For about 20 years, Ray Keating wrote a weekly column - a short time with the New York City Tribune, more than 11 years with Newsday, another seven years with Long Island Business News, plus another year-and-a-half with RealClearMarkets.com. As an economist, Keating also pens an assortment of analyses each week. With the Keating Files, he decided to expand his efforts with regular commentary touching on a broad range of issues, written by himself and an assortment of talented contributors and columnists. So, here goes...

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

This Economist’s 4 Top Coronavirus Concerns

by Ray Keating
The Keating Files – March 31, 2020

Coronavirus concerns continue to mount in terms of illnesses, deaths, and the economy. And unfortunately, it promises to get much worse, before it gets better.


As for those who have been touting this as not a big deal – you know, saying it’s not as bad as the flu, and/or asserting that U.S. businesses and the economy will get back to work in a couple of weeks – they’ve proven to be more grossly ill-informed than the rest of us who are trying to navigate these uncharted waters.

Some of the politics have reached new depths of, well, stupidity – and that’s saying something. It’s been sad to see so many people peddling the idea that the warnings about the coronavirus had nothing to do with science and the track record of the virus in other nations, but instead, claimed that it was some kind of political conspiracy. By the way, one almost has to admire the steadfastness among some of them, as they continue to make such bizarre claims even as the cases mount in the United States. (Geez, just how deep does this conspiracy run?)

Looking ahead, here are my 4 top concerns as an economist and a human being:

1) The top concern and priority – and the reason that so much of the economy has been shut down – remains working to limit and stop the spread of the coronavirus, and its impact in terms of those infected, the numbers needing hospitalization, and of course, the tragic deaths. If you’re not operating from that as a first principle, then there’s something wrong with you. Unfortunately, even as the virus continues to spread in the U.S., an assortment of commentators callously emphasize the need for businesses to re-open now and for people to get back to work immediately, with some even questioning why state and local government officials have taken the actions they have. Yes, there are concerns about what the government is doing, but those are legitimate worries over the longer haul – as I will note in a moment – not in terms of the largely necessary steps that have been taken so far in the name of saving lives.

2) As the coronavirus continues to spread across the globe, the broader move into developing countries could turn into something far worse than what’s been seen in assorted developed nations, given how weak – or nearly nonexistent – health care systems and services are in those countries. The work for all of us will not stop when matters are brought down to manageable levels in the U.S.

3) The immediate drop in the U.S. economy promises to be historic. The government’s call to shut down large swathes of economic activity was the right one, and the massive aid bill (CARES Act) that was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump was necessary (though certainly not everything in it was needed or even related to what’s going on) to limit some of the short-term pain. But the downturn in the economy that started in March promises to be historic, and likely will last at least into the third quarter of this year – no matter the short-run aid doled out by the government.

4) The same short-run aid provided by government will serve as a longer run negative for the economy. Anytime government drains resources from the private sector (as is the case with this massive federal package), whether via borrowing or taxes, it will serve as an economic negative. So, while the CARES Act will help many in the short run (assuming government executes matters quickly – a big assumption), the same measure promises to restrain on any economic recovery. 

And the economic recovery/expansion that hopefully starts late this year or early next will be further hampered if the current expansion of government controls are not rolled back fully. The surest path to a slow recovery – or even a double-dip recession – would involve politicians feeling empowered to spend, regulate, borrow and tax more, along with the Fed continuing to believe in its nonexistent ability to manage the economy. That’s a recipe for long-run economic decline. Indeed, this very phenomenon coming out of the late-2007-to-mid-2009 recession meant that the subsequent recovery/expansion period turned out to be grossly under-performing in terms of economic growth.

Our focus currently needs to be on saving lives, and when things are under control at home, helping those in other countries. This is what the United States does. That’s all vital from a love-our-fellow-man perspective, as well as, secondarily so, an economic viewpoint. Looking a bit further down the road, our humanitarian and economic concerns further coalesce in that we need government to then step back, and allow the private sector to invest, recover and grow, and trade to flourish – thereby creating businesses and jobs, driving up incomes, and creating the wealth that will allow us to aid others around the world and be better prepared for future crises.

__________

Ray Keating is a columnist, an economist, a novelist (his latest novels are The Traitor: A Pastor Stephen Grant Novel, which is the 12thbook in the series, and the second edition of Root of All Evil? A Pastor Stephen Grant Novel with a new Author Introduction), a nonfiction author (among his recent works is Free Trade Rocks! 10 Points on International Trade Everyone Should Know), a podcaster, and an entrepreneur. You can also order his forthcoming book Behind Enemy Lines: Conservative Communiques from Left-Wing New York– signed books or for the Kindle. The views expressed here are his own.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Friday, March 27, 2020

State of Liberalism in 2020: Still Advancing, Still Incoherent

by Ray Keating
The Keating Files – March 27, 2020

What is it about liberalism (that is, modern-day, not classical, liberalism) that it continues to advance on the policy front, even though it’s intellectually incoherent?


