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Donald Trump’s America in Structural Rehab

3/12/2017 Anant Goel & Alan Kyle Goel

Donald Trump fits well in the theories of Colin Wilson, the British pop philosopher, who published his debut book ‘The Outsider’ when he was 25?

The Outsider…

Wilson advanced his thesis that the ‘Outsider’ – the social misfit, the maverick thinker, the heretic – were mutants who foretell the birth of a new consciousness which would transform humanity. Using the name of one of Hesse’s novel, ‘Steppenwolf’, the half animal half human, Wilson argued that we were the first species ever to have reached the stage where we could consciously take charge of the evolutionary process as propounded by Darwin. The Outsider was a Steppenwolf within which was a potential Nietzchean superman struggling to emerge.

In the context of today’s politics, both Donald Trump and Modi of India are being referred to as ‘Outsiders’.

Modi, the most famous chaiwala in history, has projected his humble origins to place himself outside the charmed circle of the Delhi Durbar, as represented by the patrician Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.

Similarly, the billionaire property tycoon antagonized the privileged class of the Washington Beltway, a market positioning which largely helped him win over resentful voters who mistrust the political elite, as exemplified by the Clinton clan.

Both Trump and Modi operate outside the norms and conventions of diplomacy and protocol, and appear to take delight in doing so.

Outsiders Call for Structural Changes…

Modi’s thunderbolt demonetization thumbed its nose at not only the authority and autonomy of the Reserve Bank of India but also at basic economic common sense. The logic – or, rather, illogic – behind the move changed its tune multiple times. Demonetization was about getting rid of black money. No, it was an antidote to counterfeit currency being pumped into our economy by Pakistan. No, it was about helping stressed banks become flush with funds which would make them lower interest rates which in turn would stimulate growth. No, no, it was actually pro-poor and a means to ensure rural uplift. Whew.

Trump’s plan to wall-off Mexico, his off-the-cuff telephonic conversations with various heads of government, his accusations against the media, his America First policy, his Drain the Swamp crusade and his own intelligence services – all display the same act-first-think-later as does Modi’s demonetization.

Both Modi and Trump are given to making messianic – end often totally off the mark – pronouncements on a wide range of subjects, be it on the technological marvels of ancient India or how to make America great again by throwing out as many [illegal] immigrants as possible.

Thanks to the larger-than-life images they’ve created of themselves, both Trump and Modi enjoy a following of fanatical devotees who are totally impervious to any form of rhyme or reason which questions the infallibility of their respective idols, dark horse outsiders who against the odds have become champion winners.

The New Caesars...

The rise of national-populists across the world points to new challenges for democracy. Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Modi etc — embodied the triumph of national-populism, and, to some extent, authoritarianism. Last month, one of The Economist’s cover stories highlighted the advent of “The new nationalism” in the world.

While each national situation is specific, these new Caesars share common features illustrating different facets. However, they have all conquered power by contesting elections. While de-democratization is the order of the day globally, coups d’etat are not staging any comeback, elections remaining essential to political legitimacy.

What are Structural Reforms

WHAT CAN governments do to power economic growth? Most economists believe that governments need to help markets work efficiently: enforcing contracts, resolving insolvencies, hooking up firms to the power grid, and the like. The World Bank has an annual ranking of how efficient governments are: the latest tables were released in October. In many countries governments make it tough to do business: in Madagascar it can take a business well over a year to get electricity.

The Economist often recommends “structural reform” as one cure for economic ills. But what exactly do they mean?

At its simplest, structural reforms imply changes to the way the government works. It is helpful to look at an extreme example, such as Ukraine, to understand this. Ukraine’s economy is in a mess: it is one of the world’s most corrupt countries. But it is trying to improve. For instance, in recent months the government has forced its ministers to declare their financial interests. That will make it more difficult for bent politicians to award cozy government contracts to firms in which they are investors. The hope, instead, is that contracts will be awarded to the most efficient firm, which will improve the quality of public services and lower their cost. The government has also scrapped bizarre loopholes in its procurement rules, which are a massive source of corruption.

