Trump as the Anti-Obama

 

Donald Trump assumes office with perhaps the lowest favorability ratings of any modern president. According to the New York Times,

  • Mr. Trump’s approval rating is only 40% among all adults and just 46% among likely voters.
  • But a recent CNN poll reports that 48% of adults think he’ll do a good job as president and 61% think he’ll bring back well-paying jobs to economically depressed areas.capture97

Contrast this with Barack Obama’s latest poll ratings:

  • According to Gallup Mr. Obama leaves office with an approval rating of 57%.
  • But Rasmussen reports that only 35% of likely voters think the country is heading in the right direction (with 55% saying that we’re headed in the wrong direction).

I interpret this to mean that the country is largely turned off by Mr. Trump’s crude speech and sleazy behavior, while still liking his economic program.  On the other hand, voters like Mr. Obama personally while disapproving of many of his policies and accomplishments.

All of this leaves Mr. Trump in an amazingly good political position:

  • With unemployment currently at a relatively low 4.7% and the economy fully recovered from the Great Recession, even modest reform in tax policy coupled with energy, healthcare and financial deregulation could provide a significant boost to long stalled economic growth.
  • He is criticized for having no clear cut political philosophy but this means he is free to do whatever makes good sense regardless of ideology. This will be a huge advantage in working with both parties to get things done.
  • He has nowhere to go but up in the polls. Such an increase in personal popularity will create the semblance of forward momentum.

Conclusion. The prospects are indeed propitious for Donald Trump to become a transformational president.

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Trump Could Become a Transformational President

 

According to the historian John Steele Gordon, “Trump May Herald a New Political Order,” there have been just four transformational presidencies so far in U.S. history:

  • Andrew Jackson in 1828 moved the locus of political power sharply down the socioeconomic scale.

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  • Abraham Lincoln in 1860 preserved the Union, freed the slaves and turned the South into essentially a third world country for the next 100 years.
  • William McKinley in 1896 ushered in an era of almost unbroken Republican dominance which lasted until the 1930s.
  • Franklin Roosevelt in 1932 who overcame the Great Depression and greatly expanded the reach and power of the federal government.

Ronald Reagan in 1980, constrained by a solidly Democratic House, was less transformational than the four presidents above, even though he ushered in the era of Great Moderation which lasted until the Great Recession hit in 2007-2008.
Barack Obama in 2008 took office with strong Democratic majorities.  However the last eight years have proved a disaster for the Democratic Party.  They lost the House in 2010, the Senate in 2014, and Republicans now control most governorships and state legislatures as well.
Now consider Donald Trump’s strong political position as he takes office:

  • The Republicans hold a big majority in the House and a small majority in the Senate. And ten Democratic Senators in states carried by Mr. Trump are up for re-election in 2018.
  • He was elected to change the self-serving ways of Washington and owes little to the political establishment.
  • His cabinet picks, many with excellent qualifications, signal profound changes in government policy, especially lower tax rates and a regulatory environment more friendly to business.

Conclusion. Mr. Trump has excellent prospects for achieving faster economic growth and therefore rising incomes for the blue-collar workers who provided his victory margin. If he can also improve life in the inner cities, as he has promised to do, he and the Republican Party will be unbeatable for many years to come.

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Repealing and Replacing Obamacare

 

The U.S. spends 18% of GDP (and rising) on healthcare, public and private, almost twice as much as any other developed country. The Affordable Care Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in 2010, increases access to healthcare in the U.S. but does nothing to control its cost.

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President-elect Donald Trump and the Republican Congress want to repeal the ACA and replace it with a more effective and less expensive alternative. An excellent plan for doing this, “Transcending Obamacare” has been proposed by Avik Roy, the President of the Foundation for Research and Opportunity.  Mr. Roy’s Universal (and refundable) Tax Credit Plan will:

  • expand health insurance coverage well beyond ACA levels without an individual mandate
  • improve the quality of coverage and care for low-income Americans
  • achieve permanent solvency of U.S. healthcare entitlements
  • reduce the federal deficit without raising taxes
  • reduce the cost of health insurance for individuals and businesses

Here are the main elements of the Universal Tax Credit Plan:

  • Premium assistance. The Plan repeals the ACA’s individual mandate and expands access to health savings accounts. By lowering the cost of insurance for younger and healthier individuals, the Plan would expand coverage beyond ACA levels.
  • Employer-sponsored insurance reform. The Plan repeals the ACA’s employer mandate, thereby offering employers a wider range of options for subsidizing workers’ coverage.
  • Medicaid reform. The Plan migrates the Medicaid acute-care population onto the reformed private individual insurance market, with 100% federal funding. The Plan returns to the states full financial responsibility for the Medicaid long-term care population.
  • Medicare reform. The Plan gradually raises the Medicare eligibility age by four months each year (forever), allowing younger retirees to remain on their existing plans.
  • Veterans’ health reform. The Plan gives veterans the option of private coverage via premium assistance.
  • Medical innovation is encouraged by the Plan.

Conclusion. The Universal Tax Credit Plan is a big improvement over the ACA because it expands access, improves quality and dramatically lowers costs for both individuals and the country as a whole. Check it out!

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The Obama Legacy: Personal Popularity Coupled with Poor Judgement

 

As President Obama prepares to leave office many observers are weighing in on his accomplishments, as I have already done myself, see here and here.

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Today let’s evaluate his major achievements:

  • Reviving the economy after the Great Recession. This was done but the recovery has been unnecessarily slow with annual growth averaging just 2% of GDP ever since June 2009. In fact, stagnant middle-class and especially blue-collar incomes are the reason Donald Trump eked out a victory over Hillary Clinton.
  • A giant step towards national healthcare. Even if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, its replacement will be much more universal than before. Unfortunately, however, the ACA increases access but does nothing to control the cost of healthcare (now 18% of GDP) which continues its steady rise. This is what has to change.
  • A global pact to combat climate change. Global warming is real but our response should be more circumspect. China has only pledged to reduce carbon emissions after 2030. India has 300 million people off the electric grid. It also has an abundant supply of coal. Heroic efforts by the developed world alone will have little effect on worldwide C02 levels.
  • A rash of new financial and environmental regulations. Both Dodd-Frank and new EPA regulations have contributed significantly to the economic slowdown which is why they are likely to be modified by the Trump Administration and Congress.
  • The Iran nuclear deal. The problem here is what will happen when the 10 – 15 year deal expires. Iran then will have a green light to develop nuclear weapons unless China and Russia agree to new sanctions which is unlikely.
  • American retreat from superpower status. Obama deposed a dictator in Libya but walked away from the aftermath. His premature decision to leave Iraq allowed ISIS to spring up. He let the civil war in Syria run out of control. A “reset” with Russia did nothing to prevent Putin from invading Ukraine and annexing Crimea.

Conclusion. As the first African-American President, Barack Obama is certainly a historical figure. But “a presidency of great promise is now ending in rancor and disappointment.”

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The Obama Legacy II. In the tender hands of Donald Trump

 

A year ago, I examined “The Obama Legacy” from a general point of view. I simply looked at his record after seven years in office:

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  • Stagnant Economy, growing at an anemic 2.1% annual rate ever since the end of the Great Recession in June 2009.
  • Massive Debt, at 74% of GDP (now 76%), the highest since the end of WWII.
  • Chaotic Middle East, the rise of ISIS in Syria, Iraq and North Africa and the resulting refugee crisis in Europe is the result of weak U.S. leadership.
  • Hyper-partisan Political Atmosphere, especially because of the above failures, leading to the rise of populist political candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.

Now, a year later, as he prepares to leave office, all of the above conditions are still true. The only major change is that the conservative, not the liberal, populist, Donald Trump, will succeed him in office.  Admittedly, the election outcome was a fluke.  Trump’s electoral margin was provided by a slim popular vote victory of 100,000 votes combined in the battleground states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.  Such an outcome was totally unpredicted and represents a miscalculation by the Clinton campaign.
In other words, the election easily could have gone the other way, in which case the Obama legacy would have had a four year period of protection by a Hillary Clinton presidency. Nevertheless, according to the Democratic pollster, Stanley Greenberg, the Obama presidency was deficient in several fundamentally crucial ways:

  • More than 1000 state and national Democrats lost their elections during his two terms. Republicans now have total (legislative and governor’s office) control in 25 states.
  • The economic recovery from the Great Recession morphed into bailouts – bank bailouts, auto bailouts, insurance bailouts, rather than directly addressing the continuing economic struggles experienced by a majority of Americans.
  • Approximately 40% of the Democratic base of minority, unmarried female and millennial voters disapproved of how President Obama was handling his job in 2010 and 2014, and many of these voters stayed home during the 2016 election as well.