I asked pretty much the same question when I wrote an assessment of liberalism twenty years ago. At that time, I pointed out that most liberal thinkers – whether in academia, or penning essays – chose to ignore serious inquiry in favor of shilling for Democrats and appealing almost purely to emotion.

That wasn’t always the case, but it’s hard to seriously argue otherwise in terms of where liberalism stands today. 

Think about it for just a moment. What serves as the foundation for many prominent positions widely accepted on the Left, such as partial-birth abortion; Supreme Court justices free to redefine the U.S. Constitution as they see fit; ever-expansive government without concern about how higher taxes, for example, might affect the economy; the growing acceptance of and advocacy for socialism even though it is undermined by economic common sense and history; treating government regulation as costless; blind acceptance of nearly everything served up by environmental activists; opposition to free trade; buttressing the spread of group victimhood with little regard for personal responsibility; participating in a na├»ve revision of history whereby anyone or any entity in the past that undertook anything that isn’t seen as pure in terms of 2020 left-wing preferences must be entirely condemned (with apologies and compensation sought out, somehow); perpetuating Marxist drivel regarding workers being exploited by and pitted against business owners; establishing a belief system, to the extent it might exist, that transforms Christianity, for example, into nothing more than a vehicle for “social justice;” and supplanting exploration of right, wrong and truth with a lazy relativism?

There really are four possible answers that I can think of in terms of what undergirds this shallow hodge-podge. The first is that true liberal thinkers have become nearly extinct; replaced by left-wing writers, professors and think tanks that simply take their cues from the special interests that dominate the Democratic Party, such as environmentalists, radical feminists, and so on. Political talking points have replaced thoughtful analysis.

The second possibility is that liberal “thinkers” have become far more radicalized, but continue to serve as the intellectual foundation, such as it is, of the Democratic Party. 

Third, this kind of liberalism is rooted in feelings and emotions, rather than serious thought and reflection, and therefore, fits our times quite neatly. Indeed, this seems to me to be the most powerful factor in play in terms of the current state of liberalism. While liberalism has been moving down this feelings/emotions track for quite some time – in fact, for decades – it has reached a level that it now almost completely dominates the Left.

There’s also the question of how much liberalism led to the spread of a feelings-over-thinking culture, and/or how such a culture impacted liberalism.

Either way, liberals have moved from trying to think through ideas, philosophies and policies in a quest for the best answer or (dare I write it?) the truth (albeit, though, often coming up with the wrong answers), to trying to formulate arguments that support an increasing preference for feelings over truth, thinking and analysis.

Liberalism today boils down to asking: How do you feel about this or that? And then liberal professors, thinkers and writers work to dress up or legitimize those feelings for more “intellectual” consumption. Those feelings also are or become a political movement that often finds a home in the Democratic Party, and is manifested in people like President Barack Obama and all of the Democratic presidential contenders who were in the 2020 race.

Coherent? No. Politically effective? It’s hard to argue with in terms of the results.

__________

Ray Keating is a columnist, an economist, a novelist (his latest novels are The Traitor: A Pastor Stephen Grant Novel, which is the 12thbook in the series, and the second edition of Root of All Evil? A Pastor Stephen Grant Novel with a new Author Introduction), a nonfiction author (among his recent works is Free Trade Rocks! 10 Points on International Trade Everyone Should Know), a podcaster, and an entrepreneur. You can also order his forthcoming book Behind Enemy Lines: Conservative Communiques from Left-Wing New York– signed booksor for the Kindle. The views expressed here are his own.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

State of Conservatism in 2020: Seduced by Populists

by Ray Keating
The Keating Files – March 26, 2020

If the Republican Party is a confused bunch (as I argued in a recent column), then it’s a pretty good bet that conservatives are as well.


Today’s conservatism has lost its way in the era of populism and Donald Trump. 

But this shouldn’t have snuck up on anyone. In an essay I wrote on the state of the conservative movement twenty years ago, the current problems plaguing conservatism were on the rise. That included populism pushing some conservatives to attack big business, free trade, immigration and most traces of internationalism; big government conservatives, who then called for grand government adventures in the name of “national greatness;” and political conservatives willing to toss aside assorted principles to gain political power, and largely taking their instructions from, rather than providing intellectual guidance and firepower to, the Republican Party. 