But most structural reforms are more subtle. Take Italy. Matteo Renzi, the Italian prime minister, has promised all sorts of change. Labor markets have become a little more flexible: firms can now hire up to 20% of their workforces on fixed-term contracts of up to three years. And energy prices have fallen: the government is helping to reduce electricity prices for small and medium-sized companies in an attempt to make them more competitive.

France needs to follow suit. Today, for instance, it is illegal to sell aspirin—a pretty harmless drug—in the majority of French supermarkets. The French government is planning to simplify labor laws: it is loosening rules governing "works councils" (organizations representing workers) in companies. It also wants to force people claiming unemployment benefit to be seeking jobs more "actively"—it reckons the requirements for unemployment benefits are too slack at the moment.

How Structural Reforms may work in difficult Times…

These are really difficult times- difficult not only from economic point of view, but also difficult from political and social perspective. The state of flux, unprecedented national debt and preponderance of terror has made life uncertain. Despite the consensus that structural reforms boost employment and productivity in the medium to long run, relatively little is known about the adjustment path to the new equilibrium as supply, demand and Democratic Party resistance to reforms affect. A natural concern is that some reforms have adverse short-run impacts on GDP, especially if conducted under weak macroeconomic conditions. Such concern is reinforced if the availability and effectiveness of monetary and fiscal policies to alleviate the adverse impacts of reforms are limited. Impacts of structural reforms do affect the real economy in the near term and we argue that even during unfavorable cyclical conditions with limited support from monetary or fiscal policies, smart packaging and prioritization of structural reforms can lift growth in the short run.

America Needs Structural Reforms to Reduce Debt and Restore Growth

America’s future is in jeopardy. Since World War II, the average rate of growth in real (inflation-adjusted) income (Gross Domestic Product, or GDP) per capita was 2.1 percent. At about that pace of growth, the average income would double in 35 years. Put differently, in the course of less than one person’s working life, the standard of living would double. One car could become two. One child’s chance to go to college could open up to the whole family. Two spouses at work could turn into only one, with more time with the family for the other. The opportunity is enormous.

Unfortunately, since 2007, the rate has slowed to a meager 0.7 percent. This is a recipe for diminished opportunity. At that pace, it takes 99 years for incomes to double. More than two working lives will be needed to achieve the same increase in the standard of living that once was experienced in a lifetime. Given the economic turbulence of the post-2007 era, one might expect the bad news to be transitory. So it is even more troubling that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that long run growth per capita will recover to only 1.3 percent over the next 10 years. The poor growth outlook is a direct threat to Americans’ future.

The poor growth outlook is also a threat to the nation’s fiscal strength. The CBO forecasts that federal deficits will total another $7.6 trillion in the next decade and the federal debt will continue to climb from $13 trillion to $21 trillion.

Finally, because it exacerbates the debt problem, the poor economic growth outlook is a threat to our security. According to Admiral Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: “I’ve said many times that I believe the single, biggest threat to our national security is our debt, so I also believe we have every responsibility to help eliminate that threat.”

Donald Trump’s Structural Reform of America

Fortunately, this is the mission ‘outsider’ President Trump and his administration seek to take as challenge. Americans need not be condemned to this dismal economic outlook. To take advantage of this opportunity will require Donald Trump’s no holds barred style of leadership, a new approach to policy, and better policies themselves.

Leadership is the key. At its core, long-run economic growth is driven by the willingness to sacrifice in the present — no Twinkies, no T-shirts, no tanks, no television — in order to devote those dollars to higher skills, bigger production facilities, development of new technologies, advanced machinery, modernized infrastructures and other investments in the ability to produce more and better. Put simply, to sustain growth any nation has to make sacrifices in the present.

Most politicians recoil from this idea with the result that much of federal policy making is driven by the desire to act like the sugar plum fairy of the past administration under Obama’s reign. It will require strong leadership [of Donald Trump] to appeal to majority voters and other elected officials on behalf of the nation’s future.

