Like so many miracles, this is revisionist history. Even if Trump’s first 100 days had produced a bevy of new legislation, it typically takes about a year for policy to affect national economic statistics. But Trump’s first 100 days produced no major legislation, despite effectively unwinding Obama-era regulations for labor, environmental, and consumer protections. Instead, Trump is treating the U.S. economy the way he might treat the licensing of a fully built hotel: He has slapped his surname on the facade and shifted around the interior decor. But the foundation, scaffolding, and architecture of the thing either preexisted his term or are beyond his control.
Consider the stock market, whose performance in 2017 has been pretty remarkable. The Dow has added 5,000 points in a calendar year for the first time ever. And, to Trump’s credit, he’s probably responsible for some of those gains. Corporations have benefited from the president’s emphasis on tax cuts and deregulation. Indeed, corporate tax reform will increase profits, especially for large telecoms, large banks, and retailers. There is also evidence of Trump’s policies helping specific sectors. For-profit prisons and for-profit colleges—both of which were targeted by the Obama administration—soared after the election of President Trump and have since outperformed the rallying stock market.
But the overall rise in equity prices is part of a long, steady bull market. The S&P 500 has grown by about 20 percent under Trump. That’s great, but it’s actually less than the one-year increase in 2009 (26 percent) or, to pick a year that wasn’t starting from rock bottom, 2013 (32 percent) under Obama. What’s more, the U.S. stock market has actually done worse than most of the developed world in 2017. As a percent change in dollars, the U.S. has lagged behind the stock indices of France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain, Japan, China, India, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Argentina, and Chile.
The most important reason for this global boomlet is somewhat boring: After eight years of central banks printing money to help businesses and companies recover from the global financial crisis, the entire world finally seems to be growing. Global trade in 2017—which has little to do with White House policy—has grown at its fastest pace in the last five years. “The percentage of countries in major expansion mode is about as good as it can get,” Michael Cembalest, the chairman of market and investment strategy at JP Morgan, told me. In short: With or without Trump, there would be a historic rally in U.S. stock prices, because American multinational corporations (which make almost half of their revenue from overseas) are enjoying a rare moment of nearly universal worldwide growth.
What about a Trump miracle for blue-collar workers? Trump promised “to restore manufacturing in the United States” during the campaign. And voila, manufacturing employment had its best year since 2014, with the unemployment rate in steel manufacturing declining to 1.4 percent (not a typo). Trump also promised to revive the mining industry during the campaign. Indeed, after declining for several years, mining jobs have suddenly rebounded under Trump, another ostensible victory for White House policy.