These three problems have coalesced in recent years so that the traditional center of the American conservative movement – especially during much of the second half of the 20thcentury – now finds itself back on its heels and dwindling in numbers. 

To summarize, that traditional conservatism – while always having arguments and disagreements, especially when it came to executing policies – had much in common in a foundational sense. That foundation could be quickly outlined as Judeo-Christian values, Western Civilization, the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and assorted essential ideas and institutions, such as the Christian Church, the intrinsic value of each individual, the role of the family, freedom and individual responsibility, limited government, and free enterprise and free markets. That doesn’t mean that one had to be a Christian, for example, to be a conservative, but there was a need to understand how Christianity helped to inform conservatism on various matters, such as valuing each individual life, marriage and family, natural rights and liberty, and the values and morals that undergird free enterprise.

Thankfully, there remain strong voices in the public arena defending this traditional conservatism – such as George Will, David French, Jonah Goldberg and Mona Charen. 

But large swaths of conservatism have been seduced, in effect, by populism. While populism remains amorphous, it’s largely been about the fear of something or some groups, and in turn, populists’ claiming victim status. Favorite targets of populist rage over the years have been elites, globalists, bankers, big business, immigrants, and foreign businesses. It’s all rather messy and unsavory, but nonetheless, there are so-called public intellectuals willing to try to dress up populism with a depth that simply does not exist.

This populist insurgency has been joined by nationalists. What’s the problem with nationalism; after all, isn’t it just another term for patriotism, as many assert? In a column from February 2017, Mona Charen made a solid case for patriotism and not nationalism:

Patriotism is enough — it needs no improving or expanding. Nationalism is something else. It's hard to think of a nationalist who does not pervert patriotism into something aggressive — against foreign adversaries, domestic minorities or both. When Mexican President Lazaro Cardenas nationalized the oil industry in 1938 (expropriating the property of hated foreigners), he was favored with a chanting crowd of 100,000 supporters in Mexico City. Gamal Abdel Nasser's nationalism found expression in nationalization (of the Suez Canal in that case) and also in aggressive war against Israel and Yemen. Vladimir Putin's nationalism has been characterized by demonization of the United States in domestic propaganda and his invasion of neighboring countries. Benito Mussolini believed in reclaiming Italy's lost glory and invaded Abyssinia (Ethiopia) to fulfill his vision...

I believe that nationalism is a demagogue's patriotism... Demagogues of the right — or nationalists — argue that our troubles are the result of immigrants taking our jobs or foreigners stealing our factories. This is not natural love of home and hearth or reverence for America's founding ideals. It is scapegoating.

And therefore, we see the merging or allegiance of nationalism and populism.

For good measure, some high-profile anti-liberty Catholics with hints of authoritarianism are playing in the “conservative” sandbox, along with political conservatives who proved more than willing to trade in long-held conservative principles for political power and/or influence. And there were some who deemed it necessary to maintain their business models to defend whatever the Republican Party does as being “conservative.”

The Trump years have proven to be a kind of perfect storm for conservatism, with a nationalist/populist Republican president (Trump called himself a “nationalist”) who demands unquestioning support, and a willingness among many conservatives – or former conservatives – to take their marching orders from the Republican Party, and to popularize or enable populism among parts of the GOP base.

And as for those conservatives willing to hold their noses or simply ignore this descent into populism in order to get what they want most – such as the appointment of judges who subscribe to original intent or judicial restraint (which I also support as a conservative), versus judicial activism – they fail to grasp the difference between short-term political gains and the very real likelihood of long-term defeat. 

After all, is an isolationist, fear-ridden, victim-peddling populism more likely to gain or lose adherents to conservative policies, such as pro-life judges and legislators? For that matter, is unquestioning support of Donald Trump going to advance conservatism in any real, lasting way, or make it less appealing? The answer to both questions is, quite frankly, no.

For decades, the conservative movement was marked by its intellectual independence. The policies, actions and arguments made by Republicans, Democrats and others were assessed according to conservative principles, and the conservative case was made in order to persuade others of and advance sound ideas. It was never done to perfection (at times, far from it) and often resorted to wrongheaded means, but conservatives should be among the first to acknowledge the faults – yes, the sins – of human beings, and then work to make improvements. 

Unfortunately, such independence in thought and action is in retreat on the Right, and it promises to be a real fight to reclaim conservatism for true conservatism.

