Tag Archives: economists

Tariff Time…

Trump’s Tariffs went into effect last week, and the response from America’s trading  partners has been predictable–with one possible caveat. The targeted nations have responded by imposing their own tariffs, as expected–but they have also focused those retaliatory measures on goods produced in states that supported Trump. It’s an interesting gambit; we’ll see how it plays out.

The Republican Party used to be adamantly opposed to tariffs and trade wars, but the supine and complicit GOP Senators and Representatives currently serving have barely uttered a peep. It isn’t because they don’t know the dangers a trade war poses to the recovery we are currently enjoying–it’s because they must once again choose between the remaining shreds of their integrity and their business constituents, on the one hand, and the rabid Trump supporters who form a majority of the shrinking party’s base on the other.

As usual, Paul Krugman’s analysis of the political calculations involved is direct and on point. Krugman connects two very important dots: the longstanding Faustian bargain between big business and the GOP’s racist foot-soldiers, and the party’s war on expertise and evidence.

The imminent prospect of a trade war, it seems, concentrates the mind. Until very recently, big business and the institutions that represent its interests didn’t seem to be taking President Trump’s protectionist rhetoric very seriously. After all, corporations have invested trillions based on the belief that world markets would remain open, that U.S. industry would retain access to both foreign customers and foreign suppliers.

Trump wouldn’t put all those investments at risk, would he?

Yes, he would — and the belated recognition that his tough talk on trade was serious has spurred a flurry of action. Major corporations and trade associations are sending letters to the administration warning that its policies will cost more jobs than they create. Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has begun an advertising campaign to convince voters of the benefits of free trade.

As Krugman notes, there is a heaping pile of “just deserts” here; corporate America has played cynical politics for years and is reaping what it sowed.

What do I mean by cynical politics? Partly I mean the tacit alliance between businesses and the wealthy, on one side, and racists on the other, that is the essence of the modern conservative movement.

For a long time business seemed to have this game under control: win elections with racial dog whistles, then turn to an agenda of tax cuts and deregulation. But sooner or later something like Trump was going to happen: a candidate who meant the racism seriously, with the enthusiastic support of the Republican base, and couldn’t be controlled.

The nature of that alliance became abundantly clear to anyone paying attention in 2016. But Krugman’s other important point is still insufficiently appreciated.

When organizations like the Chamber of Commerce or the Heritage Foundation declare that Trump’s tariffs are a bad idea, they are on solid intellectual ground: All, and I mean all, economic experts agree. But they don’t have any credibility, because these same conservative institutions have spent decades making war on expertise.

The most obvious case is climate change, where conservative organizations, very much including the chamber, have long acted as “merchants of doubt,” manufacturing skepticism and blocking action in the face of overwhelming scientific consensus. Not to put too fine a point on it, it’s hard to pivot from “pay no attention to those so-called experts who say the planet is warming” to “protectionism is bad — all the experts agree.”

Similarly, organizations like Heritage have long promoted supply-side economics, a.k.a., voodoo economics — the claim that tax cuts will produce huge growth and pay for themselves — even though no economic experts agree. So they’ve already accepted the principle that it’s O.K. to talk economic nonsense if it’s politically convenient. Now comes Trump with different nonsense, saying “trade wars are good, and easy to win.” How can they convince anyone that his nonsense is bad, while theirs was good.

Krugman ends his analysis by pointing to another looming threat to business (and the rest of us): authoritarianism. As he notes, it isn’t simply world trade that’s at risk, but the rule of law. “And it’s at risk in part because big businesses abandoned all principle in the pursuit of tax cuts.”

Meanwhile, the experts who are scorned by this administration are weighing in on the likely consequences of Trump’s economic ignorance:

There’s no formal definition of what constitutes a trade war, but the escalating exchange of trade barriers between the United States and its trading partners has hit a point where most economists say there will be a negative impact. Companies will scale back on investments, growth will slow, consumers will pay more for some items, and there could be more job losses. The Federal Reserve warned Thursday some companies are already scaling back or postponing plans.

We all need to hang on tight, because when you give the keys of your economic vehicle to a guy who couldn’t pass the drivers’ test, your ride is likely to be something between bumpy and disastrous.

 

 

Shamelessness And The Tax Bill

Jennifer Rubin is a conservative columnist. Like many of the pundits on the political Right–and unlike most GOP members of Congress– she is intellectually honest. (Here in Indiana, Paul Ogden falls into that category; I often disagree with his conclusions, but I have a high degree of respect for his intellectual integrity.)

Rubin doesn’t mince words about the GOP’s single legislative “accomplishment.”

Republicans will knock a giant hole in the budget with a tax cut of $1.5 trillion, most of which goes to the rich and corporations. Rather than acknowledge their hypocrisy on the debt, they choose to misrepresent the facts.

She then provides a couple of examples, one an exchange between George Stephanopolous and  Mitch McConnell, and one between Senator Susan Collins–ostensibly the Senate’s only GOP moderate–and Chuck Todd on Meet the Press. Forgive the length of this quote, but I think it is important not to summarize or characterize.

CHUCK TODD: Alright, if the debt is unsustainable at $14 trillion, how do you, how did you make yourself comfortable voting for something that’s going to increase the deficit? This tax bill we’re at 20.6 trillion now and the best estimates saying it’s going to even the best estimates of dynamic scoring that we could still find still add half a trillion dollars to the deficit.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: Economic growth produces more revenue and that will help to offset this tax cut and actually lower the debt.

CHUCK TODD: Where’s the evidence? Where, explain to me. Find a, find a study that actually says what you’re claiming.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: Let me–

CHUCK TODD: It doesn’t exist.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: Let me do that. First of all if you take the C.B.O.’s formula and apply it four to four tenths of one percent increase in the GDP generates revenues of a trillion dollars, a trillion dollars. Even the joint committee on taxation has projected that the tax bill would stimulate the economy to produce hundreds of billions of additional revenue. I’ve talked four economists, including the Dean of the Columbia School of Business and former chairs of the councils of economic advisors and they believe that it will have this impact. So I think if we can stimulate the economy, create more jobs that that does generate more revenue.

CHUCK TODD: But why isn’t there a single study? I’m going to show you three studies that we have, sort of a liberal one, a centrist one, and a conservative one right up there. The most conservative one, the most pro-economic growth argument, still adds $516 billion to the deficit over ten years.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: Well, talk to economists like Glenn Hubbard and Larry Lindsey and Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who used to be head of the C.B.O. And they will tell you otherwise. So I think you will find that economists just don’t agree on this.

Jennifer Rubin then did what credible reporters do; she contacted the quoted economists, who told her that they had not made the statements Collins attributed to them. Both Hubbard and Holtz-Eakin said they’d told Collins that the measures would “offset but not eliminate the static budget loss.”

After confirming that even conservative Republican economists deny that the tax cuts will come close to paying for themselves, Rubin writes

This raises the question as to whether Collins and McConnell misunderstand the advice they get, choose to cherry-pick what they are given or simply don’t want to fess up that they’ve abandoned fiscal sanity in search of a political win and to soothe donors. The most generous interpretation is that they are operating with unsupportable optimism that these cuts will do something no other tax cuts have ever done– pay for themselves.

They didn’t “misunderstand.” They’re shameless and they’re lying. As Talking Points Memo reports, economists and former government officials all predict the bill will drive up the federal deficit, shrink and destabilize the health care market, make our already historic income inequality worse, and–worst of all–give Congress cover to do what Paul Ryan and his ilk have long wanted to do:  make deep cuts to the social safety net and government programs.

I’ve said it before: I don’t know how these people sleep at night.