The economic shock from the shutdowns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic were unprecedented. Never had state governors imposed stay-at-home orders that cut people off from their lives and livelihoods. Those costly policies were bad enough, but then came historic increases in deficit spending and money creation.
While these may have been well-intentioned policies early on, their repercussions—amplified by misguided macroeconomic policy since January 2021—continue to plague many Americans. The antidote is pro-growth policies.
There was a vibrant economy on the eve of this shock. In fact, about three quarters of the flows of people into employment were Americans returning to the workforce—the highest on record.
For context, 2.3 million prime-age Americans—people between the ages of 25 and 54—returned to the labor force during Trump, after 1.6 million left during the Obama recovery. This happened with a robust private sector providing many opportunities because the Trump administration focused on removing barriers by getting the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 through Congress and providing substantial, sensible deregulation.
We often hear that these tax cuts were “trickle-down economics” or “tax cuts for the rich and big business.” But the change in real (inflation-adjusted) wages was positive across the income spectrum. The bottom 10% of the wage distribution rose by 10% while the top 10% rose half as fast. And real wealth for the bottom 50% increased by 28%, while that of the top 1% increased by just 9%.
The results show those tax cuts weren’t designed for the “rich.”
In 2019, the real median household income hit a record high, and the poverty rate reached a record low. Poverty rates fell to the lowest on record for Blacks and Hispanics, and child poverty fell to 14.4%—a nearly 50-year low. Clearly, Americans were doing well across the board, especially those who had historically been left behind.
These stellar results were from reducing barriers by government in people’s lives—a stark contrast to what happened by state governments during the pandemic and exacerbated thereafter by Biden’s big-government policies.
While there were similar spending bills passed into law during both administrations, it’s comparing apples and oranges.
Trump supported congressional efforts in March and April 2020 when huge swaths of the economy were shut down, 22 million Americans were laid off, and 70% of the economy faced collapse. In contrast, Biden substantially increased regulations immediately and passed a nearly $2 trillion spending bill in March 2021—an amount equal to approximately 10% of the U.S. economy, at a moment when the U.S. economy was already 10 months into recovery.
Another difference was that Trump introduced sunsets for emergency pandemic provisions so that they would expire. But Biden continued and expanded many of them, increasing dependency on government.
Through March 2022, employment is back up 20.4 million but remains 1.6 million below the peak in February 2020. While Biden touts the most jobs gained in one year in 2021, more jobs were recovered in just the two months of May and June 2020 than in all 12 months of 2021, and nearly two-thirds of this jobs recovery was during Trump. Moreover, job gains of 6.7 million in 2021 were far less than the glorified projections coming from the White House of around 10 million.
Just think if Biden had practiced the pro-growth policies of Trump.
Instead, inflation is at a 40-year high and looks to continue to soar, fueled by a host of self-imposed costly policies in Washington.
This includes Biden’s over-regulating of the oil and gas sector, massive unnecessary spending bills, and attempts to drastically raise taxes. And the Federal Reserve has more than doubled its balance sheet over the last two years, purchasing a majority of the $6 trillion increased national debt in that period, which is a 25% increase to $30 trillion.
These policies, which simultaneously boost demand while constraining supply, have brought the prospect of stagflation—high inflation and low growth—back for the first time since the late 1970s.
Rather than directly addressing the crisis, Biden has consistently deflected the issue by first doubting the reality of inflation to now falsely blaming it on corporate greed or Russian President Vladimir Putin. But the causes and consequences fall at his feet.
It’s time to return to the proven, pro-growth policies that worked during the Trump administration, along with an essential missing factor then of spending restraint by Congress. Doing so will provide a solid foundation for more opportunities to let people prosper.
This commentary was based on the remarks by Mr. Ginn and Mr. Goodspeed on a panel at the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s 2022 Policy Orientation.
Americans have less money than they had last year—though taxes haven’t been raised. So what’s the problem? Inflation, which has increased at a 40-year high annual pace of 7.9%. It acts as a hidden tax because we don’t see it listed on our tax bills, but we sure see less money on our bank accounts.
In fact, inflation-adjusted average hourly earnings for private employees are down 2.8% over the last year. This means a person with $31.58 in earnings per hour is buying 2.8% less of a grocery basket purchased just last February. “For a typical family, the inflation tax means a loss in real income of more than $1,900 per year,” stated Joel Griffin, a research fellow at The Heritage Foundation.
The hidden tax of rapid inflation has been avoided for four decades. But that’s understandable because we haven’t seen these sorts of reckless policies out of Washington since the Carter administration.
The policies from the Biden administration’s excessive government spending and the Federal Reserve’s money printing must correct course now before things get worse.
What’s causing inflation is being debated.
One claim is “Putin’s price hikes” stem from the Russian president’s invasion of Ukraine.
