He recalls the summer of 2011, when a congressional game of chicken over raising the federal debt ceiling led to the possibility of a default. The Dow lost 2,400 points in a single week. And taxpayers were hit with $1.3 billion in higher borrowing costs that year alone.

Trump said on CNN that he is the “king of debt,” which in practice means he frequently doesn’t honor it. That’s why many major lenders shun him, talking of “Donald risk.”

Speaking of, Trump famously said in a Trump University interview, “I sort of hope (the real estate market crashes), because then people like me would go in and buy.”

But he also predicted that the real estate market would not tank — shortly before it did. Perhaps he never figured out there was a housing bubble. Or it was part of a clever scheme to peddle real estate courses with brochures asking, “How would you like to market-proof your financial future?”

Imagine a whole country taking on “Donald risk.”

The business community runs on stability. It can’t prosper under a showman who says crazy things and denies having said them moments later. A Trump presidency promises more chaos than a Marx Brothers movie — and you can believe it would be a lot less fun.

 

By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, June 7, 2016

June 7, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Economic Policy, Economy | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Trump’s Delusions Of Competence”: Running A National Economy Is Nothing Like Running A Business

In general, you shouldn’t pay much attention to polls at this point, especially with Republicans unifying around Donald Trump while Bernie Sanders hasn’t conceded the inevitable. Still, I was struck by several recent polls showing Mr. Trump favored over Hillary Clinton on the question of who can best manage the economy.

This is pretty remarkable given the incoherence and wild irresponsibility of Mr. Trump’s policy pronouncements. Granted, most voters probably don’t know anything about that, in part thanks to substance-free news coverage. But if voters don’t know anything about Mr. Trump’s policies, why their favorable impression of his economic management skills?

The answer, I suspect, is that voters see Mr. Trump as a hugely successful businessman, and they believe that business success translates into economic expertise. They are, however, probably wrong about the first, and definitely wrong about the second: Even genuinely brilliant businesspeople are often clueless about economic policy.

An aside: In part this is surely a partisan thing. Over the years, polls have generally, although not universally, shown Republicans trusted over Democrats to manage the economy, even though the economy has consistently performed better under Democratic presidents. But Republicans are much better at promoting legends — for example, by constantly hyping economic and jobs growth under Ronald Reagan, even though the Reagan record was easily surpassed under Bill Clinton.

Back to Mr. Trump: One of the many peculiar things about his run for the White House is that it rests heavily on his claims of being a masterful businessman, yet it’s far from clear how good he really is at the “art of the deal.” Independent estimates suggest that he’s much less wealthy than he says he is, and probably has much lower income than he claims to have, too. But since he has broken with all precedents by refusing to release his tax returns, it’s impossible to resolve such disputes. (And maybe that’s why he won’t release those returns.)

Remember, too, that Mr. Trump is a clear case of someone born on third base who imagines that he hit a triple: He inherited a fortune, and it’s far from clear that he has expanded that fortune any more than he would have if he had simply parked the money in an index fund.

But leave questions about whether Mr. Trump is the business genius he claims to be on one side. Does business success carry with it the knowledge and instincts needed to make good economic policy? No, it doesn’t.

True, the historical record isn’t much of a guide, since only one modern president had a previous successful career in business. And maybe Herbert Hoover was an outlier.

But while we haven’t had many business leaders in the White House, we do know what kind of advice prominent businessmen give on economic policy. And it’s often startlingly bad, for two reasons. One is that wealthy, powerful people sometimes don’t know what they don’t know — and who’s going to tell them? The other is that a country is nothing like a corporation, and running a national economy is nothing like running a business.

Here’s a specific, and relevant, example of the difference. Last fall, the now-presumed Republican nominee declared: “Our wages are too high. We have to compete with other countries.” Then, as has happened often in this campaign, Mr. Trump denied that he had said what he had, in fact, said — straight talker, my toupee. But never mind.

