For a moment last fall, it looked as if the last-minute debt-ceiling deal was all for nothing. Democrats had caved to Republicans’ demands to cut spending in order to keep the government funded. But Standard and Poor’s decided that the brinkmanship displayed by John Boehner and Republicans reflected poorly on the country’s ability to pay its bills, and decided to lower the U.S.’s credit rating anyway from AAA to AA+. Luckily, that decision was taken more as a reflection of the rating agency than a proper assessment of the country’s credit-worthiness. The U.S. continues to sell Treasury bonds at record low interest rates, a sign that investor confidence hasn’t been shaken.
In an interview with Time’s Mark Halperin today, Mitt Romney elaborates on his goals for economic growth in his first term. In particular, he hopes to see an unemployment rate of six percent:
I can’t possibly predict precisely what the unemployment rate will be at the end of one year. I can tell you that over a period of four years, by virtue of the policies that we put in place, we’d get the unemployment rate down to 6 percent and perhaps a little lower. It depends in part upon the rate of growth of the globe, as well as what we’re seeing in the United States.
Unless Congress and the White House work together to manage the budget sequestration and tax hikes scheduled for the end of the year, the economy could plummet into a mild recession—growth contracting by an estimated annual rate of 1.3 percent—according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Despite the Camp David G8 summit’s support for a shift from austerity to growth, there is no agreement among major western leaders on what growth requires.
Here is an idea whose time has come: a Financial Transactions Tax.
The tax would do two things urgently required by the crisis. It would take some of the profit out of the pure speculation that has created such hardship for countries like Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Ireland whose economies have already been pummeled by recession and by perverse demands for belt tightening.
And a tax on financial trades could raise some serious revenue, which could be put back into green investment and other forms of economic stimulus to help the economies of Europe revive.
Facebook makes its blockbuster market debut today, and as The New York Timespoints out, "the trading on Friday is the the equivalent of a must-see Super Bowl Sunday showdown for people who don’t ordinarily watch a football game." The social network's stocks have been priced at $38 a pop, which means the company is valued at $104 billion, making it the second biggest initial public offering ever. If the company's first day on Wall Street follows the tech trend, it could be worth $137 billion by the end of the day.
The voters in France and Greece have rejected the parties of austerity. But it is not yet clear that the party of growth can deliver the recovery that the citizenry wants. On both sides of the Atlantic, the obstacles are more political than economic.
In Europe the conventional wisdom, enforced by Germany and the European Central Bank, still holds that the path to growth is budget restraint. Unfortunately, the more that budgets are tightened, the more economies shrink and the more revenues fall. No large economy has ever deflated its way to recovery.
In a 2009 poll conducted by the BBC, only one out of every four Americans thought that capitalism in its current form was working well. Then came Occupy Wall Street (OWS), a physical manifestation of the anger of millions of Americans at an economic system in which big banks are bailed out by taxpayers only to turn around and pay billions in bonuses while filing record home foreclosures. Between the second quarter of 2009 and the fourth quarter of 2010, our nation's total income rose by $528 billion, but of that economic growth, 88 percent went to corporate profits and just 1 percent—that's right, 1 percent—went to workers.
The centerpiece of Mitt Romney’s campaign today is a web video on the human cost of the “Obama economy.” It focuses on three individuals, still out of work, and ends on this note: “Hope and change has not been kind to millions of Americans, but they still believe in this great country, and deserve a leader who believes in them: Mitt Romney.” The video is a little long, but worth watching in full:
The House plans to vote today on a Republican plan to avoid the $110 billion in Pentagon sequestration cuts that would be triggered at the end of the year because of the failure of last year's supercommittee. "People know at the end of the day that this is not going to be all sunshine and cotton candy," said Representative Tom Cole, a Republican from Oklahoma.
As far as April is concerned, the jobs report is disappointing; 115,000 new jobs, just enough to keep pace with population growth. Unemployment dropped to 8.1 percent, but labor force participation also declined, which means that joblessness is lower because fewer people are searching for jobs.
What’s interesting is that this runs counter to a host of other economic indicators, all of which point to a brighter picture. According to Gallup, for example, economic confidence is a four-year high, consumer spending has edged up, and small-business optimism has risen to its highest levels since the summer of 2008.
Although tax reform has been in the national spotlight lately—between the Obama team's April Buffett Rule push and the Republican primary candidates' proposals (remember 9-9-9?)—don't expect corporate tax reform to be a legislative priority in the near future. “From the beginning, we acknowledged that this would be a heavy lift and take time,” an official from the Treasury Department said.
Now that Mitt Romney is the presumptive Republican nominee, TheWashington Post ombudsman, Patrick Pexton, believes that the paper should focus more on how he’ll govern, rather than how he’ll campaign. For guidance to the former question, he writes that we should look to his tenure as governor:
To me, the best predictor of Romney as president is not as the former Bain Capital chief executive, but as the former governor of Massachusetts. […]
The defining feature of Republican economic policy for the short-term is immediate austerity—big spending cuts to social programs, coupled with tax increases on lower-income people, and a reduction in the size of the federal workforce. Conservatives claim that this will lead to immediate job growth and a more robust recovery.
Could this week produce a turning point in Europe’s long, Sisyphean battle against the debt-and-banking crisis that has been ravaging it for the last two-and-a-half years? This coming Sunday, France will likely vote for Francois Hollande, a pro-Keynesian Socialist, as its new president. In Greece, on the same day, parliamentary elections will produce a hammer blow to the existing two-party system and will significantly increase the strength of the anti-Europeans on the far left and the extreme right.