__________

Ray Keating is a columnist, an economist, a novelist (his latest novels are The Traitor: A Pastor Stephen Grant Novel, which is the 12thbook in the series, and the second edition of Root of All Evil? A Pastor Stephen Grant Novel with a new Author Introduction), a nonfiction author (among his recent works is Free Trade Rocks! 10 Points on International Trade Everyone Should Know), a podcaster, and an entrepreneur. You can also order his forthcoming book Behind Enemy Lines: Conservative Communiques from Left-Wing New York– signed booksor for the Kindle. The views expressed here are his own.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Realities of the Coronavirus Economy

by Ray Keating
The Keating Files – March 25, 2020

Just in case any doubts lingered about government’s ability to destroy business and economic activity, while at the same time being completely incapable of ginning up the economy, the coronavirus should wipe them away.


Indeed, most slowdowns, recessions and depressions are about government doing something stupid, and then trying to fix the problem with the wrong responses.

What’s different with the government’s response to the spreading coronavirus is that elected officials chose to shut down large chunks of the economy. That is, rather than creating a recession by mistake, this time, it was done on purpose. And quite frankly, in terms of the severe health care risks, there’s not much else that government could do under the circumstances.

But that doesn’t mean that there have not been and will not be brutal costs involved with this government-ordered recession. Consider that Goldman Sachs has predicted that the U.S. economy will shrink by 24 percent in the second quarter of this year, after a decline of 6 percent in the first quarter. If this turns out to be the result, that’s never happened before. On the brighter side (really?), Goldman’s economists look for growth to bounce back to 12 percent in the third quarter and 10 percent in the fourth.

Responses to the current state of affairs vary widely. Let’s consider two groups. Voices from Group 1 proclaim that the government’s actions went too far, and the economy needs to be quickly “re-opened.” And Group 2 awaits the passage and signing into law of some kind of salvation via a massive federal government aid package (likely to happen today, or the next day or two). This package will tally up to more than $2 trillion. Basically, both are wrong.

The problem with Group 1 is that they downplay the harsh realities of the coronavirus, including the potential deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans if this is not stomped down. The coronavirus must be made manageable, and then the restrictions on business and individuals can be lifted. 

As for Group 2 and a massive government aid package, a few points must be considered. First, in the short run, it makes sense for government to step up to help people thrown out of work, and businesses torpedoed and sank by government shutting down the economy on purpose. And we all hope that government somehow overcomes its inherent waste and inefficiencies to provide some much-needed assistance. But no one should be surprised by delays, foul ups and special-interests grabbing resources – that’s government.

Second, the current situation doesn’t mean we can wish away economic reality. Government aid dollars do not appear magically out of thin air. Instead, they are drained from the private sector. So, it must be noted that this massive aid package over the longer haul will serve to inflict additional damage on our economy. The best case scenario for this aid effort is that it manages to alleviate a chunk of the short-run severity, while we must recognize the added woes it will bring over the longer run.

There is no clear way to deal with the coronavirus in terms of its effects on jobs, businesses and the economy. We’re kind of feeling our way step by step each day, and for the most part, up until now, it’s hard to disagree with most of the actions taken. In the coming months, it will be about limiting the downside – again, even while recognizing that the damage promises to be deep and severe. 

As for the economy snapping back, there should be some of that late this year and into 2021. But the coronavirus itself and the coronavirus economy will not just go away with a flip of the switch. The effects promise to linger some, with a longer road to full recovery than perhaps many are expecting right now. And that recovery depends upon government doing the right thing and not making matters worse – always a dicey proposition.

The worst case scenario would be extending government interference in the economy due to the coronavirus emergency into the post-coronavirus period. Once we’ve reached that point where the virus is being managed properly, government needs to quickly step back and shrink, so that entrepreneurs, businesses, investors and workers are free to get back to innovating, working, investing, and growing businesses, the economy, income and jobs.

__________

Ray Keating is a columnist, an economist, a novelist (his latest novels are The Traitor: A Pastor Stephen Grant Novel, which is the 12thbook in the series, and the second edition of Root of All Evil? A Pastor Stephen Grant Novel with a new Author Introduction), a nonfiction author (among his recent works is Free Trade Rocks! 10 Points on International Trade Everyone Should Know), a podcaster, and an entrepreneur. The views expressed here are his own.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

State of Republicans in 2020: Deeper Confusion

by Ray Keating
The Keating Files – March 22, 2020

When pondering the state of the Republican Party these days, an Electric Light Orchestra song comes to mind: “Confusion.”


At one point, Jeff Lynne sings: “Confusion – it's such a terrible shame.
Confusion – you don't know what you're sayin'.” 

I sometimes wonder: Do various people with an “R” after their names know what they’re sayin’?

