On July 31, the US Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee cut interest rates – the first such move in 11 years. During the past 18 months, President Donald Trump has regularly criticized the country’s central bank for refusing to lower interest rates, calling the Fed’s policy the main reason for America’s current economic slowdown. Trump’s critics, in their turn, accuse him of trying to manipulate the Federal Reserve’s policy in a bid to secure the best conditions for his re-election 2020 re-election campaign. How can the state of the country’s economy and finances influence the choice the American voters will make next year?
The Federal Reserve’s current head, Jerome Powell, a lawyer who has been in the investment business for many years, is the Fed’s first chairperson since the 1970s, who has no professional economic education. Small wonder that he was initially viewed by many as Trump’s political appointee. Still, until this very summer, Powell kept raising interest rates instead of lowering them, as Trump demanded, thus staying the course charted by his predecessor, Janet Yellen, whom Trump strongly criticized during his election campaign. Now that the Fed has cut interest rates, however, Donald Trump is still not happy. In a recent tweet, he said that what markets really expected from the Federal Reserve was not just to cut rates, but to send a clear signal about the start of a long period of “aggressive” easing of US monetary policy primarily aimed at counteracting similar measures by “China, the European Union and other countries of the world.”
“As usual, Powell let us down,” Trump summed up.
As a businessman, Donald Trump may feel the volatility of the US economy, and be fully aware of the academic studies of the past decades, above all about the state of the national economy and the year-to-year economic indicators, which significantly affect the voters’ political preferences, including for someone, who they want to see in the White House. We are not even talking about a full-blown recession – just an economic slowdown three or six months before Election Day. The proponents of this point of view believe that, according to all objective indicators, the decline in economic growth that happened in 2016 should have become “barely noticeable for most Americans.” Still, it was noticeable enough to increase Trump’s electoral base. The very same thing could happen in 2020, since the currently high GDP growth rate may prove “unbearable” for the economy next year. Just as it happened in 2016, when the economy stopped growing by more than half compared to the very robust 2015. Right now, it is still premature to say if the US economy has reached its next peak, but many key indicators look very similar to how it was doing ahead of the 2016 presidential election. Trump’s critics could interpret the Federal Reserve’s current rate cut as an attempt to prevent a similar development and increase the incumbent’s chances for re-election.
Meanwhile, the interest rate cut could have a detrimental effect on the labor market. Even though the US economy is going strong, in a market economy you cannot keep reducing unemployment all the time. Besides, the rate of this reduction has consistently been slowing down since Donald Trump’s election. Moreover, most American economists believe that unemployment within 4 to 5 percent is “optimal” for maintaining economic growth rates. This is the de-facto “target” indicator the Fed has in mind. The modern economic theory maintains that when unemployment is too low, the central bank should raise the interest rate, not cut it. Now, however, the Fed says that it is more concerned about “stifled inflation.” This means that the US monetary authorities could now put any further decrease in unemployment to the back burner. A sharp drop in employment growth that happened a few months before the 2016 elections made many voters feel that the situation on the labor market was deteriorating. As a result, many of them turned their back on the party, whose leader was then at the White House.
In November 2018, the US economy was going strong with the GDP growing above three percent, unemployment falling, and salaries going up. Still, the Democrats won the largest number of seats in the House of Representatives in midterm congressional elections since 1974.
Finding himself in a potentially “no-way-out” standoff with the now Democratic-controlled lower house of Congress, President Trump could theoretically use a tactic of compromises with the opposition Democrats and even “restore shattered confidence” between the two parties. However, he opted for a confrontational scenario repeatedly trying to shift responsibility for failures in domestic politics and the sluggish pace of reindustrialization to “obstructionist” Democrats, “opposition-minded” Silicon Valley companies, and, above all, to foul play by external forces. On August 1, the White House announced that the United States would impose an additional 10 percent tax on $300 billion of Chinese imports before the month was out. On August 5, the US Treasury officially designated China a “currency manipulator,” accusing Beijing of “undervaluing the yuan.” Trump believes that a continued easing of the US monetary policy will finally help clinch a truly “great deal” with China.