While this has contributed to oil and gasoline prices spiking recently, these prices—and general inflation—were already rising rapidly. This was because of the Biden administration’s disastrous war on fossil fuels through increased financial and drilling regulations, cancelation of the Keystone XL pipeline, and more.
Specifically, the price of West Texas Intermediate crude oil is up about 110% since Biden took office, yet only up 21% since Russia invaded Ukraine. And to think, the U.S. was energy independent in the sense that it was a net exporter of petroleum products in 2019.
Another claim is the supply-chain crisis.
For example, the global chip shortage has contributed to a large shortage and subsequent increase in the average price of new vehicles—to a record high of $47,000, up 12% over the last year. This contributed to buyers switching to used cars, which has pushed the average price up to nearly $28,000, about 40% higher.
These two claims will likely be transitory price increases, though not sufficient to drive down overall inflation to what we’ve experienced for the last year-plus.
Inflation is persistent because of rampant government spending and money printing.
Larry Kudlow, who served as the director of the National Economic Council for President Trump, stated that inflation “is destroying working folks’ pocketbooks and devaluing the wages they earn, and the root cause of the inflation is way too much government spending, too many social programs without workfare, and vastly too much money creation by the Federal Reserve.”
Both political parties share the blame for too much government spending, which has caused the national debt to balloon to $30 trillion. Just over the last two years, the debt has increased by 25% or $6 trillion.
While some of that may have been necessary during the (inappropriate) shutdowns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, much of the nearly $7 trillion passed in spending bills was not, especially the trillions by the Biden administration far after the pandemic had slowed and people were returning to work.
Laughably, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi recently argued that government spending is helping inflation and President Biden argued that he’s cutting the deficit. Both are false.
Government spending doesn’t change inflation because it just redistributes money around in the economy. And the deficit would only be rising from Biden’s big-government policies but he’s taking advantage of an optical illusion: one-time COVID-19 relief funding drying up and tax revenues rising partially from the effects of inflation.
Ultimately, the driver of inflation is from discretionary monetary policy by the Federal Reserve as it monetizes much of the $6 trillion in added national debt since early 2020.
The Fed did this to keep its federal funds rate target from rising above the range of zero to 0.25% by more than doubling its balance sheet to $9 trillion. More money is fueling the ugly government spending and bubbly asset markets that’s resulting in dire economic consequences.
Instead, we need to learn what Presidents Harding and Coolidge realized a century ago. This would mean a return to sound fiscal policy, monetary policy, and the dollar that built on the principles of America’s founding.
We need binding fiscal and monetary rules to hold politicians and government officials in check of we hope to tame inflation and return to prosperity.
An MSNBC headline reporting on a recent interview of a White House economic advisor Jared Bernstein claimed that America has a “booming economy.” But that’s not what most Americans think about the economic situation.
The University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index for March, which gauges how consumers feel about the economy, fell to a decade low at 59.4. This is a 5.4% drop from February and a 30% drop from March 2021.
The survey reveals Americans’ pessimism and uncertainty amidst the highest levels of inflation since the 1980s. Many Americans reported that they have had to reduce their quality of life and lower their living standards amidst the inflation crisis.
This crisis has been created by the Federal Reserve printing too much money to fund the overspending by Congress, and exacerbated by the Biden administration’s war against oil and gas that fueled higher energy prices and have been amplified by the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
The only positive news from the survey was slight optimism for the strengthening labor market. Survey statistics revealed that there was hope that the unemployment rate would continue to decline.
While there are reasons to be optimistic about the labor market’s increase in monthly nonfarm jobs—431,000 (with 426,000 in the private sector)—and the unemployment rate dropping to 3.6%, weaknesses remain.
For example, since the shutdown recession ended in April 2020, total nonfarm jobs are up 20.4 million but are still down 1.6 million from February 2020. This indicates that though the labor market is improving, but it’s not as strong as it was then.
And while the Biden administration touts the jobs created since he took office in January 2021, only 39% have been added since then while the other 61% were during the Trump administration.
Other unaddressed labor market weaknesses remain. Inflation-adjusted wages are down by 2.3% over the last year, a depressed prime-age (25-54 years old) employment-population ratio by 0.5 percentage point since February 2020, and a broader U6 underemployment rate of 6.9%.
Further adding to the concern in the labor market is a record high of 5 million more unfilled jobs (11.3 million) than unemployed people (6.3 million).
These ongoing weaknesses are shedding light on the impacts of big-government policies out of D.C., such as the “stimulus” checks, enhanced unemployment insurance, expanded child tax credits, and pandemic-related mandates, that have limited and are hindering the rebound of the American economy.
Instead, we must return to normalcy if we wish to give Americans more opportunities to prosper.
