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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

We are witnessing a revolution of lower expectations. Economic times are hardly great but Americans seem remarkably copasetic.

The excesses of the financial crisis have been institutionalized, not erased. Fortunes amassed by selling bogus securities, foreclosing on mortgages and abusing bankruptcy laws have been safely banked. The likes of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn and President Trump — and his princelings — have been rewarded with the pinnacles of power and prestige.


Good jobs and wages still advance tepidly as compared to the closing decades of the 20th century. Most families are stuck with the same income — or less — and the essentials of middle-class life — housing, health care and a college education — are much tougher to afford.

That’s why Procter & Gamble can no longer grow hawking new and improved laundry detergents or “shaving systems” to replace ordinary razors.

When you have lemons you make lemonade but when you don’t have sugar, you pretend.

Recent polls indicate as many Americans believe themselves middle class as before the crisis, and most are satisfied with their jobs, feel they are getting ahead and no longer fear outsourcing.

Perhaps times are better than the economic data indicate, but as someone painfully trained to understand the quality of federal statistics, I can attest things are still worse than during the Reagan-Clinton golden years.

Americans exhibit denial, because they know elected politicians are either cynical or inept.

After all, they won’t fix the health insurance market even though Germany and Holland have demonstrated similar private systems can deliver high-quality care at one-third less cost.

April 15 remains a Kafkaesque event. Does anyone believe those masters of financial wizardry at the White House and among the congressional leadership will dramatically simplify tax returns, save Americans from cheating in gray areas to avoid confiscatory rates and miraculously lower middle-class and business taxes by igniting an enduring surge in economic growth?

Up next, Professor Morici will abolish the death tax by revealing the precise location of Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth.

The Federal Reserve can print money and dictate overnight bank borrowing rates, but it can’t effectively change mortgage terms — 30-year rates have hardly budged since the Fed started tightening in 2015. Those are now determined by predilections of financiers in Europe and Asia.

Despite pounding on friends — Canada, Mexico and South Korea — and foe — China — alike by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, the trade deficit is getting bigger and jobs losses worse.

Mr. Trump may be able to issue some executive orders to ease regulations in the energy and banking sectors, but really opening up oil production and making credit available to small businesses again requires legislation Democrats can and will block.

The real barriers to folks moving to new jobs — the avalanche of occupational licensing restrictions and building codes that arbitrarily protect rich urban neighborhoods from new middle-class housing — remain squarely in the hands of local officials hamstrung by unions, left-wing environmentalists and conservation zealots.

Despite all Mr. Trump’s claims about triumphant stock market performance, gross domestic product growth this year is not likely to much exceed 2 percent and jobs growth will be no better than the Obama years.

Democrats like to blame Republican obstructionism during the Obama years. And now Mr. Trump’s fluke electoral victory and administration of plutocrats, but they had better check the results of other elections, too.

The Republican Party holds 34 of the 50 state governorships and the majority in state legislatures because voters reject Democrats’ theology of race and gender as the source of their difficulties and the party’s platform to solve their problems with more regulations on businesses and taxes on the wealthy.

Globalization and the nexus of digital technologies, automation and artificial intelligence have divided America into those who are doing great — those who go to Ivy League colleges and elite state universities on rich parents’ donations and tuition payments or who receive admission and scholarships for pleasing the identity politics of their politically correct faculties — and the rest of us who go to left-out state schools face a lifetime burdened by student debt and labor as contingent workers in the gig economy.

Americans are doing what the serfs did in the century after the Black Death — being thankful for the blessings of feudalism.

• Peter Morici is an economist and business professor at the University of Maryland, and a national columnist.


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