Wednesday, September 8, 2010

• More Erratic Economic Notions From Obama

After almost two years of demonizing corporate America, holding a “boot to its neck,” and doing nothing for small businesses, Obama suddenly pretends to reverse himself with a “corporate tax break.” This is political pandering, and at odds with what is required to set employment trends on an upward path.

In between teleprompter stopovers and golf games, Obama comes up with helter-skelter strategies aboard Air Force One that serve little but confuse the country he was elected to lead. Obama’s new one-year tax relief on capital investment looks like a stroke of genius in his mirror. Does he know that companies, from the local bakery to the coalmine, actually have plans - long term and mid term action plans? Evidently not. Your local dress shop spends more time on “planning” than this President. I also suspect that the owner of that dress shop spends less time holidaying, and more time struggling to keep the business afloat. The “I will not rest until . . .” incantations from the Oval Office not only ring hollow, they are overt lies.

This Administration’s disconnected actions assert that no cohesive economic plan is in the offing. Prolonged uncertainty will continue to limit hiring and minimize commitment to long-term capital expenditures. Only a very few large corporations with plans already on the books to expand capacity will take advantage of this temporarily accelerated tax break. This plan enables an acceleration of depreciation allowances which businesses would deduct over time, as such implementations fit into corporate long-term plans. It should be pointed out to this Administration that all companies develop and implement strategies which include capital expenditures constructed from outlooks on such elements as market expansion, market penetration, competition and product demand. Corporations set budgets that include major spending, years ahead of time.

Perhaps Obama has also not checked interest rates lately. If a successful company needs money to expand, its interest costs are minimal, and it will be able to deduct its capital expenditures over time. On the other hand if the company is feeling strain it won’t get the credit very easily. Either way, before getting a tax break, companies have to have decided on the expenditures, and acted on them – you have to spend before you can claim. This Obama tax credit will have little real impact on corporate America. When there is uncertainty, companies retrench, and hold tight. Only a fool of a CEO would run out and build a plant that wasn’t in the works just because of the sudden and temporary appearance of an accelerated tax break. Government should not insinuate itself into the efficiency with which corporations allocate their resources.

This stroke of genius will accomplish nothing for Middle America and the unemployment ranks. Evidently no one around this President has managed a large corporation, and he is ignoring any useful advice if he’s getting any. This announcement might be more palatable if it was one minor element in a broader strategy to inject confidence, stimulating businesses to action, particularly smaller businesses. Much like the Clunker For Cash program, this temporary manipulation of the tax code is a desperate political Hail Mary with no regenerative effect. It is also a manipulation that dares Republicans in Congress to react negatively to a “pro-business” pretense.

The President could announce something meaningful like restructuring the corporate tax code to drastically simplify the process for all businesses, thereby reducing their headaches and costs.

Obama’s other sudden stroke of brilliance, the Research Tax Credit, is a non-starter for the simple reason that the American economy will only get going again when small to medium sized businesses start hiring. If this sector of the economy isn’t with you, nothing is happening. As for the large corporations, they will not suddenly spend some “research” money that they aren’t already spending, just because there’s a tax break on the table. If that were true, any CEO making that decision should be fired for incompetence and poor planning. Small to medium sized businesses are the engines of a successful and stable Middle America. Those businesses don’t spend much on research. They find a need and they fill it. This $100 billion tax announcement panders to the education industry, and does little for the business environment where it counts. What it creates is a cash-bag whose contents will be dished out in allotments proportional to the political affiliation of the recipients. What a surprise.

Obama’s $50 billion stimulus package announced this week for roads and runways will be similarly designated in political vote-purchase-bundles which will create temporary employment, but create nothing for the long term. This could be momentarily seen in positive light, if it was capital invested from surplus funds. Such billions created out of intolerable debt is another toxic tin can being kicked down the road for our grandchildren to feed out of. This is not part of a cohesive long-term plan that will increase national productivity. It smells more like a haphazard “throw stuff at the wall,” and “make noise about how many jobs we’ve created,” deficit spending bill looking for Congressional approval. Obama may be deaf to his electorate, but Congress is getting the message, and we can predict this will not get passed even through the back door.

While the President is stomping and performing in the grand and absurd political theatre of the campaign trail, shouting about his opposition “talking about him like a dog,” or making strange comments about “blue skies,” and “fish in the sea,” (what audience does this appeal to?) Obama should ponder the structure of a firm policy statement to immediately table major cuts in government spending.

This, above any other announcement he might make, would inject renewed vigor, and confidence into the National landscape.

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