Election 2016

Why Are We Expecting the Next President To Fix the Economy?

We should be demanding only that they don't keep screwing it up.

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Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both won big last night in New York's presidential primaries. They might not have all that much in common but their supporters do. Fully 92 percent of Republican voters said they were "worried about the economy," while 87 percent of Democrats agreed.

According to CNN exit polls, fully 36 percent of GOP voters said "the economy" was their top issue. After that came "government spending" at 28 percent and "terrorism" at 23 percent. Immigration was a distant fourth, with just 9 percent of Republicans citing it as their top concern. Even among Trump voters specifically, immigration did not rate highly, with most saying they worried about terrorism (63 percent), government spending (57 percent), and the economy (54 percent). 

CNN didn't ask exactly the same questions of Democratic voters but when it came to top issues, "economy/jobs" topped the list of concerns at 38 percent, followed by income inequality (26 percent), health care (18 percent), and terrorism (15 percent). For Clinton voters, the breakdown was terrorism (68 percent), health care (62 percent), economy/jobs (61 percent), and income inequality (44 percent).

While it's understandable that concerns that are either directly or indirectly related to the economy dominate voters' minds, it's far less clear what presidential candidates can promise that will energize the economy in any sort of quick fashion. We know, for instance, that Barack Obama's much-touted stimulus plan back in 2009 failed to hit its targets (and we know that George Bush's 2008 tax-stimulus accomplished nothing other than driving up national debt a bit more). For all of his businessman bravura, Trump's economic pronouncements revolve mostly around squeezing more coin out of trade partners, rather than actually increasing economic activity. Clinton is even worse on this score, pushing for a continuation of Obama's policies and jacking up spending on various programs that don't even qualify as make-work operations. Like all the canddidates, Trump and Clinton have tax plans that will, their adherents claim, goose economic activity like a noseful of methamphetamine. We should all be skeptical.

If the Obama years—and the Bush years before them—should have taught us anything, it's that government activity is far less more likely to dampen or undercut economic activity than embolden it. The long, still-ongoing slog against mandatory health insurance infused an already shaky economy with massive amounts of uncertainty. How much was any of this really going to cost employers? That's still a question that hasn't been answered very well, but it can't be helping the job market. Toss on top of that major regulations emanating from Dodd-Frank (again, not yet fully implemented). And before that, all the mega regs and activities of the Bush years (Sarbanes-Oxley, whose onerous accounting rules are credited with sending IPOs to London and elswhere; dumb war after dumb war; and more). In the 21st century alone, we've lived through two big recessions and two slow-moving, "jobless recoveries" where unemployment scrapes 4 percent or 5 percent while nobody feels like they're getting ahead. Maybe we're just jaded after decades of 3 percent annual economic growth. Or maybe the difference between us being happy and angry resides in that 1 percentage point between 2 and 3.

Here's something that politicians, especially those running for president, might do that would help our long-term economic prospects: restrain government spending. Nobody is really talking anymore about the correlation between national debt and long-term economic growth. That's probably because even the critics of "debt overhang" theorists Carmen Reinhart, Kenneth Rogoff, and Vincent Reinhart agree that high debt loads (such as those seen in Japan and other advanced economies) and low or nonexistent growth rates go together like the Titanic and icebergs.

If voters in New York are at all representative (hmm, let's ask Ted Cruz), we are at least interersted in questions about government spending. High level of debt, goes the theory, spook economies because people know that at some point the gravy train is going to run off the track and taxpayers will see benefit cuts, tax increases, or, most likely, a combination of both. So how about a presidential debate or town hall or iron-cage match in which the candidates tell us fewer fairy tales about how they will light a fire under the economy by giving their constituents more money and inform us about how they will stop throwing blankets on our economic activity and will deal with something they can control: How much the government spends this year and the next and the one(s) after that?

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  1. In summary: what difference, at this point, does it make?

  2. I demand an alt text contest immediately!

    “Nice pearl necklace, Hill. Bill give it to you?”

