President Joe Biden has a problem with numbers. He can’t make them add up and it’s not clear that he knows what they mean. He’s so devoted to his progressive narrative that he becomes confused when the data doesn’t support the conclusions he and his economic team want to reach.
This leads him to say all kinds of wacky things about taxes and prices and spending and inflation that are undermining the American public’s confidence in the U.S. economy. It is possible, as has been proved more than once over the last 25 years, to talk us into a recession. And, with the Atlanta Fed projecting zero growth for the first quarter of 2022, the president and his team may be doing just that.
Consider Biden’s remarks in his most recent State of the Union Address. As a way of pumping up the enthusiasm over his plan to fight inflation and rebuild the American economy following the lockdowns, he criticized the pro-growth tax cuts enacted under his predecessor. “Unlike the $2 trillion tax cut passed in the previous administration that benefited the top 1 percent of Americans,” he said, his American Rescue Plan “helped working people – and left no one behind.”
That, to put it mildly, is an exaggeration of the worst order. The Trump tax cuts benefited the top 1 percent of income earners because they benefited everyone who pays federal income taxes. The only people they didn’t help directly were the roughly 50 percent of Americans who don’t make enough money to pay income tax to Uncle Sam.
Some people, including Mr. Biden, think that’s unfair. Then again these are the same people who confuse tax avoidance – which is the lawful attempt to minimize one’s tax payment – with tax evasion. The latter, which is the practice of not paying taxes legitimately owed, is illegal. If the president and his congressional allies like Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., had their way the former might become illegal any time now too. But that’s a matter for another day.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Biden derides as only benefiting the wealthy increased the incentive for those “of means” and those who wished to someday be “of means” to make more frequent and more valuable capital investments expecting, as was shown to be the case before the pandemic-inspired lockdowns jiggered the system, that greater financial risk produced greater financial rewards.
This created an environment in which almost every American was a winner. The economy grew, jobs were created, and unemployment sank like a stone among the demographics that garner the most media attention like single women, young African-Americans and Latinos. Productivity rose and with it, as most analysts reported, so did wages.
Biden doesn’t get that. He still believes that for the rich or powerful to do well, the poor and struggle must suffer. It’s an outmoded way of thinking that most people thought died out with the Soviet Union but, as Putin’s invasion of Ukraine reminds us, some threats just never go away.
He’s got it all cocked up on energy too. Asked Thursday about rising prices at the pump, Biden blamed the war in Ukraine and the sanctions that have been imposed on Russia for the spike. That has something to do with it to be sure. The bigger cause is the way the president used what former House Majority Leader and Ph.D. economist Dick Armey calls “the invisible foot of government” to kick America’s energy independence to the curb.
The price of gasoline is rising because America’s energy sector cannot increase production to levels sufficient to meet the demand for gasoline at less than $3 per gallon. To put it another way, Biden broke the spigot by suspending oil leases, restricting exploration, reinstating economically counterproductive regulations, killing the Keystone XL pipeline and doing whatever else he and his brain trust could to conceive to force consumers to speed up their adoption of wind and solar power.
How’s that worked out? Well, since he’s come into office the average American family have seen their annual energy costs increase, by some estimates, by more than $1,000, gas prices have reached the highest level ever recorded – above $4 per gallon on average in 38 states – and congressional Democrats are once again talking about instituting a special tax on “excess” energy company profits that can be paid out to low-income individuals and families to help them deal with higher prices. To call that madness is an insult to the insane.
When asked what he plans to do, the best answer Biden could come up with was to suggest there wasn’t much he could do about it right now. Then he talked about oil companies and production increases and investments as though he understood it all. Here’s what he told the members of the Democratic National Committee Thursday night:
“We are increasing oil production with a [sic] record productivity. By the end of the year, we will have produced more oil than any time in the last number of years. … The CEOs of major oil companies have said they’ll increase investment and production… My message is: It’s time — in this time of war, it’s not a time of profit. It’s time for reinvesting in America. And they hear it. You know, there’s a — there’s an impediment to production in the United States, and it’s called ‘the bankers on Wall Street.’ And this crisis is another indication of why we need to get off dependency on fossil fuels.”
That may be confusing to follow so, to translate, in the president’s view: 1) Energy companies are bad because they profit when prices rise because the politicians have created a global crisis of the 1st order; 2) We have plenty of oil but business isn’t producing it so they can make more money; 3) The big bad bankers on Wall Street are behind it all; and, 4) We need to go green.
As they say, there’s nothing like letting the facts get in the way of a good narrative.
Biden forgot to mention a lot, including how the national average price of gas was already up by $1.14 before Russia invaded Ukraine because of the anti-fossil energy initiatives his administration had taken or announced plans to take — like the Biden SEC’s effort to force public traded companies to disclose the potential economic impact to their business from global warming and greenhouse gas production.
From the largest Cabinet Department to the smallest independent agency, the Biden administration is waging a regulatory war on fossil fuels that touches every sector of the economy. And all the president can say is “What? Who? Me?” A convenient memory lapse assisted by a fundamental misunderstanding of economics is killing off the American energy renaissance.