When it comes to economic growth, 2016 is looking a lot like 2015 — and probably even worse.
Friday's report showing that gross domestic product grew just 0.7 percent in the fourth quarter brought to a conclusion another year of dashed hopes for economic liftoff — "escape velocity," as it is sometimes called.
Seven years of zero interest rates, $3.7 trillion worth of Fed money printing and more than $6 trillion piled onto the public debt resulted in an economy still struggling to break 2.5 percent full-year growth. In fact, if the first reading on GDP holds up on revision, the U.S. economy will have expanded just 2.4 percent for the full year, according to the Commerce Department.
At the start of 2015, most economists expected U.S. growth of 3 percent or better, predicated on sizable gains in consumer spending, business investment and construction. Instead, the year featured consumers mostly hanging onto their gas savings, weak capital expenditures (including a decline of 1.8 percent in the fourth quarter) and slumping oil prices battering investment instead of lifting spending.Joel Kotkin writes at Forbes:
Looking ahead, the early indicators are not good, with chances of a recession gaining more traction on Wall Street.
Instead of pushing them to the GOP, a recession could further radicalize the Democrats but not upset their control of dark blue states. But the deepening decline in the real tangible economy — energy, manufacturing, agriculture — could prove a boon to the GOP in much of the rest of the country.
Before the decline in oil prices many areas in the middle of the country enjoyed a gusher in energy jobs, providing high wage employment (roughly $100,000 annually, exceeding compensation for information, professional services, or manufacturing). Due largely to energy, states such as Texas, Oklahoma, North Dakota have enjoyed consistently the highest jobs growth since 2007, and were among the first states to gain back all the jobs lost in the recession.
Of course, tough times in red states like Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and North Dakota will only pad Republican gains. But there are other, contestable heartland states — Ohio and Pennsylvania, in particular — that also benefited from the expansion of fracking, which created whole new markets for manufactured products like pipes and compressors. Similarly, the administration’s directive to crack down on coal plants could be problematic for Iowa, Kansas, Ohio, Illinois, Minnesota and Indiana, which rank among those most reliant on coal for electricity. Not surprisingly much of the opposition to the EPA’s decrees come from heartland states.
To the problems of regulation and market turbulence, manufacturing economies are also threatened by the rising value of the dollar, which threatens the Rust Belt’s prime exports and bolsters competitors, both in Europe and Asia. After all, manufactured goods are the leading export in much of the upper Midwest while food exports, also hard-hit by the hard dollar, dominate many Great Plains economies. In 2012, a recovering Rust Belt was critical to President Obama’s victory; a weakened industrial economy could make Republicans more competitive in the region, particularly if they nominate an electable candidate.