It’s not hard to demonstrate all the soft spots in the economy that Trump keeps bragging about. What’s hard is to predict the political effect.
Normally, incumbent presidents get re-elected when the economy is strong. A Yale economist named Ray Fair has even reduced this tendency to a mathematic model, with surprisingly good predictive power.
But this is neither a normal president nor a normal economic boom. For starters, though wage growth is finally ticking upward, ordinary workers have nothing like the bargaining power they used to enjoy in an economy with unemployment as low as 3.5 percent. The shift to gig work and other precarious forms of employment continues unabated.
Housing continues to be unaffordable for more and more Americans, while college debt cripples the ability of young families to qualify for mortgage loans. Subjectively, the real economy as experienced by real people just isn’t that strong.
And while very low interest rates contribute to a high-flying stock market, most Americans don’t own stock. But those same low interest rates are contributing to new financial bubbles.
Trump’s tax cuts did not lead to an increase in corporate investment. Mainly, they accelerated stock buybacks, the better to pump up stock prices.
Global growth is also slowing. Trump’s trade war has been suspended for now, but America’s trade deficit with China is bigger than ever.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that more and more homeowners are refinancing their home mortgages at higher rates than their existing mortgages to take out money to live on. As in the run-up to the 2008 collapse, household debt is substituting for household income. This is just not sustainable.
All of this suggests an over-leveraged economy, which could be cruising for a crash. But will the crash come in time for the 2020 election?
Sorry, but my crystal ball is just not that good. If it were, I’d be in the South of France instead of here writing this post.