In the latest issue of Barron’s, Frederick Rowe, the managing partner of Greenbrier Partners Capital Management, asks in “More Than a Sugar High?” , “Can you imagine a country that is managed in an economically rational manner, creating the wealth that’s necessary to take proper care of the citizens who get left behind? … What if our economic recovery is more than a sugar high? What if there is more here than insanely stimulative monetary policy from the Federal Reserve? What if the U.S. has already begun to steer an economic course to a period of unprecedented and genuine prosperity, achievement, and problem solving?”
Here are eight factors which Mr. Rowe gives to point us in the right direction:
North American Energy Independence (already on the horizon).
Sensible Immigration Reform: encouraging our most enterprising and hard-working people to become citizens rather than chasing them away.
Repatriation of Corporate Income: if a company domiciled in the U.S. makes money in Argentina and wants to invest it in the U.S. we double-tax the daylights out of it. It would be hard to imagine a more counterproductive tax policy.
Changing Directors and Their Thinking: the once unthinkable mindset of corporate directors acting on behalf of long-term owners (rather than the CEOs with whom they play golf) is actually gaining traction.
Lowering Corporate Taxes: the tax-writing committees in Congress are working on this.
Increasing Technological Leadership: the most dynamic technology companies in the world are domiciled in the U.S. Technology, in the short run, displaces workers. But eventually workers catch up because new technology creates new kinds of jobs that were never imagined before.
Americanization of the World: more than three billion people around the world will soon be able to afford to live much more like the 300 million Americans do. So companies which make it big here have an automatic global opportunity.
Obamacare: Even this bureaucratic catastrophe provides a large opportunity for economic opportunity. Think of Jimmy Carter’s failures which led to Ronald Reagan’s successes.
“Let your imagination run and consider all the things that can be accomplished by an energy-independent, cash-generating, cash-repatriating country that is a hotbed of technological innovation.”
I can’t possibly say it any better than this!
The lead story in this week’s Economist, “The Perils of Falling Inflation” and a recent article in the New York Times, “In Fed and Out, Many Now Think Inflation Helps“, both make the case that the U.S. core inflation rate of 1.2%, excluding food and energy prices, is dangerously low, risking deflation. “Rising prices help companies increase profits; rising wages help borrowers repay debts. Inflation also encourages people and businesses to borrow money and spend it more quickly.”
But there is another distinctly different point of view. In a Barron’s column last week “Deflating the Inflation Myth”, Gene Epstein points out that “business activity is motivated by profit, not prices.” He shows with a chart that profits decreased during the highly inflationary 1970’s and 1980’s but they have been increasing since the end of the recession in 2009, even with very low inflation. The key to boosting the economy is more business investment and risk taking but a higher rate of inflation is not the way to accomplish this.
In a speech at the Economic Club of New York in June of this year, former Fed Chair Paul Volcker said that “the implicit assumption behind that siren call (to let inflation increase) must be that the inflation rate can be manipulated to reach economic objectives – up today, maybe a little bit more tomorrow, and then pulled back on command. All experience amply demonstrates that inflation, when fairly and deliberately started, is hard to control and reverse.”
As soon as interest rates go up as they surely will in the not too distant future, interest payments on our now enormous national debt will skyrocket and become a huge drag on the economy. If and when inflation goes up, it will pull interest rates up along with it. Let’s not push inflation, and therefore interest rates, up any faster or higher than necessary!
The cover story in this week’s Barron’s, by Jonathan Laing, “The Snail Economy, Slowing to a Crawl”, makes a well-documented argument that “over the next 20 years, the U.S. economy is likely to grow only 2% a year. That’s down from 3% or better since World War II. Blame it on an aging population and sluggish productivity growth. Bad news for stocks and social harmony.”
Here’s an example of the argument he makes. “Mean incomes of minorities in the U.S. population have remained at about 60% of white incomes in recent decades. Unless that pattern changes, and minorities earn bigger incomes, that augers slower income growth for the overall population as the baby boomers, predominately white, retire over the next 20 years. …At the same time the minority population, particularly Hispanic, will expand. …If income relationships remain the same, U.S. median income growth will drop by an estimated 0.43% a year through 2020 and 0.52% a year over the succeeding decade.”
This demographic trend can be offset to some extent by boosting the ages at which Social Security benefits are received in order to lighten the burden on those who are working. Immigration policy could be reformed to attract more highly skilled (and therefore more highly paid as well) workers to further offset the growing number of retirees. “And most of all, the U.S. should engage in a crash educational program to close the gap in skills and income levels among different parts of the American population.”
In addition to the demographic challenge well described by Mr. Laing, there is the problem that growing economic efficiency (caused by advances in technology and ever more globalization) will continue to replace American workers by both machines and lower cost foreign workers.
It is imperative for us to set aside partisan ideology and dramatically confront all of these economic challenges to continued American supremacy on the world stage. First and foremost we need fundamental tax reform, significantly lowering tax rates for all productive aspects of our economy, especially for investors, risk takers, entrepreneurs and corporations. (Lower tax rates can be made revenue neutral by eliminating deductions and closing loopholes.) We should simplify and streamline regulatory processes, again, to give all possible support to the businesses which can make the economy grow faster.
Our status in the world and therefore the future of our country depend on our success in this urgent endeavor!