The Federal Reserve apparently thinks otherwise though. According to Powell, two of the three reasons for the rate cut have to do with the Trump administration’s trade policy, which has been disruptive for the world economy and caused “tensions in trade relations.” According to experts, the Federal Reserve is thus letting Trump know that he should reduce uncertainty and tension in international trade, namely to reconsider the policy of trade wars – something so many of his voters are so fond of. Many economists and business people in the United States agree with the Fed because the introduction of new duties on a long list of Chinese imports has resulted in higher retail prices, the loss of tens of thousands of jobs and has made many US industries less competitive in the world. US companies heavily dependent on the sale of their product in China have fallen victim to this conflict. The sense of uncertainty is also “working” against Trump who has locked horns with the Democrats, who now have a majority in the House of Representatives. Finally, China is already using retaliatory measures against companies located in the US states, which constitute Donald Trump’s electoral base. Trump’s actions may seriously undermine his chances of re-election in 2020.
The third reason for the rate cut is the Fed’s concern about the relatively low inflation. The nature of inflation is one of the biggest problems of economic theory because fears of rock-bottom inflation, fraught with deflation (a decrease in the general price level of goods and services due to excessively tight money supply) largely dictated the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy during the 1990s and early-2000s. This is what many experts see as one of the main causes of the 2008 financial crisis. On the one hand, with the interest rates now being where they are, it is premature to talk about the possibility of a new uncontrolled surge in borrowings, similar to the one that preceded the 2008 meltdown. On the other hand, some economists worry about the potential for growing risks in the US economy, if the Federal Reserve continues slashing interest rates. Critics of low rates have traditionally pointed to their direct relationship with the emergence of financial “bubbles” on the markets, which precipitated America’s slide into a recession in 2001 and 2007.
Finally, skeptics warn that official statistics about the state of the US economy make many people feel overly optimistic about the future. Meanwhile, indicators of leading companies’ performance show that their operating profits have stopped growing for quite some time now, and that their main income comes from exchange rate fluctuations and capitalization growth. Meanwhile, the US’ foreign debt keeps going up reaching a whopping $22 trillion, and the budget deficit is creeping up to $800 billion. This means that even the current GDP growth of almost 2.5 percent may not be enough to rectify the situation. “Under such circumstances, a single “spark” can send the fragile economic balance up in flames, and there is a sufficient number of such sparks around,” said Yelena Chizhevskaya, vice president of the RFI Bank for Mobile and Electronic Commerce.
From the domestic political point of view, if the Fed’s actions lead to a significant weakening of the dollar – and a number of experts are already talking about the start of the “bear cycle” of the US currency – this could result in a drop in incomes of US households in the walkup to the 2020 presidential elections.
Right now, America’s robust economic performance remains a major factor behind Donald Trump’s hopes for re-election in 2020. However, there are many signs of a possible decline, and a sharp one at that, in US economic growth rates “by the second half of 2020.” By the time the Americans go to the polls, their moods may be way less optimistic than they are today. Finally, President Trump, who pictures himself as the greatest “realist” of the modern West has been increasingly getting a taste for blackmailing and pressuring his opponents and nominal allies alike. Meanwhile, many economists now fear that the Trump administration’s “chaotic” and “provocative” actions may put the United States on a course to a new recession. If so, next year we may see unfolding a struggle for the post of the leader of one of the world’s greatest powers that could prove even more uncompromising than what we saw happening four years ago.
From our partner International Affairs
Interpreting the Biden Doctrine: The View From Moscow
It is the success or failure of remaking America, not Afghanistan, that will determine not just the legacy of the Biden administration, but the future of the United States itself.