Although, it should be noted that confusion is not necessarily new ground for Republicans. Twenty years ago, I wrote about a confused Republican Party. At that time, there was a struggle between Democrat-lite Republicans, wet-fingers-in-the-air Republicans looking to polls over principles, and conservative Reagan Republicans. And among the GOP conservatives at the time, disagreements existed, of course, though a fair chunk of the fracturing on the GOP Right focused on what to lead with, such as economic or social issues.

The confusion in today’s Republican Party runs far deeper. The last two decades  - in particular, after the 2008-09 economic downturn – witnessed a dramatic rise of populism within the GOP. That movement found an initial voice in the 1992 presidential campaign of Pat Buchanan, and it eventually seized the party via Donald Trump in 2016. 

Hence, the Reagan Republican emphasis on expanding opportunity, limiting government, embracing traditional values, the importance of character, and winning the nation and world over to freedom has been in retreat. Advancing have been populist priorities on fear, isolation, and victimhood, with the present-day Republican Party, as a result, pushing opposition to immigration; embracing protectionist trade policies; using rather than opposing large government; and offering a, yes, confused foreign policy swinging wildly from withdrawal to military action. In addition, the idea that character matters has been jettisoned in favor of the ends justifying the means, including, ironically, by many Republicans favoring social conservatism.

And given that populism is an us-against-them view of the world, it’s not surprising that the GOP largely has abandoned attempting to expand the party’s appeal. Instead, the emphasis is on ginning up action (or outrage) among its base, which largely is white and rural, and scaring others into voting against Democrats. (Of course, the Democrats have cooperated in providing a heck of a lot to fear.)

While the current Republican political recipe might win an election or two in the very short run, it points to defeat in the longer term. It’s worth noting that looking at the 31 states where party registration is required, according to Ballot Access News and reported by the Washington Post, registered independents in early 2020 exceeded the number of registered Republicans for the first time. While Republicans were 10 percentage points ahead of independents in 2004, in early 2020, registered independents came in at 29.09 percent of voters, versus 28.87 percent being registered as Republicans. Registered Democrats, by the way, stood at 39.66 percent of registered voters. 

That should be deeply troubling to Republicans, and it confirms what demographic and political analysis told the GOP after its presidential defeats in 2008 and 2012, that is, the party needs to broaden its base. Republican leaders in the not-too-distant past understood this reality, including Ronald Reagan, Jack Kemp and George W. Bush. But it seems to be ignored more recently. Indeed, populism is not a path to expansion.

In fact, one has to ask: Is populism enough to even sustain a major political party? The answer is no. A political party needs to be about more than fear, and saying that they’re better than those other guys.  

The great unknown for the Republican Party is where it will go after Donald Trump leaves office – whether that be in January 2021 or January 2025. Will it be a populist party, a conservative party, or a party largely driven by polls? 

One option that isn’t really on the table is a merged populist/conservative party. Why is that not an option? Because conservatism and populism, contrary to what many Republican politicians and commentators assert, are fundamentally not compatible. As foundational matters, populism’s emphasis on victimhood, using government on behalf of themselves and others they view as victims, opposing trade and so-called “globalism,” favoring isolationism, and distrusting business, particularly large businesses and banks, is more aligned with Progressivism than with a conservatism rooted in individual freedom, Madisonian skepticism about government, Judeo-Christian values, free enterprise, free markets, a strong national defense, and a reliance on private enterprises and institutions to improve and enhance life, in both a material and spiritual sense.

And in terms of how a political party functions, populism is like preaching to a dwindling choir, while conservatism – confident and at its best in the political arena – is about getting more people into the church.

However, there’s always the option of trying to rename “populism” as “conservatism,” if it serves a perceived political – or in some cases, personal – purpose. And there seem to be plenty of people in the Republican Party who would be fine with such an effort.

There’s that ELO tune again ... “Confusion, it comes as no big surprise.”

__________

Ray Keating is a columnist, an economist, a novelist (his latest novels are The Traitor: A Pastor Stephen Grant Novel, which is the 12thbook in the series, and the second edition of Root of All Evil? A Pastor Stephen Grant Novel with a new Author Introduction), a nonfiction author (among his recent works is Free Trade Rocks! 10 Points on International Trade Everyone Should Know), a podcaster, and an entrepreneur. You can also order his forthcoming book Behind Enemy Lines: Conservative Communiques from Left-Wing New York – signed booksor for the Kindle. The views expressed here are his own.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

The State of the Democrats in 2020: The Journey Left Accelerates

by Ray Keating
The Keating Files – March 19, 2020

Where do our major political parties and philosophies stand right now, and as we look ahead not just to presidential and congressional elections this November but beyond?


