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The Downturn Scenario

A Commentary By Lawrence Kudlow

Friday, September 16, 2011

Is the economy standing on the front end of a new recession? As IMF executive director Christine Lagarde and World Bank president Robert Zoellick warn that the global economy is entering a new economic danger zone, there’s plenty to be worried about right here in the U.S.A.

The August batch of economic stats shows zero jobs and zero retail sales. Industrial production rose slightly to save us from a clean zero sweep, but it was only two-tenths of 1 percent. However, manufacturing registered by the New York Fed and the Philly Fed showed continued declines. Jobless claims continue to rise. On top of all that, consumer prices showed a surprising increase.

So at best, we have a stagflationary stall in the economy, while at worst a recession could take hold.

Even on the profits front, which has been strong, top Wall Street economist Ed Yardeni reports a large drop in the growth of corporate tax receipts, suggesting a major profits slowdown. A Wall Street Journal story reports a profits squeeze from manufacturers. With productivity slipping, unit labor costs paid by business are rising faster than the prices business can get. Echoing that, producer prices are rising much faster than consumer inflation at retail.

The recession call is not conclusive. I’m the first to admit it. And my optimistic instincts rebel against the downturn scenario. But facts are facts. They must be reported. And the numbers aren’t good.

At this stage there’s virtually nothing the Federal Reserve can do. It caused the huge oil shock by depreciating the dollar during QE2. That’s been a killer. Now it’s time for some pro-growth fiscal policy. The Obama stimulus package repeats all the president’s past mistakes: temporary tax cuts, big spending, government planning (think Solyndra), and all these targeted clean-energy and infrastructure plans that spend the public’s money but do not on balance create new jobs -- and certainly do not create new entrepreneurial start-up businesses.

House Republicans ought to take a look at the revolt against Obamanomics. All the polls show it. Republican Bob Turner’s dramatic election win in Queens, N.Y., shows it. The voter zeitgeist has turned against the president’s policies. The GOP should rip up the Obama plan and come down with fundamental tax and regulatory reform to generate new economic-growth incentives and roll back the big-government regulatory costs on business.

The force is with the Republican party as the country awaits bold new action to get us out this economic mess.

Larry Kudlow, National Review Online's Economics Editor, is host of CNBC's "The Kudlow Report" and author of the daily web blog Kudlow's Money Politic$.

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