The newly unveiled Biden doctrine, which renounces the United States’ post-9/11 policies of remaking other societies and building nations abroad, is a foreign policy landmark. Coming on the heels of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, it exudes credibility. Indeed, President Biden’s moves essentially formalize and finalize processes that have been under way for over a decade. It was Barack Obama who first pledged to end America’s twin wars—in Iraq and Afghanistan—started under George W. Bush. It was Donald Trump who reached an agreement with the Taliban on a full U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021. Both Obama and Trump also sought, albeit in strikingly different ways, to redirect Washington’s attention to shoring up the home base.
It is important for the rest of the world to treat the change in U.S. foreign policy correctly. Leaving Afghanistan was the correct strategic decision, if grossly overdue and bungled in the final phases of its implementation. Afghanistan certainly does not mean the end of the United States as a global superpower; it simply continues to be in relative and slow decline. Nor does it spell the demise of American alliances and partnerships. Events in Afghanistan are unlikely to produce a political earthquake within the United States that would topple President Biden. No soul searching of the kind that Americans experienced during the Vietnam War is likely to emerge. Rather, Washington is busy recalibrating its global involvement. It is focusing even more on strengthening the home base. Overseas, the United States is moving from a global crusade in the name of democracy to an active defense of liberal values at home and Western positions abroad.
Afghanistan has been the most vivid in a long series of arguments that persuaded Biden’s White House that a global triumph of liberal democracy is not achievable in the foreseeable future. Thus, remaking problematic countries—“draining the swamp” that breeds terrorism, in the language of the Bush administration—is futile. U.S. military force is a potent weapon, but no longer the means of first resort. The war on terror as an effort to keep the United States safe has been won: in the last twenty years, no major terrorist attacks occurred on U.S. soil. Meantime, the geopolitical, geoeconomic, ideological, and strategic focus of U.S. foreign policy has shifted. China is the main—some say, existential—challenger, and Russia the principal disrupter. Iran, North Korea, and an assortment of radical or extremist groups complete the list of adversaries. Climate change and the pandemic have risen to the top of U.S. security concerns. Hence, the most important foreign policy task is to strengthen the collective West under strong U.S. leadership.
The global economic recession that originated in the United States in 2007 dealt a blow to the U.S.-created economic and financial model; the severe domestic political crisis of 2016–2021 undermined confidence in the U.S. political system and its underlying values; and the COVID-19 disaster that hit the United States particularly hard have all exposed serious political, economic, and cultural issues and fissures within American society and polity. Neglecting the home base while engaging in costly nation-building exercises abroad came at a price. Now the Biden administration has set out to correct that with huge infrastructure development projects and support for the American middle class.
America’s domestic crises, some of the similar problems in European countries, and the growing gap between the United States and its allies during the Trump presidency have produced widespread fears that China and Russia could exploit those issues to finally end U.S. dominance and even undermine the United States and other Western societies from within. This perception is behind the strategy reversal from spreading democracy as far and wide as Russia and China to defending the U.S.-led global system and the political regimes around the West, including in the United States, from Beijing and Moscow.
That said, what are the implications of the Biden doctrine? The United States remains a superpower with enormous resources which is now trying to use those resources to make itself stronger. America has reinvented itself before and may well be able to do so again. In foreign policy, Washington has stepped back from styling itself as the world’s benign hegemon to assume the combat posture of the leader of the West under attack.
Within the collective West, U.S. dominance is not in danger. None of the Western countries are capable of going it alone or forming a bloc with others to present an alternative to U.S. leadership. Western and associated elites remain fully beholden to the United States. What they desire is firm U.S. leadership; what they fear is the United States withdrawing into itself. As for Washington’s partners in the regions that are not deemed vital to U.S. interests, they should know that American support is conditional on those interests and various circumstances. Nothing new there, really: just ask some leaders in the Middle East. For now, however, Washington vows to support and assist exposed partners like Ukraine and Taiwan.