Just after the 2000 election, when we were all waiting around for the final tally of a disputed presidential election – remember Bush vs. Gore – I took the opportunity to evaluate the state of our two major political parties, and the major movements or sets of ideas that undergirded much of the nation’s politics, i.e., conservatism and modern-day liberalism. It was one of those turn-of-the-century opportunities. 

And now, two decades later (wow – 20 years!?), how do things look for the Democrats, the Republicans, liberalism and conservatism? This first essay evaluates the Democrats.

In 2000, I bemoaned that the state of our body politic had “wilted.” I argued that “the size of government combined with the corruption of the Democratic Party during the reign of President Bill Clinton ... soiled the public square,” including “the continuing tragic ethical decline of the Democratic Party.” The Dems had “tacitly adopted the sordid governing philosophy of the ends justifying the means.” That’s still the case, but things have gotten worse.

But the mess back then wasn’t just about Clinton. It had been building up as the Democrats, for example, had enshrined judicial activism as a glorious cause, that is, in order to get around what was actually – and for them inconveniently – written and intended by the U.S. Constitution. Democrats also perfected the political spin machine that could manufacture crises in order to advance the policies they preferred, namely, the expansion of government into all realms of life – the dream of Progressives in the Democratic Party since Woodrow Wilson. Again, the ends justify the means (more on this, by the way, for the Republicans in the upcoming essay on the GOP).

Little of this has changed over the past 20 years, except that the Democrats’ policy agenda has moved much further to the Left. For example, any semblance of social conservatism that might have existed among Democrats in 2000 – such as a few pro-life elected officials here and there – has been stomped out. 

And while Democrats in 2000 were annoyed at being called “socialists,” today, a significant chunk of the party, led by presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, as well as U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, aka AOC, embrace the label – thereby exhibiting a breathtaking expansion of economic ignorance within the party. Indeed, as bad as the Democrats had been on economic issues post-John F. Kennedy, the steep descent into economic illiteracy has been rather stunning in recent times.

The notion that the U.S. could have a Democratic president today who would agree to a capital gains tax cut, welfare reform, and making NAFTA a reality – as President Bill Clinton did – is nearly unimaginable. In fact, could 1992, 1996 or 2000 Bill Clinton even have a shot at the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination today? Doubtful.

For good measure, the radical environmental movement’s reach has vastly expanded in the Democratic Party to the point that a climate agenda imposing drastic costs on the U.S. economy and calling for government to effectively reshape the entire energy industry has become the accepted political line among Democrats.

In looking at causes, one must recognize that Barack Obama ran and governed as the most liberal president the nation has ever had, given that his Leftism cut across nearly all issues, as opposed to someone like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who also was a hardline Leftist but had issues where he was still rather centrist, like on foreign affairs, and other social issues around today that weren’t even thought of by most people.

So, this year, we have Obama’s vice president, Joe Biden, pitching himself as the more moderate among Democratic presidential candidates – and given that Sanders is the only one remaining, Biden is more moderate – but at the same time, Biden arguably is running to the left of Obama.

The Democratic Party over the past twenty years has moved so far to the Left – that is, it has become so radicalized – that the party’s 2016 presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, managed to lose to Donald Trump (and yes, she also was highly unlikeable, but so was Trump), and the same thing could happen in 2020. 

Looking ahead, can the Democrats pull back from this journey to the far Left? Well, keep in mind that this is the direction the party has been going at least since 1968, and given who the party’s activists and donors are, it’s hard to imagine a return to anything even close to where the party was under John F. Kennedy, or even Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton. For example, recall that the deregulatory movement that benefited the U.S. economy so enormously during Ronald Reagan’s 1980s actually got started during Carter’s presidency. But especially given the hyper-regulation of the Obama years, any whiff of talk that doesn’t involve increased regulation is sure to lead to banishment from the 21stcentury Democrats. 

Indeed, even as the Democrats seem to have coalesced this year around Biden, and moved away from Sanders, in an effort to defeat Trump, it has been the uniqueness of Donald Trump that drove this momentary glimpse of something resembling political sanity (as well as more people actually paying attention to crazy stuff that Sanders has done and said over the years). But as already noted, it’s not like Biden is running on anything close to being middle of the road. He offers a left-wing agenda – such as big tax increases, unbridled liberalism on all social issues, more and more regulation, extremism on the environment, and so on – in the hopes that his history and style as trusty, old Uncle Joe will attract, and fool, enough voters to send Trump packing. 

