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Trump’s Biggest Economic Legacy Isn’t About the Numbers – The New York Times

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BETHLEHEM, Pa. — To understand how much President Trump has altered the conversation around the economy, just listen to Bruce Haines, who spent decades as an executive at U.S. Steel before becoming a managing partner of the elegant Historic Hotel Bethlehem.

The steel mills that still dominate Bethlehem’s skyline have long been empty. And now, so are the tables in the Tap Room, the hotel’s restaurant, a sign of the economic hardship caused by the coronavirus pandemic. “It’s been very difficult,” Mr. Haines said.

The president’s management of the pandemic is a prime reason many voters cite for backing his opponent. But Mr. Haines, who lives in a swing county in a swing state, is struck most by a different aspect of Mr. Trump’s record.

“I spent 35 years in the steel business and I can tell you unfair trade deals were done by Republicans and Democrats,” Mr. Haines said. Both parties, he complained, had given up on manufacturing — once a wellspring of stable middle-class jobs. “Trump has been the savior of American industry. He got it. He’s the only one.”

Bruce Haines, co-owner of Hotel Bethlehem, said the business has lost 40 percent of its income because it is unable to host large events and gatherings.
Credit…Hannah Yoon for The New York Times

In perhaps the greatest reversal of fortune of the Trump presidency, a microscopically tiny virus upended the outsize economic legacy that Mr. Trump had planned to run on for re-election. Instead of record-low unemployment rates, supercharged confidence levels and broad-based gains in personal income, Mr. Trump will end his term with rising poverty, wounded growth and a higher jobless rate than when he took office.

Still, despite one of the worst years in recent American history, the issue on which Mr. Trump gets his highest approval ratings remains the economy. It points to the resilience of his reputation as a savvy businessman and hard-nosed negotiator. And it is evidence that his most enduring economic legacy may not rest in any statistical almanac, but in how much he has shifted the conversation around the economy.

Long before Mr. Trump appeared on the political stage, powerful forces were reshaping the economy and inciting deep-rooted anxieties about secure middle-income jobs and America’s economic pre-eminence in the world. Mr. Trump recognized, stoked and channeled those currents in ways that are likely to persist whether he wins or loses the election.

By ignoring economic and political orthodoxies, he at times successfully married seemingly contradictory or inconsistent positions to win over both hard-core capitalists and the working class. There would be large tax breaks and deregulation for business owners and investors, and trade protection and aid for manufacturers, miners and farmers.

In the process, he scrambled party positions on key issues like immigration and globalization, and helped topple sacred verities about government debt. He took a Republican Party that preached free trade, low spending and debt reduction and transformed it into one that picked trade wars even with allies, ran up record-level peacetime deficits and shielded critical social programs from cuts.

Credit…Mark Makela for The New York Times

“He completely moved the Republican Party away from reducing Social Security and Medicare spending,” said Michael R. Strain, an economist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

On immigration, Mr. Trump remade the political landscape in a different way. He has accused immigrants of stealing jobs or committing crimes and — as he did in Thursday night’s debate — continued to disparage their intelligence. In doing so, he rallied hard-line sentiments that could be found in each party and turned them into a mostly Republican cri de coeur.

The Democrats changed in turn. Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has positioned himself as the champion of immigrants, pledging to reverse Mr. Trump’s most restrictive policies, while rejecting more radical proposals like eliminating the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

He has also been pushed to finesse his position on fracking and the oil industry, promising not to ban the controversial drilling method on private lands, and trying — with mixed success — to walk back comments he had made during the presidential debate about transitioning away from fossil fuels.

Shifts on trade were more momentous. Mr. Biden and other party leaders who had once promoted the benefits of globalization found themselves playing defense against a Republican who outflanked them on issues like industrial flight and foreign competition. They responded by embracing elements of protectionism that they had previously abandoned.

No matter who spends the next four years in the White House, economic policy is likely to pay more attention to American jobs and industries threatened by China and other foreign competition and less attention to worries about deficits caused by government efforts to stimulate the economy.

The reshuffling is clear to Charles Jefferson, the managing owner of Montage Mountain Ski Resort near Scranton, Pa.

“Those were not conversations we were having five years ago,” he said. “The exodus of manufacturing jobs, that was considered a fait accompli.”

