Friday, November 11, 2016

Trump Watch: Infrastructure, Debt, Politics

Donald Trump is calling for a large (half a trillion dollars) infrastructure spending program. The nation's infrastructure is in serious disrepair, and such a  program would provide a significant boost to the economy by creating large numbers of well-paying jobs.

This is nothing new. President Obama has been calling for an infrastructure program for years, for the same reasons, but a recalcitrant Republican Congress would have none of it. Will things be different now? And if so, why? A largish infrastructure program was also a central Clinton proposal. Everybody except Republican ideologues understands why it's needed.

Yet to be explained by Trump is how it will be paid for, especially since the huge tax cuts promised by Trump would add greatly to the deficit and debt. Borrowing would be, economically speaking, a fine way to go (although note that Clinton actually had a rather detailed plan for paying for her proposal), but dire debt warnings have been a recurrent feature of Trump's presidential campaign, and debt hysteria has been a perennial theme of Republicans when they're out of power, particularly during the Obama years.

But now that they have a lock on power, perhaps Republicans will  discover once again the debt isn't such a big deal. It's long been suggested that Republicans don't really care about the debt anyway, and there's plenty of solid historical evidence that that's the case. To put it mildly, there's been a lot of Republican inconsistency on debt over the years, depending on whether they're in or out of power.

This is a politically complicated and ideologically muddled topic. Infrastructure spending really could juice the economy, with undeniable benefit to the country and a nice political payoff to the party in power. Is it possible that past Republican opposition has been in large part a way to deny Obama and Democrats  (and, as an unfortunate side effect, the country) that success? Oh yes. And it's despicable. Republicans actively sought to make Obama a failure from the very first moments of his presidency, and have fought to block every Obama initiative, even during the brutal depths of the economic bloodletting, over the past eight years. (Note by way of contrast the poignant and characteristic grace Obama has exhibited by showing even at this very early stage that he is determined to do everything he can, for the good of the country, to help his successor be successful.)

A source of perpetual frustration to me is that a disturbingly large swath of the electorate is of the "low information" variety, and is thus subject to all kinds of ignorance and mythology bandied about by politicians. Such voters understand neither the economics of the situation (particularly what we've been through these past eight years) nor (at the level of attributive detail required) the cynical and destructive games played by their politicians. And, yes, the political dysfunction really is skewed to one side. A Johnny-come-lately Republican infrastructure program would be a bitter irony lost on such voters.

I am straying from my original point now, but Thomas Jefferson warned that the success of democracy requires a well educated and well informed citizenry. If that is so (and how can you think otherwise?), there's much to despair. The election of 2016 seems ominous in that light.



Update: Nov 14, 2016 - Paul Krugman notes that the promised Trump tax cuts and resulting deficit spending could have a strong stimulus effect in the short to mid-term, even if those tax cuts are less efficient than they might otherwise be by being largely tilted to the rich. The point is that deficit spending right now could be economically beneficial. I underscore my point that Republicans are likely to embrace all kinds of policies under Trump that they considered anathema under Obama.

 Copyright (C) 2016 James Michael Brennan, All Rights Reserved

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