This column by ACRU General Counsel and Policy Director for the Carleson Center for Public Policy (CCPP) Peter Ferrara was published June 8, 2011 on The American Spectator website.
On Inauguration Day, 2009, President Obama seemed so politically blessed by the timing of developing economic trends. I expected that based on American economic history, recovery from the recession should have occurred some time during 2009. Even the longest previous recession since the Great Depression would have resulted in a recovery in summer 2009, as the recession began in December 2007.
Moreover, prior American history had shown that the deeper the recession the stronger the recovery. So I was expecting President Obama to pass his economic recovery plan, as foolhardy and ineffective as I believed it would be, and then to ride a wave of adulation as the economy roared back later in the year, which it should have done just on its own according to long established rhythms of the business cycle.
So even I have been surprised by the reality that President Obama’s economic policies have been so disastrous that they have prevented any real recovery from getting off the ground, at what is now three and a half years since the recession began.
In America, the economy does not fall into stagnation and just lie there for years, which is the narrative of the Obama Administration, thinking the American people are too stupid to know their own country. Our economy has periodically fallen into recessions, but recovers to show robust economic growth within a year or two. That is why chief White House economist Austan Goolsbee, who does know better, is playing with us when he says as he did last Friday in response to the May jobs report, “there are always bumps on the road to recovery, but the overall trajectory of the economy has improved dramatically over the past two years.”
The Worst Recovery Since the Great Depression
How much time do Obama and Goolsbee think they have to do their job right for the American people? In every other recession since the Great Depression, the overall trajectory of the economy has been dramatically better after two years. But not this time. Since the Great Depression, recessions have lasted an average of 10 months, with the longest previously being 16 months. Yet, in May, 41 months after the recession began, unemployment rose yet again, to 9.1%. America has now suffered the longest period with unemployment that high since the Great Depression.
The depression for African Americans continued, as unemployment among them rose again to 16.2%. Hispanics continued with unemployment at double digit depression levels as well, with unemployment among them also rising again to nearly 12%. For teenagers, the depression level unemployment persisted at 24.2%; for black teenagers, over 40%. The U6 unemployment rate, counting those marginally attached to the labor force who have given up looking in the Obama “recovery,” and those stuck in part time unemployment for economic reasons, continued at nearly 16%.
While the Reagan recovery, a real recovery from a similarly deep recession, averaged 7.1% real economic growth over the first 7 quarters, the Obama recovery has produced less than half that at 2.8%, with the last quarter at a dismal 1.8%. While the Reagan recovery produced nearly 20 million new jobs, and civilian employment rose by almost 20%, today America still suffers 6.8 million fewer jobs than when the recession started over 3 years ago. The labor force participation rate has fallen to its lowest level almost since the Reagan recovery started over 25 years ago. As the Wall Street Journal explained on Monday:
This is an important economic measure because it reflects the opportunities that Americans perceive in the marketplace. In the long boom from the Reagan years through 2000 or so, the labor force participation rate took a historic leap upward as women, immigrants and others entered the job market…. It has now fallen off a cliff, and we doubt that is what Mr. Goolsbee means when he hails the “trajectory of the economy.”
I have previously discussed why this happened. Obamanomics doggedly followed the opposite of Reaganomics in every detail. The centerpiece of Obamanomics was the old-fashioned Keynesianism that was a proven failure and left for dead 30 years ago. That was reflected most of all in Obama’s February 2009 trillion dollar stimulus package. That didn’t work because borrowing a trillion dollars out of the economy to spend a trillion dollars back into the economy does not add anything to the economy on net.
And borrowing two trillion for the stimulus instead still wouldn’t have done it, for the same reason. Those calling for still more of the same Keynesian snake oil are just self-identifying themselves as hopelessly deluded fools who must not be taken seriously ever again. Worse than not working, Obama’s trillion dollar stimulus already drove us to the brink of bankruptcy. Going for still more now as advocated by the mentally blinded would be walking off the cliff with our eyes closed.
Great Depression 2.0
Hard as it may be to imagine, where we are headed under Obamanomics will be worse than where we have been. The economic indicators are increasingly flashing economic decline already. Once the Bush tax cuts were extended to 2013, I didn’t expect to see that until then, for all of the reasons below. But Obamanomics keeps deteriorating faster than even I expected.
Already scheduled now under current law in 2013 is the expiration of those Bush tax cuts, which President Obama has refused to renew for single workers making over $200,000 a year, and couples making over $250,000. Also scheduled to go into effect in 2013 under current law are all the tax increases of Obamacare. Together, these job killing tax policies would result in a sharp increase in the tax rates on the nation’s small businesses, job creators, and investors for virtually every major federal tax.
These taxpayers would see their income tax rates jump by nearly 20%, the capital gains tax rate increase by nearly 60%, the total tax rate on corporate dividends increase by nearly three times, their Medicare payroll tax rate increase by 62%, and the death tax rise from the grave with a 55% rate. This would go way beyond the outdated Obama talking point about returning to the Clinton tax rates, adding up to a top federal tax rate of 44.8% on wage income alone, besides all the tax increases on capital income, on the way up to a 62% top federal tax rate.
