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Are Trump’s Policies Hurting Long-Term US Growth?

When it comes to economic performance, US presidents have considerably more influence over long-term trends than over short-term fluctuations. And it is by this standard that Donald Trump's administration should be judged.

CAMBRIDGE – President Donald Trump regularly thumps his chest and claims credit for each new uptick of the fast-growing US economy. But when it comes to economic performance, US presidents have considerably more influence over long-term trends than over short-term fluctuations.

To be sure, Trump’s tax cuts and spending hikes have provided some extra short-term stimulus. So too, apparently, have foreign buyers of US products such as soybeans, who are rushing to stock up before the tariff war fully heats up. Still, it is not easy to speed up a $20 trillion economy, even by running a budget deficit of nearly $1 trillion, as Trump’s administration is doing. In fact, short-term fluctuations in business inventories have arguably held down growth as much as other factors have temporarily propped it up.

In a cantankerous political environment, it is not easy to think about the long term. But, thanks to the magic of compound interest, measures that marginally raise long-term growth matter a lot. For example, the transportation deregulation policies of President Jimmy Carter’s administration in the late 1970s set the stage for the Internet retail revolution. President Ronald Reagan’s massive tax cuts in the 1980s helped restore US growth in the ensuing decades (but also exacerbated inequality trends). And President Barack Obama’s efforts (and before him President George W. Bush’s) to contain the damage from the 2008 financial crisis underpin the strong economy for which Trump wants to take full credit.

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