The Wizard of Odd – Trump Edition
Two years ago I wrote an article that poked fun at President Obama’s notion that America’s economy was strong and that it would adapt to the global economy. Since then the elephant in the room that President Obama and most of America ignored has only gotten fatter.
Swamped by debt, American households owe more money now than ever before. Government debt is at an all time high. Our trade deficit has worsened. America’s high standard of living rests on a foundation made of sand.
If you went out and borrowed a large sum of money you could purchase all sorts of goods and services and make it appear that your personal financial situation is strong. You might even think to yourself that future pay raises will allow you to pay off your debt and maintain your lifestyle. But deep down you know, or you should, that there is a limit to how much debt you can take on. Some day the party ends and you have to pay back what you borrowed. Then your standard of living will decrease.
But somehow, according to most politicians and economists, when you multiply the above scenario by 325 million people, it’s different. Magically, government debt presents no problem at all!
In his state of the union address, President Trump touted the rise in the stock market and decreases in unemployment since he took office. This is odd since during the presidential campaign he called the stock market a “big, fat, ugly bubble” and described the unemployment numbers as fake.
After the election, based on the promise of a business-friendly Trump administration, the stock market rocketed upward anticipating economic growth. Though it is true that consumers and companies spend more money when they feel wealthier because of asset price gains; it is also true that spending money based on unrealized gains may not be the most prudent plan. With recent tax cuts, an action that increases the national debt, many businesses felt even richer and they increased spending and hiring. This led many people to believe that all is well with the economy. Perhaps this explains the relative silence about the massive increases in spending (and debt) that will result from the latest budget legislation.
I have a few questions.
Who is going to buy the increased production of American workers this faux economic boom provides?
President Trump vowed to decrease the trade deficit but, in 2017, it increased. If he continues to fail in his goal, we will increase our debt to other nations as we consume our production plus that of export nations.
Oddly, hardly anyone is talking about what happens if he succeeds. In 2017, the U.S. dollar lost 12 percent of its value against a basket of currencies that included the euro, yen, pound sterling and Canadian dollar. This means the price of foreign goods will rise and that we can buy fewer of them. Significantly, a larger percentage of our collective work effort will be going into producing goods that foreigners consume—in other words, into exports. Since we will buy fewer foreign products and consume fewer of our own, our standard of living must decrease. The wealth that has been flowing our way for so many years will reverse.
How have we been deceived into thinking that our national debt doesn’t matter?
It is odd that President Trump and other elected leaders believe making America great again means prosperity powered by increased indebtedness.
Governments may think they can borrow forever but the Bible says otherwise. To repay debt with more debt is not repaying at all. The Bible says it is wicked to do so (Psalm 37:21). Christians surely know our nation will suffer serious consequences for this behavior. We should be outraged at recent tax cuts followed by spending increases.
Inevitably, massive debt erodes the value of a nation’s currency to the point where foreign holders of dollars would rather buy U.S. assets or our exports than buy treasuries (debt). This means interest rates must rise to attract buyers of government debt used to run our oversized government. The cost to run government becomes more onerous as interest payments on the national debt increase. (Think of an adjustable-rate mortgage on a national scale.)
Higher interest rates increase the cost of doing business and cut into profits. Consumers buy fewer houses and automobiles because of increased loan costs. The economy slows down into a recession and workers get laid off.
The supply of goods collapses because we can buy fewer imports and more of the goods made here are exported. Less supply means prices increase further. If we try to maintain the current level of government spending, inflation will get even worse.
Does this scenario sound to you like a booming economy? The power brokers in our nation would like us to believe the economy is so good that it is in danger of overheating. They turn the facts on their heads, claiming rising prices result from too much of a good thing (demand from a booming economy) instead of from too much of a bad thing (demand caused by inflation of the money supply via debt). Instead of taking blame for high prices resulting from money inflation, they tell us they can control it. (This article explains why they won’t be able to next time).
But, as I said in my article two years ago, reality takes a back seat to hope in the Land of Odd. In Obama’s make-believe world, government supplied us with hope; in Trump’s fairy tale, “free” markets that are “fair” to America will deliver us from our folly.