In today’s fractious political climate, it is at least widely recognized that skilled blue-collar workers are often suffering from stagnant income growth and/or job loss. Unfortunately, the political parties often disagree on how to address this major problem. There are several different perspectives from which to view the overall situation:
Slow economic growth, averaging only 2% per year since the end of the Great Recession in June 2009. From 1950 – 2000 the economy grew at over 3% per year and produced a prosperous American middle class. Now, with strong headwinds from globalization and constantly improving technology, we badly need faster overall economic growth to provide more and better paying middle class jobs.
Income inequality. There is increasing income inequality in the U.S. even though the top 25% or so are doing very well. But raising taxes on the wealthy could slow down economic growth by discouraging new investment. In addition, redistribution of tax revenue to lower income Americans will not give them much of a boost.
Income insecurity. This is a huge problem for the many blue-collar workers who are struggling to make ends meet. There are a number of specific government actions which could alleviate this enormous societal problem.
Economic justice. Poverty in the U.S. is widely distributed geographically, with almost as much in rural and small town areas as in big cities. This could provide an opportunity for Republicans and Democrats to work together to address a very challenging problem.
Conclusion. Our country has very serious economic and fiscal problems which are not being addressed because of severe partisan infighting in Congress. But slow economic growth, income insecurity and poverty affect a wide variety of people with different political outlooks. It’s inexcusable to allow partisan bickering to get in the way of finding workable solutions.
One of my favorite topics is the need for faster economic growth in order to create more jobs and better paying jobs and also to bring in more tax revenue to help shrink our rapidly accumulating national debt.
My last post discusses vivid evidence from the economist John Taylor that slow productivity growth is one of the main culprits holding back our economy. He suggests several ways of speeding up productivity growth, one of which is regulatory reform.
Two previous posts, here and here, show the increasing size of the regulatory burden as well as how it could be eased significantly for main street banks, for example, by simplifying the Dodd-Frank Act.
A recent study from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University gives a good overall summary of the economic costs of excessive regulation. In particular:
Deterring growth. By distorting the investment choices that lead to innovation, regulation has caused a considerable drag on the economy, amounting to an average reduction of 0.8% in the annual growth rate of the US GDP. This has resulted in an economy which is $4 trillion smaller in 2012 than it could have been without such regulatory accumulation.
Increasing prices. Increases in the total volume of regulations are strongly associated with higher prices. This affects lower-income households harder than higher-income households.
Distortion of labor market. Regulation adds to costs, increasing prices for regulated goods and services and therefore reducing the amounts being bought and sold. As production declines, so does the demand for workers engaged in production. In addition, more regulation leads to a shift of workers from production to regulatory compliance, reducing overall economic efficiency.
Decline in competition. Existing firms benefit from regulation because it deters new market entrants, thereby reducing the number of small firms, which are responsible for most new hiring.
Conclusion. Federal regulations have accumulated over many decades, resulting in a system of duplicative, obsolete, conflicting and even contradictory rules. The consequences to the workers, consumers and job creators who drive economic growth and prosperity are considerable.
In my last two posts, here and here, I have said that I like some of Donald Trump’s policy ideas but he is too personally repugnant for me to support and vote for. Hillary Clinton is morally less objectionable than Mr. Trump but her economic policy proposals are unlikely to have much success. The best hope for our country is to keep the Republicans in control of the House of Representatives. They have put together an excellent plan, “A Better Way,” for reviving the American economy and boosting the American spirit. Its main principles are:
Poverty. Every capable person is expected to work or prepare for work. Poverty fighting programs will be directed to get people back on their feet. The poor will have more opportunities to succeed at every stage.
National Security. It is a top priority to defeat radical Islamic extremism. We must restore American influence, advance free enterprise and expand the community of free nations.
The Economy. We need to take a smarter approach that cuts down on needless regulations while making the rules we do need more efficient, especially for our small businesses.