The truth is that wage cuts are the last thing America needs right now: We sell most of what we produce to ourselves, and wage cuts would hurt domestic sales by reducing purchasing power and increasing the burden of private-sector debt. Lower wages probably wouldn’t even help the fraction of the U.S. economy that competes internationally, since they would normally lead to a stronger dollar, negating any competitive advantage.

The point, however, is that these feedback effects from wage cuts aren’t the sort of things even very smart business leaders need to take into account to run their companies. Businesses sell stuff to other people; they don’t need to worry about the effect of their cost-cutting measures on demand for their products. Managing national economic policy, on the other hand, is all about the feedback.

I’m not saying that business success is inherently disqualifying when it comes to policy making. A tycoon who has enough humility to realize that he doesn’t already know all the answers, and is willing to listen to other people even when they contradict him, could do fine as an economic manager. But does this describe anyone currently running for president?

The truth is that the idea that Donald Trump, of all people, knows how to run the U.S. economy is ludicrous. But will voters ever recognize that truth?

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, May 27, 2016

May 30, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Economic Policy, Economy | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Ahistorical”: Trump And Clinton Are Telling Two Radically Different Stories About The Economy. Only One Is Based In Reality

In this weekend’s New York Times Magazine, there’s an interview with President Obama in which he assesses his economic legacy, and as you might expect, he has a complicated view of things. He thinks his administration did an excellent job pulling us out of the Great Recession: “I actually compare our economic performance to how, historically, countries that have wrenching financial crises perform. By that measure, we probably managed this better than any large economy on Earth in modern history.” But he wishes he had been able to pass more infrastructure spending: “it was the perfect time to do it; low interest rates, construction industry is still on its heels, massive need.”

Obama also makes an argument about what Republicans propose to do on the economy that gets directly to the competing stories that the two parties are going to be presenting to the American public this fall.

Even if a contest between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton may be more focused on personality than your typical presidential campaign, it’s still the case that the outcome of the election will be determined in significant part by which of these economic stories the voting public finds more persuasive. And each story has two parts: a description of the American economy as it is now, and a proposal for what the candidate would like to do and how that plan will change things. Here’s Obama’s assessment of the Republicans’ second part:

“If you look at the platforms, the economic platforms of the current Republican candidates for president, they don’t simply defy logic and any known economic theories, they are fantasy,” Obama said. “Slashing taxes particularly for those at the very top, dismantling regulatory regimes that protect our air and our environment and then projecting that this is going to lead to 5 percent or 7 percent growth, and claiming that they’ll do all this while balancing the budget. Nobody would even, with the most rudimentary knowledge of economics, think that any of those things are plausible.”

You won’t be surprised to hear that I happen to agree with him on this, though I’d describe how ridiculous it is in somewhat stronger terms. I can’t stress this enough: Republicans argue that if we just cut taxes on the wealthy and reduce regulations on corporations, then the economy will explode in a supernova of prosperity for all. You can call this belief ahistorical, or unsupported by facts, or baseless or implausible, but if you want to be frank you’d have to say that it’s absolutely lunatic.

But let’s put this in context of the stories the two candidates will be telling. Here’s Donald Trump’s economic story:

The economy is an absolute nightmare. Americans are living in such misery that they’re practically eating their own shoes in order to survive. If we cut taxes on the wealthy, reduce regulations on corporations, renegotiate trade agreements, and deport all illegal immigrants, then our economy will be spectacular and working people will experience American greatness again.

And here’s Hillary Clinton’s economic story:

The economy is doing pretty well, and a lot better than it was eight years ago when the Republicans were in charge, but it could be even better. If we pass some worker-focused measures like increasing the minimum wage, stronger overtime protections and guaranteeing equal pay, and make infrastructure investments, then our economy will improve for everyone.

