James Pethokoukis

Politics and policy from inside Washington

The next big political issue? The U.S. dollar

Oct 12, 2009 18:22 UTC

The state of the dollar probably hasn’t been a first-tier political issue in the United States since, say, the presidential election of 1896. Back then, it manifested as whether or not America would stay on the gold standard or switch to a bimetallic one. (The William Jennings Bryan “cross of gold” speech and all that.)

The aftershocks of the global financial crisis may now be propelling the dollar back to the political forefront. The greenback’s continuing slide makes it a handy metric that neatly encapsulates America’s current economic troubles and possible long-term decline. House Republicans for instance, have been using the weaker dollar as a weapon in their attacks on the Bernanke-led Federal Reserve.

For more evidence of the dollar’s return to political salience, look no further than the Facebook page of Sarah Palin. The 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee — and possible 2012 presidential candidate — has shown a knack for identifying hot-button political issues, such as the purported “death panels” she claims to have found in Democratic healthcare reform plans. In a recent Facebook posting, Palin expressed deep concern over the dollar’s “continued viability as an international reserve currency” in light of huge U.S. budget deficits.

She might be onto something here, politically and economically. A recent Rasmussen poll, for instance, found that 88 percent of Americans say the dollar should remain the dominant global currency. Now, the average voter may not fully understand the subtleties of international finance nor appreciate exactly how a dominant dollar has benefited the U.S economy. But they sure think a weaker dollar is a sign of a weaker America.

And that’s the political problem for the Obama administration. Its benign neglect of the dollar is another example of an economic policy — along with TARP and the $787 billion stimulus — that the White House thinks is helping the economy, but many Americans find wrongheaded.

In his New York Times column today, Paul Krugman makes the usual case for a weaker dollar: It helps U.S. exporters and is a necessary part of a global economic rebalancing. And there is some truth in that, particularly the idea that Rising Asia will result in a less-dominant dollar. Then again, a devalued currency hasn’t exactly been a proven path to prosperity. (Ask Jimmy Carter.)

But Krugman too easily dismisses the idea that the dollar’s decline could tumble out of control. Former Clinton economic officials such as Robert Rubin and Roger Altman have been making the case that investor concern about budget deficits could lead them to abandon the dollar. As Altman argued in a Financial Times op-ed piece today: “The dismal deficit outlook poses a huge longer-term threat. Indeed, it is just a matter of time before global financial markets reject this fiscal trajectory. That could lead to a punishing dollar crisis.”

Now many Democrats and liberals, like Krugman, don’t want to hear such talk, fearing a rerun of the Clinton era when the progressive policy agenda was sacrificed on the altar of budgetary rectitude.

But that is a tremendous political and economic gamble, one that may result in taunting Republican cries of “Who lost the dollar?”

COMMENT

Unfunded public employee pension benefits is the next big political issue.

Posted by EconRob | Report as abusive

Study: Democratic healthcare reform could increase costs

Oct 12, 2009 13:56 UTC

America’s Health Insurance Plans, an insurance industry trade group, paid for this PricewaterhouseCoopers study that found Democratic healthcare reform would sharply raise the price of private healthcare insurance. The typical premium could rise by $4,000 by 2019. Here is the executive summary:

101209pwc1

Zandi: Unemployment headed to 10.5 percent

Oct 12, 2009 13:44 UTC

Moody’s Economy.com economist Mark Zandi likes the stimulus (via Fox News) but still thinks unemployment is headed higher. In his own words:

10.5 percent is a very reasonable expectation for the peak in unemployment, but I think it would be measurably higher if not for the stimulus package. The stimulus in my view is working. It’s just gotten overwhelmed by the magnitude of the economic crisis.

Which, of course, brings us to the idea of a second stimulus.  Marc Ambinder gives the rundown:

1) Extend the first-time home buyer credit

2) Create a new credit for companies who hire

3) Extend jobless benefits in every state, or just particularly distressed states, or every state but even more in particularly distressed states.

4) Give tax refunds to struggling companies

5) Institute a payroll tax holiday

6) Pass another stimulus but call it something like “State Rescue Plan” and send most of the money to state governments

A VAT danger for Democrats

Oct 7, 2009 19:44 UTC

A good point on the political dangers of a VAT from David Henderson of EconLog:

But here’s what’s not a quibble: what happened to the political fortunes of the Canadian government that imposed that tax, something that Leonhardt doesn’t mention. Brian Mulroney, the Canadian prime minister at the time, imposed the tax at an initial whopping 7%. It’s true that it replaced a narrower hidden 13.5% tax on manufacturing and that it was designed to be revenue-neutral. But precisely because the GST was visible, it generated enormous opposition. The Liberal Party made repeal of the GST one of its main issues in the 1993 election. By then, Mulroney’s party, the Progressive Conservatives, had kicked him out and replaced him with Kim Campbell. Granted that Campbell ran one of the most incompetent campaigns in Canadian history and granted that there was a recession on at the time. But do you care to guess what happened to the number of seats in Parliament that the Progressive Conservatives won in that election? Let me give you a hint. They started with 169 out of 295 seats. And they ended with a number that can be counted on the fingers of one hand. To be precise, they ended with 2 seats, a 99% drop, and, a few years later, the Progressive Conservative Party disappeared via merger.

COMMENT

The party that significantly raises taxes digs itself an electoral grave. This is despite necessity and or fiscal soundness.

A good example in NJ was Governor Florio. He had no choice but to raise taxes due to significant budget shortfalls during the late eighties-early nineties recession. His successors, certainly benefited, but he was voted out after one term.

