What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Trump takes credit for the good economy. Here’s what economists say

Unemployment is down, the GDP is growing at over 3 percent, the stock market hits record highs nearly every day and President Trump says it's a function of his policies. Does he deserve the credit? Economics correspondent Paul Solman reports.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But first- this weekend will mark a full year since President Trump was inaugurated.

    It has been a week of good economic news, which he touted today, including the Dow Jones average quickly cracking the 26000 mark and Apple announcing that it will bring huge overseas profits back to invest in the U.S., paying tens of billions of dollars in taxes.

    How much of that credit should go to the president?

    Our economics correspondent, Paul Solman, posed that question for his weekly series, Making Sense.

  • Paul Solman:

    Unemployment 4.1 percent, down from 4.8 when President Trump took office, GDP growing at more than 3 percent, faster than the last two Obama years, the stock market hitting new highs nearly every day.

    And President Trump says it’s a function of his policies.

    Here is in Pennsylvania this afternoon.

  • President Donald Trump:

    At the center of America’s resurgence are the massive tax cuts that I just signed into law, with tremendous tax relief for working families, for small businesses, for big businesses that produce jobs, for just about everybody, tremendous numbers. And you are already seeing what is happening.

  • Paul Solman:

    And so the question, does the president deserve the credit?

    At the annual Economists Convention in Philadelphia last week, I started with some of his toughest critics.

  • Austan Goolsbee:

    If you look at the trends of job creation, of growth of the economy, of the stock’s market appreciation, there’s not a very notable break on January 20.

  • Paul Solman:

    That’sAustan Goolsbee: from the Obama White House.

    Lisa Cook served there too.

  • Lisa Cook:

    We set in motion what we see now. You can’t create an economy overnight.

  • Paul Solman:

    Now, for the full-on defense of Trump’s policies, we were trying to secure an interview with the head of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, Kevin Hassett. But, though he was at the conference, no luck.

    So, instead, we turned to longtime American University Professor Bob Lerman.

  • Bob Lerman:

    On policy, I would give him maybe a B-minus to a B.

  • Paul Solman:

    Lerman calls himself a moderate or market economist. He likes much of what Trump is doing for the economy.

  • Bob Lerman:

    I think the corporate reforms make sense. I think he’s been pro-energy. Now, you can argue against it on environmental grounds, but I think that several steps will expand output in the energy field.

  • Paul Solman:

    And that means jobs.

  • Bob Lerman:

     And that means jobs, and usually good jobs.

  • Paul Solman:

     And how do the naysayers reconcile their low marks with a high-grade economy?

    Nonpartisan former International Monetary Fund chief economist Olivier Blanchard-

  • Olivier Blanchard:

    Other things are going on which explain why the economy’s doing well.

  • Paul Solman:

    But what, besides momentum, are those other things? For the companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index, says Blanchard, start with their earnings from elsewhere.

  • Olivier Blanchard:

    More than half from the S&P 500 actually come from outside the U.S. And the world is in much better shape. Europe is in much better shape than it was a year ago. The U.S. stock market has done well because the rest of the world is doing well because uncertainty in the rest of the world has decreased and because of the tax cut, because no matter what pre-tax profits you make, if you get a tax cut, you get more post-tax profits.

  • Paul Solman:

    But that’s a key part of what Trump’s taking credit for, that the tax cut has both spurred the stock market and will lead to more investment, more higher-paying jobs.

    More than 70 financial institutions, airlines, AT&T, have announced employee bonuses or raises. Fiat-Chrysler announced a billion-dollar investment to build Ram trucks near Detroit, currently made in Mexico. Even Wal-Mart hiked its minimum wage.

    But then Wal-Mart is also closing 63 Sam’s Club stores. So what matters is the net effect in the long run, argues Austan Goolsbee, because, in the nearer term, for individuals, say-

  • Austan Goolsbee:

    The tax bill is a small temporary cut to taxes for a small number of middle-class people, and a very large permanent tax cut of high degree of windfall handout.

    It is not geared towards the people that elected Trump. It is piling on of the continuing income inequality trends that have been there for a long.

  • Paul Solman:

    Decades.

  • Austan Goolsbee:

    It’s not as though President Trump created that. They have been going for decades.

  • Paul Solman:

    Republicans, Democrats.

