In a recent Forbes magazine article, Rich Karlgaard summarizes the Trump economic blueprint as laid out in a white paper by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and trade advisor Peter Navarro entitled “Scoring the Trump Economic Plan: Trade, Regulatory and Energy Policy Impacts”. As he describes it, the major underlying premises are:
- The “new normal” is a political excuse for poor growth.
- Fix trade, regulation, taxes and energy—in that order.
- Excessive regulation is killing business.
- Manufacturing has the best wealth and job multiplier effect.
Pretty hard to disagree with these priorities and one would have to say that Trump is serious about the campaign promises he has made about them and is moving forward as he promised.
But I haven’t heard enough from the administration about what has become a very serious underlying economic and social issue that will have an undermining impact on any economic plan and which has been the subject of a lot of attention by people like Nicholas Eberstadt at the American Enterprise Institute. As he has noted in his recent book, Men Without Work, and in recent essays, the 21st century so far has been in his words miserable because, despite the fact that unemployment has been cut by half since the Great Recession and household net worth has grown substantially, there has been a continuing collapse of work, especially among American men. Several data points reflect serious underlying problems that do not bode well for Trump’s plan or future American prosperity:
- The work rate for American men aged 25-54 was slightly lower in 2015 than in 1940 at the end of the Great Depression and has been steadily declining for the past several decades.
- Almost one in six prime working age men has no paid work at all and almost one in eight is out of the workforce entirely, neither working nor looking for work.
- For every man between ages 25-54 that is counted among the unemployed, there are three who are neither working nor looking for work, nor are they doing charitable work.
This is much more than an economic issue, it is a social pathology of enormous proportions. Who are these men? How are they spending their time? What are the implications for America and its ideals? Eberstadt calls this issue “America’s invisible crisis”. His colleague Charles Murray has also done considerable work in this area as well as other aspects of the rending of the social fabric, and it needs to be much higher on the administration’s list of priorities for long-range strategy. This is not a problem that can be solved with an executive order or even the admirable list of policy priorities outlined by Trump’s economic plan. It will require an in depth analysis of the dysfunctional social and cultural attributes at work here as well as the disincentives to work that have become embedded in our social contract.