Wednesday, March 1, 2017

American Economic Development: A New (or Ancient) Model

In my last post (regarding the structure of American energy), I said that the post was the first post in a series about our energy model in conjunction with an overall American development model going forward. This post will be the second post in that series. This post will be broken into several sections:
1. Introduction
2. Development Model from World War II to the 1970's
3. Development Model from late 1970's to Today
4. New Development Model to Correct Imbalances
5. Conclusion

In order to get into this post, I'll need to begin with the structure of the old development model beginning in the late 70's and early 80's until ~2008. Then, I'll get into the development model that got us here after discussing the history. After that, I'll discuss how our current development model created the existing imbalances in the American economy. From there, I'll propose a new development model that'd systematically eliminate those aforementioned imbalances over decades.

The proposed development model lays out a set of policies specifically designed to rework the entire structural base for our economy by setting key, clear, and decisive economic development goals over the next couple decades including a diverse economy with high, value-added manufacturing that's ~15-20% of the economy within a few decades combined with a reversal of the trade deficit and sustained public investment in an economy where private investment is waiting to multiply on the benefits of public investment. Such a policy can easily achieve 4-5% economic growth rates for the American economy for the next 15-20 years.

Development Model From World War II to 1970's:
The old development model came from an economy designed for very high inflation and government control in the 50's and 60's. This model works fine in a world devastated by war wherein half the world is closed off from the rest cuz there's no risk of flight in capital. What're capitalists gonna do? Go to a place where some strongman took over, is fighting a civil war, and is actively gonna confiscate resources of everyone? If they do so, they don't deserve to manage any capital (and they won't be doing so). Are you gonna go to a war-torn place that's rebuilding? Yes, but that'll happen via capital exports and those places'll end up being net exporters as a result--which'll imply a likely trade surplus, especially in manufactures.

The structure of the financial system was explicitly geared towards creating a consumption driven economy via tight labor controls, tight wage restrictions, restrictions on corporate consolidation, restrictions on liquidation, and restrictions on finance more generally. In a rapidly connecting world on the verge of a tech revolution, these structures just didn't make sense. If they'd been kept in place, many of the innovations we saw over the past ~25-30 years would never have been seen due to the inability to develop and create financial structures over technology networks (something as simple as Google being able to network it's satellite infrastructure across its corporate networks and capital structures in order to provide a service like Google Maps across all its mobile phones would've been impossible due to "regulation").

In the 60's, there were policies designed to prevent free liquidation of assets at 50-80% discounts which could've been used to create tons of value due to "regulation". Instead, the system resolved the costs with high inflation cuz households lost out even though such trade-offs actually destroy long-term capital by removing incentives for a restructuring of financial structures. Hence, the dismantling of these regulations and the entire structure of the progressive world set up in the 20th century had begun. The result was that growth was unleashed, but that growth and all gains of productivity only went to a few at the top.

Growth Model from Late-1970's to Today:
The new growth model reversed those restrictions and allowed for an increase in value creation that all accrued to private capital. This process led to a rise in leverage among households funding a consumption boom with debt that ended up collapsing in 2008. Since 2008, there's been a rapid consolidation across private infrastructure networks which's been unseen in >100 years. What this's done is backlog economic growth by wiping out excess capacity and created huge efficiency gains along with more sound underlying financial structures linking both federal private infrastructure networks and corporate networks more generally. We're still getting ~2-3% growth with ~.5-1% growth in real GDP/capita in spite of this consolidation and the exacerbation of inequality. The use of this as a bad economy is something that is rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of economics. There's a difference between real wealth creation and economic growth rates.

This growth model has created huge income inequality, pushed value creation into hands of a few, allowed a few to capture all productivity gains, and also forces the US to adopt persistent demand leakages through "free trade" (which really means persistent current account deficits, although they've been strictly limited since the beginning of the Obama administration). All of these factors are acting as a drag on growth in the middle of a global depression.

New Growth Model:
So an economic adjustment involves a restructuring of economic policy that'll create opposite pressure on those existing imbalances. In other words, it means that if our previous economic model resulted in persistent demand leakages, the new economic model reverses those demand leakages, reduces inequality, allows households/workers to receive gains from rising productivity, and increases wages more generally. It also means we need a redirection of resources that'd expand productivity in the private sector and spur private investment across federal networks.

In other words, we need policies to reverse our current account deficit. The US has seen rising productivity in manufacturing while running a persistent trade deficit in manufactures. Such a policy wipes out large portions of the manufacturing base. An economic correction would imply an reduction/elimination of the current account deficit while protecting development capital in domestic manufacturing. In other words, there needs to be some form of protectionism, although it mustn't be too large.

We need policies that'll reduce inequality which means we need to target high wages for workers to raise household income. Such policies involve restructuring immigration to cut off unskilled labor immigration to levels that're only absolutely necessary. It means incentivizing high wages by the creation of high, value-added jobs in both manufacturing and the service sector alongside policies designed to restructure personal debts (including student loan and household debt).

In terms of a policy to spur private investment across federal networks, we need a comprehensive infrastructure package and policy across the entire US connecting states, localities, and city-regions to one another in productive ways. For this, we need centralized financing of investment in infrastructure networks that'll create a flow of private investment to follow across the country.

So what are these policies?
(i) The first will be some kind of a destination-based cash flow tax (called a "border adjustment tax" as proposed by GOP in February 2017) combined with a restructuring of corporate taxes to bring them down. That'll cause onshoring of manufacturing which's only offshored for marginal financial factors. In doing so, such a policy would transfer resources from rent-seekers abroad towards productive, value-added manufacturing domestically while driving growth and helping bring down our trade deficit.
(ii) The second policy is increasing funds in internal investments (ex. infrastructure spending, public works, etc.). Such a policy will bring a wave of private investment to follow in behind it while also driving up growth rates and creating investments that'll pay for themselves in due time.
(iii) The third policy that needs to be resolved is immigration. Unskilled labor immigration needs to be dramatically reduced in order to create labor shortages to increase wages short-term while firms go towards automation and capital investment long-term.
(iv) The fourth policy is to reduce or restructure unsustainable debts (like student debt) across the population. Such a policy would transfer resources to those at the very bottom, redistribute resources, and reduce inequality structurally.

Those four policies from the previous combined (each in small amounts) could easily take an economy growing at 2% to one growing at 4-5% over the next 15-20 years sustainably while setting forth a massive private sector deleveraging. How so? Use public investment of ~1% of GDP to drive growth up by ~1-1.5% minimum (it'll probably be closer to ~1.5-2% or higher due to Keynesian multiplier), combine that with a border adjustment tax that'd onshore manufacturing firms and reduce trade deficit driving ~.5-1% growth annually, and we're already at 4-5% from our 2-3% today. Combine that with some debt restructuring for those truly suffering, a restructuring of immigration laws, further liberalization, and it's easy to see how we can get to even 6-7% growth for 10 years sustainably.

How does this speed up a private sector deleveraging. If the government runs 2-3% of GDP deficits while our current account deficit goes flat, it means the private sector deleveraging in nominal terms is +2-3% of GDP. When we add in 4-5% real growth with ~2% inflation, we get NGDP growing at ~7-8%. In real terms, the value of the debt could be falling by ~10% of GDP in real terms. However, this deleveraging only takes place if we adjust our growth model.

This will transition into my next post regarding the basic ideas and fundamentals of the new development model I've laid out here in regards to the future structural goals of the economy for the 21st (and 22nd) centuries. I'll talk mostly about the kind of energy, geopolitical, and financial shifts we'll need to see in economic structures and in infrastructure.

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