We have referred to the economy over the last decade as the “Plow Horse Economy.” There has been a huge increase in technology available to the economy over that period of time. “Fracking” has unlocked huge oil and gas reserves in the energy sector. The “Internet of Things” is tying our appliances together, automating our homes, even allowing us to control them with voice commands. Self-driving cars are becoming a reality faster than I believed possible. 3D printing is revolutionizing production processes. Yet despite this dazzling technological revolution, the economy is only managing 1.2% GDP growth.
Many analysts believe that if we compare the economy to a horse, we have a thoroughbred economy that’s plodding along like a Plow Horse. The problem is that the rider is too heavy. That rider is the government. It’s holding growth down. In the year 2000 government was 17.6% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In 2016 it was 21.1% of GDP, an increase of 20%. That’s a big move from the private sector to the public sector.
Keep in mind that government doesn’t manufacture anything.
On top of that, government today regulates virtually everything, generating a hidden cost to producers and consumers. Some analysts think it’s a miracle that the economy actually grew despite increased borrowing, taxes and regulation.
The incoming Trump administration has a staunchly pro-business agenda. The focus on jobs and economic growth is front and center. A new executive order instructs federal agencies to halt the issuance of more regulations, and the new President has indicated a desire to reduce them by 75%. Another executive order has frozen hiring of federal employees, opening the door to replacing government employees with technology, something that has happened in the private sector. Yet other executive actions advance the approval of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines – using American steel – creating new high-paying construction jobs and indicating an interest in making America energy independent. Reducing tax rates, especially the high corporate tax rate, is another Trump administration objective. It’s the carrot to encourage companies to build here, even as he waves the stick of high tariffs for goods brought in from overseas. It’s getting a respectful hearing from otherwise skeptical business leaders.
These actions are not going to be enough, but they are indications that the new administration is determined to streamline government and incentivize private industry to grow. According to Brian Wesbury, Chief Economist of First Trust, the earning per share of the S&P 500 is estimated to be $130, an increase of 20% in 2017. Growth in earnings of that magnitude can justify an increase in market valuations and add a few percentage points to the annual GDP.
To get back to our horse analogy, it looks as if the jockey riding the horse will be put on a diet. If that happens the thoroughbred who was a “Plow Horse” may become a “Race Horse.”