Taxes are very tricky politically, and the more you can obscure their effects, and make them less visible overall the better.

Posted by Greg | Report as abusive

When the US labor market will begin to recover

Oct 5, 2009 14:13 UTC

Ed Yardeni has been crunching the numbers:

Based on the previous two cycles, employment might recover within the next 11-21 months after June, or between May 2010 and March 2011! It fell 289,000 during the 11 months following the recession trough of March 1991 and 1.08mn during the 21 months following the November 2001 trough. So far, it is down 768,000 from June through September. A similar analysis suggests that the unemployment rate should peak 15-19 months after June, or sometime between September 2010 and January 2011!

September jobs report: -263,000, unemployment at 9.8 percent

Oct 2, 2009 15:22 UTC

The silver linings here are tough to find, at least according to this summary from IHS Global:

The September employment report signaled a painfully slow path to stabilization in the private employment market, and sharper declines in government jobs. It also suggested that the unemployment rate is likely to hit 10% by the turn of the year.

The leading indicators in the report were not promising. The workweek fell, and is now back at its June low. And temporary help jobs – while declining only fractionally – still haven’t moved into positive territory.

There was nothing to support the view that the economy will be adding jobs before the end of the year. And nothing to support the view that the consumer can sustain the spending increases that we saw in August – employment and hours worked were down, and hourly earnings only inched higher, implying that wage and salary incomes fell.

State and local governments have now shed 160,000 jobs over the past four months as budget cuts bite. This month, 29,000 of those losses came in education as the school year began. The education sector as a whole lost 46,000 jobs this month.

The economy has now lost 7.2 million jobs since the recession began – but the story is even worse than that. The BLS now tells us that it expects to revise down March 2009 employment by 824,000, based on a full employment count from unemployment insurance statistics. That implies that the total loss is now 8.0 million.

COMMENT

I think the “early adoption” of 21st energy and health care reform is capable of putting the job market on a solid ground. As a major driver, IT industry stalled and stranded in a game industry for the lack of 21st energy policy over the stretch of two wars needs to evolve into the all but indefinite energy, medical, and academic industry where the investors are eagerly waiting for policy-makers to act now, which I guess is why the far-reaching and long overdue health care and 21st energy bill have come into focus.

Posted by hsr0601 | Report as abusive

IMF ups its estimate for 2010 global growth

Oct 1, 2009 11:44 UTC

Another unsurprising economic forecast that portends continued high US unemployment next year.

imfchart

Charlie Cook: 33-50 percent chance Dems lose House in 2010

Sep 30, 2009 16:39 UTC

I was at a Center for American Progress conference on the deficit this AM where respected political analyst Charlie Cook talked about the 2010 congressional midterms.  He said he thought there was a 1-in-3 to 1-in-2 chance that the Dems could lose the House of Representatives. Among his reasons:

1) Record drop in party ID where a 17 percent D edge has dropped to 5 over the summer.

2) An eight point drop in Obama’s approval rating over same period from 60 to 52.

3) Obama approval among independents has dropped to the low 40s. They are very worried about deficit and hyperactive government. Cook called it “visceral.”

4) Cook notes that more than 80 D House seats are in districts won by McCain in 2008 or Bush in 2004. And 48 are in districts won by both McCain and Bush in 2008 and 2008.

5) Dems could lose “a few” Senate seats, but then are set up for lousy 2012 and 2014 where they have to defend a lot of seats because of their big 200 and 2008 wins.

6) He thinks Obama should have given Bush more credit for rescuing economy at end of 2008.

COMMENT

It’ll be much more likely if Nancy Pelosi remains the Speaker.

Posted by Camron Barth | Report as abusive

Awful healthcare poll for the White House

Sep 18, 2009 18:06 UTC

Some polling results from a healthcare poll from global branding firm Siegel+Gale:

– 37 percent understand the president’s plan
– 17 percent believe the plan is deficit neutral
– 20 percent believe funding will come from a fine on the wealthy.
– 32 percent actually support the president’s plan
– 40 percent have no idea how is being paid for
– 34 percent think everyone other than Congress will be pushed into public plan

“Clearly the whole health care issue is fraught with complexity, political in-fighting, and emotion that is not helped by poor media coverage. So I’m not surprised that the American people have thrown up their hands – even sophisticated consumer advocates are not clear about the plan,” says Alan Siegel, Chairman and Founder of Siegel+Gale.

Time for another speech!

COMMENT

Jeanne Bernstein A.K.A. runaway greed Antiques profitier.

Posted by brl | Report as abusive

What liberals think of BaucusCare

Sep 16, 2009 17:39 UTC

Are they excited that Congress is moving a step closer to fulfilling decades of their healthcare dreams? Nope. This, from the liberal Health Care for American Now group:

The Baucus bill is a gift to the insurance industry that fails to meet the most basic promise of health care reform: a guarantee that Americans will have good health care that they can afford. The Baucus bill would give a government-subsidized monopoly to the private insurance industry to sell their most profitable plans – high-deductible insurance – without having to face competition from a public health insurer.

Under the Baucus bill, employers would have no responsibility to help pay for their workers’ coverage and would be given incentives to have workers pay more for barebones insurance. Americans who don’t get health benefits through work would still not be able to get good, affordable coverage.

We urge Senators on the Finance Committee to replace the Baucus plan with legislation that will do what the Senate HELP Committee and three House committees have done: guarantee that Americans have good health insurance that they can afford with the choice of a strong national public health insurance option.

COMMENT

Since when has Health Care for America Now spoken for all liberals? Generalizing a little bit, aren’t we?

Posted by kyle | Report as abusive
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