I wrote on Friday that U.S. CEOs in Davos were strikingly optimistic about prospects for the upcoming Trump administration. They downplayed his anti-trade and anti-immigration sentiments, and emphasized the potential for reducing corporate taxes and regulation.
But that was before the speech. I’m usually a sucker for inaugural addresses, which are filled with hope and promise. I have been moved by every one I’ve witnessed since 1976. One of my favorites was George W. Bush’s first inaugural address, which you can read here.
But this was different. Leaving aside the absence of humility, poetry and generosity towards his predecessors, the speech presented a zero-sum view of the global economy. “For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry” and have “made other countries rich while the wealth, strength and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon.” In the new administration, “we will bring back our jobs” by following “two simple rules: we will buy American and hire American.”
If this means that President Trump plans to repatriate the earnings of U.S. companies now locked overseas by high taxes, and to continue to lean on companies to invest more in the U.S., then the CEOs optimism may well be justified. But if he leads the world into a new era of global protectionism, then the effects on U.S. economic growth will be dire.
The CEO of one of the nation’s largest companies advised me last week to watch what the President does, and ignore what he tweets. That admonition now has to be extended to cover his inaugural address, too.