Is Trumponomics working? Not really.

So is Trumponomics working? With one significant caveat, the answer is no. For one thing, Trump’s trade policy is turning out to be worse than expected. For another, the growth surge mostly reflects a temporary sugar high from last December’s tax cut. Economists are already penciling in a recession for 2020.

.. At a time of toxic inequality and declining intergenerational mobility, inheritance taxes ought to be increased, but Trump cut them. However, the reduction in the corporate tax rate, coupled with incentives for businesses to invest more, has boosted spending on R&D, information technology and other machinery. Extra investment should make workers more productive. It might even shift U.S. growth to a higher trajectory.

.. you can’t rule out the possibility that the Trump investment incentives are hitting the economy just as a new wave of IT innovations is ripe for deployment.

.. The question is whether the expected productivity boost will outweigh the drag from the tax cut’s other consequence: a huge rise in federal debt.

.. The extra $1 trillion or so of federal debt will have to be serviced: Today’s sugary tax cuts imply tax hikes in the future. Likewise, the corporate investment incentives are temporary: They may simply bring investment forward, depriving tomorrow’s economy of its tech caffeine jolt.

.. many Wall Streeters expect a recession once the sugar high dissipates. The Tax Policy Center estimates that gross domestic product in 2027 will be the same as it would have been without the tax cut.

.. There will be no growth to compensate for extra inequality and debt.

.. And that is without considering the harm from Trump’s trade wars. In Europe, Trump has browbeaten U.S. allies and reserves the right to beat them up further; the only “gain” is a discussion of a new trade deal that was on offer anyway before Trump’s election. In the Americas, Trump has arm-twisted Mexico into accepting a new version of NAFTA that is worse than the old one, and demands that Canada sign on.

.. But the greatest damage stems from Trump’s trade war with China. His opening demand — that China abandon its subsidies for strategic high-tech industries — was never going to be met by a nationalistic dictatorship committed to industrial policy.

.. His bet that tariffs will drive companies to shift production to the United States is equally forlorn. If manufacturers pull out of China, they are more likely to go elsewhere in Asia.

And even if some manufacturing does come to the United States, this gain will be outweighed by the job losses stemming from Trump’s tariffs, which raise costs for industries that use Chinese inputs.

.. In short, Trump isn’t helping the American workers he claims to speak for. Instead, he is battering the rules-based international system that offers the best chance of constraining China.

.. do not be surprised if the populists are temporarily popular: Popularity is what they crave most, after all. But recall that, everywhere and throughout history, the populists’ folly is unmasked in the end.

Crushing it for whom, Mr. Kudlow?

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.

China Could Sell Trump the Brooklyn Bridge

Xi has been brilliant at playing Trump, plying him with flattery and short-term trade concessions and deflecting him from the real structural trade imbalances with China. All along, Xi keeps his eye on the long-term prize of making China great again. Trump, meanwhile, touts every minor victory as historic and proceeds down any road that will give him a quick sugar high.

What world are we in? One in which we’re going through three “climate changes” at once.

  1. We’re going through a change in the actual climate: Destructive weather events and the degradation of ecosystems are steadily accelerating.
  2. We’re going through a change in the “climate” of globalization: from an interconnected world to an interdependent one; from a world of walls, where you build your wealth by hoarding resources, to a world of webs, where you thrive by connecting your citizens to the most flows of ideas, trade, innovation and education.
  3. And, finally, we’re going through a change in the “climate” of technology and work: Machines are acquiring all five senses, and with big data and artificial intelligence, every company can now analyze, optimize, prophesize, customize, digitize and automatize more and more jobs, products and services.

.. while China hails globalization, it imposes a 25 percent tariff on imported cars (while America imposes only 2.5 percent) and 50-50 joint ventures and technology transfers for big companies that want to gain access to China’s giant market. But China gets away with it.

.. plowing government funds and research into commercializing 10 strategic industries while creating regulations and swiping intellectual property from abroad to make them all grow faster. These industries include

  1. electric vehicles,
  2. new materials,
  3. artificial intelligence,
  4. integrated circuits,
  5. biopharmacy,
  6. quantum computing,
  7. 5G mobile communications, and
  8. robotics.

.. And Trump? On the change in the climate, he’s promoting coal over clean energy, like wind and solar, and has appointed climate-change deniers to all of his key environmental posts. While China is run by engineers, Trump doesn’t even have a science adviser.

.. “This will be wounding to one of America’s gems,” its institutions of higher education, Drew Faust, the president of Harvard, said to me. And it’s basically being done to cut taxes for the wealthy.

.. the Chinese are focused on the giant winds of change, and Trump is betting on his gut and a grab bag of tax cuts based on no take on the world, other than dubious trickle-down economics.

.. When you don’t know where you’re going any tax cut will get you there, any replacement for Obamacare will get you there, any wall will get you there, any trade concession will get you there.

.. I’m certain our economic system is better than theirs — in theory.

But China, with its ability to focus, is getting 90 percent out of its inferior system, and it has brought China a long way fast. And we, with too little focus, are getting 50 percent out of our superior system.