Nomi Prins: The Disrupter-In-Chief & Five Financials Uncertainties For 2018
Nomi Prins: The Disrupter-In-Chief & Five Financials Uncertainties For 2018 by Nomi Prins – ZeroHedge
Here we are in the middle of the second year of Donald Trump’s presidency and if there’s one thing we know by now, it’s that the leader of the free world can create an instant reality-TV show on geopolitical steroids at will. True, he’s not polished in his demeanor, but he has an unerring way of instilling the most uncertainty in any situation in the least amount of time.
Whether through executive orders, tweets, cable-news interviews, or rallies, he regularly leaves diplomacy in the dust, while allegedly delivering for a faithful base of supporters who voted for him as the ultimate anti-diplomat. And while he’s at it, he continues to take a wrecking ball to the countless political institutions that litter the Acela Corridor. Amid all the tweeted sound and fury, however, the rest of us are going to have to face the consequences of Donald Trump getting his hands on the economy.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, entropy is “a process of degradation or running down or a trend to disorder.” With that in mind, perhaps the best way to predict President Trump’s next action is just to focus on the path of greatest entropy and take it from there.
Let me do just that, while exploring five key economic sallies of the Trump White House since he took office and the bleakness and chaos that may lie ahead as the damage to the economy and our financial future comes into greater focus.
1. Continuous Banking Deregulation
When Trump ran for the presidency, he tapped into a phenomenon that was widely felt but generally misunderstood: a widespread anger at Wall Street and corporate cronyism. Upon taking office, he promptly redirected that anger exclusively at the country’s borders and its global economic allies and adversaries.
His 2016 election campaign had promised not to “let Wall Street get away with murder” and to return the banking environment to one involving less financial risk to the country. His goal and that of the Republicans as a party, at least theoretically, was to separate bank commercial operations (deposits and lending) from their investment operations (securities creation, trading, and brokerage) by bringing back a modernized version of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933.
Fast forward to May 18, 2017 when Trump’s deregulatory-minded treasury secretary, “foreclosure king” Steven Mnuchin, faced a congressional panel and took a 180 on the subject. He insisted that separating people’s everyday deposits from the financial-speculation operations of the big banks, something that had even made its way into the Republican platform, was a total nonstarter.
Instead, congressional Republicans, with White House backing, promptly took aim at the watered-down version of the Glass-Steagall Act passed in the Obama years, the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010. In it, the Democrats had already essentially capitulated to Wall Street by riddling the act with a series of bank-friendly loopholes. They had, however, at least ensured that banks would set aside more of their own money in the event of another Great Recession-like crisis and provide a strategy or “living will” in advance for that possibility, while creating a potent consumer-protection apparatus, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Say goodbye to all of that in the Trump era.
Dubbed “the Choice Act” — officially the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act — the new Republican bill removed the “living will” requirement for mid-sized banks, thereby allowing the big banks a gateway to do the same. When Trump signed the bill, he said that it was “the next step in America’s unprecedented economic comeback. There’s never been a comeback like we’ve made. And one day, the fake news is going to report it.”
In fact, thanks to the Trump (and Republican) flip-flop, banks don’t need to defend themselves anymore. The president went on to extol the untold virtues of his pick to run the CFPB, meant to keep consumers from being duped (or worse) by their own banks. Before Trump got involved, it had won $12 billion in settlements from errant banks for the citizens it championed.
However, Kathy Kraninger, a former Homeland Security official tapped by Trump to run the entity, has no experience in banking or consumer protection. His selection follows perfectly in the path of current interim head Mick Mulvaney (also the head of the Office of Management and Budget). All you need to know about him is that he once derided the organization as a “sick, sad” joke. As its director, he’s tried to choke the life out of it by defunding it.
In this fashion, such still-evolving deregulatory actions reflect the way Trump’s anti-establishment election campaign has turned into a full-scale program aimed at increasing the wealth and power of the financial elites, while decreasing their responsibility to us. Don’t expect a financial future along such lines to look pretty. Think entropy.
2. Tensions Rise in the Auto Wars
Key to Trump’s economic vision is giving his base a sense of camaraderie by offering them rallying cries from a bygone era of nationalism and isolationism. In the same spirit, the president has launched a supposedly base-supporting policy of imposing increasingly random and anxiety-provoking trade tariffs.
Take, for instance, the automotive sector, which such tariffs are guaranteed to negatively impact. It is ground zero for many of his working-class voters and a key focus of the president’s entropic economic policies. When he was campaigning, he promised many benefits to auto workers (and former auto workers) and they proved instrumental in carrying him to victory in previously “blue” rust-belt states. In the Oval Office, he then went on to tout what he deemed personal victories in getting Ford to move a plant back to the U.S. from Mexico while pressuring Japanese companies to make more cars in Michigan.
He also began disrupting the industry with a series of on-again-off-again, imposed or sometimes merely threatened tariffs, including on steel, that went against the wishes of the entire auto sector. Recently, Jennifer Thomas of the industry’s main lobbying group, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, assured a Commerce Department hearing that “the opposition is widespread and deep because the consequences are alarming.”