What’s Killing U.S. Growth

On April 6th, the Wall Street Journal published an editorial that merits careful examination: “Jack Lew’s Political Economy”. The Journal correctly points out that the Obama administration’s meddling with regulations and red tape is killing U.S. investment and jobs. The most recent example being the Treasury’s new rules on so-called tax inversions, which burried a merger between Pfizer, Inc. and Allergan PLC.

As the Journal concluded: “This politicization has spread across most of the economy during the Obama years, as regulators rewrite longstanding interpretations of longstanding laws in order to achieve the policy goals they can’t or won’t negotiate with Congress. Telecoms, consumer finance, for-profit education, carbon energy, auto lending, auto-fuel economy, truck emissions, home mortgages, health care and so much more.”

“Capital investment in this recovery has been disappointingly low, and one major reason is political intrusion into every corner of business decision-making. To adapt Mr. Read [Pfizer CEO Ian Read], the only rule is that the rules are whatever the Obama Administration wants them to be. The results have been slow growth, small wage gains, and a growing sense that there is no legal restraint on the political class.”

Washington’s destructive policies have been dubbed “regime uncertainty” in a strand of innovative analyses pioneered by Robert Higgs of the Independent Institute. Regime uncertainty relates to the likelihood that an investor’s private property – namely, the flows of income and services it yields – will be attenuated by government action. As regime uncertainty is elevated, private investment is notched down from where it would have been. This can result in a business-cycle bust and even economic stagnation. I recommend Higgs’ most recent book for evidence on the negative effects of regime uncertainty: Robert Higgs. Taking a Stand: Reflections on Life Liberty, and the Economy. Oakland, CA: The Independent Institute, 2015.