  • Austan Goolsbee:

    I just don’t understand the argument that, let’s try to steer the tax code to pile onto the trends that have already been disturbing.

  • Paul Solman:

    And here’s another long-term economic negative, says libertarian economic historian Deirdre McCloskey- the president’s aversion to trade.

  • Deirdre McCloskey:

    Trashing the North American Free Trade Agreement, stopping the Trans-Pacific thing, all this is nuts from an economic point of view, in my opinion.

  • Paul Solman:

     That’s because, to almost all economists, voluntary trade benefits sellers and consumers alike.

    As to Trump’s trumpeting the liberating effects of deregulation, in the long run, Clinton adviser and Nobel laureate Joe Stiglitz asks-

  • Joe Stiglitz:

     Why do we have these regulations? Because we want to breathe clean air, we want to be able to drink water, we want to be able to be sure the food we’re eating is safe.

    We don’t want the banks to engage in the kind of risk-taking that put at risk our entire economy. The question is, what is the cost that we’re going to be faced with stripping away the regulation?

  • Paul Solman:

     So, that’s why you give the Trump administration such a low grade for its first year?

  • Joe Stiglitz:

    I think there are a lot of other things that disturb me even more. The long productivity of our society depends on science, innovation, research. And he’s been slashing research budgets. Long-term, to me, that is devastating.

  • Paul Solman:

    And in addition to tax cuts, trade, deregulation and science, what about the long-term cost of not building the infrastructure the president promised, says Professor Cook?

  • Lisa Cook:

     I really thought that we were going to invest in long-term growth, and I haven’t seen that.

  • Paul Solman:

    But the idea behind the tax bill is that companies will now invest in America, as opposed to overseas.

  • Lisa Cook:

    Well, why not invest broadly in America through infrastructure? These coal jobs that possibly may never come back, what can take their place with the skills that the coal miners have? Construction, the building of bridges, the repairing of bridges.

    We still have the worst grade from the civil engineers with respect to infrastructure.

  • Paul Solman:

    And, finally, if that weren’t enough piling on, what’s the cost of increased uncertainty, Austan Goolsbee asks?

  • Austan Goolsbee:

    I took at face value the arguments made by the business community for at least half of the Obama administration that the single worst thing that you could do to business formation and investment was to add uncertainty.

    There has in modern memory not really been a president who’s added as much uncertainty, geopolitical uncertainty, regulatory, a whole bunch of policy uncertainty, more than what President Trump has.

  • Paul Solman:

    But if uncertainty is so bad, how come consumer confidence is the highest it’s been since the dawn of the millennium?

  • Trevon Logan:

    I was very uncertain as an economist about what would happen with the economy, but it seems as if consumers are able to divorce many of their concerns about America’s political state from its economics.

  • Paul Solman:

    Though he still worries about the long-term, Ohio State economist Trevon Logan acknowledges the good economic news in the here and now.

    For example-

  • Trevon Logan:

    The numbers just released show African-American unemployment is at its lowest rate ever, and white unemployment as well is at one of the lowest rates that it’s ever been, so we’re near full employment.

  • Paul Solman:

    So, then why so much negativity from economists?

  • Bob Lerman:

    I think in part because people have taken a very negative view of him personally.

  • Paul Solman:

     You’re a Republican?

    She is. And Rhonda Sharpe is also a president of the National Economic Association, founded in 1969 as the Caucus of Black Economists. Our last interviewee, she had been listening to all the anti-Trump talk at the economics convention. And it worried her.

  • Rhonda Sharpe:

    I think that he probably has the ability to reinvent himself in ways that we haven’t seen other politicians. I think the big question is going to be which way that goes, and if folks who are very opposed to him will recognize that they have an opportunity potentially to influence some of that.

  • Paul Solman:

    So, are you worried that in kind of reflexively opposing him, people make it harder for him to change direction and be more bipartisan?

  • Rhonda Sharpe:

    I think both the reflexive response to him not only makes it difficult for him, but I think it also makes it difficult for anyone who wants to be a part of that.

  • Paul Solman:

    Part of the bipartisanship that Sharpe at least thinks may still be possible.

    For the PBS NewsHour, this is economics correspondent Paul Solman, reporting from Philadelphia.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest