WASHINGTON, DC – US President Donald Trump and his Secretary of the Treasury, Steven Mnuchin, have promised an economic miracle. They argue that when the United States adopts their policies, it will consistently achieve annual economic growth above 3%, or even above 4%. After a year of being in charge, pushing hard on deregulation, and getting what it wanted in terms of tax cuts, how is the Trump team doing?
We are still in the early days, but the results so far have been disappointing. And the US’s medium-term prospects for sustained growth could be endangered if Trump pursues the policies he claims to want.
Trump has repeatedly argued that America’s overall economic performance in 2017 should be seen as the direct result of his policies, and he has made a big deal out of the third-quarter growth rate, which was initially reported as 3.3%, then revised down to 3.2%. Yet, in the fourth quarter, growth was down to 2.6%, and initial estimates suggest that overall growth for the year will not surpass 2.3%. That is lower than what was achieved under former President Barack Obama in 2014 (2.6%) and 2015 (2.9%).
In fact, under Obama, the quarterly growth rate surpassed 3% seven times, and even reached 4.6% on two occasions. From the third quarter of 2009, growth was positive in every quarter, save two. But not only was headline growth sturdy under Obama; his administration also presided over considerable job growth – the economy added more than two million jobs annually in seven out of his eight years in office – as well as falling unemployment and higher labor-force participation. Read More »
China has achieved much since 1978, when Deng Xiaoping initiated the transition to a market economy. In terms of headline economic progress, the pace of China’s transformation over the past 40 years is unprecedented. The country’s GDP grew by nearly 10% per year on average, while reshaping global trade patterns and becoming the second-largest economy in the world. This success lifted 800 million people out of poverty, and the mortality rate of children under five years old was halved between 2006 and 2015.
The question now is whether China, well positioned to become the world’s innovation leader, will realize that opportunity in 2018 or soon after.
China’s transformation has been underpinned by an unprecedented manufacturing boom. In 2016, China shipped more than $2 trillion worth of goods around the world, 13% of total global exports. It has also pursued economic modernization through massive infrastructure investment, including bridges, airports, roads, energy, and telecoms. In less than a decade, China built the world’s largest bullet train system, surpassing 22,000 kilometers (13,670 miles) in July 2017. Annual consumption is expected to rise by nearly $2 trillion by 2021, equivalent to adding another consumer market the size of Germany to the global economy.
Earlier this month, Apple CEO Tim Cook declared that, “China stopped being a low-labor-cost country many years ago, and that is not the reason to come to China.” The country’s manufacturing strengths now lie in its advanced production know-how and strong supply-chain networks. Understandably, China’s leadership wants to increase productivity and continue to move further up the value chain.
Most Americans tend to believe that they’ve lived under the same form of government, more or less, since the country was founded in late 1700s. They’re mistaken.
It’s true that there have been important continuities. The American conception of what government should and should not do is deeply rooted in clear thinking at the start of the republic; the country has long preferred limited government and effective constraints on capricious executive action. But this persistence of core ideas (and the consistent use of the same buildings in Washington, D.C.) obscures the dramatic changes that have taken place within the governing institutions themselves.
In fact, formidable challenges at the end of the 19th century were met by fashioning a transformation so thorough it could effectively be deemed a “Second Republic.” This new republic came with significantly different economic and political rules — and, as a result, enabled the American system to survive and even thrive for another century. Today, faced with serious economic and political dysfunction, we are in need of another round of deep institutional renewal: a Third Republic.
The conditions that brought about the first transformation of American society are strikingly similar to those we see today. At the root of the problems confronting the United States by 1900 was a wave of innovation that sped up growth. The direct benefits of these new technologies accrued to a few, while many others became more uncertain about their economic future.
What is gold? Is it the essential bedrock of fiscal prudence? Is it a political football, with fortunes and importance determined by far greater forces? Or is it a mere distraction at the margins of the global financial system — attracting a disproportionate number of scams and oddball political characters?
Gold in the American economic system has been all of these and in that order. James Ledbetter weaves a highly readable tale, literally from the origins of the republic to the dubious sponsors of Glenn Beck on Fox News (a brilliant concluding chapter). Too often, this kind of economic history becomes dry and even soporific. But Ledbetter — the editor of Inc. magazine — has a fine eye for personality and ideas; each of the 12 chapters puts you on the spot at a critical moment on the American journey with gold, with anecdotes nicely blended to create the broader historical context.
You can read it in chronological order or you can dip a toe in at any point, almost the ideal summer reading. Or — my favorite for this kind of tale — watch the story unfold backwards; start with the modern and familiar, and see how far you need to go back in time before it feels like you are watching something straight out of Marvel Comics, with big characters and motivations that now seem strange. The most compelling material explains how President Franklin D. Roosevelt reluctantly yet effectively — and with very good reason — ended the way gold had operated over the previous half century. But Operation Goldfinger is also highly entertaining — a 1960s public policy escapade, inspired by the James Bond movie.
The broader plot line is this. The American republic was initially bankrupt, a point that the hit musical Hamilton made more effectively than any middle school history lesson. A monetary system subsequently modeled on that of Britain included gold as an anchor of value for paper money and bank deposits. This system provided sufficient stability in good times — along with plenty of opportunity for financial speculation and shenanigans — and could also be suspended when circumstances dictated, most notably during the Civil War.
Harvard Kennedy School Senior Fellow Antonio Weiss
One of the central pillars of financial reform, the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC), is under political attack and at risk of coming undone.
In the past, the balkanized U.S. financial regulatory system has consistently failed to address risks that took root in its jurisdictional gaps. The FSOC was created to solve that problem, bringing regulators together to make sure they have the tools to protect the economy from financial crises. It is already making an important difference.
Unfortunately, earlier this month the House Financial Services Committee passed the Financial Choice Act (CHOICE Act), which threatens to reverse that progress. It would, for example, all but eliminate the FSOC’s ability to prevent the regrowth of an unsupervised shadow banking sector that might once again threaten our financial stability and economic resiliency. At the same time, the administration of President Donald Trump has signaled that it may use the council to pursue deregulation, rather than its core mandate of financial stability, and to reverse or limit its ability to designate systemically important non-banks for enhanced supervision. Meanwhile, MetLife Inc., the largest U.S. life insurer, recently asked the courts to delay ruling on an appeal filed by the Obama administration seeking to reinstate the firm’s designation as a systemically important institution requiring prudential oversight by the Federal Reserve. The Trump administration has agreed to put the appeal on hold.