But that’s not happening. Paired with the inflation we’re dealing with stagnating economic growth, creating a period of stagflation for the first time since the 1970s.
Rising inflation is foreshadowing concerns of a future recession and economic crisis as American families are paying substantially more for products and services amidst reduced purchasing power.
Why is our economy out of control, and what can be done to mitigate the economic crisis?
The government imposed a “shutdown recession” from March to April 2020 that proved devastating. Amidst the shutdown, elected officials heightened Americans’ economic dependence on government through $6 trillion in deficit-spending that included programs which disincentivized working.
Two years later, there must be a return to the dignity and permanent value of work — instead of the dependence on the government that the Biden administration is promoting.
For example, the Biden administration’s irresponsible proposed budget of $5.8 trillion includes massive spending while raising and creating harmful taxes, such as the new “billionaire tax” that Sen. Joe Manchin already shot down. The result of this irresponsible budget would be an increase in the debt by 50% to $45 trillion over the next decade, which is highly optimistic given their unlikely rosy economic assumptions.
Given the likelihood of continued trillion-dollar deficits for the foreseeable future and the Fed keeping its target overnight lending rate low even as it raises the rate by printing more money means that more inflation and economic damage are to come.
But this doesn’t have to happen.
Congress should choose a different path, enacting pro-growth policies like those passed from 2017 to 2019, which will better provide Americans with opportunities to improve their lives and livelihoods. This should be paired with binding fiscal and monetary rules to stop Congress from overspending hard-earned taxpayer dollars and to stop the Fed from overprinting money that’s reducing families’ purchasing power.
We should stop the “booming economy” rhetoric and focus on how families are doing. The way to give them more opportunities to flourish is by removing obstacles imposed by government.
Watching the screen on a gas pump while filling your vehicle’s tank is liable to induce a panic attack. Paying for a used car almost requires taking out a second mortgage. Speaking of mortgages, members of the middle class are being priced out of the housing market as home prices march relentlessly upward. Many price increases are out of control.
How did we get here? A little over a year ago, and in the years before the Covid-19 pandemic, most prices were relatively stable. But more recently, general price inflation is at a 40-year high.
The late economist Milton Friedman helped explain the inflation and stagflation of the 1970s. His explanation helped shape the strong economic recovery of the 1980s, built on the principles of limited government, with sound monetary policy that resulted in a steep decline in what had been rampant, double-digit inflation.
Inflation Is a Monetary Phenomenon
Friedman pointed out that “inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon.” The seemingly force majeure is actually a manmade problem, caused by the Federal Reserve (Fed) creating too much money. These principles of money and inflation aren’t new.
But those lessons are being disregarded by some in the economics profession. People like Stephanie Kelton have been promoting Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), which is virtually a complete reversal of what Friedman espoused and history demonstrated. This theory contends that the federal government’s current deficit spending isn’t an issue — it can, and should, be solved by the Fed creating money to fund it without concern about inflation as long as the U.S. dollar is the world’s reserve currency.
President Joe Biden has not openly endorsed MMT, but he’s no fan of Friedman either. Instead, he seems content to have many mostly younger congressional Democrats advocate for MMT, which provides convenient and seemingly academic reasoning for financing more federal spending without explicitly raising taxes. It has a similar political appeal that Keynesianism presented almost a century ago, and MMT is just as flawed.
But proponents of MMT do get one thing correct — the Fed can create money to service the debt and avoid a default. But in real terms, meaning adjusting for inflation, this assertion is false. Creating money to service the debt devalues the currency. Investors then receive a lower real return on their holdings of federal debt.
Furthermore, everyone is hurt by inflation, whether they own government bonds or not. Inflation is essentially a tax, as it robs people of their purchasing power at no fault of their own. Everyone who received a 7.5 percent raise over the last year probably thought they would be able to afford more stuff, but they were deceived. Inflation rose just as much — so there was no real raise.
False Claims That Taxes Are the Solution
But MMT proponents claim that the massive budget deficits are what allow people to save money. Were it not for those deficits, they contend, people would have no cash to save. At first glance, the pandemic seemed to support that. People received transfer payments from the government and saved much of them due to uncertainty. But more recently, people’s savings are being depleted as this dependency on government dries up and prices soar.
Now that inflation is running amok, MMT adherents believe tax increases are the primary (if not only) cure. They claim inflation is not caused by the Fed creating too much money, but by people having too much money to spend; taxation will remove that excess liquidity and stop inflation.
However, MMT doesn’t explain why it’s only inflationary when people spend money, but not when the government spends it. Somehow the Fed creating money by purchasing government debt miraculously doesn’t bid up prices for scarce resources. The theory sounds more like a belief than science — something that must be trusted rather than demonstrated.