The Constitution. Agencies and bureaucracies should be subject to more scrutiny from Congress. Give Congress more say – and the final word – over what is being spent and why it is being spent.
Health Care. Individuals should have more control and more choices in order to improve quality and lower costs. No one should have to worry about having coverage taken away regardless of age, income or medical conditions.
Tax Reform. The tax code should be simpler, fairer and flatter while remaining progressive. It should be constructed to create jobs, raise wages and expand opportunity for all Americans.
Conclusion. These principles are widely supported by almost all Republicans in Congress and are more important than specific differences on immigration, trade, or entitlement policy. Their serious consideration depends upon returning a Republican controlled House in 2017.
In my last post I said that Donald Trump won the first presidential debate, in spite of his uneven temperament, because he was more correct on the issues.
One of the biggest problems our country faces is slow economic growth, averaging only 2% per year since the end of the Great Recession in June 2009. This compares with an average rate of growth of 3.5% from 1950 – 2000.
In fact, even the recent job growth we have seen is now leveling off. Such slow growth is very dangerous long term for many reasons:
Massive Debt. Our public debt, on which we pay interest, is now 75% of GDP, the highest it has been since right after WWII. CBO predicts that this percentage will keep getting steadily worse without major policy changes. Faster growth means more tax revenue and therefore smaller annual deficits. It is imperative to put our accumulating debt on a downward path.
The Need for More Jobs and Better Paying Jobs. The best way to achieve broad based prosperity, and minimize populist disruption, is to create a tight job market where employers have to compete for employees. This is accomplished by making the economy grow faster.
Keeping Ahead of China. In 2009 China’s economy was 1/3 the size of ours; now it is 60% as big. In other words, China will soon surpass us economically if we are unable to grow faster. This would risk losing our worldwide lead in such crucial areas as new technology and financial depth, as well as our superpower status.
Reducing Student Loan Debt. The best way we can help former students pay off their college debt is to have good jobs waiting for them when they leave school. The faster our economic growth, the better we can do this.
Conclusion. Both our own individual success in life as well as the overall status of our nation depends upon the availability of opportunity. This is why economic growth is so important and why it is dangerous to let it lag.
My last post responds to a reader who is pessimistic about the future of our country and in fact of the whole world. He thinks that the environment is deteriorating, that rapid economic growth is unsustainable and that there is too much income inequality between high and low wage earners.
My response to him is to refer to the recent book, “The Rational Optimist: how prosperity evolves” by Matt Ridley. Mr. Ridley persuasively argues that not only has the human race made huge strides in recent times but that this progress is intrinsic to evolved human nature and is likely to continue indefinitely:
Since 1800 the population of the world has multiplied six times, yet average life expectancy has more than doubled and real income has risen more than nine times.
Between 1955 and 2005, the average human on earth earned nearly three times as much money (adjusted for inflation), ate one-third more calories of food, and could expect to live one-third longer, all this while world population doubled.
The rich have got richer but the poor have done even better. For example, the Chinese are ten times as rich, one-third as fecund, and 28 years longer-lived than fifty years ago. (Also see the above chart).
The spread of IQ scores has been shrinking steadily – because the low scores have been catching up with the high ones. This is known as the Flynn effect.
The four most basic human needs – food, clothing, fuel and shelter – have grown markedly cheaper during the past two centuries.
The most notorious robber barons of the late 19th century: Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, and Andrew Carnegie, got rich by making things cheaper.
Exchange and specialization, not self-sufficiency, is the route to prosperity.
Conclusion. As long as human beings are free to engage in exchange (trade) and specialization (acquisition of skills), prosperity will continue to evolve and human life will become better and better.
My two main sources of information for this blog are the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. In particular I am always eager to read Eduardo Porter’s weekly column, Economic Scene, in the NYT. He frames the issues very well, even though I often disagree with him on the details. Yesterday’s column, “In Brexit and Trump, a Populist Farewell to Laissez-Faire Capitalism,” points out the similarities in the white working class support for both Brexit and for Donald Trump. It then goes on to advocate for what the economist Larry Summers refers to vaguely as “responsible nationalism.”
