President Obama took his declining dollar to the Asia-Pacific economic conference, and he added to it a declinist opinion of America's economy. His big message? Don't count on American consumers to lead the world from recession to recovery and beyond. His second big message? In the U.S., we must save more and spend less.
Huh? This is the same limits-to-growth, central-planning wisdom we hear so often these days at home. It's also tone deaf, to say the least. Despite a sinking greenback that is wreaking havoc among the Asian economies, and in the face of repeated currency warnings by Asian officials, Obama brought no King Dollar stabilization message to the conference.
Before getting into the currency question, let me say this: I think more saving (and investment) by U.S. citizens is a great idea. But this need not come at the expense of consumption. In a prosperous free economy, people should be able to save, invest, work and spend as much as they like. More is better than less in each case. Grow the pie larger.
Of course, if the president and his team want more saving and investment, they should end the multiple taxation of saving and investment. Unfortunately, our system taxes saving as income, capital gains, dividends and inheritance.
Team Obama also intends to tax wealth more by raising the top personal tax rate from 35 percent to 40 percent. And they apparently don't object to Nancy Pelosi's plan to slap another 5.4 percent tax on the incomes and capital gains of successful earners in order to finance a government takeover of health care.
Wealth is a crucial form of saving. And the investment that comes from extra saving is used to finance the entrepreneurial start-ups that create the jobs and incomes that allow families to spend. However, by creating a zero-sum game between saving and spending, the Obama planners are falling into an austerity trap -- one that would hand the American economy a second-place finish in the global race for capital and growth.
At the same time, Obama has no plan to stabilize King Dollar, and the Asian economies don't like it. China's top banking regulator said the Federal Reserve's money-creating binge was the main cause of "massive speculation." Similar sentiments came from top officials in Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan.
And while Ben Bernanke tried to calm dollar worries during his recent speech at the New York Economics Club, it was clear that the greenback's value ranks low on his priority list. Nothing but dollar lip service from the Fed head.