The Great Equalizer (David Smick)

Published early in the Trump administration, this book sounds like a bit like a takeoff on “Make America Great Again.” Wanted: a more entrepreneurial economy – better rewards for the working class that drive “Main Street Capitalism” – sense that everyone is working for a common goal –transformational leadership – action to cut regulations, reform taxes and rebuild crumbling infrastructure - faster economic growth (aka the “great equalizer,” which averts endless bickering about how the economic pie is divided) – trade policies that don’t put the US at a disadvantage versus other countries – can do attitude versus bunker mentality.

The author disagrees with the president on some things, notably Trump’s call for controlling (and probably reducing) immigration into the US. Immigration plays a vital role in keeping the dynamism of our society alive, says Smick, without getting into the legal vs. illegal distinction. And he makes a far bigger point about the dangers of deficits and debt than Trump has done.

Of the luminaries whose “advance praise” for the book is quoted on the back jacket, only one (Newt Gingrich) has been a consistent Trump supporter. (The others: Paul Ryan, Lawrence Summers, Bill Bradley & Austan Goolsbee). And discussion in the book is based on an eclectic mix of sources and examples versus things the president has said or done.

The text is studded with personal anecdotes, such as the author’s recollection of angering China’s ambassador to the US at a DC luncheon by asking pointed questions about whether “your financial system is in trouble.” The primary point seems to be that Smick is well-connected and gets around, both in the US and internationally.

Readers are reminded that the world is a complicated and dynamic place, which makes it difficult to foresee the future. Thus, it seems apparent that a speedup in economic growth would be a good thing. (3% growth per year will double economic output in 24 years; a 2% growth rate will only achieve a 60% increase – which with a rising population may not suffice to provide a rising standard of living for all). But do we know how to measure economic growth in a meaningful way when the goods and services available are constantly changing? Will advancing technology create more job opportunities than it destroys, or are humans facing a future in which millions of working age adults will lose their jobs due to the growing use of robots? And if there are still going to be jobs for humans to do, what are said jobs going to look like?

In general, this book does a better job of raising issues than providing solutions. Thus, the 14-point plan for Mainstream Capitalism that is offered seems slapdash at best. Grand bargains with Congress – bring US company capital home – global debt summit to discuss contingency plans – tax reform (which at this point has supposedly happened) – invest in youth – recreate the global financial architecture – encourage new enterprises (startups) – increase the annual return on government-held nonfinancial assets – raise the minimum wage (but not too much) – provide relocation vouchers to states in need of new employees – slow down the issuance of new regulations and agree on a bipartisan basis to kill off the worst ones – fix the US community college system with federal grants – reinvent government, e.g., by reforming the patent system.
Posted 8/14/18.

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