Sunday, April 23, 2017

A thought for Sunday: the economy is on autopilot. Pray that it stays that way

 - by New Deal democrat

It's Sunday, so I get to step out from nerdy analysis, and opine as I please.

Back in 2014, when there was another GOP "wave" election in the Congress, I wrote that the silver lining was that we were at the best point in the economic cycle for it to function on autopilot for the next 24 months. In other words, almost all of the long term indicators were positive, so if all the Congress did in 2015-16 was agree to continue to pay the country's bills, we would probably be OK.  And we were.

So, a little over 3 months into the Trump Administration, what action has it taken to materially change the economic trajectory?

Basically, nothing. Yes, a bunch of executive orders have been signed promising to undo Obama regulations, and the telecoms have gotten the right to sell all of your data, but in terms of actual action, the economy is still on autopilot.

All of the mid-cycle indicators have made their highs, and a couple of the long leading indicators have vacillated between neutral and negative, and a few more of them are weakening, but are still positive. If the economy stays on autopilot, it probably doesn't have a bad accident until at least the middle of next year -- although I do expect things like job and real wage growth, while still positive, to weaken.

So, the good news is that if Trump and the GOP Congress continue to be unable to form a majority to enact actual policy, we're not in any serious economic danger for now.

The bad news is that something might happen within the next week.  If stopgap funding is not passed, at least a partial government shutdown seems likely. Actually welching on our debts is apparently still a few months off.

And Obama's negotiating with the hostage-takers at the time of the 2011 debt ceiling debacle is coming back to bit us in the butt, now that it serves as a precedent. First Trump threatened to cut off funding for Obamacare.  The Democrats responded by insisting that its statutory funding be codified in the debt ceiling resolution (something that probably a lot of GOPers silently want to happen as well). Now Trump has threatened to shut down the government and stop paying its bills if he doesn't get all of his legislative wishes, like a border wall and a big tax cut for the wealthy, as part of the deal.

Since the odds of a 2/3's majority in both Houses of Congress overriding any Trump veto are essentially zero, the Full Faith and Credit of the United States is in the hands of an ignorant narcissist. One week from now, the economy might be taken off autopilot and deliberately steered into a mountainside.

For the record, I see no reason for Democrats to go along with any of this. The GOP is in nominal controls of both Houses of Congress, and there is a nominally GOP president.  Time to put on their big boy pants and govern.  If they won't do that, there is no reasonable rationale for trying to negotiate a less awful, but still awful, outcome.