Last week, one of President Trump’s top economic advisers, Larry Kudlow, argued the U.S. economy is “crushing it,” posting boom-like numbers in key areas, all thanks to the leadership of the president.
Evaluating such claims usually begins with assessing whether the president should get credit for an economy he inherited in year eight of a solid expansion. But the fact that Trump is claiming credit for trends that were largely ongoing before he took office is one of the few ways in which he is not much different from former presidents.
.. Who is actually getting ahead in the Trump economy?
.. . In contrast, corporate profits and equity markets truly are crushing it, both on a pre- and especially, given the large business tax cuts, a post-tax basis.
.. There is also no evidence of an investment boom, suggesting the recent, above-trend growth in GDP is Keynes, not Laffer — meaning the deficit spending is providing a temporary boost but will not have lasting, positive impacts for long-term economic growth.
.. Starting with wages, since Trump took office, the real hourly wage for the 82 percent of the workforce that is blue collar in factories and non-managers in services is up half-a-percent, an extra 11 cents per hour.
.. the growth of mid-level pay has picked up a bit, as we’d expect with such low unemployment. But inflation, largely driven by higher energy costs, has also sped up, canceling out any real gains.
.. If energy prices come down and unemployment continues to fall, real wage growth for mid-wage workers will improve. But the magnitude of their gains will likely be nothing close to the administration’s claim that the tax cut would add at least $4,000 to annual earnings within a few years of the legislation.
.. In President Barack Obama’s second term, real annual wage growth for mid-wage workers was about 1 percent, so call that the baseline.
.. Sticking with the tax cut, its proponents main claim was the big corporate cuts would generate more business investment, which would lead to faster productivity growth, which would position us for higher paying jobs. So far, every link in that chain is broken.
.. Business investment is growing, as we’d expect in an economy operating close to full capacity. But its growth rate is not faster now than at various points earlier in the expansion.
.. There has been a modest uptick in investment in structures (such as plants, offices, wells, mine shafts, warehouses) in the first half of 2018, but, as economist Dean Baker has shown, the growth in such investment was due to higher energy prices generating increased investment in mining for oil and natural gas.
.. While mining investment has increased by 36.7 percent over the last year, it rose by 47.3 percent from the second quarter of 2009 to the second quarter of 2010, when the Obama administration was still enforcing environmental laws. In both cases, the key factor was rising world oil prices.
.. It takes time to plan investments, so it is too soon to conclude the tax cuts have not made a difference. But none of the surveys of companies’ investment plans show any plans to ratchet up capital spending
.. What is clear is firms are using their tax windfalls to boost share prices through buybacks, which, along with strong corporate profits, are fueling a historical bull market for stocks.
.. instead of borrowing $2 trillion to finance the regressive tax cut, Congress could have put more money in the pockets of working Americans and made investments for our economic future.
.. First, we should have expanded the Earned Income Tax Credit to compensate for decades of stagnant wage growth. The Brown-Khanna plan, calling for a $1.4 trillion EITC expansion, would have provided working families making up to $75,000 with up to $8,000 more in take home pay.
.. the best way to raise pay for ordinary Americans is to do so directly as opposed to pretending it will come through the largesse of executives and shareholders.
.. Second, we should have put billions to expand the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education program, linking employers to technical schools to develop credentials that respond to the needs of our cutting-edge industries.
.. Third, we should have provided hiring incentives for anchor companies to create jobs in places left behind such as Paintsville, Ky., or Flint, Mich. If a company is willing to hire in places where people do not have enough access to high-wage jobs, then they should get support for doing so.
.. Fourth, we should have invested in bringing high speed Internet to every corner of America. Providing fiber broadband to every corner of the United States is the modern equivalent of rural electrification.
.. Larry Kudlow’s right: The Trump administration is crushing it for its donor base, which is in turn handsomely rewarding them.
.. But it has done nothing for the forgotten Americans and nothing to make sure America is a winner in the 21st century. We do not need more sugar highs for those already doing well. We need to give lasting pay raises to those struggling to pay the bills and then focus on the forward-looking investments that will finally reconnect GDP growth to broadly shared prosperity.
Take, for example, the pesky goal of getting broadband service to more Americans. The Trump-era Federal Communications Commission has discovered that it is not on target to reach broadband access goals set in 2015. So, as The Post’s Brian Fung reports, the FCC is considering a solution: Lower the definition of broadband from 25 megabits per second to, say, 10. Instantly, millions of Americans would have “broadband” — without Internet speeds changing. Problem solved.
At the Federal Aviation Administration, likewise, an advisory panel has decided it’s too hard for airlines to hit the requirement that pilots have 1,500 hours of training, so it wants to count classroom work toward that total rather than just flying experience. The industry gets more pilots, and the flying public can rest assured that if airline pilots no longer know enough about flying planes, they at least have read books on the subject. Problem solved.
The president seems to be warming to goal-post shifting. On the eve of the latest Obamacare-repeal failure, he told reporters: “Eventually we’ll win, whether it’s now or later.” A loss is just a victory that has not yet materialized.
.. The State Department doesn’t need so many diplomats if it redefines its mission to remove such cumbersome goals as “democracy promotion.” Budget balancing becomes easier if you simply set projected annual growth at 3 percent rather than the 2 percent economists actually expect. And bankers can no longer be accused of favoring profits over a client’s best interests when there is no requirement that they do otherwise.
.. If you think about it broadly, there is no problem Trump can’t solve by redefinition... Trump’s “Make America Great Again” goal won’t hold up well when his supporters realize that coal, steel and heavy manufacturing jobs aren’t coming back. But what if he redefines greatness, not by the number of jobs but by the number of people who stand for the national anthem at football games?.. Greatness is within reach — if we define it down.