I made a bad economic call on election night 2016, predicting a Trump recession. But I quickly realized that political dismay had clouded my judgment, and retracted the call three days later. “It’s at least possible,” I wrote on Nov. 11, 2016, “that bigger budget deficits will, if anything, strengthen the economy briefly.”
What I didn’t realize at the time was just how much bigger the deficits would get. Since 2016, the Trump administration has, in practice, implemented the kind of huge fiscal stimulus followers of John Maynard Keynes pleaded for when unemployment was high — but Republicans blocked.
Contrary to what Donald Trump and his supporters claim, we are not seeing an unprecedented boom. The U.S. economy grew 3.2 percent over the past year, a growth rate we haven’t seen since … 2015. Employment has been growing steadily since 2010, with no break in the trend after 2016. Still, the long stretch of growth has pushed the unemployment rate down to levels not seen in decades. How did that happen, and what does it tell us?
The strength of the economy doesn’t reflect a turnaround of the U.S. trade deficit, which remains high. Nor does it reflect a giant boom in business investment, which proponents of the 2017 tax cut promised, but didn’t happen. What’s driving the economy now is, instead, deficit spending.
Economists often use the cyclically adjusted budget deficit — an estimate of what the deficit would be at full employment — as a rough