Embracing isolationism is not on the cards in the United States. For all the focus on domestic issues, global dominance or at least primacy has firmly become an integral part of U.S. national identity. Nor will liberal and democratic ideology be retired as a major driver of U.S. foreign policy. The United States will not become a “normal” country that only follows the rules of realpolitik. Rather, Washington will use values as a glue to further consolidate its allies and as a weapon to attack its adversaries. It helps the White House that China and Russia are viewed as malign both across the U.S. political spectrum and among U.S. allies and partners, most of whom have fears or grudges against either Moscow or Beijing.
In sum, the Biden doctrine does away with engagements that are no longer considered promising or even sustainable by Washington; funnels more resources to address pressing domestic issues; seeks to consolidate the collective West around the United States; and sharpens the focus on China and Russia as America’s main adversaries. Of all these, the most important element is domestic. It is the success or failure of remaking America, not Afghanistan, that will determine not just the legacy of the Biden administration, but the future of the United States itself.
From our partner RIAC
AUKUS aims to perpetuate the Anglo-Saxon supremacy
On September 15, U.S. President Joe Biden worked with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison together to unveil a trilateral alliance among Australia-U.K.-U.S. (AUKUS), which are the major three among the Anglo-Saxon nations (also including Canada and New Zealand). Literally, each sovereign state has full right to pursue individual or collective security and common interests. Yet, the deal has prompted intense criticism across the world including the furious words and firm acts from the Atlantic allies in Europe, such as France that is supposed to lose out on an $40-billion submarine deal with Australia to its Anglo-Saxon siblings—the U.K. and the U.S.
Some observers opine that AUKUS is another clear attempt by the U.S. and its allies aggressively to provoke China in the Asia-Pacific, where Washington had forged an alliance along with Japan, India and Australia in the name of the Quad. AUKUS is the latest showcase that three Anglo-Saxon powers have pretended to perpetuate their supremacy in all the key areas such as geopolitics, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing. In short, the triple deal is a move designed to discourage or thwart any future Chinese bid for regional hegemony. But diplomatically its impacts go beyond that. As French media argued that the United States, though an ally of France, just backstabs it by negotiating AUKUS in secret without revealing the plan. Given this, the deal among AUKUS actually reflects the mentality of the Anglo-Saxon nations’ superiority over others even if they are not outrageously practicing an imperialist policy in the traditional way.
Historically, there are only two qualified global powers which the Europeans still sometimes refer to as “Anglo-Saxon” powers: Great Britain and the United States. As Walter Mead once put it that the British Empire was, and the United States is, concerned not just with the balance of power in one particular corner of the world, but with the evolution of what it is today called “world order”. Now with the rise of China which has aimed to become a global power with its different culture and political views from the current ruling powers, the Anglo-Saxon powers have made all efforts to align with the values-shared allies or partners to create the strong bulwarks against any rising power, like China and Russia as well. Physically, either the British Empire or the United States did or does establish a worldwide system of trade and finance which have enabled the two Anglo-Saxon powers to get rich and advanced in high-technologies. As a result, those riches and high-tech means eventually made them execute the power to project their military force that ensure the stability of their-dominated international systems. Indeed the Anglo-Saxon powers have had the legacies to think of their global goals which must be bolstered by money and foreign trade that in turn produces more wealth. Institutionally, the Anglo-Saxon nations in the world—the U.S., the U.K, Canada, Australia and New Zealand—have formed the notorious “Five eyes alliance” to collect all sorts of information and data serving their common core interests and security concerns.
This is not just rhetoric but an objective reflection of the mentality as Australian Foreign Minister Payne candidly revealed at the press conference where she said that the contemporary state of their alliance “is well suited to cooperate on countering economic coercion.” The remarks imply that AUKUS is a military response to the rising economic competition from China because politics and economics are intertwined with each other in power politics, in which military means acts in order to advance self-interested economic ends. In both geopolitical and geoeconomic terms, the rise of China, no matter how peaceful it is, has been perceived as the “systematic” challenges to the West’s domination of international relations and global economy, in which the Anglo-Saxon superiority must remain. Another case is the U.S. efforts to have continuously harassed the Nord Stream 2 project between Russia and Germany.
