Saturday, December 21, 2019

American economic success comes at a great cost

If Donald Trump is re-elected in 2020, it will be because the US economy is doing well. From GDP to unemployment to the stock markets, it seems incontestable that the US economy is going through a boom period, at least in general terms (the poor quality of the jobs being created, and the unequal distribution of the new wealth are matters for another blog). Trump, of course, maintains this is entirely down to him and his policies, although there is a good case to be made that he is to some extent still riding on the coattails of Barack Obama and the economic turnaround he achieved during his presidency.
Be that as it may, the elephant on the room is that it is not so hard to preside over a successful economy if you do away with most of the safeguards and regulations that have been instituted over the years to protect the environment, the longer-term health of the economy, and the social fabric of the country.
Trump rode to power promising to get rid of as many regulations as possible - what he characterizes as "red tape" that is strangling business, even though American business was actually doing very nicely thank you, even with the regulations - and he is doing a pretty "good" job on that score. Conpanies are, predictably, taking full advantage of the lack of regulation, and making hay (and profits) while the sun shines, the result being an apparently booming economy.
But those regulations were put there for a reason, even if not a reason that Trump would recognize. For example, if businesses do not have to pay or account for the environmental externalities of production, whether in terms of its carbon foorprint, pollution profile, or whatever else, then clearly it is much easier to make larger profits, to sell more abroad, and to generally appear successful. Other countries will see how well America appears to be doing and look to emulate its success, at the expense of their own environment, income equality and social safety net (looking at you, Canadian Conservative party). In a race to the bottom, ethics take a back seat to economics, and the world rapidly becomes a worse, more unsustainable and unstable place.
In addition, giving successful businesses tax cuts may encourage businessmen to fight even harder for higher profits, but if that comes at the expense of workers, they won't think twice. And, of course, less tax revenue means more national debt and/or cuts to government services, all of which gets overlooked in the simplistic GDP measurement we are used to: more hidden costs.
For all of this, we have Donald Trump to thank: for single-handedly lowering the tone of political debate, for making "caring" a dirty word, and for encouraging short-term profits at the expense of long-term sustainability. But, mark my words, those hidden costs will come home to roost eventually. Probably long after Mr. Trump is comfortably retired, but roost they most certainly will.

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