What an Obama victory will mean for the US economy...
WE ARE now left with a two-horse race for president, writes Martin Hutchinson for Money Morning.
That means the markets are going to begin to handicap the November results. However, when the markets begin to handicap the race it will be about a lot more than just picking the eventual winner.
Instead, everything will revolve around the policies and consequences that come along with the winner. The difference in approach promises to be stark with "Obamanomics" on the left and "Romneynomics" on the right.
Each one comes with its own set of consequences, though.
Today I'm going to look at "Obamanomics II," or the policies we will get if President Obama is re-elected. But those on the left shouldn't despair...In my next piece, it's Romney's turn.
As for the horserace itself, it's too close to call, with neither side having much chance of winning a big victory. Even still at the moment, President Obama appears to be ahead. Apart from his modest lead in the polls, my former home state of Virginia appears to be swinging definitively toward the Democrats.
Yes, Republican Bob McDonnell did win the Virginia governorship handily in 2009, but he was a very good candidate. Moreover, turnout in gubernatorial elections is normally low. Thus I believe the latest polls showing Obama with a 7% lead in Virginia are accurate, and without Virginia Romney has a very difficult path to the presidency.
If we believe the presidential election will be close, then it follows that Congress and the Senate elections must be close, too. If Obama wins in November, the most likely outcome must be that the Democrats will hang on to the Senate, while the Republican House majority survives, albeit much smaller than at present.
With this combination, the president's more extreme wishes (or those of his team) will be restrained. But as a newly re-elected figure he will nevertheless have more power to get what he wants than he does currently.
Whatever the congressional numbers may be, the president's first task will be to face the "fiscal cliff" of January 2013, when the Bush tax cuts and temporary payroll tax cuts expire and automatic spending "sequestration" comes into effect. This problem will be faced by the "lame-duck" current Congress in November and December, but it's likely the election results will heavily influence what it does.
President Obama has made several attempts to raise taxes on the rich, and re-election would allow him to succeed. As well as allowing most of the Bush tax cuts to expire, it's likely a re-elected Obama will close some of the major tax loopholes – for home mortgage interest, charitable deductions and state and local taxes – at least for the rich, probably defined as those with an income over $500,000.
However, he probably won't engage in a Francois Hollande-style attempt to raise the top rate of tax to 75% -- that would yield no extra revenue and would make it more difficult for him to do other things he wants.
On healthcare, re-election will allow Obama to adjust Obamacare to reflect his own priorities more closely. If the Supreme Court strikes down the individual mandate (whereby individuals must purchase health insurance) then he will probably extend Medicaid up the income scale, so that middle-income people can take advantage of the program.
Spiraling healthcare costs will be controlled by price restrictions on reimbursements to healthcare providers.
In four years' time, more people will likely be covered by health insurance, but healthcare quality will decline as increasing numbers of providers refuse to accept patients from the expanded Medicaid.
From the US economy's point of view, the most worrying feature of President Obama's re-election is the free rein it will give to the regulators. With a full set of regulators in place, and President Obama not facing re-election, the more damaging regulatory schemes will have a full four years to be implemented.
Possible hazards include a shut-down of fracking, tight regulation of carbon emissions that will force increased use of uneconomic green technologies, further detailed restrictions on non-discriminatory hiring that would prevent employers from taking criminal records and past employment history into account, and tightly-directed bank lending rules restricting availability of capital for small business.
The precise nature of regulatory restrictions in 2013-17 is unknown, but their general direction and seriousness is certain.
There is some evidence that the entire decline in US productivity growth after 1973 is due to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other regulators around 1970. Enthusiastic regulators given full rein could well cripple US competitiveness for decades to come.
On the monetary front, President Obama's re-election will mean Ben Bernanke and his "soft money" acolytes will be given full rein.
Either Bernanke will be re-appointed in January 2014 or one of his acolytes like Fed Vice-chairman Janet Yellen will succeed him.
Interest rates will remain at near zero-levels until late 2014, while inflation will get out of control. For investors, stocks will be good but commodities, oil and gold will be even better, with EPA restrictions limiting prospects for new oil supplies.
Overall, the US economy will be in a very different place in January 2017 than it was in 2009, with the state representing a much larger share in output and exercising considerable control over the rest.
But that's what Americans would have voted for, twice.
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