World will have to tolerate deficit impasse a while longer
European and Pacific Basin opinion, my sampling shows, favored the Republican George Bush for President. And why not? They have benefited from the United States balance-of-payments deficit encouraged by Reaganomics. And they are probably right to expect a bit less protectionism from a Bush White House than from one responsive to the Democratic constituency of union and non-union workers in manu-facturing.
As Oscar Wilde said, however: ``The only thing worse than not getting your heart's desire is sometimes getting it.'' Any observer abroad, for that matter any expert at home, is probably wrong to believe the now-fashionable view that just because the election is behind us, we Americans are about to face up to and conquer the budget deficit and the payments deficit evils that are the legacy of the Reagan years.
Let me explain why I have to fault the belief that the new president and the new Congress will have to mend their ways.
Optimists say that electorates get what they deserve. Pessimists fear the optimists are right. As Pogo said, ``We has met the enemy, and it is us.''
During the campaign, neither candidate discussed economics. Their house economists were mostly kept under wraps. This was rational game-theory strategy by Mr. Bush and Gov. Michael Dukakis.
Voters have taught aspirants for high office that talking about the structural budget deficit, and the continual payment deficit that is making the US the world's largest debtor nation, is doubly dangerous.
There is a fiscal impasse in American politics. But I must insist that it is not primarily an impasse between the president and the Congress. The impasse is a Main Street impasse.
Inside each of us is a President Reagan and a Speaker O'Neill. We love low tax rates. At the same time we insist on social security, health programs, defense expenditures, bank insurance, farm aids, and a safety net for the unemployed, handicapped, and aged.
In real life, the story does not come to a final end with election day, where everyone lives happily ever after.
I realize that promises are made to be broken. But Mr. Bush cannot be expected to approve an increase in taxes - not, at least, in his first year in office. He must hope that the opposition will force his hand, dragging him kicking and screaming toward some compromise that will resolve the impasse.
Michael Boskin, drafted from Stanford to advise Bush on economics, knows that the present US full-employment economy can't possibly grow its way out of the structural deficit: That would take 3 to 4 percent annual growth rates for half a decade; by contrast, Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan knows that anything sustained above 2 percent a year will reignite inflation.
Wall Street knows that continuation of supply-side Reaganomics will be bad news for the bond market. And, probably, for the stock market.
This helps explain Wall Street's sell-off of stocks and bonds the morning after its candidate's victory. It also makes it easier to understand the mid-November depreciation of the dollar, and the likely further depreciations down the road after the Group of Seven has squandered some tens of billions of dollars in a vain attempt to defend the impossible and peg exchange rates at last summer's levels.
What New York knows, London knows. Tokyo knows. And so does Frankfurt, Zurich, Madrid, and Singapore.
Agreed, then, that the budget deficit will not go away of its own accord. Public opinion will neither coerce the White House into accepting new taxes nor coerce Congress into accepting Draconian spending cuts.
My only conclusion, then, is that the two deficits will continue in 1989-90.
Fortunately, our likely failure to take more than token action against these deficits does not necessarily entail a 1989 recession or a 1989 flare-up of double-digit inflation.
The insidious danger of Reaganomics - a low-saving America that gradually goes deeper into foreign debt - presents itself as a comfortable evil for us and for foreigners. That is why it is insidious. And, alas, why it is likely to persist for much of the new president's first term.
Can the world live with this? It will have to. And I believe it can.