Non Event efforts of past Structural Reform by Obama Administration…

A leadership of vision and discipline [like Donald Trump’s] will be necessary to change the style of policy to reduce debt and produce better growth. Facilitating economic growth is more a philosophy than a specific piece of legislation. It is a commitment at every juncture in the policy process to evaluate tradeoffs among social goals, environmental goals, political backers’ goals and economic growth — and err on the side of growth. The Obama administration championed a new health care law [Obamacare] that raised $700 billion in new taxes and created two new entitlements at a time when the spending-swollen federal debt was already exploding. The Obama White House also chose social objectives over growth. It unleashed the Environmental Protection Agency, choosing a green agenda over growth. It launched the National Labor Relations Board on a union agenda at odds with growth.

The second flaw─ that Trump administration is hell bent to fix─ is Obama policy approaches with its misguided reliance on temporary, targeted piecemeal policy making. Even if one believed that counter cyclical fiscal policy (“stimulus”) could be executed precisely and had multiplier effects, it is time to learn by experience that this strategy is not working. Checks to households (the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008), the gargantuan stimulus bill in 2009 (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act), “cash for clunkers” (the Car Allowance Rebate System), tax credits for home buyers (the Federal Housing Tax Credit and the HIRE Act, consisting of a $13 billion payroll hiring credit, expensing of certain investments, and $4.6 billion for schools and energy), the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010, and the state-local bailout Public Law 111-226 ($10 billion for education, $16 billion for Medicaid) have all failed to generate growth. However, all such efforts increased the national debt by over $10 trillion dollars in the last 8 years.

Core Structural Reforms Expected under Trump Administration…

The policy regime of macroeconomic fiscal (and monetary) fine-tuning backfired in the 1960s and 1970s, leaving behind high inflation and chronically elevated unemployment, and it is working no better in the 21st century. Instead, there should be a commitment to reducing the federal budget deficit and raising the long-term growth rate of the economy through permanent reforms.

What kinds of permanent structural reforms are proposed by Trump Administration?

There are a lot of potential candidates but few of these will ensure that the 21st century is the second great American century:

  1. entitlement reforms to make the social safety net sustainable, pare down the federal debt, and reduce its economic drag;
  2. modernize the tax code to eliminate distortions and raise international competitiveness;
  3. bring a 21st century immigration system built on principles of economic policy;
  4. transform the embarrassing and under performing U.S. K-12 education system;
  5. clean out the regulatory overgrowth that limits U.S. economic flexibility and dynamism; and
  6. Drain the Swamp of Washington corruption, down size government, and eradicate influence peddling and lobbying.

What to Expect…

Entitlement & Healthcare Reform

Begin with entitlement reform. The policy problem facing the United States is that spending exceeds any reasonable level of taxation for the indefinite future. There is a mini-industry devoted to producing alternative numerical estimates of this mismatch, but the diagnosis of the basic problem is not complicated and leaves bare the prescription for action. The budget problem is primarily a spending problem and correcting it requires reductions in the growth of large mandatory spending programs—Social Security and federal health programs.

Since 2010, Social Security has been in cash-flow deficit. There are even larger deficits and future growth in outlays associated with Medicare, Medicaid, and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). These share the demographic pressures that drive Social Security, but include the persistent increase in health care spending per person in the United States.

Any informed observer, especially credit market participants, can recognize these trends. Improving the outlook for entitlement spending would send a valuable signal to these observers and improve the economic outlook. The spending future outlined above represents a direct impediment to job creation and growth. The United States is courting further downgrades as a sovereign borrower and a commensurate increase in borrowing costs. Any sharp rise in interest rates would have dramatically negative economic impacts, equaling or exceeding the experience of late-2008.

Businesses, entrepreneurs and investors must also consider the future deficits as an implicit promise of higher taxes, higher interest rates, or both. For any employer contemplating locating in the United States or expanding existing facilities and payrolls, rudimentary business planning reveals this to be an extremely unpalatable environment.

