The biggest lie – “I created this economy”

The incumbent president likes to take credit for all things good and blame others for all things bad. This is true regardless of the extent of his role in the outcome. He boasts that he created this great economy before the pandemic and will help us get back to it. Although the economy continued to do well, to say he created it is not truthful. Given his loud chest beating on this one issue, it qualifies as his biggest lie, although other lies are further afield from the truth.

When he took the oath to his office in January, 2017, the US was on its third longest economic growth period in its history at 91 consecutive months of GDP growth. That translates into just longer than 7 1/2 years. It should also be noted for the six previous years, we had 2 million plus in annual job growth and the stock market more than doubled under his predecessor. To Donald Trump’s credit, the economy continued to grow for 36 more months, the stock market continued to climb and job growth continued until it fell with the pandemic. The recession officially started in February of this year.

Now, I wrote during Barack Obama’s presidency that presidents get too much credit and too much blame for the economy. They can provide headwinds and tailwinds, but that is about it. The “headwinds and tailwinds” remark is courtesy of conservative pundit David Brooks. The same goes with the current president. But, if people want to lay wreaths at Trump’s feet for the economy before the pandemic, they must also do the same for Obama. Obama actually inherited an economy in recession due to the housing crisis in late 2007 through mid 2009. He was sworn in January, 2009.

The incumbent president has provided some headwinds and tailwinds to help keep it going, sometimes at the same time. Here is a look at a few of these wind currents:

Tailwinds

The economy got a temporary boost from the December, 2017 tax cut that increased the debt by $1.5 trillion over the next ten years. At a time when we should have been decreasing the deficit, we increased it. So, in essence, we borrowed from our future to make our economy a little better for a little while. One economist referred to it as a sugar rush. Before the pandemic, we fell back to growth at the same level as before the election. Overall, this growth period has been the longest, but the rate of growth under both presidents has lagged other periods. It has been a slow and steady climb, again before the recession caused by the pandemic.

Cutting through some regulations also provided some stimulus for businesses, but as noted below, these will cause future headwinds. People often mix bureaucracy with regulations. We need to constantly review regulations to see if they are working and how they can be improved or rescinded, if need be. So, regulations are not necessarily bad. Bloating bureaucracy is what we must guard against. I recall a story of Erskine Bowles, who eventually became Bill Clinton’s Chief of Staff. When Bowles headed the Small Business Administration, he reduced the application from 42 pages to one.

Headwinds

We must guard against debt. Dipping into debt to stimulate the economy dragging from COVID-19 is one thing, but the 2017 tax cut needed not be so severe that it increased debt. Note, many said this before it was passed, not just now. By the end of this decade, we should be beyond $40 trillion in debt on an annual revenue budget (during 10/18 – 9/19 FY) that is currently just less than $3.5 trillion, with expenses around $4.5 trillion. With the pandemic stimulus, the annual 2019-20 deficit will be around $3.7 trillion. Eventually, interest cost will rival the biggest budget items if we do not remedy this growing problem. Some poor president and congress will have to make some hard decisions as revenue is too low and costs are too high.

Letting polluting industries skate on fewer regulations will come back to haunt us. Chemical spills, polluted water and nuclear waste causes major environment concerns to people, animals, carbon eating trees/ plants and food crops. Even the best of developers and manufacturers would like someone else to pay for their shortcuts. Industries go to great pains to hide their dirty laundry. The laundry is there, it just needs to be more cleaned up. Relying on a company’s altruism is not an effective means of controlling pollution.

Tariffs on all partners cause echo tariffs from our trading partners. And, no one wins a tariff war, regardless of what the president might say. As we have become harder to deal with, buyers and sellers find other markets. The increase in farmer bankruptcies has been significant since the tariff wars started, increasing dramatically over previous levels. One farmer said, other countries sought out other sources of farm goods, so we lost a future pipeline for sales. And, just today, I read in conservative George Will’s editorial that trust in America to do the right thing has fallen to 24% and preference to America as a trading partner has fallen.