    1. Those aren’t pearls, she’s extruding egg-cases.

    2. “I will not take your wife.”

    3. C’mon man, it’s too early to put images like that into my head.

  3. If the Obama years?and the Bush years before them?should have taught us anything, it’s that government activity is far less likely to dampen or undercut economic activity than embolden it.

    ?Qu

    1. I noticed that too.

      He stated it backwards.

      1. Is that why Elf slyly used a backupwards question mark in his challenge?

        1. No. I was culturally appropriating the Spanish language.

          1. Yes, but of all the languages you could have appropriated, you appropriated the one with the backupwards question mark.
            I still think you are sly.

            1. To the extent I plan on moving to a Spanish-speaking country to lower my taxable income while maintaining a reasonable standard of living, maybe so.

              I’m not clear on whether speaking Spanish will count as cultural appropriation or not speaking Spanish will count as cultural disrespect. It’s all so baffling.

              1. I’d just label it a good plan. And definitely speak the local language.

              2. Don’t gyp your business relations or welsh on any bets and I’m sure you’ll do fine.

                1. As a Welsh gypsy I am offended.

                2. Right, and don’t be an indian-giver.

              3. Which Spanish speaking country are you thinking about? I’ve spent a lot of time in a number of them.

      2. He stated it backwards.

        No, no, no. You’re doing it wrong:

        “This is incontrovertible proof that Gillespie is just a secret prog-tard pretending to be a libertarian for a paycheck. How else do you explain the fact that he never says anything negative about Hillary or Bernie and is always attacking Trump. And he’s not alone. I have here a list of names of reason contributors who are secret prog-tards (hint: it’s all of them. Or at least all the ones that have published anything critical of Trump … which is all of them).” /Yokel

        1. Too long. Correct: Cocktail partiezz!!

    2. Ha-ha, he accidentally said what he really thinks. It’s the writer’s version of a political gaffe.

  4. Even among Trump voters specifically, immigration did not rate highly, with most saying they worried about terrorism (63 percent), government spending (57 percent), and the economy (54 percent).

    For a number of voters, immigration encompasses the other three worries.

    1. TDB*

      *true dat, bitch

  5. While I agree with you on the substance, the politics demand that a candidate promise to take affirmative action to improve our lives, and not merely promise to stay out of the way. Furthermore, to the extent that people’s lives aren’t going the way they want, they don’t view themselves as the problem, but rather it’s someone ‘else’ that is conspiring to screw them over… and in such situations, a candidate has to promise to go after these villains.

    1. And the politics is predicated on the general public being economic morons.

      1. That’s why government sponsored education gives you one semester of economics out of the 12 years you are there. It is much more important that we can tell the difference between a trapezoid and a rhombus, than be able to balance a checkbook, do taxes, etc.

        1. If you think the people who can’t balance a checkbook or do their taxes can tell you the difference between a trapezoid and a rhombus, I have a bridge to sell you.

          The idea that the problem with government education is too much emphasis on math is absurd.

          1. In fact, the idea that the problem with government education is curricular priorities between broad subjects is also absurd.

            The problem isn’t that people are being taught about rhombuses and trapezoids, or about Shakespeare and Chaucer. The problem is that people aren’t being taught anything at all.

            1. They are taught obedience to the State, and that is the point.

      2. The general public ARE economic morons. A friend of mine, former CFO of a public company and relatively conservative, said that the stimulus program worked. When I asked him how he knew that he said “We’re still here.”

        1. That’s pretty bad, but I can top it. I was criticizing the stimulus program to a coworker a while back. (We wrote about government stuff, including grants, so it was of professional interest.) I basically said it was a big waste of money. His retort? If it created “one job,” it was worth it.

          This for a bill that spent $800 billion. That is one helluva expensive job.

  6. How could heathcare and particular be a concern, Obama fixed all that.

  7. I hope the next president fixes the economy because I am stupid and expect people who are smarter than I am to make decisions for me.

