Economic and Fiscal Policy

February 12, 2019

Our current POTUS rarely stands still long enough for anyone to really examine how his positions and policies impact us in the present, or potentially in the future.

Here are a couple of observations which I managed to glean from rapidly moving targets:

Fiscal Policy:  Failure

By late 2017, the U.S. economy had enjoyed over 8 years of economic expansion (since June 2009), leading virtually all economists to conclude we were moving toward the end of an economic expansion cycle. Most experts agree that the government should constrain both borrowing and spending during an expansion phase, concurrently decreasing government debt.

When the expansion phase of a business cycle comes to an end, and the economy begins to sputter – and ultimately to contract – a government with reduced debt will have the capacity to spend more and tax less, helping to support the softening economy return to equilibrium faster and smoother.

The much-touted Tax Cuts and Jobs Act enacted at the end of 2017 introduced a $1.5 Trillion tax cut, sold as a source of economic stimulus when it was least needed.

In times of economic expansion, the government is on notice to reduce its deficit.

On February 12, 2019, the national debt passed a new milestone, topping $22 Trillion for the first time.  According to the U.S. Treasury Department, total outstanding public debt hit $22.01 Trillion, up from the $19.95 Trillion when President Donald Trump took office on Jan. 20, 2017.  This is mighty dangerous stuff, folks.

Trade Policy:  Failure

Tariffs are a tax on consumption, paid by end users.

Over several decades, the U.S. developed a dependence on manufactured goods from China.  In turn, U.S. exports to China – predominantly agricultural and unfinished goods – enjoyed strong growth over time.

President Trump abruptly started a trade war with China, imposing tariffs on goods imported into the U.S. beginning in July 2018.

China quickly retaliated, raising tariffs on American goods imported into China, resulting in significant shifts by China to alternative sources.

Winners?  Brazil; Russia; Germany; Japan.

Losers?  American agricultural producers in Iowa, Nebraska, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Kansas; some American manufacturers; and American consumers overall.

It was once said, “When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win.

The evidence seems to emphatically refute that position.

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Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid created in 1960, originally introduced as an anesthetic. Because it is synthetic, it can be easily and inexpensively made in a lab. It was approved by the FDA in the early 1990’s for use as a painkiller and anesthetic. It works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, but it does so faster — and in much smaller doses — than morphine or heroin. Like other opioids, it boosts levels of the chemical dopamine, which controls feelings of reward, pleasure, euphoria, and relaxation.

Today, Fentanyl is typically prescribed to treat patients who need long-term, around-the-clock relief from severe pain. When used for medical purposes, it is often given in a shot, a patch on the skin, or in lozenges.

China has become a global source of Fentanyl because (a) it can be easily and inexpensively made in a lab; and (b) the vast chemical and pharmaceutical industries in China are lightly regulated.

Some Fentanyl comes straight to the United States from China, while other shipments come in from China to Mexico (and to a lesser extent) Canada before making its way into the U.S.

There currently is no tariff on Fentanyl imported into the U.S. from any point of origin, which indicates that the Trump administration has missed a major revenue opportunity.

Another branch of our armed forces?

I just can’t imagine an Industrial Engineer who would look at the current structure of the Pentagon and the U.S. military and not conclude that we have an extraordinarily inefficient approach to defense.

Air, land and sea.  Sounds good, right?

Except that we have 5 branches which overlap, compete with each other directly and indirectly, and don’t always communicate well.

Now, the Master Obfuscator and Distracter-in-Chief wants to start a 6th branch!

I can only conclude that The Donald is running wild trying to divert attention away from some of his self-created demons: Immigration; His war on Canada; His new love affair with Kim Jong Un; A ‘tax reform’ plan which will leave America bankrupt; The deterioration and ultimate disintegration of the American health care system; The ‘Russia thing’; Cyber security intrusions and risks across the entire U.S. public and private sector; Rapidly deteriorating physical infrastructure across the U.S.; Escalating gun violence, the NRA and 21st century gun control; Mueller and his ‘Russian Witch Hunt Hoax’; Stormy Daniels; and Dozens of other critical issues which need to be addressed in an honest, responsible and strategic fashion.

Donald J. Trump has the attention span of a gnat, the moral turpitude of a ‘made man’ and the integrity of a Carnival Barker.  Despite that, he is our POTUS, and he continues to dash along his path toward fooling many of the people most of the time.

It seems wherever we look, Donald Trump’s appalling behavior sets a new and very low standard upon which to measure the 21st Century version of The Ugly American.

His most recent tweets about Canadian PM Trudeau which followed Trump’s rude early departure from the G-7 meeting are deplorable.

Then, he sent his thugs Kudlow and Navarro off to reinforce the message in harsh, scorched-earth fashion.

Said Navarro on Sunday, June 10, 2018: “All Justin Trudeau had to do was take the win. President Trump did the courtesy to Justin Trudeau to travel up to Quebec for that summit. He had other things, bigger things on his plate in Singapore.  And what did Trudeau do? As soon as the plane took off from Canadian airspace, Trudeau stuck our president in the back. That will not stand.”

Trump did a courtesy? Hello? Red meat to the Trump base; An insult to everyone else who lives on Planet Earth.

Donald Trump said what Canada has “done to our dairy farm workers is a disgrace. It’s a disgrace. And our farmers in Wisconsin and New York State are being put out of business, our dairy farmers.”

Trump has gone on to tell us that “Canada charges the U.S. a 270% tariff on Dairy Products! They didn’t tell you that, did they? Not fair to our farmers!”

No, they didn’t because it’s just not true.  There is one specific dairy product which has ignited this Tempest in a Teapot, a product which exists in surplus due to overcapacity in the U.S. dairy industry.

The product at the center of the dispute is ultra-filtered milk, which is used to make cheese and yogurt.

It is not governed by any tariffs under NAFTA, because it essentially did not exist when NAFTA was originally negotiated. The U.S. dairy industry has been selling surplus ultra-filtered milk — duty-free — to Canadian processors. And that is part of the root problem for Canadian dairy farmers.

Never heard of ultra-filtered milk?  Neither had I.

Ultra-filtered milk (sometimes called diafiltered milk) is generally a byproduct of butter production after the milk fat has been removed to provide the basic ingredient for butter.

It is a sub-classification of milk protein concentrate which is created by passing the remaining low- or no-fat milk under pressure through a thin, porous membrane to separate the components of milk according to their size. Ultra-filtration allows the smaller lactose, water, mineral, and vitamin molecules to pass through the membrane, while the larger protein molecules are retained and concentrated. The removal of water and lactose reduces the volume of milk, significantly lowering storage and transportation costs.

In 2016, the U.S. dairy industry sold about $133 Million of ultra-filtered milk to dairy product producers in Canada, a rounding error on the total trade transactions between the U.S. and Canada.

The federal U.S. Trade Representative reported a U.S. $12.5 Billion trade surplus for goods and services with Canada in 2016, exporting $320.1 Billion and importing $307.6 Billion. (The reported U.S. surplus was $8.4 Billion in 2017).

Meanwhile, the man who affirmed that he would faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and would — to the best of his ability — preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States has given us clear and irrefutable evidence that his abilities are deficient, inadequate, unacceptable, inferior and dreadful.  Or, perhaps he is an untruthful traitor.

Either way, he has put our entire world in danger of a real world war.