One of the popular memes is that the economy is rotten because of “uncertainty.”
But you could make the argument that certainty is killing the economy: the certainty that the current administration is ruining any chance of recovery with bad policies.
Clifford Asness , managing and founding principal of AQR Capital Management, says there is an element of truth in the uncertainty meme. But he argues that the problem is not mainly the uncertainty surrounding the administration’s policies but the policies themselves.
Imagine, right now, we passed a giant additional wasteful stimulus. Imagine all the rules of Dodd-Frank were revealed and are even more stifling than we expected. Imagine we doubled the new health-care entitlement and expanded government control of health care more than previously predicted, but set all the details today. Imagine assorted government agencies passed more burdensome regulations than we anticipated, increasing both the cost of doing business and the drag of crony capitalism. But all uncertainty was resolved by passing them today.
Next imagine that the president promised, in no “uncertain” terms, to up his hectoring of business in perpetuity. Further, imagine we passed higher taxes going forward on everyone but, again, we settled it for certain right now. Finally, imagine we committed ourselves to no entitlement reform ever. Is all this good or bad? Well, uncertainty has been eliminated, but it sounds pretty darn bad.
Now let’s go the opposite way and consider good policies surrounded by uncertainty. Imagine we will move from here toward free-market health-care reforms appropriate for a free people. We will reduce government spending and our debt, letting people spend their own money as they see fit. We will lower taxes across the board for individuals and businesses, and we’ll reduce and simplify deductions.
Imagine even more that we’ll make grown-up decisions and reform entitlements to levels we might possibly afford. Now imagine that while we know the direction of each of these policy changes, alas, we are very uncertain about how far these wonderful ideas will go. Imagine this uncertainty is even higher than it is around today’s bad policies. Would these changes, uncertainty and all, make things better or worse? Well, it seems pretty clear that should these changes occur in any nontrivial fashion, you would have to duck to get out of the way of the ensuing economic boom, regardless of the uncertainty.