For the past almost five years, beginning in November 2012, I have been blogging about fiscal and economic issues facing the United States. With the unemployment rate now down to 4.3%, and the economy growing at 2% annually and likely to pick up speed, our biggest problem by far is an exploding national debt, currently 77% of GDP (for the public debt on which we pay interest), the highest since the end of WWII.
There are two announced candidates so far for the Nebraska Senate seat which becomes open in January 2019:
The incumbent, Senator Deb Fischer, a Republican
Jane Raybould, Lincoln City Councilwoman, a Democrat.
There is always enormous pressure on members of Congress to maintain or increase spending for popular projects and little pressure to cut anything. In general, Republicans deplore large deficits and debt but are ineffective in implementing fiscal restraint while Democrats simply don’t want to talk about the debt problem at all. I am a non-ideological (registered independent) fiscal conservative and social moderate, highly focused on substantially shrinking our annual deficits over a short time period.
Here are my options for the Senate race:
Enter the Republican Primary. I would get almost no traction running against the incumbent Republican in the Primary, even though she is a big spender, and I am antiabortion and support a national 20 week cutoff for most abortions.
Run as an independent. This is futile without huge name recognition or financial resources, of which I have neither.
Enter the Democratic Primary. The announced candidate has a strong party affiliation which I lack. But she has little chance of defeating Senator Fischer in the general election whereas I could by credibly hammering Fischer as a big spender.
Please respond! Please give me you input on this matter one way or another. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Would you support me as a Senate candidate? Congress badly needs more members who are serious about shrinking our debt and I am such a person. More later!
Donald Trump is having a huge impact on the 2016 U.S. presidential race and lots of people are trying to understand why. In a previous post I wrote that the Republican Party needs to figure out where all of the Trump supporters are coming from and then try to keep these people under a perhaps larger Republican tent.
A very good explanation of the Trump phenomenon comes from the AEI social scientist, Charles Murray, writing in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. Says Mr. Murray:
The long time American Creed of egalitarianism, liberty and individualism is losing its authority and its substance. One of the most widely acknowledged aspects of American exceptionalism is the lack of class consciousness.
This lack of class consciousness has now been replaced by the emergence of a new upper class, a new lower class and the plight of the working class caught in between.
The new upper class is characterized by its condescension toward ordinary Americans. Mainstream America is fully aware of this condescension and contempt and is irritated by it. It may mean that American egalitarianism is coming to an end.
In the 1960s, white working class men in their 30s and 40s were almost all working and almost all married. But, as shown in the chart, these high labor participation and marriage rates have dropped dramatically in the past 50 years.
The success of the civil rights and feminist movements, both classic invocations of the American Creed, have led to a large scale ideological defection from the pillars of liberty and individualism. The problem is that affirmative action demands that people be treated as groups. Equality of outcome trumps equality before the law.
By the 1980s Democratic elites largely subscribed to an ideology in conflict with liberty and individualism. This produced the Reagan Democrats.
During the past half-century, American corporations exported millions of high-paying jobs while the federal government allowed the immigration, legal and illegal, of tens of millions of competitors for the remaining working class jobs.
As Mr. Murray says, “if you are dismayed by Trumpism don’t kid yourself that it will go away if Donald Trump fails to win the Republican nomination. Trumpism is an expression of the legitimate anger that many Americans feel about the course the country has taken.”
Prospects for future economic growth are decidedly grim. The Congressional Budget Office has just reported that after a brief improvement for a couple of years, annual GDP growth will likely hover around 2.2% for the remainder of the ten year window 2015 – 2025. This means, in turn, that the unemployment rate will also not likely fall much below its current level of 5.7% for the same ten year period. A new report from the McKinsey Global Institute makes the even gloomier prediction that average U.S. GDP growth rate for the next 50 years will be only 1.9% per year, given current trends and policies. A summary of this report is provided by the Brookings Institution social economist, William Galston.
On the other hand, according to New York Times columnist, Nate Cohn, the Democratic Party may be adopting a new policy direction, “The Parent Agenda, The Democrats’ New Focus.” By this new focus he means:
Paid family leave
An expanded earned-income tax credit and child tax credit
Free community college
Free four year college in time
Mr. Cohn points out that both President Obama as well as Hillary Clinton have endorsed such ideas. Initiatives such as these are unlikely to go far in the current Republican Congress but they may still sound very attractive to the many hard-pressed middle class families with stagnant incomes.
The problem is that to emphasize a “family” political agenda like this is in effect to accept the conventional wisdom that faster economic growth is unattainable. This is a defeatist attitude which is very harmful to the 20 million Americans who are either unemployed or under-employed. Here, briefly, is what could be done to boost economic growth in the short term:
Implement broad-based tax reform with lower tax rates for all, paid for by closing loopholes and limiting deductions.
Reduce regulatory burdens on business by, for example, streamlining (not repealing!) the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act.
Expand legal immigration with additional high-skill visas as well as an adequate guest worker program.
Expand international trade with new trade agreements.
These are all political footballs, of course, but also policies with much potential to speed up economic growth. Either we take initiatives such as these or we consign our country to a future of relative economic stagnation with slow wage growth, high unemployment and increasing income inequality.