Yet President Obama continues to propose still more tax increases on these small businesses, job creators, and investors. Besides proposing a further $321 billion tax increase on them in his 2012 budget, by limiting or phasing out their tax deductions for mortgage interest, charitable contributions, property taxes, sales taxes, state and local income taxes, and medical expenses, he proposed in his April 13 national budget address an additional trillion dollar increase on them through further deduction limitations. Then he called as well for an automatic tax increase trigger that would raise taxes still further on them if “our debt is not projected to fall as a share of the economy.” Senate Democrats have discussed adding a 3% surtax on incomes over $1 million.
Meanwhile, American businesses continue to suffer from virtually the highest corporate tax rates in the industrialized world, leaving American companies uncompetitive in the global economy. Yet under President Obama there is no relief in sight. Instead he continually proposes still further tax increases on American business.
President Obama and the Democrats doggedly pursue these tax policies because they believe ideologically in socialist wealth redistribution. But openly raiding small businesses, job creators, investors, and American companies is crippling for the economy, particularly this weak economy. This ends up hurting working people and their families the most, as they lose the jobs, wages, and opportunity they need for a decent life.
Besides this tax tsunami, President Obama is implementing another trillion dollar plus cost burden on the economy through the EPA’s cap and trade tax policy. That is one central feature of President Obama’s war on production of traditional, low cost, energy, shutting down drilling, extraction and pipelines from the northern tip of Alaska, down through Canada, to the energy rich Western states, through Texas, to the Gulf of Mexico. Obama keeps issuing statements that he is opening drilling or permitting or exploration here and there, only to have it shut down by his bureaucracy soon thereafter. All of this will only raise energy prices higher and higher through to 2013, squelching the economy still further.
President Obama doggedly pursues this because he and his advisers believe ideologically that higher energy prices and less energy production and use are good for the environment. But this extremist view of what is good for the environment is a catastrophe for the economy, jobs, and working people.
This is just the beginning, however, of President Obama’s reregulation burden on the economy, which is estimated to be rapidly rising towards $2 trillion, or over $8,000 per employee, in annual costs even before EPA’s calamitous cap and trade really begins. That is close to 10 times the corporate tax burden, and double the individual income tax burden. With another 4,225 federal regulations already in the pipeline, and the new regulatory burdens from Obama and the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill still to come, how high will that burden be by 2013?
Then there is the Fed and the effects of its monetary policy. The Obama Administration has cheered on the Fed’s loose-as-a-bordello monetary policy, with near zero interest rates for years now, and the printing presses cranking out reams of cheap money. But once the Fed ends this monetary crack, the artificial pump up for the economy ends as well, and the underlying weakness of the economy is revealed. That appears to be what is happening now, as QE2 ends.
If the Fed stands pat, the downturn will feed on itself, fueled further by all of the above contractionary policies. If the Fed is spooked into resorting to QE3 and the return to easy money, that will cause the inflation started by QE2 to surge. Indeed, once the Fed goes down that road, it surely will not try to cut back again until the 2012 election is past, to avoid a nasty downturn in the middle of President Obama’s planned reelection victory tour. Inflation would consequently surge all through next year, cutting the real wages of working people and their families further.
Right after the election, the Fed will stop the merry go round to finally pull the plug on burgeoning inflation. But that extended monetary malpractice will only make the downturn withdrawal from the monetary crack high all the more nasty.
From the comprehensive tax rate increases, to the soaring energy costs, to the costly regulatory burdens, to the monetary policy mindlessness, all of this adds up to one whopping double-dip downturn in 2013. The extended unemployment exploding into double digits will be effectively another depression. Once it starts feeding on itself, there is no telling just how far it will go.
But with the deficit already at $1.6 trillion or so this year, America cannot handle another recession, let alone effectively another depression that will cause the deficit to soar well beyond any possibly manageable levels. World financial markets cannot bear that load, and will not even try. Indeed, it is the Fed’s monetary policy working the printing presses overtime for QE2 that has financed the purchase of the debt for the current all-time record deficit.
Our Choice in 2012
Because of the willfully mindless irresponsibility and ideological self-indulgence of Obamanomics, America is mortally vulnerable to another recession at any time soon. The result would be precisely the national bankruptcy of Greece, where we cannot raise in the world credit markets the further debt to finance what will be well over half of our budgeted federal spending. We are already borrowing and adding to the debt to finance 43% of our federal spending today.
That is bad enough for a puny, insignificant nation like Greece, where riots increasingly leave the government dysfunctional, with the EU likely to take over the country effectively. But what is the effect when that happens to the world’s supposed superpower? America financed World War II by running up our national debt to its all-time record as a percent of GDP (for now). But that won’t be possible when we have already run ourselves into national bankruptcy.
Our potential military enemies will be quite aware of this historic vulnerability of America. Just as Reagan brought us Peace through Strength, Obamanomics will be inviting War through Weakness. With a 2013 American economic collapse that will also disable the entire West, the world’s uncivilized rogues from Russia, to China, to North Korea, to the Middle East Islamists dreaming of renewed world conquest, will all be tempted probably beyond resistance and reason to strike. They don’t need even to attack the homeland to deal America a decisive defeat. They can just decimate our suddenly overwhelmed allies, from Israel to South Korea to Taiwan to our allies in the Middle East, let alone some even in Europe.
The only way to get off this bullet train to oblivion is to radically reverse Obamanomics in dogged detail. The American people get one more chance to do that in 2012.