Like most of my fellow Bereans, I would wish for a different outcome for president. Yet I awoke on Wednesday with some political hope for the first time in eight years. Yes, there are significant dangers, and Mr. Trump will likely provide more embarrassment than usual. But perhaps politics will follow the fundamental rule of finance, that risk equals reward.
Considering his economics, I have both lauded and condemned Mr. Trump. On the laudatory side, he rightly has questioned the Fed’s low-interest rate policy, he correctly notes the strangling regulatory approach of the the Obama administration, and he is correct–in my view–to question the benefits of the administration’s climate change agenda. And yes, Obamacare is a disaster–especially so for lower-skilled laborers. Finally, he correctly notes the dangers of the buildup of the national debt. True, his plans don’t add up to make it better (do any politicians really?) but now the rubber hits the road and he’ll have to meet the budget realities. On the negative side is his stance on trade and his belief that yet more infrastructure spending will somehow fix the economy. So why am I on net very optimistic? Because the most important things to do are the easiest to do, and the most harmful Trumponomics are very difficult to do.
On day one, Mr. Trump has promised to undo Mr. Obama’s outrageous executive orders. He has the power and possibly the will to withstand the flack and just do it. He has requested a special session of congress to repeal and replace Obamacare. He has no plan to do so–but Mr. Ryan the House republicans have several ideas to choose from. This is tough, but doable in my mind if he’ll spend the political capital and get it done. He has pledged to get rid of Dodd-Frank. This is tougher still, since its arcane and the American people don’t see the hidden problems it imposes on our economy. This will be easier for the democrat’s and their media allies to attack. He has promised to fix the corporate tax system, which everyone knows is broken, and both democrats and republicans know what to do (lower the rate and broaden the base), but he can get it done. This should bring a large amount of capital back to the U.S. And he can put his own people in charge of the Department of Labor and the EPA. These swamps will be especially hard to drain, but should at least stop the growth of leviathan. He has promised to can the EPA’s rule on coal fired electricity plants. I consider all of these huge economic boons. We’ve been living with 2 to 2.5% growth because of the poor policy choices of the Obama administration. I don’t buy the “secular stagnation” thesis, and think we can grow significantly faster. Every one of our economic challenges–and there are many–will be easier to deal with if we are committed to growing.
For trade, even if we have acquiescence from the Congress, changing NAFTA is not going to be an easy task. Given the integration of production operations for many industries, he can’t just rescind it. I suspect he’ll publicly have some negotiations with our trading partners, but at the end of the day not much will change here. We might even add Great Britain now that Brexit is here. TPP is dead (at least for the near term), but that just means we won’t get the benefits that we could have had. We actually have worse problems in Asia, such as what will happen when China implodes from their bubble bursting? So I think if we get the economy moving again with the positive things of Mr. Trump’s early agenda, it will lessen the populist furor over free trade. So I’m actually hopeful on net. And I think that is what we’re seeing in markets.
So today, I’m just a little bit more sanguine about the future. And it feels really good to have a bit of economic optimism for a change.