Election Day 2016: The Fourth Anniversary of this Blog

 

I have now been writing this blog for four years, beginning right after the presidential election of 2012. I was a candidate in the May 2012 Republican Primary for the 2nd Congressional District of Nebraska.  I campaigned on the platform to “eliminate the deficit.”  I lost to the incumbent Lee Terry who was in turn replaced in office by the Democrat Brad Ashford in 2014.

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The overriding theme of my blog is “how to restore fiscal responsibility to our national government.”   I discuss two fundamental and related issues:

  • Massive Debt now 75% of GDP, the highest level since right after WWII, and predicted by the Congressional Budget Office to keep rising steadily under current policies.
  • Slow Economic Growth averaging just barely 2% per year since the end of the Great Recession in June 2009. Although the unemployment rate is down to a respectable 4.9%, the labor participation rate is also lower than usual. Faster growth would mean more jobs and better paying jobs. It would also mean more tax revenue to shrink our annual deficits.

How should these problems be addressed?  In briefest outline:

  • Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution. This is a drastic measure but I see no other way to get the job done. The pressure on Congress is always to create new programs and spend more money, not less. A BBA could be designed in a flexible manner to allow emergency overrides. It could also be phased in by, for example, having an effective date three years after ratification. It so happens that 28 states (out of 34 needed) have now called for a Constitutional Convention to propose such an amendment. (http://bba4usa.org/)
  • Tax Reform, lowering rates for individuals and corporations, paid for by shrinking deductions, would do wonders for encouraging business investment and entrepreneurship, as well as encouraging American multinational companies to bring their foreign earnings back home for reinvestment.

Conclusion. Much more can be done but this would be a very good start.

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The Economy Is Improving But Not Enough

 

It has been widely reported that medium household incomes were up 5.2% to $56,500 in 2015.  Furthermore the lower income quintiles have gained the most.  This is very good news.
capture54But this new peak is below the previous peak of $57,400 in 2007, before the Great Recession started, which in turn is below the absolute peak of $57,900 in 1999. Now look at economic growth more broadly.
capture55The second chart shows the annual rate of real (i.e. inflation adjusted) GDP growth, by expansion period, all the way back to 1949.  What is most striking is that growth has been steadily decreasing over this entire time period and is now down to an average rate of just 2% during the current recovery. There is really only one way to reverse this steep decline.  It is to return to proven fundamentals as well explained by the economist, John Cochrane.  In summary:

  • There is only one source of growth. Nothing other than productivity matters in the long run. And, unfortunately, the business investment which leads to gains in productivity is way down.
  • The vast expansion in regulation is the most obvious change in public policy accompanying America’s growth slowdown.
  • The basic structure of growth-oriented tax reform is lower marginal rates paid for by removing exemptions and loopholes. A high corporate tax rate hurts workers more than anyone else.
  • Solving our immigration problem would turn 11 million illegal immigrants into productive citizens. Guest worker and e-Verify enforcement are fixable problems.
  • International trade with strict reciprocity between trading partners will benefit almost everyone. Manufacturing workers who lose their jobs to foreign competition need robust retraining programs for the many manufacturing jobs which still exist.

Conclusion. Faster economic growth is imminently doable. Just follow tried and true economic fundamentals!

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Can the U.S. Economy Do Better?

 

In my last post I discussed the differing views of the U.S. economy held by Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen and her rival for the post, Larry Summers:

  • Janet Yellen thinks that the U.S. economy is steadily recovering from the Great Recession and that there is no hurry to raise interest rates back to normal levels.
  • Larry Summers thinks that the U.S. economy is suffering from secular stagnation and that there is a great need for more fiscal stimulus by the federal government.

There is another point-of-view, perhaps best expressed by the Hoover Institution’s John Cochrane in a recent Wall Street Journal Op Ed.  Let me try to summarize Mr. Cochrane’s argument:

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  • From 1950 – 2000 the U.S. economy grew at an average rate of 3.5% per year. 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 average GDP per person grew from $16,000 to $49,000 during this period.
  • The U.S. economy is now overrun by an out-of-control and increasingly politicized regulatory state. America is now middle-aged and overweight. The solution is to eat better and exercise.
  • Consider the above chart, the World Bank’s “Distance to Frontier” ease-of-doing-business measure for 2014. The U.S. is near the top but there is plenty of room for improvement.
  • Here is what a growth agenda would involve: deep tax reform, cleaning out the insane complexity and cronyism; a thorough overhaul of social programs, getting rid of all the perverse incentives; better schools that come from increased choice and competition; a dramatic legal and regulatory simplification, restoring a transparent rule of law.
  • Growth-oriented policies will be resisted. Growth comes from productivity which comes from new disruptive technologies and businesses.

Can our political system deliver the changes that are needed? The rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders show that the people want big changes and are willing to disrupt the status quo to achieve them.  This means change is possible but it won’t come easily.

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Ending America’s Slow Growth Tailspin II. What It Will Take.