Mr. Jefferson, 55, grew up in North Philadelphia in a blue-collar union family and remembers the hemorrhaging of jobs that many Democratic leaders said was unstoppable in a globalized world — even though such positions were deeply unpopular with many rank-and-file Democrats.

Manufacturing revived after bottoming out during the Great Recession but floundered during President Barack Obama’s second term. Mr. Jefferson, who said he voted for Mr. Obama, supported Mr. Trump in 2016. He plans to do so again.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

The sector still represents a relatively small slice of the economy, accounting for 11 percent of the country’s total output and employing less than 9 percent of American workers. But Mr. Trump has been a relentless cheerleader. While he often took credit for manufacturing jobs at companies like General Motors and Foxconn that later disappeared or never materialized, the pace of hiring in the sector sped up considerably in 2018 before stalling out last year.

As a result, in this election, unlike the last, the significance of manufacturing and the need for a more skeptical approach to free trade are not contested.

Mr. Biden, after decades of supporting trade pacts, is now running on a “made in all of America” program that promises to “use full power of the federal government to bolster American industrial and technological strength.” He has also vowed to use the tax code to encourage businesses to keep or create jobs on American soil.

Even voters who don’t particularly like Mr. Trump credit him with re-energizing the U.S. economy.

Walter Dealtrey Jr., who runs a tire service, sales and retreading business in Bethlehem that his father started 65 years ago, said he voted for Mr. Trump in 2016, but he was never a big fan of the president.

Credit…Hannah Yoon for The New York Times

“He talks too much,” said Mr. Dealtrey, who’s been around long enough to distinguish a new Goodyear or Michelin tire by its smell. “And his tone is terrible.” A year ago, he had considered the possibility of supporting a moderate Democrat like Mr. Biden or Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

But with Election Day just over a week away, Mr. Dealtrey plans to once again support the president. Even after a few unnervingly slow months in the spring and some layoffs among the 960 people he employed at his company, Service Tire Truck Centers, he stills trusts Mr. Trump on the economy.

Mr. Dealtrey talked as he walked around stacks of giant tires that towered above his own six-foot frame, a Stonehenge-size monument to wheeled transport. He likes the president’s focus on “big manufacturing” and the way he “instills confidence in businesses to invest in this country.”

Just how much responsibility Mr. Trump deserves for reframing some key economic issues is up for debate. Frustration about job losses in the United States has been brewing for decades; the parties were diverging on immigration; and antagonism toward China over trade practices, suspicions of technology theft and its authoritarian tactics extends beyond the United States.

Credit…Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

“I don’t think he really has pushed the boundaries of any of those policy issues beyond where they already were,” said Mr. Strain of the American Enterprise Institute.

Similarly, Jason Furman, a chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers during the Obama administration, argues that Mr. Trump was pushed along by the same trends and forces that spurred his supporters. And on some issues, like immigration, he caused public opinion to move in the opposite direction.

In the end, it may turn out that the president’s most significant impact on economic policy is not one that he intended: overturning the conventional wisdom about the impact of government deficits.

By simultaneously pursuing steep tax cuts for businesses and wealthy individuals, raising military spending and ruling out Medicare and Social Security reductions, Mr. Trump presided over unprecedented trillion-dollar deficits. Emergency pandemic relief added to the bill. Such sums were supposed to cause interest rates and inflation to spike and crowd out private investment. They didn’t.

“Trump has done a lot to legitimize deficit spending,” Mr. Furman said.

Mr. Furman is one of a growing circle of economists and bankers who have called for Washington to let go of its debt obsession. Investing in infrastructure, health care, education and job creation are worth borrowing for, they argue, particularly in an era of low interest rates.

That doesn’t mean the issue has disappeared. Republicans will undoubtedly oppose deficits resulting from proposals put forward by a Democratic White House — and vice versa. But warnings about the calamitous consequences of federal borrowing are unlikely to have the same resonance as before the Trump presidency.

Back in his office, Mr. Dealtrey remembers how disturbed he once was about the size of the deficit. “I used to care about my kids and grandkids being stuck with it,” he said, leaning back in his chair. “But nobody cares anymore.”

“Maybe I don’t care anymore,” he said, momentarily surprised at his own words. “We’ve got bigger problems than that.”

