Most of the time on this blog I address what I consider to be our country’s two biggest fiscal and economic problems: 1) economic growth which, at 2% per year for the past seven years, is too slow to create enough new jobs and higher wages for middle- and lower-income workers and 2) massive and rapidly growing debt, now at 75% of GDP, the highest since the end of WWII.
But from time to time I take a broader look such as:
James Piereson’s contention that the New Deal liberal consensus has broken down and we are headed for America’s Fourth Revolution.
Yuval Levin’s argument that both progressives and conservatives are stuck with a mid-twentieth century nostalgia to which it is impossible to return.
Senator Mike Lee’s (R, Utah) belief that Congress is itself responsible for its shrinking powers vis-à-vis the President and the Supreme Court.
Along this line, Yuval Levin and Ramesh Ponnuru have a powerful essay in the latest issue of the National Review saying that “Mainstream liberals now advance a vision of American government that is increasingly contemptuous of our system’s democratic character and seeks to break through the restraints of the constitutional system in pursuit of their policy ends.”
This vision is advanced in three key ways:
Executive unilateralism, for example, by President Obama with respect to status of illegal immigrants, various suspensions and waivers in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and net neutrality regulations.
The administrative state referring to the tangle of regulatory agencies that populate the executive branch. These agencies issue thousands of regulations per year which, given the vagueness of major legislation, means that the agencies legislate through their rules. Examples are the immense power of the Environmental Protection Agency and the implementation of the Dodd-Frank financial-regulatory reforms.
Liberal judicial philosophy understands the courts to be in the business of advancing what is properly understood as a legislative agenda. For example, two Supreme Court cases, a health-care related case (King vs Burwell) and a same-sex-marriage case (Obergefell vs Hodges) turned out this way.
Conclude Messrs. Levin and Ponnuru: “That the constitution makes the work of progressive ideologues frustrating is not an excuse for ignoring and subverting it. Arguments for doing so amount to unprincipled excuses for lawlessness.”
Such was the response of Benjamin Franklin to an inquiry from a citizen outside of Independence Hall in Philadelphia in 1787. Today our national government is highly dysfunctional and Congress has an especially low approval rating of 11%. U.S. Senator Mike Lee (R, Utah) believes that Congress is rightly to blame for the dysfunction. Says Mr. Lee in an article, “The Incredibly Shrinking Congress,” in the July 11, 2016 issue of the National Review:
The powers vested in Congress in Article I of the Constitution are orders of magnitude stronger than the powers given to the President (Article II) or the Supreme Court (Article III). This is because legislators are closer and more accountable to the people. Here is what Congress is doing wrong:
Too much power is delegated to the executive branch by allowing federal agencies to write the vast majority of the laws in the form of rules, regulations and legal interpretations.
Congress surrenders too much authority over federal spending to the President by letting the budget process come down to a single yes or no vote up against a crisis deadline.
Congress delegates too much of its constitutional oversight powers to the judicial branch. The answer is to make agency rules subject to Congressional veto.
Unfortunately too many members have a vested interest in a weak Congress because it relieves them of the hard job of legislating conscientiously. Only a strong Congress can fix a weak Congress. For example, Congress could:
Require legislative approval of major new rules and reauthorizations of existing ones.
Modernize its budget process to make sure that all agency budgets get proper individual consideration.
Rein in executive discretion by, for example, directing federal judges to conduct traditional judicial reviews in challenges against the administrative state, instead of simply deferring to the agencies own interpretations.
As Mr. Lee concludes, “Putting Congress back in charge of federal policy, would put American people back in charge of Washington, regardless of who sits in the oval office.” In today’s divisive and destructive political environment, this is a very good idea indeed.
My last post discusses the fact that both worldwide, and in the U.S., employment is growing robustly, while productivity is declining. In the U.S., for example, the economy is producing lots of new (low-productivity) service jobs and fewer (high-productivity) manufacturing jobs. As I have pointed out previously, there is a high degree of correlation between the growth of world trade and the growth of world GDP. Unfortunately, many Americans, especially blue collar workers, blame their own economic stagnation on the competition from foreign trade. This has caused several presidential candidates to declare opposition to the recently negotiated Trans Pacific Trade Pact.
A very informative article by Scott Lincicome in the current issue of the National Review, “The Truth about Trade” points out the fallacy in this way of thinking.
According to Mr. Lincicome:
The U.S. is the world’s second largest manufacturer (17.2% of global output) and third largest exporter. America remains the world’s top destination for foreign direct investment ($384 billion in 2015). Much of this investment goes to U.S. manufacturing assets.
The U.S. manufacturing “decline” has been limited to employment losses primarily caused by productivity gains, not trade. Import competition explains only ¼ of the contemporaneous aggregate decline in U.S. manufacturing employment.
Past global trade liberalization has generated between $2800 and $5000 in additional income for the average American. Almost 90% of these gains accrue to America’s poor and middle class, because of more heavily traded sectors such as food and clothing.
More than half of all imports are inputs and capital goods consumed by other American manufacturers to make globally competitive products.
Protective tariffs force American families and businesses to subsidize the small share of U.S. manufacturers and workers who compete directly with the imports at issue.
We do not have a good set of policies for helping workers adjust to trade or any kind of technological change. For example:
The federal tax code’s business deduction for work-related education only applies to one’s current job and not a possible new job.
Trade Adjustment Assistance and federal job training programs are notoriously inefficient and ineffective.
Conclusion: It would be a shame if presidential politics leads to a retrenchment of our involvement and leadership in foreign trade which has so many positive benefits for the American economy.