Trump’s story is the same one other Republicans tell, with the addition of the idea that “bad deals” on trade have had a crippling effect on the country. For the moment we’ll put aside the merits of Trump’s claim that imposing enormous tariffs on Chinese goods will cause all those jobs sewing clothing and assembling electronics to come pouring into the United States, but the political question around Trump’s story is whether people will believe his over-the-top description of both what’s happening now and the transformation he will be able to produce.

We’ve known for some time that voters’ perceptions of the economy are colored by partisanship: to simplify a bit, when there’s a Democrat in the White House, Republican voters will say that the economy is doing poorly and Democratic voters will say it’s doing great; when there’s a Republican president, the opposite is true.

For instance, in 2012 when Barack Obama was running for reelection, 49 percent of Democrats told the National Election Studies that the economy had gotten better in the previous year, while only 17 percent said it had gotten worse. On the other hand, nine percent of Republicans said it had gotten better, while 56 percent said it had gotten worse. Go back to 2004 when George W. Bush was running for reelection, and we see the reverse: 43 percent of Republicans said the economy had gotten better and 22 percent said it had gotten worse, while only 10 percent of Democrats said it had gotten better and 63 percent said it had gotten worse.

So obviously, people aren’t just reacting in an objective way to what they see around them. At the same time, there is a reality that can eventually poke its way through the veil partisans place over their eyes. In 2008, when the economy was in a catastrophic decline, everyone in both parties agreed on what was happening (94 percent of Democrats and 88 percent of Republicans said it had gotten worse).

Times like 2008 are rare, though. Today, the objective reality is a lot closer to the way Democrats describe it, in large part because they aren’t offering an extreme version of their truth. If Obama and Clinton were more rhetorically similar to Donald Trump, they’d be saying that this is the greatest economy in the history of human civilization, everybody has a terrific job, and there’s so much prosperity that the only question any American has is whether to spend their money on everything they could ever want or just roll around in it like Scrooge McDuck.

But they aren’t saying that. Instead, they’re attempting the tricky balancing act of emphasizing the progress Obama has made while acknowledging the long-term weaknesses in the economy. Both of those things are real. Since the bottom of the Great Recession early in Obama’s first term, the economy has added 14 million jobs, and unemployment is now at 5 percent. On the other hand, income growth has been concentrated at the top and Americans still feel uncertain about their economic futures.

Donald Trump has chosen to pretend that the good things about the American economy don’t exist, and weave a laughable fantasy about what his policies will produce (“I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created”). Can he convince voters — particularly those in the middle who might be persuaded to vote for either candidate — to believe it? I guess we’ll see.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, April 28, 2016

April 29, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Economy, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Robber Baron Recessions”: Growing Monopoly Power Is A Big Problem For The U.S. Economy

When Verizon workers went on strike last week, they were mainly protesting efforts to outsource work to low-wage, non-union contractors. But they were also angry about the company’s unwillingness to invest in its own business. In particular, Verizon has shown a remarkable lack of interest in expanding its Fios high-speed Internet network, despite strong demand.

But why doesn’t Verizon want to invest? Probably because it doesn’t have to: many customers have no place else to go, so the company can treat its broadband business as a cash cow, with no need to spend money on providing better service (or, speaking from personal experience, on maintaining existing service).

And Verizon’s case isn’t unique. In recent years many economists, including people like Larry Summers and yours truly, have come to the conclusion that growing monopoly power is a big problem for the U.S. economy — and not just because it raises profits at the expense of wages. Verizon-type stories, in which lack of competition reduces the incentive to invest, may contribute to persistent economic weakness.

The argument begins with a seeming paradox about overall corporate behavior. You see, profits are at near-record highs, thanks to a substantial decline in the percentage of G.D.P. going to workers. You might think that these high profits imply high rates of return to investment. But corporations themselves clearly don’t see it that way: their investment in plant, equipment, and technology (as opposed to mergers and acquisitions) hasn’t taken off, even though they can raise money, whether by issuing bonds or by selling stocks, more cheaply than ever before.