This Biden strategy in no way challenges the Democrats’ increasing liberalism. Indeed, barring some political miracle, the Democrats’ leftward journey will continue unabated for the foreseeable future.

__________

Ray Keating is a columnist, an economist, a novelist (his latest novels are The Traitor: A Pastor Stephen Grant Novel, which is the 12thbook in the series, and the second edition of Root of All Evil? A Pastor Stephen Grant Novel with a new Author Introduction), a nonfiction author (among his recent works is Free Trade Rocks! 10 Points on International Trade Everyone Should Know), a podcaster, and an entrepreneur. You can also order his forthcoming book Behind Enemy Lines: Conservative Communiques from Left-Wing New York – signed booksor for the Kindle. The views expressed here are his own.

BEHIND ENEMY LINES: CONSERVATIVE COMMUNIQUES FROM LEFT-WING NEW YORK by Ray Keating

Enjoy Ray Keating’s collection of columns and essays in his forthcoming book BEHIND ENEMY LINES: CONSERVATIVE COMMUNIQUES FROM LEFT-WING NEW YORK 


Over the years, key conservative leaders have praised Ray Keating’s work, including...

“Keating is no sour-puss conservative... Keating’s pro-growth agenda of dramatic supply-side tax and regulatory cuts, school choice, and much smaller government stands as New York’s only chance at rebirth.”  - Steve Forbes

“Ray Keating and [co-author] Tom Edmonds evaluate the nation and the states according to a strong set of principles. Their views on politics and the state of society reveal a solid commitment to the conservative ideas that built this nation. Their take on the economy is unabashedly supply-side, offering a clear understanding that risk taking and entrepreneurship are the engines of economic growth.”  - Jack Kemp

This is a wide-ranging, engaging, and informative collection of columns and essays covering  economics, politics, faith, history, trade, New York, foreign affairs, immigration, pop culture, business, sports, books, and more.

Pre-order the Kindle edition at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B084ZF7THQ


Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Is the U.S. in a Recession Right Now?

by Ray Keating
The Keating Files – March 17, 2020

Unfortunately, with each passing day and further steps being taken by government to deal with the coronavirus/COVID-19, it becomes clearer that the U.S. is in a recession right now. Indeed, government actions – while largely necessary to limit the damage of this pandemic – have in effect shutdown significant chunks of our economy.


Yet, assorted analysts and business media keep talking about a possible recession arriving in the second quarter of this year and extending into the third quarter. But let’s keep in mind that we are still in the first quarter right now, and the economy clearly has hit the brakes.

For good measure, as I noted a week ago, contrary to what people had talked themselves into regarding the pre-coronavirus economy, growth slowed notably over the past five quarters, in which real GDP growth averaged only 2.1 percent. Most critically, real business investment declined in each of the last three quarters, and trade has been a drag on growth for two years. So, the economy wasn’t exactly roaring when we ran into the coronavirus.

Business investment now seems to be in freefall, along with trade, and toss in workers being told to stay home and commensurately reining in their spending, and it’s hard to see how a recession has not already started.

Keep in mind, by the way, that the back-of-the-envelope definition of a recession is at least two successive quarters of negative GDP growth. However, the official start and end dates of recessions are determined, based on an assortment of factors, by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

No one knows how the coronavirus and its effects are going to fully play out, but it seems like a safe bet to see this anti-virus effort extending into the summer, and with it, a recession – even with federal government so-called “stimulus” efforts. With little confidence, the best guess-timate from this economist is that the recession began this month, and will last into the third quarter of this year. But it also must be noted that if entrepreneurs, businesses and investors get a strong whiff of more anti-growth policymaking emerging from the November’s presidential and congressional elections, then the recession could last longer, or the threat of a double-dip recession – that is, the recession ends with a brief period of growth, followed by another downturn – looms in the distance.

__________

Ray Keating is a columnist, an economist, a novelist (his latest novels are The Traitor: A Pastor Stephen Grant Novel, which is the 12thbook in the series, and the second edition of Root of All Evil? A Pastor Stephen Grant Novel with a new Author Introduction), a nonfiction author (among his recent works is Free Trade Rocks! 10 Points on International Trade Everyone Should Know), a podcaster, and an entrepreneur. You can also order his forthcoming book Behind Enemy Lines: Conservative Communiques from Left-Wing New York – signed booksor for the Kindle. The views expressed here are his own.

Friday, March 13, 2020

11 Point Guide to Working at Home

by Ray Keating
The Keating Files – March 13, 2020

With so many businesses having employees working from home due to the coronavirus, my response is: “Welcome!” I’ve had a home office for just about 29 years. It’s kind of sobering to ponder, but the work-at-home gig began for me way back in 1991.