    1. And yet somehow you’re smart enough to look at a pile of diseased excrement and determine which turd is the right one to make said decisions for you and everyone else in your arbitrary geographical region. DEMOCRACY IS BAE

    2. I just want a President who will DO SOMETHING!!!

      1. I want a President who will promise to do something (to get elected) – THEN DO NOTHING.

  8. “. . . government activity is far less likely to dampen or undercut economic activity than embolden it.”

    Wut?

  9. “. . . go together like the Titanic and icebergs”

    Is this a ‘correlation does not equal causation’ joke?

  10. It is good that people who identify as republican think vanishing economic opportunity is a more pressing worry than your infinitesimal chances of a violent death at the hands of one specific type of malefactor. Although it is a well known fact that the victims of terrorists are, on average, twice as dead as people who die in accidental plane crashes.

    1. It’s also good that people who identify as Democrat think the fact that some people make “too much” money is more important than healthcare.

    2. It is also a well known fact that government doesn’t create economic opportunity.

      1. It seems to create some for politicians and their cronies, so there’s that.

        1. The people who write, interpret, and enforce the rules get filthy rich. The rest of us get screwed. Think Ancient Rome with better bread and circuses.

        2. Substitute the word “steal” for “create” in your comment and you’d be correct.

    3. “It’s sad that governments are chiefed by the double tongues. There is iron in your words of death for all Comanche to see, and so there is iron in your words of life. No signed paper can hold the iron. It must come from men. The words of Ten Bears carries the same iron of life and death. It is good that warriors such as we meet in the struggle of life… or death. It shall be life.”

  11. I’m not expecting shit – that way I won’t be disappointed.

    1. THIS JUST IN! Shit still occupies more volume more than wishes. Voters undeterred.

    2. I’m expecting wall-to-wall shit. In the unlikely event I’m wrong, any surprises will therefore be pleasant ones.

  12. Doesn’t that expectation indicate the average voter knows little about the state of the economy and how our government system works?

  13. Nonintervention in the economy and a simplification/elimination of the tax code are the best prescription. Good luck with that.

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  15. Why Are We Expecting the Next President To Fix the Economy?

    Who’s “we?” I think the majority of us H&R’ers aren’t. Other people are because they’re fucking morons.

    1. Maybe it’s the royal “we” and Nick is talking to himself?

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  17. Nick, the President is the Father Mother of the Nation. His Her word is Law, so if he she wills it, so shall it be.

  18. Can’t wait for trump to win. Putin and Trump. For the sake of the new super-group, the alt-right..

    Bow.

  19. We in America (and throughout the West) have been comprehensively groomed and programmed over time toward acceptance of our identity as “human resources” whose value and purpose is practically defined by our usefulness to the various machines, factories and enterprises operated by those that own, among other things, the United States government. As such, we’ve been made oddly and painfully vulnerable to developments like robots taking jobs that were once (and will for a little while longer be) filled by appropriately programmed government school product.
    http://www.firebreathingchrist…..ives/12698

  20. Free trade agreements have decimated the base of American manufacturing by off-shoring jobs and factories, fueling the import of cheap foreign-made (and sometimes deadly) products. A free trade agreement is nothing more than trade heavily regulated by unaccountable regional governmental bodies that operate outside of the American judicial system. The global power elites view multilateral free trade agreements as one of their main vehicles for establishing, step by step, socialistic regional governments controlled by themselves as steppingstones toward a socialistic global government under the United Nations. Take action today to tell Congress to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
    http://www.jbs.org/issues-page…..ade-agenda

    1. Umm, manufacturing employment has been declining since 1943.

      See:

      http://mungowitzend.blogspot.c…..rings.html

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  22. The president does have discretionary spending powers. At the very least he could use better discretion than the one we have now. Also, he should be presenting a budget to congress. A new one could do a much better job. Presidents can help or hurt.

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