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America’s Confidence Economy

LAGUNA BEACH – Financial markets seem convinced that the recent surge in business and consumer confidence in the US economy will soon be reflected in “hard” data, such as GDP growth, business investment, consumption, and wages. But economists and policymakers are not so sure. Whether their doubts are vindicated will matter for both the United States and the world economy.

Donald Trump’s election as US president has triggered a surge in positive economic sentiment, because he pledged that his administration would aggressively pursue the policy trifecta of deregulation, tax cuts and reform, and infrastructure construction. Republican majorities in both houses of Congress reinforced the positive sentiment, as they signaled that Trump would not face the kind of paralyzing gridlock that Barack Obama confronted for most of his presidency.

The surge in business and consumer sentiment reflects an assumption that is deeply rooted in the American psyche: that deregulation and tax cuts always unleash transformative pro-growth entrepreneurship. (To some outside the US, it is an assumption that sometimes looks a lot like blind faith.)

Of course, sentiment can go in both directions. Just as a “pro-business” stance like Trump’s can boost confidence, perhaps even excessively, the perception that a leader is “anti-business” can cause confidence to fall. Because sentiment can influence actual behavior, these shifts can have far-reaching impacts.