I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Porter and Mr. Summers that we need policies to boost the fortunes of blue collar workers, and here are some good ways to do it:
Tax reform to put more disposable income in the pockets of middle- and lower-income workers, to support job creators, and to provide a big incentive for American multinational companies to bring their earnings back home for reinvestment.
Immigration Reform. The key here is a rigorous Guest Worker Visa program to provide immigrant employees for businesses who are unable to hire enough qualified domestic workers. At the same time, a strict eVerify enforcement system would also be established to catch illegal immigrants and deport them.
Free and Fair Trade. Free trade among nations has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty worldwide, as well as benefitting all Americans with lower prices. What we have failed to do is to adequately help displaced workers retrain for the millions of high skilled jobs available in the U.S. which go unfilled for lack of qualified applicants.
Conclusion. Our country faces severe problems. If we don’t get deficit spending under greater control, we risk a new and more severe financial crisis. If we can’t create more and better paying jobs for the modestly educated, we will be faced with Trump-like demagogic candidates for president every four years. It will be a huge challenge for us to extricate ourselves from this mess in a peaceful manner.
My last three posts, here, here, and here address America’s slow economic growth for the past 15 years and why it is such a serious problem. Today I begin to discuss how we can turn this around.
In today’s Wall Street Journal, the economist John Cochrane has a very informative Op Ed, “Ending America’s Slow-Growth Tailspin” which describes a clear path to speed up economic growth. Says Mr. Cochrane:
From 1950 – 2000 the U.S. economy grew at an average rate of 3.5% annually. Since 2000 it has grown at only half this rate, 1.76% annually. By 2008 the average American was more than three times better off than in 1952. Real GDP per person grew from $16,000 to $49,000 during this time period.
There are three main theories as to why growth is slowing down.
We’ve run out of new ideas. Get used to it and start fighting over the shrinking pie.
The culprit is “secular stagnation” which the Federal Reserve is unsuccessfully trying to overcome with low interest rates and quantitative easing. The only other solution is vast new stimulus spending.
The U.S. economy is overrun by an out-of-control and increasingly politicized regulatory state. America is middle-aged and overweight. The solution is to eat better and exercise.
The first two camps are doubtful that better policies will produce faster growth. But the examples of North Korea vs South Korea and East Germany vs West Germany show that government policy matters for economic growth. In fact Mr. Cochrane’s chart (above) shows how a country’s “ease of doing business” score, compiled by the World Bank, correlates with increased average income. Even though the U.S. is near the top by this measure, there is still plenty of room for improvement.
In my next post I will delineate specifically how to streamline our oversized regulatory state. In the meantime, take a look at Mr. Cochrane’s article in today’s WSJ.
Populists such as Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are doing so well in the 2016 presidential primaries because the middle class is suffering from the slow economic growth of the past 15 years. My last post is based on the report of a typical victim. Today’s post is based on an article by Eduardo Porter in yesterday’s New York Times discussing the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs. Says Mr. Porter:
Fifty years ago, 45,000 workers were employed in California to harvest 2.2 million tons of tomatoes. Now, with mechanization, it only requires 5000 workers to harvest 12 million tons.
In 1950, 24% of nonfarm jobs in the U.S. were in manufacturing. Today only 8.5% of nonfarm jobs are in manufacturing.
The same thing is true worldwide. Global employment in manufacturing is going down because productivity increases are exceeding increases in demand by significant amounts. The likelihood that we will get a manufacturing recovery is close to nil.
The U.S. has a trade surplus in manufacturing with the 20 countries with which it has trade agreements (which does not include China). We have an overall annual trade surplus in services of more than $200 billion.