One of the business lessons I learned over the years, is if you become difficult to work with, your customers and clients will be forced to find other providers of services and products. It does not get any plainer than that. One of the best things a president can do is create new markets – Reagan, Clinton, Nixon, and Obama all were good at creating new avenues for trade. It is not surprising that Clinton had the most jobs created on his watch, with Reagan having the most jobs as a Republican president. And, Nixon for all his corruption, should be remembered well for opening up relationships with China. Trump should get credit for renewing a refined NAFTA agreement, but he hindered his efforts to compete with China when he pulled the US out of the Trans Pacific Partnership which went on without us and backtracking on deals with Cuba, Iran and the Paris Climate Change Accord, has placed the US at odds with others.

Global trade builds revenue. A country cannot shrink to greatness. And, what we are seeing today is other countries not wanting the hassles of dealing with the US as much as before. And, this is before the mishandling of the pandemic that has left the world aghast.

Credit and blame

UK Prime Minister Theresa May is stepping down today. This imperfect person has received a huge amount of blame for the failure to deliver a Brexit deal. Yet, I believe she had an unenviable task of herding the many and varied egos in Parliament who did not focus on getting the job done.

Living in America, we see this first hand, as posturing is more important than doing. Even before the fear-mongering and storytelling that has replaced civil debate, I have been disappointed in the demise in bipartisanship behavior.

Ironically, the last period of significant legislation occurred when GOP Speaker John Boehner ignored the Freedom Caucus and worked with moderate House Democrats to pass bills the Democrat led Senate would pass into law. He did this enough, that he retired before the Freedom Caucus rebellion ousted him.

Now, only handfuls of significant laws are passed as neither major party wants the other side to get a political win. Actually helping people is secondary to the perception of looking good. We have a president who does the same focusing too much on perception. He even controls his messaging taking credit for things he has little to do with and laying off blame on others when he the finger could be pointed at his efforts.

Blowing a problem out of proportion, making it worse by not addressing the real issues, threatening an action that gets push back from all sides and then coming to agreement on efforts that are already underway, is all a show that is harmful to relationships and commerce. People and companies need more stability in their lives, not less. When applecarts are upset, they have to look at other options.

This month, the US economy will be celebrating ten years (120 months) of economic growth. The president has been sure to pat himself on the back for this and he did provide some short term tailwinds with the tax cut and regulations cuts. Yet, he has only been president for going on 29 months. That means, 91 months of this growth were under Obama and the stock market more than doubled under his watch.

To be frank, presidents get too much credit and blame for the economy, providing at best headwinds and tailwinds. The headwinds this president has caused are more long term – debt, tariffs, immigration focus, pulling out of trade deals, etc. The economy is slowing its growth and more slowing is expected to occur. But, a given is this president will lay blame on others as it slows – he started last fall making the nonpartisan Federal Reserve the bogeyman.

Credit and blame. I have often quoted a leadership consultant I know, who said a great leader deflects credit to others; a bad leader accepts credit even when not due. Think about that as you hear or read tweets from leaders.

What would you say?

What would you say to a US President where the stock market grew at annualized rate of 12.8% during his tenure, excluding dividends.

What would you say to a President where net new jobs were added at an annual rate of 1.4 million, with a rate of 2.6 million per annum the last four years.

What would you say to a President where the unemployment declined from 7.6% when he started to 4.8% when he left?

What would you say to a President where the US economy had 91 consecutive months of economic growth, which eventually became the second longest in US history?

What would you say to a President that saved the largest car company in the US?

You would say thank you President Obama. The economic growth has continued under the current US President, but we should not forget he was handed the keys to a pretty good economy. It should also be noted the country was in a housing caused recession when Obama got the keys.

I mention this as the current President is too busy taking credit to give a thumbs up to others. With that said, Presidents get too much credit and blame for the economy. They only provide headwinds and tailwinds.

Yet, if people want to go there, Democrats need to do a better job of marketing. Under 12 1/2 four-year GOP Presidential terms as compared to 12 four-year Democrat Presidential terms since 1921, the number of jobs created under a Democrat President dwarfs that under a GOP President, by 2 to 1. Further, the stock market results since 1901 is markedly better under Democrat Presidents.

So, the Dems can rightfully claim they are the party of jobs and economic growth. I am delighted the growth continued under Trump, but the headwinds do not look favorable. The tariffs and added debt on top of expected increases is bothersome.