Popular Economics Weekly
The main reason we have suffered from historically slow growth and stagnated wages since the Great Recession is in large part due to so-called trickle-down economics, the fallacy that concentrating most of the largess of economic growth on the private sector, and neglecting public sector growth in health care, environmental protection, education, R&D, and public infrastructure, for starters, means the US economy wasn’t paying forward its benefits for the next generations, as Senator Elizabeth Warren intoned at the beginning of her tenure.
It is the public sector that plants the seed corn for future, sustainable economic growth, which private businesses then utilize to create private sector jobs and profits. The US may have the greatest higher education and research facilities, but our elementary and high schools rank near the bottom in the developed countries.
We also rank much lower in health care and environmental protection, which lowers labor productivity and results in sicker workers. Isn’t it better for our country to improve the health and skills of workers (while paying them more) before we replace them with robots?
The Clinton administration made the most recent steps towards the goal of sustainable growth when it cut military spending and put a 2 percent annual increase limit on government expenditures that balanced the federal budget and actually created a surplus for four consecutive years—1996-2000.
But 9/11 and terrorism put the fear mongers back in charge and military spending surged, while public sector spending declined in those seed-corn sectors we spoke of. The result post-9/11 was that Fed Chairman Greenspan kept interest rates below the existing rate of inflation, which grossly inflated the housing market and resulted in the housing bubble.
GW Bush and Fed Chair Greenspan chose the less sustainable growth path when they cut taxes, reducing government revenues at the same time they had to pay for the wars on terror. Once again, budget deficits surged because government revenues declined, and we embarked on a path that led to the Great Recession.
We have the same lesson today. Conservatives and the Trump administration are lobbying the Fed to lower interest rates to boost stock prices further, inflating stock values that are already at record levels in the hopes that it will continue economic growth in the 11th year of this record economic expansion.
There were 224,000 private payroll jobs created in June, economic growth last year averaged 3.2 percent, and first quarter GDP was 3.1 percent this year already.
Unnecessarily low interest rates inflate deficits and asset bubbles if not invested wisely. We really need to grow the public sector and Main Street in whatever way it can be done. Gradually boosting the national minimum wage above the less-than-living-wage of $7.25 per hour would be a good start. Boosting Main Street benefits will do the most to create sustainable, enduring growth—by paying it forward to the next generations.
Harlan Green © 2019
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