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Australia bounces out of recession as economy grows 3.3% – OrilliaMatters

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Australia’s economy grew by 3.3% in the third quarter, rebounding from its first recession in nearly three decades as it recovered from pandemic-related shocks, according to figures released Wednesday.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told reporters the country still has a lot of ground to make up from the coronavirus downturn.

“Australia’s recession may be over, but Australia’s economic recovery is not,” he said.

Despite the latest quarterly rise, the economy contracted at a 3.8% annual pace. That’s after GDP fell by 0.3% in the first quarter and then by a record 7% in the second quarter.

“But the Australian economy has demonstrated its remarkable resilience and Australia is as well positioned as any other nation on Earth,” Frydenberg said. “Today’s national accounts represent a major step forward in Australia’s economic recovery.”

Before this year, Australia had managed to avoid a recession for 28 years. The economy grew even during the global financial crisis thanks to strong demand for Australia’s mineral exports and a robust domestic sector.

The better-than-expected figures were encouraging, economists said.

“The rebound in Q3 GDP reversed around 40% of the decline during the first half of the year and we expect output to return to pre-virus levels by mid-2021,” Ben Udy of Capital Economics said in a commentary.

Now on top of the pandemic, Australia is enduring a spate of rocky relations with China, its biggest trading partner.

Frydenberg said the situation with China is “very serious” but his government is focusing on striking deals with other countries in Asia and beyond.

“We have great produce, and we have great services, and we have great resource sectors, and I’m very optimistic about the opportunities for our exporters around the world,” he said.

Australia’s relationship with China worsened this week after a Chinese official tweeted a fake image of a grinning Australian soldier holding a bloodied knife to a child’s throat.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called the image “repugnant” and demanded an apology from the Chinese government. But China has not backed down.

The post took aim at alleged abuses by elite Australian soldiers during the conflict in Afghanistan.

Tensions have been growing this year since the Australian government called for an independent inquiry into the origins of the pandemic. China has imposed tariffs and other restrictions on a number of Australian exports.

Nick Perry, The Associated Press

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Australia bounces out of recession as economy grows 3.3% – Nanaimo News NOW

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“But the Australian economy has demonstrated its remarkable resilience and Australia is as well positioned as any other nation on Earth,” Frydenberg said. “Today’s national accounts represent a major step forward in Australia’s economic recovery.”

Before this year, Australia had managed to avoid a recession for 28 years. The economy grew even during the global financial crisis thanks to strong demand for Australia’s mineral exports and a robust domestic sector.

The better-than-expected figures were encouraging, economists said.

“The rebound in Q3 GDP reversed around 40% of the decline during the first half of the year and we expect output to return to pre-virus levels by mid-2021,” Ben Udy of Capital Economics said in a commentary.

Now on top of the pandemic, Australia is enduring a spate of rocky relations with China, its biggest trading partner.

Frydenberg said the situation with China is “very serious” but his government is focusing on striking deals with other countries in Asia and beyond.

“We have great produce, and we have great services, and we have great resource sectors, and I’m very optimistic about the opportunities for our exporters around the world,” he said.

Australia’s relationship with China worsened this week after a Chinese official tweeted a fake image of a grinning Australian soldier holding a bloodied knife to a child’s throat.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called the image “repugnant” and demanded an apology from the Chinese government. But China has not backed down.

The post took aim at alleged abuses by elite Australian soldiers during the conflict in Afghanistan.

Tensions have been growing this year since the Australian government called for an independent inquiry into the origins of the pandemic. China has imposed tariffs and other restrictions on a number of Australian exports.

Nick Perry, The Associated Press

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Plenty of booby traps on a path to economic recovery littered with unknowns – CBC.ca

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As the folk tales tell us, it is a fool who tries to please everyone.

But as the finance minister in a minority government that will one day soon have to face the electorate, Chrystia Freeland must do her best to satisfy a majority.

Critics, including some in the suffering airline industry, complained that this week’s fiscal plan does not spend enough on them. Fiscal conservatives worried about the deficit and wonder how Freeland will pay for what she has spent already. Pundits are already demanding to know details about how she will fulfil her plan to restart the economy once the coronavirus has been driven off by vaccines.

Despite Freeland’s tone of confidence, the disruptive impact of COVID-19 has generated many long-term uncertainties.