 

One of the biggest problems facing the U.S. today is the slow growth of our economy, averaging just 2.1% per year since the end of the Great Recession seven years ago, well below the 3.5% average from 1950 – 2000.
Capture11My last post introduced an excellent Wall Street Journal Op Ed by the Hoover Institution economist John Cochrane.  He says that “the U.S. economy needs a dramatic legal and regulatory simplification.”  In particular:

  • Tax reform. Instead of arguing over tax rates, what’s really needed is deep tax reform, cleaning out the insane complexity and cronyism.
  • Social programs. Rather than arguing over whether to increase or cut spending, what’s needed is a thorough overhaul of the programs’ pernicious incentives. For example, Social Security disability (almost 9 million beneficiaries in March 2016) needs to remove its disincentives to work, move or change careers.
  • Education spending. Rather than arguing about the level of public spending, America needs the better schools that come from increased choice and competition.
  • Over-regulation. Most of all the country needs a dramatic legal and regulatory simplification. Middle-aged America is living in a hoarder’s house of a legal system, including state and local impediments such as excessive occupational licensing.
  • Growth-oriented policies will be resisted. Growth comes from productivity which comes from new technology and new companies. These displace the profits of old companies, and the hefty pay and settled lives of their managers and workers.
  • The presidential frontrunners are not championing economic growth. But the House of Representatives, under Speaker Paul Ryan, is doing exactly this. Perhaps economic policy leadership can be transferred from the Presidency to Congress.

After two disappointing presidencies our economy is lagging far behind where it could and should be. This is the reason for the rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.  Regardless of the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, there is hope for better days ahead!

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How to End America’s Slow-Growth Tailspin

 

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.
  1. We’ve run out of new ideas.  Get used to it and start fighting over the shrinking pie.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
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  • 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.

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The Source of Economic Growth

 

In my last post, “What the Republican presidential candidates should be saying,”  I summarized the argument by the economist, John Cochrane, that “sclerotic growth is the economic issue of our time.” Mr Cochrane shows dramatically that even small differences in the growth rate over time can make a huge difference in raising living standards.
Capture0He goes on to say that

  • There is only one source of growth. Nothing other than productivity matters in the long run.
  • The vast expansion in regulation is the most obvious change in public policy accompanying America’s growth slowdown. Most recently under the Dodd-Frank Act and the Affordable Care Act, the financial and healthcare sectors of the economy have seen radical increases in regulatory intervention. But environmental, labor, product and energy regulation have all increased dramatically as well.
  • Regulation during the financial crisis did not fail for being absent. It failed for being ineffective.
  • The best way for the government to subsidize healthcare efficiently is to give straightforward vouchers which people can use to buy insurance or to fund health savings accounts. Such vouchers should replace Obamacare, Medicaid and Medicare.
  • The basic structure of growth-oriented tax reform is lower marginal rates, paid for by broadening the base by removing exemptions and loopholes. Several additional tax principles are:
  • The ideal corporate tax rate is zero. A high corporate tax rate hurts the workers more than anyone else.
  • A growth-oriented tax system taxes consumption, not income and savings.
  • Eliminating or moving away from taxing income, would lessen the value of personal deductions such as for mortgage interest or charitable donations.
  • The estate tax is a particularly distorting tax on saving and investment. The tax code should not give strong incentives to middle-age people to stop building their businesses or investing their money.
  • Solving our immigration problem would turn 11 million illegal immigrants into productive citizens. Guest worker and e-Verify enforcement are fixable problems.

How to speed up economic growth ought to be one of the basic issues in the presidential election campaign. Here are some good ways to do this.

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What the Republican Presidential Candidates Should Be Saying

 

Thanks largely to Donald Trump the Republican presidential candidates are not taking the best approach to winning the White House in November. Instead of arguing with each other about who is the toughest on immigration or who is the most anti-establishment, they should be focusing on one issue where Republicans could have a big advantage: how to speed up our slow economic growth.
Capture9The Stanford economist, John Cochrane, makes very clear the value of doing this on his blog, The Grumpy Economist.  Says Mr. Cochrane:

  • From 1950 to 2000 the U.S. Economy grew at an average rate of 3.5% per year. Since 2000, it has grown at only half that rate, 1.7%.
  • The average American is more than three times better off than his or her counterpart in 1950. Real GDP per person has risen from $16,000 in 1952 to over $50,000 today, both measured in 2009 dollars.
  • If the U.S. economy had grown at 2% rather than 3.5% since 1950, income per person by 2000 would have been $23,000 not $50,000.
  • Even these large numbers understate reality. GDP per capita growth does not capture the increase in life span – nearly ten years – or other improvements in the quality of life such as health and environmental gains which we have experienced.

Says Mr. Cochrane, “Next to this increase in the standard of living, nothing the candidates are talking about – monetary policy, Fed, fiscal stimulus, minimum wage hikes, pay equity, and so on, even comes close to what growth can bring ordinary Americans.” The important question then is how to speed up economic growth.  Even though there are strong headwinds slowing down our modern economy, Mr. Cochrane has many excellent ideas on measures which can be taken to accomplish this.  This will be the subject of my next post.

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