How can this paradox be resolved? Well, suppose that those high corporate profits don’t represent returns on investment, but instead mainly reflect growing monopoly power. In that case many corporations would be in the position I just described: able to milk their businesses for cash, but with little reason to spend money on expanding capacity or improving service. The result would be what we see: an economy with high profits but low investment, even in the face of very low interest rates and high stock prices.

And such an economy wouldn’t just be one in which workers don’t share the benefits of rising productivity; it would also tend to have trouble achieving or sustaining full employment. Why? Because when investment is weak despite low interest rates, the Federal Reserve will too often find its efforts to fight recessions coming up short. So lack of competition can contribute to “secular stagnation” — that awkwardly-named but serious condition in which an economy tends to be depressed much or even most of the time, feeling prosperous only when spending is boosted by unsustainable asset or credit bubbles. If that sounds to you like the story of the U.S. economy since the 1990s, join the club.

There are, then, good reasons to believe that reduced competition and increased monopoly power are very bad for the economy. But do we have direct evidence that such a decline in competition has actually happened? Yes, say a number of recent studies, including one just released by the White House. For example, in many industries the combined market share of the top four firms, a traditional measure used in many antitrust studies, has gone up over time.

The obvious next question is why competition has declined. The answer can be summed up in two words: Ronald Reagan.

For Reagan didn’t just cut taxes and deregulate banks; his administration also turned sharply away from the longstanding U.S. tradition of reining in companies that become too dominant in their industries. A new doctrine, emphasizing the supposed efficiency gains from corporate consolidation, led to what those who have studied the issue often describe as the virtual end of antitrust enforcement.

True, there was a limited revival of anti-monopoly efforts during the Clinton years, but these went away again under George W. Bush. The result was an economy with far too much concentration of economic power. And the Obama administration — preoccupied with the aftermath of financial crisis and the struggle with bitterly hostile Republicans — has only recently been in a position to grapple with competition policy.

Still, better late than never. On Friday the White House issued an executive order directing federal agencies to use whatever authority they have to “promote competition.” What this means in practice isn’t clear, at least to me. But it may mark a turning point in governing philosophy, which could have large consequences if Democrats hold the presidency.

For we aren’t just living in a second Gilded Age, we’re also living in a second robber baron era. And only one party seems bothered by either of those observations.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, April 18, 2016

April 19, 2016 Posted by | Economy, Monopolies, Verizon | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Loose Money”: Paul Ryan Just Twisted Himself Into A Knot Trying To Undermine Obama’s Economic Record

It is not surprising that House Speaker Paul Ryan is unimpressed with President Obama’s economic record. What is surprising is who Ryan thinks does deserve credit for helping the recovery: the Federal Reserve.

“I think the Federal Reserve has done more,” the speaker told reporters on Tuesday, after being asked if Obama “deserves any credit at all” for the recovery. “What’s happening is people at the high end are doing pretty darn well because of loose money from the Fed,” he said. This will be news to followers of Ryan’s career. He’s long railed against loose money from the Fed, claiming it will debase the dollar and lead to inflation. (It hasn’t.)

It’s not crazy to claim, as Ryan did, that the Fed’s policies amounts to “trickle down economics.” But there is nothing in Paul Ryan’s history to suggest he thinks monetary policy can help the economy at all, even if it’s just at the top. Plus, if that’s his critique, there are some progressive money-printing enthusiasts — and even some conservative ones — who would probably like to schedule a chat with the speaker.

To recap: Paul Ryan thinks loose money helped the economy. But Paul Ryan opposes loose money. He also thinks loose money favors the rich too much. But shows no indication of wanting to make loose money favor the poor.

 

By: Jeff Spross, The Week, January 13, 2016

January 15, 2016 Posted by | Economic Recovery, Economy, Paul Ryan | , , , , | 2 Comments

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