Even as she scrambles to solve current and pressing economic problems, the list of potential future pitfalls is long and the effects of each are highly uncertain. The problem — for her, for us and for business — is that this recession is so different from the economic crises we have suffered in the past. None of us know how things will turn out.

Borrowing is easy

Despite a projected deficit of more than $380 billion and a debt expected to soar past $1 trillion, Freeland, who is also deputy prime minister, has reassured Canadians that payments on that debt remain affordable. But just as in your own household, debt is notoriously easy to run up and hard to run down.

While interest rates are low now and the U.S. Federal Reserve — which strongly influences rates here in Canada — has promised to keep them low until the economy bounces back, market forces are telling us that long-term commercial interest rates are on the rise.

A broker in Mumbai, India. Markets have been a bright spot as the economy has weakened, but some fear share prices have become disconnected from the real world. (Shailesh Andrade/Reuters)

Extraordinarily low interest rates have led to extraordinary borrowing by governments, businesses and ordinary Canadians — and some say we are reaching the limit.

Some financial observers, including Martin Wolf at the Financial Times, have warned that the world may be on the cusp of a sudden shift from 40 years of falling to rising inflation. If that were to happen, governments and their central bankers would be forced to decide whether to quell it with higher interest rates in spite of the effect on their own borrowing costs.

While Freeland said that her spending will be based on long-term borrowing locked in at current low rates, costs could rise. Just as you must periodically renew your mortgage, each year governments and companies must go back to the market to replace their portfolio of existing bonds as they come due, and that must be done at the interest rate when they do it.

So long as interest rates stay low and the economy continues to grow, Canadian personal borrowing — which Equifax just reported has hit a staggering $2 trillion — is nothing to worry about. A lot of that debt is backed by high and rising house prices. But rising rates and falling house prices, or a continuing recession that leads to job losses, could make that debt unbearable, damaging a crucial motor of the Canadian economy.

300-year recession

Canada is a trading nation, and even if the domestic economy continues to tough it out, it will be hard to prosper if our trading partners weaken.

Last week the economy of the United Kingdom, with whom Canada is now negotiating a trade deal, plunged into its deepest recession in 300 years — forcing it to cut overseas aid to places that are even worse off.

Many countries around the world, including our nearest neighbour, continue to suffer from the economic impact of the pandemic — making things much worse than when a disaster hits a single part of the world, allowing other economies to help bail them out. Our trade partners may not be in a buying mood. Trade protectionism will be a temptation.

While economic growth slows and businesses go broke, among the bright spots have been financial markets that keep nudging new highs. Rising stock prices are cheering for those with cash invested, but there are growing fears that market darlings such as Tesla, up 600 per cent this year, may have become detached from the real economy.

A happy Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, arrives at a European awards ceremony in Berlin on Tuesday. The company’s shares have risen 600 per cent this year. (Hannibal Hanschke/Pool/Reuters)

Some analysts worry that the current casino mentality cannot be sustained and will lead to a reckoning. With interest rates already at rock bottom and borrowing already so high, preventing damage to the crucial financial markets from a new panic will be harder than during previous bailouts.

This gloomy list of long-term potential worries for the finance minister is only partial. Some fear disruption to education will lead to a news skills gap and put an even greater wedge between the rich and the poor. Others fear a crash in the value of commercial property will have a lasting effect.

Lower immigration, a loss of entry-level jobs in restaurants and retail and a long-term hollowing out of the economy are only some of the effects that could make things worse.

But rather than just make us sick with worry instead of sick with COVID-19, the point is that in the wake of a major recession of the kind the world is facing now, there is no way that Chrystia Freeland or anyone else — no matter how smart — can tell us with any certainty how the economy will unfold over the next few years.

WATCH | From education to jobs, how to manage the pandemic’s financial challenges:

Personal finance expert Preet Banerjee answers viewer questions about the financial challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, including saving for school with limited job opportunities and whether or not people should prepare for an economic depression. 3:22

What Canada needs is a capable person in charge, a safe pair of hands, to help us make the best of a perilous and unknown future.

And there is no reason that future could not also include a strong recovery as new businesses take advantage of plentiful labour, less expensive office and retail space and a flood of pent-up demand to come back even stronger than before the pandemic struck.

Follow Don Pittis on Twitter: @don_pittis

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