With this long track record, here’s a quick 11-point guide to working from home based on my experiences.

1. You Better Love Your Job. If you don’t enjoy, are indifferent, or positively dislike your job, then working from home might not go so well. Working in your house or apartment means that all kinds of interesting distractions lurk, from binging Netflix, getting lost online, playing with the dog, or suddenly being interested in chores around the house – from cleaning the gutters to fixing the bathroom toilet. If you don’t like your work, those distractions can become quite tempting.

2. Carve Out a Workspace. Working from home and Wi-Fi allows for getting stuff done on your laptop probably anywhere in your home – and I certainly do that. However, the most productive time usually is found in an actual home office. Since the coronavirus has people working at home who normally don’t, you might not have the space for an actual office. But other spots around the house can work in a pinch, such as a dining room or kitchen table, or even a bedroom. But if working at home is going to be for a long haul, space away from the traffic of daily life is a big plus.

3. Boost Productivity by Focusing on Objectives, Goals and Completing Projects, Not the Clock. Working from home shouldn’t mean doing the 9-to-5 thing. Instead, the home office – away from the traditional workplace setting – allows for focusing on accomplishing objectives or goals, such as completing projects, and then perhaps taking a break – even a quick jaunt to the park or beach – before moving on to the next item on the to-do list. It’s about meeting deadlines, not about the exact time spent at the desk.

4. Eliminating Meaningless Meetings. Productivity also gets a boost thanks to, for the most part, eliminating the plague of meaningless, wasteful meetings. Meetings generally suck up time and grind work to a near halt. (Can you tell I hate meetings?) Working at home means few, if any, meetings, and that’s productivity heaven.

5. Discipline and Deadlines Rock. My time as a weekly newspaper columnist taught me the many benefits of being disciplined, in particular, via deadlines. Lots of people (most?) don’t like deadlines, but when embraced, deadlines not only require discipline with time and effort (that is, less waste), but actually benefit creativity. Too often, when working independently, delay can become the default setting, and nothing gets done. Nothing getting done means, by definition, no creativity. Deadlines mean that projects must get done, and this winds up serving as an impetus to creativity.

6. Independence Required. Whether faced by something like the coronavirus or being considered for other reasons, working from home requires the ability to work independently. If that’s not you, then you need to learn quickly or suffer accordingly.

7. Enjoy the Flexibility. While the 9-to-5 workplace can be rather regimented, one of the great benefits of having a home office is flexibility. This goes back to the aforementioned focusing on getting projects done and goals met, rather than being a slave to the clock. A project focus means far greater workday flexibility, and that is one of the great benefits of working at home. Indeed, enjoy the flexibility.

8. From Commuting to What? Working at home eliminates the commute. I went from commuting to lower Manhattan – almost two hours each way every day – to no commute at all. It pays to think about how to use that time gained in ways that improve your life. The key is to make it a conscious decision; otherwise, opportunities – whether on the career front or in family life, for example – can be lost.

9. Don’t Let Work Take Over. As I noted earlier, enjoying your work is crucial when working at home. However, it then can be easy to let your work takeover or crowd out other aspects of your life. This is a work-at-home risk that you need to guard against.

10. Great Tunes. Working at home allows for working in a manner that can improve your outlook and productivity, but also in a way that perhaps wouldn’t cut it in a more traditional workplace. For me, it’s music. Music has a powerful effect on my mood and outlook, so I have assorted playlists at the ready to get me in the right frame of mind to, in my case, write. And yes, I play it loud.

11. Start a Business? Finally, use time working at home due to the coronavirus to explore opportunities. Namely, use this as a test run to see if becoming an entrepreneur is for you. If the working independently and creatively thing holds great appeal, then explore starting up a business. That doesn’t mean that you have to quit the fulltime gig – indeed, most of us cannot afford to do so – but your own business can be fulfilling in many ways, can supplement the family income, and can eventually become what you do fulltime. If you’ve ever thought about being an entrepreneur, then a stint of working from home can help you decide.

__________

Ray Keating is a columnist, an economist, a novelist (his latest novels are The Traitor: A Pastor Stephen Grant Novel, which is the 12thbook in the series, and the second edition of Root of All Evil? A Pastor Stephen Grant Novel with a new Author Introduction), a nonfiction author (among his recent works is Free Trade Rocks! 10 Points on International Trade Everyone Should Know), a podcaster, and an entrepreneur. You can also order his forthcoming book Behind Enemy Lines: Conservative Communiques from Left-Wing New York– signed books or for the Kindle. The views expressed here are his own.