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.

Thursday thumbnails redux

Since I am kicking around several topics, let me throw a few together for your reading and reaction. Your thoughts are welcomed and appreciated.

  • It would be terribly unfair to say Republicans are racist, but it seems there are more than a few racists running for important offices in various states under the GOP banner. In Virginia, Illinois  and Florida, for example, a few candidates have a history of racist comments and associations. To their credit, the GOP leadership is not backing all of these candidates, but they should not back any and should condemn their words and actions in no uncertain terms. It is disappointing that the US President has done neither and has greased the skids for white supremacist hate groups who now feel empowered. Trump had a truly a low bar to step over to condemn white supremacists last summer and he tripped.
  • Sexual assault is a heinous crime, yet the accuser does not often come forward given the backlash they get. So, for it to take years to come forward is not uncommon. The fact they do so when the accused is being considered for high office, should reveal a greater sense of character. Professor Blasey Ford deserves due consideration and time for her accusations of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Call me crazy, but we should take the time to get this right as this is one of the nine most important people in our courts. Because we did not take time back in 1991, we may have a man guilty of sexual misconduct on the bench already.
  • I have written before that Democrats are lousy marketers. Even when they have a better story to tell, they often let Republicans define the talking points. The Democrats have many fine candidates running for office. Some are running uphill battles in gerrymandered districts, but they are running well. What should be shouted from the rooftops is they will help improve and stabilize the ACA as it continues to be sabotaged by the GOP making premiums even higher, they will protect our environment against the further roll back of regulations enabling polluting and stay committed to the Paris Climate Change accord, they will make sure we do not devalue our allied relationships and retrench further from our global leadership role, and they will advocate for rights of all citizens, especially those in poverty. And, to be frank, since the GOP has ceded its leadership toward addressing the debt and deficit, the Democrats can be seen as better financial stewards.

Truth be told, the President touts what he has done with the economy, but what he fails to tell people is we are in the 113 consecutive month of economic growth, the bull stock market traces back to March, 2009 and unemployment was low when he took the reins. What has been done, is he is borrowing from our future to make a good economy a little better, but the cost is doing nothing but add fire to our burning debt.

Presidents get too much credit and too much blame for the economy. They do provide headwinds and tailwinds, though, and this President has done both. The headwinds will show up later as noted by most economists, while the tailwinds add today.

Headwinds and Tailwinds to the Economy

Presidents get too much credit and blame for the economy. They can provide headwinds and tailwinds, but global market forces tend to control what happens. By headwinds, I mean the wind is against the economic growth, with tailwinds aiding economic growth.

In the US, we are under the third longest economic growth period in our measured history with 103 consecutive months of growth. We have also had seven consecutive years of 2 million plus jobs created. And, the stock market more than doubled under Obama and continues its rise under Trump. These are great numbers. But, before we pat ourselves on the back too much, not everyone has benefitted and wealth disparity among economic classes has been widening for the past thirty-five years.

Economists I have watched project the good news to continue for the year, but several have cautioned about the future and if we don’t address the inequity, we will have major problems on top of other concerns.

On the tailwinds ledger, the global economy continues to grow and the World Economic Forum projects a 3.9% increase for the year. In the US, the cut back on regulations, plus the reduction in new ones over the rates of the past, have given more confidence to businesses (more on this later). Plus, the reduction in corporate tax rates will help fuel some growth, provided these companies who are sitting on cash, choose to invest it in their people and business. And, with more money in many people’s pockets, this will add some fuel.

On the headwinds ledger, several economists have noted we are robbing Peter to pay Paul, leveraging our future with even more debt. Not only did we not address the expected increase in debt taking it from $20 trillion to $30 trillion in 2027, the tax law will increase it by $1.5 trillion. The interest cost thereon will take a greater bite out of our budget. But, other headwinds are of concern. Retrenching from global markets and trade agreements replacing them with binary ones, will be dilutive to growth. Not investing as much in science and innovation is a major concern to Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics.

This will be heightened if we restrict immigration. What seems to get lost in the argument where some have become too cold-hearted in my view, is immigration is accretive to the US economy. Plus, the people immigrating tend to be more entrepreneurial and better educated, in many cases. These sh**hole countries that someone demeaned are sending us more educated people than reside here in the states, on average.

We should not fail to remember that “innovation is portable” so says David Smick, an economic advisor to Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Jack Kemp, one of the smartest Congresspersons who considered a run for President. If we do not provide an inviting place, innovation may be hindered. I should note that Steve Jobs was born to Syrian immigrants to the US. What if they had been denied entry? Apple might not have ever come to fruition.

Finally, not all regulations are bad, so restricting regulations may cause headwinds down the road especially with more freedoms given to pollute the environment and take advantage of customers. This is a developers mindset. Remove obstacles to build, but leave the clean up for others. Unfortunately, we taxpayers are the others. We citizens, that must drink and breathe more polluted waters and air and realize the impact of climate change, are the others. As coal ash deposits have taught us, there is a cost to environmental degradation.

So, we need to be mindful of what we are facing. I have communicated with numerous Congresspersons, Senators and the President, that we are avoiding some elephants in the room – debt, climate change, water crisis and income inequity. In my view as an Independent voter, passing a tax law that increases the debt was extremely poor stewardship, as we cannot cut our way out of this problem. The math won’t work.