Conclusion. The fate of Mr. Obama’s major achievements of the Affordable Care Act, the Iran nuclear agreement and committing the nation to address climate change are all now at risk of being overturned by the new presidential administration.

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Bush Failures Led to Obama and Obama Failures Led to Trump

 

As I have previously stated, I voted for Hillary Clinton because Donald Trump is so crude and sleazy even though our country will now greatly benefit from the change which Mr. Trump represents.  This is the way the political process often works.

capture79 Consider that after eight years of George Bush we had:

  • Ongoing war in Iraq and Afghanistan, of which the Iraq war was an unnecessary mistake.
  • $2.5 trillion of additional debt, even after Mr. Bush started out with a budget surplus, compliments of Bill Clinton.
  • An expensive new Medicare Part D prescription drug plan which just makes overall Medicare even less affordable than it already is.
  • The Financial Crisis of 2007-2008 which the Bush Administration could have seen coming if they had been more vigilant.

 

Under such political circumstances, the 2008 election of the Democratic nominee, Barack Obama, over the Republican nominee, John McCain, was almost inevitable. But then in the next eight years we have experienced:

  • Slow economic growth averaging only 2% per year, ever since the end of the Great Recession in June 2009. The unemployment rate has fallen to 4.9% but there is still a lot of slack in the labor market which holds wages down. This is the main reason for the huge support Mr. Trump had from white blue-collar workers in the election.
  • Massive debt, now 76% of GDP (for the public debt on which we pay interest), the highest since right after WWII and double the debt in January 2009 when Mr. Obama entered office. Such a high debt level means greatly increased interest payments as soon as interest rates go up which they are likely to do anytime. The high annual deficits contributing to the debt mean little budget flexibility for new programs.

Conclusion. Democrats like to say that slow economic growth is “the new normal” which can only be overturned with budget busting new fiscal stimulus. This is a pessimistic point of view which refuses to consider other alternatives.  This is what led to Ms. Clinton’s defeat on November 8.

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The Obama Economic Record

 

The readers of this blog know that I focus on what I consider to be the two biggest problems affecting our economy: 1) slow growth averaging just 2% per year since the end of the Great Recession and 2) our massive debt now equal to 75% of GDP (for the public part on which we pay interest) and predicted to keep growing steadily under current policy.
I have also made it clear that I am not pleased with the economic policies of either of the two main candidates for president, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.  Whichever one of them is elected, our best hope for the future is that she or he will have to work with the Republican House of Representatives which has an excellent plan, “A Better Way,”  for renewal.
capture71But, of course, the next president will take up where Barack Obama has left off.  The current issue of the Economist has an essay, “The Way Ahead,” in which Mr. Obama identifies several challenges:

  • Boosting productivity growth. The above chart from his essay shows how much productivity growth has declined in the last ten years. He claims that the corresponding lack of investment is caused by an anti-tax ideology which rejects new funding for public projects, which in turn can be blamed on a fixation on deficits in spite of our skyrocketing debt problem. The House plan correctly identifies tax and regulatory reform as what are needed for progress.
  • Combatting rising inequality. An expanded Earned Income Tax Credit will definitely help here but mainly what is needed is overall faster economic growth.
  • Insuring that everyone who wants a job can get one. Wage insurance and better retraining programs for laid off workers are good ideas. But again, faster economic growth is what is really needed.
  • Building a resilient economy which is primed for future growth. Mr. Obama says that “America should also do more to prepare for future shocks before they occur.” This is exactly why we urgently need to start shrinking our debt now before the shock of higher interest rates leads to huge increases in interest payments on our rapidly growing debt.

Conclusion. Let’s give Mr. Obama credit for avoiding another depression after the Financial Crisis. But his poor policies are to blame for the very slow rate of recovery ever since.

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