John Edward teaches economics at Bentley and UMass Lowell. This is the seventh in a series of columns he has written on economics and the presidential election. Links to his earlier posts may be found at the end of this column.
There are many things to consider in deciding whom to vote for as President of the United States. For some it is credentials, for others it may be whom they would rather have a beer with. For some it is experience and for others it is which candidate “looks more presidential.” Maybe you vote for one candidate because the other one lies.
If you care about what the candidates say they will actually do on economic policy, then Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is the clear and overwhelming choice for president.
Polls seem to show more voters trust Republican nominee Donald Trump on the economy. That may be because they think he is a successful businessman. However, consider the following observation from Yahoo Finance.
Take Trump’s own estimate of how much he started with, mostly inherited money. Accept as fact his claim as to his current net worth (Forbes magazine estimates his real worth is only about 40 percent of what Trump claims). Trump would be worth twice as much if he had simply invested his money in a stock market index fund.
Trump is not a business success. His results sound more like failure. He could have adopted a simple, conservative and passive buy and hold strategy and done far better.
That is not how Trump does business. Trump is a big risk taker. Trump declares himself an expert in taking on debt. He declares himself an expert in avoiding taxes. He declares himself a brilliant businessman. He does not offer proof. The results show otherwise.
Polls also show that voters trust Republicans more than Democrats on the economy. History shows that trust is wildly misplaced.
Going back to Truman, the economy has done much better under Democratic presidents:
- The economy has grown at an average rate of 3.9 percent under Democratic presidents – under Republican presidents only 2.5 percent.
- Private sector job growth under Democrats has been 2.5 percent – under Republicans only 1.0 percent.
- Business investment growth has been almost three times higher under Democrats.
- Unemployment under Democrats has been 16 percent lower.
- Under Democrats the stock market has gone up three times as much.
These comparisons include most of President Obama’s time in office. Keep in mind that he inherited the Great Recession. Historically it takes a long time to recover from financial crises. It is no surprise the recovery has been slow. Were it not for that, the comparison would be even more positive for Democrats.
One president stands out. Monthly job growth was stronger under President Clinton than any other. After huge budget deficits under Reagan and George H.W. Bush, Clinton balanced the budget four years in a row. President George W. Bush immediately returned to deficits. As described in Clintonomics, private investment, worker productivity, and corporate profits all did very well during what was hopefully the first Clinton administration.
The second Clinton administration may not do as well – times are different. However the evidence says Hillary will do much better that any Republican.
Still, some voters will trust Trump because he is a businessman, not a politician. They prefer the man who epitomizes the “greed is good” mentality to the woman who has dedicated her life to public service.
Even if you prefer someone who knows how to run a business, Trump is a poor choice. As told in The Making of Donald Trump, Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter David Cay Johnston reveals how Trump does business. Not only did his casino businesses file for bankruptcy four times, Trump came dangerously close to having to file for personal bankruptcy. That is not something a smart businessperson allows.
As reported by Johnston, here are a few more examples of Trump’s business practices that call in to question his fitness as a CEO, never mind as president:
- Trump has had relationships with “a vast assortment of con artists, swindlers, mobsters and mob associates, a major drug trafficker.” It is not illegal to have relationships with criminals. However, gaming regulations strictly forbid casino owners from doing so (but apparently it is not strictly enforced).
- Trump brags about being vindictive, vengeful, and litigious (“His personal motto is “get revenge’”). Traits like that lead to bad business decisions. As just one example, Esquire magazine explains: “How Donald Trump Destroyed a Football League.”
- Trump is very proud of avoiding paying income taxes. Avoiding taxes is perfectly legal. However, Trump has ventured into illegal tax evasion. Tax collectors have forced Trump to pay back taxes, interest, and penalties – when he was caught. In evading taxes he put himself and his business empire at risk. In declaring almost a billion dollars in losses he cheated his business partners, investors, and workers.
- On one of Trump’s demolition projects a federal judge ruled that Trump had engaged in “a conspiracy to cheat workers of their pay” and that this “breach involved fraud.” The workers in question were undocumented immigrants from Poland. Trump would now call workers like that, in particular if they were from Mexico, illegal aliens. As is true of many undocumented workers today, Trump’s laborers worked off the books, and without proper safety equipment.
Is that any way to run a business? Is that someone we want running our country?
Trump refuses to release his tax returns. He says he is undergoing a “routine audit.” He has produced no proof he actually is being audited. Given his past, it is hard to imagine it would be routine. CNN and other media outlets have confirmed that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is not auditing any of his returns for 2008 and earlier. Even if the IRS is auditing him, there is nothing to prevent Trump from releasing returns.
Trump has said you do not learn much from tax returns. What little has leaked out teaches us that Trump has produced massive losses. His tax returns might prove that he is even more of a business failure than previously thought.
Some voters simply do not trust Clinton on the economy because they do not trust her at all. After success with attacking “Lying Ted” Cruz, Trump has been trumpeting about “Crooked” Hillary.
All candidates tell mistruths, but the facts do not lie. Politifact’s Pulitzer Prize assessments of candidate statements reveal the real liar.
For Hillary Clinton they rule 28 percent of her statements they fact-checked as being either “Mostly False,” “False,” or “Pants on Fire.” That may seem high (and it is), but it is (unfortunately) a typical rating. President Obama, Bernie Sanders, Jeb Bush, and John Kasich have similar ratings.
Donald Trump’s statements are mostly false or worse 70 percent of the time! Read that again – of Trump statements that were fact-checked, 7 out of every 10 were false. Trump’s pants-on-fire (“The statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim”) rate is 19 percent. For Clinton it is just 2 percent.
In 1992 I overheard a conversation just before the New Hampshire presidential primaries. A young man was about to vote for the first time in his life. He first said he should probably vote for “that Tsongas guy” because he was from around here. He then observed he liked Bill Clinton. He concluded that he would probably vote for Pat Buchanan because he shook his hand.
Don’t be that guy. An informed voter is our best citizen.
If you need more information on Clinton vs. Trump on economic issues follow the links below. Bottom line: if it’s the economy, don’t be stupid, vote for Hillary Clinton.
The first column in this series, “The 100 Percent,” appeared on May 16, 2016; The second, “Voodoo Two,” on May 23, 2016; the third. “Paying for the Wall” on June 22, 2016; the fourth, “Trump’s Trade War” on July 5, 2016; the fifth, “Making America Sick Again” appeared on August 16, 2016; the sixth, “The Education President” on August 29, 2016; the seventh, “Energy & Environment & The Precautionary Principle” on September 18, 2016; and the eighth, “Who Should Homer Simpson Vote For” on October 1, 2016.