Yet, in the global community of today, any superpower aspiring for pursuing “inner clique” like AUKUS will be doomed to fail. First, we all are living in the world “where the affairs of each country are decided by its own people, and international affairs are run by all nations through consultation,” as President Xi put it. Due to this, many countries in Asia warn that AUKUS risks provoking a nuclear arms race in the Asian-Pacific region. The nuclear factor means that the U.S. efforts to economically contain China through AUKUS on nationalist pretexts are much more dangerous than the run-up to World War I. Yet, neither the United States nor China likes to be perceived as “disturbing the peace” that Asian countries are eager to preserve. In reality, Asian countries have also made it clear not to take either side between the power politics.
Second, AUKUS’s deal jeopardizes the norms of international trade and treaties. The reactions of third parties is one key issue, such as the French government is furious about the deal since it torpedoes a prior Australian agreement to purchase one dozen of conventional subs from France. Be aware that France is a strong advocate for a more robust European Union in the world politics. Now the EU is rallying behind Paris as in Brussels EU ambassadors agreed to postpone preparations for an inaugural trade and technology council on September 29 with the U.S. in Pittsburgh. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen declared in a strong manner that “since one of our member states has been treated in a way that is not acceptable, so we need to know what happened and why.” Michael Roth, Germany’s minister for European affairs, went even further as he put it, “It is once again a wake-up call for all of us in the European Union to ask ourselves how we can strengthen our sovereignty, how we can present a united front even on issues relevant to foreign and security policy.” It is the time for the EU to talk with one voice and for the need to work together to rebuild mutual trust among the allies.
Third, the deal by AUKUS involves the nuclear dimension. It is true that the three leaders have reiterated that the deal would be limited to the transfer of nuclear propulsion technology (such as reactors to power the new subs) but not nuclear weapons technology. Accordingly, Australia remains a non-nuclear country not armed with such weapons. But from a proliferation standpoint, that is a step in the direction of more extensive nuclear infrastructure. It indicates the United States and the U.K. are willing to transfer highly sensitive technologies to close allies. But the issue of deterrence in Asia-and especially extended deterrence-is extremely complicated since it will become ore so as China’s nuclear arsenal expands. If the security environment deteriorates in the years ahead, U.S. might consider allowing its core allies to gain nuclear capabilities and Australia is able to gain access to this technology as its fleet expands. Yet, it also means that Australia is not a non-nuclear country any more.
In brief, the deal itself and the triple alliance among AUKUS will take some years to become a real threat to China or the ruling authorities of the country. But the deal announced on Sept. 15 will complicate Chinese efforts to maintain a peaceful rise and act a responsible power. Furthermore, the deal and the rationales behind it is sure to impede China’s good-will to the members of AUKUS and the Quad, not mention of their irresponsible effects on peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region.
Was Trump better for the world than Biden, after all?
Joe Biden and the State Department just approved a major deal with the Saudis for 500mln in choppers maintanance. Effectively, the US sold its soul to the Saudis again after the US intelligence services confirmed months ago that the Saudi Prince is responsible for the brutal killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The Biden administration is already much more inhumane and much worse than Trump. Biden doesn’t care about the thousands of American citizens that he left behind at the mercy of the Taliban, the Biden administration kills innocent civilians in drone strikes, they are in bed with the worst of the worsts human right violators calling them friendly nations.
Biden dropped and humiliated France managing to do what no US President has ever accomplished — make France pull out its Ambassador to the US, and all this only to go bother China actively seeking the next big war. Trump’s blunders were never this big. And this is just the beginning. There is nothing good in store for America and the world with Biden. All the hope is quickly evaporating, as the world sees the actions behind the fake smile and what’s behind the seemingly right and restrained rhetoric on the surface. It’s the actions that matter. Trump talked tough talk for which he got a lot of criticism and rarely resorted to military action. Biden is the opposite: he says all the right things but the actions behind are inhumane and destructive. It makes you wonder if Trump wasn’t actually better for the world.
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