Trump may be a good president for the top 1% but he has not been good for everyone else
COMMENT | JOSEPH E. STIGLITZ | As the world’s business elites trekked to Davos for their annual gathering, people should have been asking a simple question: Have they overcome their infatuation with US President Donald Trump?
Two years ago, a few rare corporate leaders were concerned about climate change, or upset at Trump’s misogyny and bigotry. Most, however, were celebrating the president’s tax cuts for billionaires and corporations and looking forward to his efforts to deregulate the economy. That would allow businesses to pollute the air more, get more Americans hooked on opioids, entice more children to eat their diabetes-inducing foods, and engage in the sort of financial shenanigans that brought on the 2008 crisis.
Today, many corporate bosses are still talking about the continued GDP growth and record stock prices. But neither GDP nor the Dow is a good measure of economic performance. Neither tells us what’s happening to ordinary citizens’ living standards or anything about sustainability. In fact, U.S. economic performance over the past four years is Exhibit A in the indictment against relying on these indicators.
To get a good reading on a country’s economic health, start by looking at the health of its citizens. If they are happy and prosperous, they will be healthy and live longer. Among developed countries, America sits at the bottom in this regard. U.S. life expectancy, already relatively low, fell in each of the first two years of Trump’s presidency, and in 2017, midlife mortality reached its highest rate since World War II. This is not a surprise, because no president has worked harder to make sure that more Americans lack health insurance. Millions have lost their coverage, and the uninsured rate has risen, in just two years, from 10.9% to 13.7%.
One reason for declining life expectancy in America is what Anne Case and Nobel laureate economist Angus Deaton call deaths of despair, caused by alcohol, drug overdoses, and suicide. In 2017 (the most recent year for which good data are available), such deaths stood at almost four times their 1999 level.
The only time I have seen anything like these declines in health – outside of war or epidemics – was when I was chief economist of the World Bank and found out that mortality and morbidity data confirmed what our economic indicators suggested about the dismal state of the post-Soviet Russian economy.