In short, entitlement reform is a pro-growth policy move at this juncture. Our research at the American Action Forum indicates that the best strategy to both grow the economy and eliminate deficits is to keep taxes low and reduce public employee costs and transfer payments.

Tax Reform

With the size of the government contained by entitlement reform, the next step is to overhaul and modernize the U.S. tax code. Essential elements of that overhaul are lower rates on business income — both corporate and non-corporate, a competitive system of taxing overseas income, and broad elimination of distortionary tax preferences.

The types of reforms that generate beneficial economic effects extend past reducing the corporate tax rate to include repealing the corporate AMT, making the R&D tax credit permanent and exempting 95 percent of foreign source dividends. At the same time, one could improve work incentives by simplifying individual income tax rate brackets (recent proposals have suggested two brackets of 10 and 25 percent) and excluding a substantial portion of dividends and capital gains from taxation.

Immigration Reform

Step three is to recognize that immigration reform can raise population growth, labor force growth, and thus growth in GDP. In addition, immigrants inject entrepreneurialism into the U.S. economy. New entrepreneurial vigor embodied in new capital and consumer goods promises a higher standard of living. A better and more open immigration system could thus raise the pace of economic growth substantially and reduce the cumulative federal deficit.

Education System Reform

The next step is to acknowledge that education in America is a disgrace. Tests scores in primary and secondary school remain flat, high school dropout rates are still distressingly high, and growth in college graduation rates has bogged down.

Furthermore, our nation shows regular gaps in achievement between wealthy and low wealth students. Regardless of often having better than average funding, poor neighborhoods usually lack great teachers. There is as well a shamefully predictable gap in achievement based on race and ethnicity that persists. On average, students of color have a much lower, 50 percent likelihood of graduating. Of those students of color who do graduate, they typically exit high school with the functional equivalent of an 8th or 9th grade education. This feeds an embarrassingly persistent and worsening gap between our students’ performance and that of students in the rest of the industrialized world. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that in 2006, America ranked 25th out of 30 industrialized countries in math and 24th in science.

In the past, only parents with enough money could choose a school outside their government assignment — and money can still buy escape. However, around the “assigned sector” of public education, there is a whole other world slowly emerging. Increasingly, there are more choices in the public sector that families can access, among them public charter schools and access to private schools with scholarship or tax credit support.

The tragedy is that the government near-monopoly has prevented these new choices from being fully implemented and throwing open doors to the students that need them most. While thousand of parents have accessed choice programs immediately as they become available, thousands more sit on waiting lists while their children and their hopes languish. Better options driven by parental choice can expand as quickly as we can provide them the students and the resources to do so.

Regulatory Reform

The final step is a new approach to regulation. The recent rapid increase in burdensome regulations comes at a considerable cost to American businesses, consumers, workers, and the economy in general. In 2013 the federal government imposed over $113 billion in compliance costs and an estimated 67 million net paperwork burden hours on American individuals and businesses. These costs take a real toll on employment: just $1 billion in additional regulatory compliance costs are associated with a 3.6 percent decline in industry employment. The cumulative effect of regulation is significant, and therefore policymakers should take existing regulatory burdens into account when writing new rules. A comprehensive re-evaluation of existing regulations, starting with the most burdensome, duplicative, and costly, should be undertaken to limit the negative impact on employment and prosperity. 

Drain the Swamp

Drain the Swamp of Washington corruption, down size government, and eradicate influence peddling and lobbying.

America First

This is a phenomenon that has never been seen in the history of America and World Reaction to Trump’s 'America First' Policy is intriguing and worth a second look.

Trade Reform and Economic ROI

The Trump administration will reverse decades of conciliatory trade policy. New trade agreements will be negotiated that provide for the interests of US workers and companies first. All partnerships and relationships will be reviewed and modified with best possible ROI for America.

National Debt, budget deficit and poor economic growth are the great threat at this moment. But an aggressive no holds barred management with a new strategy for better growth is the great opportunity for the future.

[Curated content based on excerpts from posts, blogs, media articles, and sponsored research]

Unprecedented: Trump's first cabinet meeting online. [watch below]
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