In a thought-provoking social media thread on platform X (formerly known as Twitter) on 10 February 2024, Paul Krugman dissected the current economic climate, suggesting that President Biden should openly celebrate recent economic successes. Krugman’s commentary sheds light on the complex interplay between economic data, public perception, and political partisanship.
Krugman, an eminent economist and distinguished professor born on 28 February 1953, has made significant strides in international economics and economic policy analysis. His career, adorned with decades of influential work, has profoundly impacted the economic landscape.
In 2008, Krugman’s exceptional contributions to understanding trade patterns and the geographic allocation of economic activities were honored with the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. His innovative work in introducing the “new trade theory” and “new economic geography” has been instrumental in reshaping our understanding of how international trade and economic activities are organized across different locations.
Krugman also enjoys a high profile as a columnist for The New York Times, where he explores a broad array of economic issues. His columns span topics from fiscal policies and international economics to broader macroeconomic trends, often reflecting his progressive views on economic policy issues.
As an author, Krugman has contributed to or edited more than 20 books, marking him as a prolific figure in economic literature. His academic influence is further evidenced by over 200 published scholarly articles, and his textbooks on economics are widely used in university courses around the globe. Krugman’s work has left an indelible impact on economic studies, underscoring his significant role in the field.
Krugman begins his thread on X by acknowledging the “extremely good” recent economic news, challenging the hesitancy among some Democratic consultants regarding whether President Biden should highlight these achievements. Contrary to the belief that such boasting might appear out of touch, Krugman argues that the public does indeed feel the positive impacts of the economy, as evidenced by the significant uptick in the Michigan consumer sentiment survey.
However, Krugman notes a discrepancy between the objective economic indicators and consumer sentiment, attributing this gap largely to political partisanship. He points out that Democrats have largely embraced the positive economic news, while Republicans’ perceptions are clouded by their political stance, often unwilling to acknowledge economic improvements under a Democratic presidency.
Krugman’s analysis extends to independents, whom he suggests are mostly aligned with either of the major political parties, despite their nominal independence. This alignment, he argues, contributes to the skewed perception of the economy, with a significant partisan effect observed particularly among Republicans. According to Krugman, Republicans rate the current economy as worse than during the Great Recession or the 1980 stagflation, highlighting the depth of partisan bias.
In his concluding remarks, Krugman encourages the Biden administration to confidently tout its economic achievements. He contends that the voices cautioning against celebrating these successes belong to individuals who are unlikely to support Democratic candidates regardless of the economic situation. Thus, Krugman’s message is clear: the administration should boast about the economic progress without fear of appearing out of touch, as the data supports a narrative of economic recovery and growth.
On 9 February, a day marked by the S&P 500 surpassing the 5,000 threshold for the first time, Scott Bessent, the CEO & CIO of Key Square Capital, provided his analysis on the state of the US stock market during an interview with Bloomberg TV. He attributed the market’s recent upswing to the anticipation of Donald Trump’s re-election and the expected continuation of his policies. Bessent’s commentary delves into the underlying factors driving the market’s behavior and offers predictions for future developments.
The Influence of Trump’s Policies on Market Sentiment
Reflecting on the market dynamics of 2016, Bessent draws comparisons to the current situation, noting how the prospect of Trump’s policy agenda has led to a bullish market outlook. He recalls, “The market experienced a downturn on the eve of the 2016 election but then surged in the following weeks,” emphasizing the market’s reactive optimism to the possibility of Trump’s win in 2024. The optimism is largely fueled by expectations related to tax policies, deregulation, energy autonomy, and a more stable global political environment under Trump.
Expectations of Tax Policy and Deregulation
Bessent identifies the anticipation of Trump’s tax cuts, which are due to expire in 2025, being renewed and possibly expanded as a pivotal factor in the rally. He cites “Deregulation and energy autonomy” as central to Trump’s appealing market policies. This forward-looking sentiment lays the groundwork for a pro-market climate, contingent on Trump’s electoral success.
