More than anything else, business needs a predictable environment if it is to create jobs. Changes in the regulatory environment and the tax code make it almost impossible for businesses to make investments.
Yet President Obama seems to ignore this reality. Each day's news brings another bold and far-reaching proposal to change the fundamentals of the U.S. economy. And each time he indulges his personal ideology with such a pronouncement, businesses all over the world cut back on their planned investment until the dust settles.
Most incredible was the fact that he chose the middle of a deep recession to announce a major tax-code overhaul.
Stressing how far-reaching the changes might be, he appointed a commission headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker to report back by early December on what the changes should be.
Assuming Obama will need several months to figure out which of the commission’s recommendations to adopt, and Congress will take several more months to enact its own version, the announcement effectively leaves business up in the air for at least 12 more months — uncertain of the tax consequences of any potential investment.
Who in their right mind is going to invest significantly in new plant, equipment, services, personnel or anything else? How can you consider doing so, when you can't know how the tax code might penalize you?
And, in the same week, Obama announced that he'd seek to regulate nonbank institutions, including those he deems to be "too big to fail" lest their collapse injure the economy. Which businesses will be included? Nobody knows.
We may not know even when the law is passed. As companies grow or merge or acquire one another, they may step over the invisible line and become "too big," and thus subject to Obama's regulation.
How can a firm plan on expansion without knowing what increment in its size will attract regulatory scrutiny? It's hard enough to anticipate possible antitrust complications — and the Justice Department is at least usually willing to consult before any merger on what its attitude will be. Obama's leaving everybody guessing.
Growth demands investment, and investment demands stability. So the more Obama stirs the pot with his proposals and potential changes, the more he retards exactly the investment he needs to get the economy moving again.
At least Obama has toned down his rhetoric, no longer echoing JFK's comment that "all businessmen are SOBs." But his actions do more than his words ever did to hobble any recovery.
So why insist on pushing these "reforms" now? Because, although it might be wiser to wait until after the economy's out of recession, it may then become politically impossible to get them through Congress.
So he's determined to use the sense of panic to enact his changes now.
Again, he's putting his ideological agenda ahead of the requisites of national economic recovery. We needed a pragmatic pilot; we elected an ideologue instead.
© Dick Morris & Eileen McGann