In other words, an attempt to recover or save manufacturing jobs with smarter trade policies is simply impractical and will likely do more harm than good. What should be done instead is to:
Definitely do a better job of helping displaced manufacturing workers with Trade Adjustment Assistance and smarter job retraining programs.
Adopt policies to speed up overall economic growth from the anemic 2.1% annual growth rate since the end of the Great Recession in June 2009. Faster growth such as the 3.5% annual average from 1971 – 2001 will do wonders in creating more jobs and better paying jobs. For how to do this see an earlier post.
Our very serious economic problems can be solved if policy makers (and presidential candidates) would only get serious about it!
As I have recently pointed out, Hillary Clinton is now likely to be our next president. In my last post I provided vivid evidence that middle class income grew dramatically between 1971 and 2001 and has been either stagnant or declining since then. The fact is that the years from 1971 – 2001 were a time of rapid economic growth, about 3.5% per year. So it is obvious what needs to be done to fix America’s economic woes: grow the economy faster! In its latest issue, the Economist asks, “Can she fix it?” The tentative answer suggested by the Economist is no, based on Mrs. Clinton’s tepid policy proposals to date:
She wants to make college more affordable, grant paid leave to parents, raise the national minimum wage to $12 per hour, and increase infrastructure spending. These are nice sounding proposals but will have only minor effects on growth or add greatly to the national debt (infrastructure spending).
She proposes a tax-credit for companies to encourage profit-sharing schemes. This would just make the tax code more complicated.
She wants an extra tax on the debt of big banks but simply increasing capital requirements on big banks would be more effective.
She wants to raise the top tax individual tax rate to 45% but shrinking deductions and closing loopholes would be a more efficient way to make the tax code more progressive.
She wants to abandon the Trans Pacific Trade Partnership rather than figuring out how to help those workers who lose from expanded trade with such measures as wage insurance or better job retraining.
As the Economist concludes, “A bigger plan to help American workers would start by boosting competition, both by slashing unnecessary regulations for small businesses, and by ensuring that big firms no longer operate in protected markets.”
If we are going to end up with another Clinton presidency, we certainly don’t want four more years of Obama-type economic stagnation!
For seven years following the end of the Great Recession in June 2009 our economy has been plodding along at an average growth rate of 2.1% per year, much more slowly than after a typical recession. Instead of talking about how to fix the mess we are in, most of the presidential candidates are proposing measures which will make things even worse. The economists Glenn Hubbard and Tim Kane, writing in the Weekly Standard, take a novel approach. Rather than suggesting ways of speeding up economic growth, which may no longer be of interest to voters in primary elections, they list their “Top Five Ways to Destroy the U.S. Economy” which are to:
Restrict Trade. Free exchange is the cornerstone of a growing economy. Raising tariffs will restrict imports, cause inflation and harm American consumers. Killing the Trans Pacific Partnership, stopping the Keystone Pipeline, and curtailing legal immigration would just be a start.
Make Work Illegal. Raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour will do lasting harm to underprivileged teenagers who are denied a first job. In the U.S. today over 30% of jobs require a government license compared to only 5% in the 1950s. This creeping need for permission keeps untold millions out of the labor force.
Tax People More Unequally. Why should the tax code be riddled with exemptions, deductions and credits which primarily benefit the wealthy? Why do we insist on taxing corporations at 35% when all other advanced economies are competing to lower their corporate taxes? This simply drives jobs overseas.
Stop Innovation. Why does Washington continue to favor big banks and bail out old established industries? A generation ago 1 in 6 companies were startups: today 1 in 12 are.
Increase the Debt. Debt has more than doubled in the past decade, yet interest payments in 2015 were the same as in 2006, because rates are artificially low. How long can this last? A sure path to a slow growth future is this kind of fiscal profligacy. Just call it investment and hope that most people will ignore the problem.
As Mr. Hubbard and Mr. Kane conclude, “The good news about this policy agenda is that it requires no sacrifices. If Washington just stays on course we will reap the whirlwind.”