Strategies on International Trade and Tariffs
Discussing Trump’s approach to tariffs and international trade, Bessent presents a sophisticated perspective, suggesting that the threat of tariffs serves more as a bargaining tool than a policy destined for implementation. He believes, “The strategy involves placing the threat on the table without the intention to execute it,” reflecting a calculated method to enhance the United States’ negotiating power.
The Federal Reserve’s Political Influence
Bessent comments on the Federal Reserve’s role, implying that its decisions are somewhat influenced by political considerations. He notes a historical trend where, “Since 1952, there hasn’t been a year of market decline during an incumbent’s campaign,” suggesting a deliberate effort to maintain market stability through strategic liquidity injections and policy initiatives.
The Impact of Political Polls on Market Dynamics
A notable point in Bessent’s analysis is the relationship between Trump’s popularity in polls and the stock market’s performance. He observes, “As Trump advances in the polls, the market similarly sees gains,” supporting this claim with data indicating a 35% market increase during periods of Trump’s polling ascendance, in stark contrast to a modest 3% increase when Biden leads.
In a post on X on January 14, Krugman shared his insights into the latest U.S. economic data, focusing on inflation rates.
Krugman’s conversation with a concerned businessman about the persisting inflation rate of 3.9% led him to present a series of numbers to contextualize the situation. He referenced the U.S. Core Consumer Price Index (CPI), which measures the changes in the price of goods and services, excluding food and energy. The Core CPI over the last 12 months stood at 3.9%, but more importantly, over the last six months, it was at 3.2%. This indicates a slight decrease in the rate of inflation recently.
Further dissecting the data, Krugman highlighted the Core CPI excluding shelter costs (which have their own legacy issues) over the last six months, which was only 1.6%. This significantly lower figure suggests that when removing the impact of shelter costs, the inflation rate is considerably less severe.
Additionally, Krugman pointed to market expectations, which predict the CPI for 2024 to be around 2.3%. This forward-looking estimate indicates that market participants expect inflation to continue to decrease.
From these observations, Krugman concluded that “inflation has been defeated,” implying that the recent higher rates of inflation are being brought under control in the U.S. and are expected to normalize.
Should Paul Krugman’s assertion that the United States has successfully tackled inflation hold true, it might herald significant shifts in the Federal Reserve’s approach to monetary policy, which in turn could affect risk assets such as cryptocurrencies and stocks.
Federal Reserve Policy Implications:
- Adjustment in Monetary Policy Strategy: With the primary strategy of combating inflation through interest rate hikes, the Federal Reserve might shift gears if inflation shows signs of subsiding. This shift could transition from an aggressive policy of increasing rates to a more lenient approach, either by reducing rates or maintaining them at current levels.
- Decision Timing: The Federal Reserve’s decision to adjust its monetary policy will hinge on concrete signs of sustained inflation reduction and overall economic stability. Such decisions are typically based on observing trends over a few months. A continued decline in inflation might prompt an earlier than expected policy adjustment.
Effects on Risk Assets:
- Enhanced Appeal of Risk Assets: The attractiveness of risk assets could surge if the Federal Reserve signals a move towards lower interest rates. This shift would potentially lower borrowing costs and inject liquidity into the market, making riskier investments more appealing for those chasing higher returns.
- Stimulation of Stocks and Cryptocurrencies: A move towards lower interest rates could invigorate markets for stocks and cryptocurrencies, which are often seen as risk assets. Such environments encourage capital inflow in search of greater yields, potentially elevating prices in these sectors.
- Shift in Inflation Hedge Perception: Cryptocurrencies, especially Bitcoin, have been viewed as safeguards against inflation. A reduction in inflation concerns could diminish this aspect of their value proposition. Nonetheless, factors like technological innovation and increased adoption may still fuel interest in these assets.
Market Sentiment Overview:
- Bolstered Investor Confidence: A change in Federal Reserve policy driven by effective inflation control could boost investor confidence and foster a positive outlook on the market, encouraging investment and economic expansion.
- Prudence Advised: Investors should proceed with caution during the transition period, as shifts from rate increases to decreases can introduce market volatility. Additionally, external economic influences could impact market trends.
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