Specifically, MMT ideology is built on mathematical relationships between economic variables like private and public savings and debt rather than a strong theoretical construct, and breaks down quickly when analyzed with sound economic theory. Moreover, these relationships seem to be used to derive a funding mechanism for their big-government policy goals, such as a federal jobs guarantee, universal healthcare, and other costly initiatives.
How Taxation Might Stop Inflation
But MMT is not entirely wrong on using taxation to stop inflation. If those taxes are used to pay for deficit spending — which really should be done by spending less — rather than the Fed financing it, then higher taxes can lower inflation. But that is far too nuanced of an explanation for MMT, which paints in much broader brushstrokes.
Regardless, MMT cannot dispel the hard truths of monetary policy, which is inflation comes from one place — the Fed. When the Fed creates money faster than the real economy grows, prices will rise; it’s that simple.
To alleviate the uncertainty and distortions across the economy of bad policies in Washington, there should be binding fiscal and monetary rules based on sound economics instead of ideology. This should include changing government spending by less than the growth in personal incomes and only changing the money supply to keep prices stable.
Almost two years after President Biden declared “Milton Friedman isn’t running the show anymore,” the late economist is clearly the one with the last laugh. Perhaps next time, the president will think twice before speaking ill of the dead.
Even though Sen. Joe Manchin says the Build Back Better Act is “dead,” we all know that spending plans in the D.C. swamp have a disturbing tendency to rise from the grave. There’s already speculation (on CNN and elsewhere) about what a new big-government spending bill will contain.
But with the national debt recently surpassing $30 trillion, we can’t allow even more irresponsible spending. The time for a Responsible American Budget is now.
Another big-government bill making its way down the pike is The America COMPETES Act of 2022, which the House passed last week. It contains up to $350 billion more in deficit spending, all in the name of making us more competitive with China.
This includes billions and billions of dollars in corporate giveaways, such as sending $50 billion in taxpayer money to the semiconductor industry, another $50 billion to the Energy Department as a slush fund for “science purposes” and $8 billion to the U.N. Green Climate Fund. That fiscal cost plus the bill’s regulatory cost will make the nation substantially less competitive.
The truth is, what Americans and Texans need is relief, not more debt and higher prices. The last two years have been increasingly difficult on our wallets. With inflation hitting a 40-year high, prices of everyday consumer goods continue to increase compared to years past, thereby reducing our purchasing power.
As the nation continues to recover economically, now is not the time to continue discussing increasing the burden of federal government spending and taxing on Americans. Should it pursue fiscal excesses like those included in the Build Back Better Act, each American would be saddled with an additional $24,000 of national debt, raising the total debt owed by each taxpayer to $111,000.
Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen major Texas metropolitan markets like in Dallas, Austin, and Houston become the new home to many companies in industries like technology and manufacturing. As quickly as Texas begins to see these new job opportunities, there is the potential for them to vanish should Congress raise taxes.
While the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act helped to increase the competitive advantage for businesses through cutting the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%, there is movement to raise this rate and raise the global intangible low-taxed income (GILTI) rate on businesses. This would follow a disruptive trend of imposing a global minimum tax rate of 15% that was agreed to by more than 130 countries in October 2021, which would hit Texans hard.
Much like our business community, Texans could find themselves struggling to get by as they see things like their inflation-adjusted wages decline, making it difficult to afford things like childcare or increasing challenges in saving for retirement.
There should be a united voice in opposing additional hikes in spending and taxes and help refocus Congress toward supporting a stronger economy and more opportunities with fiscal restraint and deregulation that have been proven to work for all.
A good start is making the Trump tax cuts permanent. Of course, America doesn’t have a revenue problem, but a spending problem. So, the primary way to provide Texans and all Americans with relief is by passing a Responsible American Budget. This budget would freeze government spending per person so that there is less of a burden on taxpayers.
This budget approach has received high praise from members of Congress, top economists, state policymakers, and experts from across the country. Here are three of the many takes:
Art Laffer: “Government spending is taxation, and we cannot spend and tax our way into prosperity. The Responsible American Budget is a terrific way to rein in this government waste by imposing fiscal limitations on the profligate spenders in Washington.”
Steve Moore: “Spending in D.C. is simply out of control, and we have to act now to stop it. Fiscal restraints like the Responsible American Budget will go a long way to preserving our freedom and unleashing prosperity.”
Grover Norquist: “There has been success in reducing federal tax rates in recent years, which President Biden and congressional Democrats are now trying to undo. Where we’ve yet to make sufficient progress is reining in federal spending. With the Responsible American Budget, the Texas Public Policy Foundation has laid out plan to get federal spending under control.”
If we can have less spending, taxing, and regulating, we can compete and return to the real prosperity earned in 2019 rather than the increased dependency on government today. Otherwise, America can’t compete.
Vance Ginn, Ph.D.