It’s not clear to me whether Mr. Trump’s macroeconomic policy forms a coherent whole (so far it doesn’t seem to). I’m not sure either whether, or how well, he understands the implications of the steps he’s taking.
The major thrusts:
Late last year, the Trump administration passed an income tax bill. It had three main parts:
–reduction in the top corporate tax rate from 35% (highest in the world) to 21% (about average). This should have two beneficial effects: it will stop tax inversions, the process of reincorporating in a foreign low-tax country by cash-rich firms; and it removes the rationale for transferring US-owned intellectual property to the same tax-shelter destinations so that royalties will also be lightly taxed.
–large tax cuts for the wealthiest US earners, continuing the tradition of “trickle down” economics (which posits that this advantage will somehow be transmitted to everyone else)
–failure to eliminate special interest tax breaks, or adopting any other means for offsetting revenue lost to the IRS from the first two items.
Because of this last, the tax bill is projected to add $1 trillion + to the national debt over time. Also, since the reductions aren’t offset by additional taxes elsewhere, the tax cuts represent a substantial net stimulus to the US economy.
This might have been very useful in 2009, when the US was in dire need of stimulus. Today, however, with the economy at full employment and expanding at or above its long-term potential, the extra boost to the economy is potentially a bad thing, It ups the chances of overheating. We need only look back to the terrible experience of runaway inflation the late 1979s to see the danger–something which would require a sharp increase in interest rates to curtail.
Arguably, the new income tax regime gives the Fed extra confidence to continue to raise interest rates back up to out-of-intensive-care levels. More than that, the tax cut bill seems to me to demand that the Fed continue to raise rates. Oddly–and worryingly, Mr. Trump has begun to jawbone the Fed not to do so. That’s even though the current Fed Funds rate is still about 100 basis points below neutral, and maybe 150 bp below what would be appropriate for an economy as strong as this. Again this raises the specter of the political climate of the 1970s, when over-easy money policy was used for short-term political advantage …and of the 20%+ interest rates needed in the early 1980s to undo fiscal and monetary policy mistakes.
This is a real head-scratcher.
The Constitution gives Congress control over trade, not the executive branch of government. One exception–Congress has delegated its power to the president to act in emergency cases where national security is threatened. Mr. Trump argues (speciously, in my view) that there can be no national security if the economy is weak. Therefore, every trade action is a case of national security. In other words, this emergency power gives the president complete control over all trade matters. What’s odd about this state of affairs is that so far Congress hasn’t complained.