Norton on real estate: the shortcomings of 2016

There has been no focus on real economic issues, policies and outcomes in the circus of a presidential campaign


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Fall is here – cool nights, some early change of color, and the phone is ringing more frequently at the office.

We have had a busy summer. Folks are focused on keeping on keeping on.

Unfortunately, there has been no focus on real economic issues, policies and outcomes in the presidential campaign, which has been a circus and a distraction from considering serious issues. And there are many significant, serious and long-term issues we should be considering and facing up to.

Chief among these is the rising levels of debt, both public and private. Noted economist David Malpass, a fierce and longtime critic of what the Fed and other central banks have been doing, has pointed out that the proportion of bonds to the U.S. economy's total credit has surged from 39 percent a decade ago to 53 percent today. Manifestly, this isn't unhealthy, as the global situation testifies. The reliance on central banks to gin up growth has allowed governments to avoid making badly needed structural changes, such as cutting tax rates, reducing anti-growth labor laws and easing suffocating regulations., as noted in an Aug. 23 Forbes “Fact and Comment.”

A regional bank chief investment officer recently explained that debt in the U.S. is not $19 trillion (about equal to the annual gross domestic product). The total of public and private debt is between $60 trillion and $65 trillion! How is that going to get paid off, or even reduced to a manageable level? What is the cost and thus the impact on other services when interest rates rise and the cost of servicing the debt doubles or triples?

Somewhere in the future there will be a day of reckoning.

Historically, a rising tide has floated all boats - an improving and expanding U.S. and global economy has allowed us to pay our debts. Remember the end of the Clinton (Clinton 1 – like Bush 1?) years when the federal government had a surplus? Where did it go? And it matters not whether a Democrat/liberal or a Republican/conservative is in the White House. Having participated in Medicare for nearly a year, I am not losing too much sleep, as there seems to be adequate funding for me to secure my entitlements. But what about my 30-year-old daughter (and son-in-law) and my 27-year-old son? They are (statistically) likely to live well into their 90s; how will that play out?

As an avid reader of history, I grasp the idea that every generation has had this concern and worry. But over the past 200-plus years, we have been able to grow our way out of it. The key statistic or metric over the past 10 years (a short time frame) is that we cannot seem to gin up the economic growth. The tide is going out.

Now, the typical conservative palliatives that we must cut taxes and create small business jobs are sounding old and tired. It is not working, and even Donald Trump cannot change that fact. Although facts are only random inputs to his thinking process. Hillary, while less risky has no better vision. Clinton 2 will not perform as well as Clinton 1 when it comes to the economy.

The now well-entrenched mindset that Washington can spend mega dollars and fix anything rings hollow these days.

I find it astonishing among my baby boomer peers how many say “I am willing to pay more taxes to fix things and even the score for the less fortunate.” Oh were that possible. Taxes go to Washington (and 50 state capitals), which are not efficient providers of services. The inefficiencies have even spilled over to public elections.

Over $100 million will be spent on the Maggie Hassan-Kelly Ayotte U.S. Senate race. How can that be justified? Ninety-five percent, or more, of that money will come from out of state. For all the time and energy (one radio host was saying that by late October we will be begging for car ads to come back to radio and TV!), why don't we have the two candidates take eight weeks, visit all 220-plus towns in New Hampshire, have two or three debates and then the election. Let's cap the spending at $2 million each. Now we have a $100 million surplus that we could fund all-day kindergarten, reading programs, services for the elderly, real help for those fighting addiction.

OK, my rant is over. I have never felt less empowered than the morning of Sept. 13, when I stepped into the voting booth and scanned that ballot. Mediocre choices for the most part. No real leaders with a dynamic, but grounded, vision of how to get America back on a positive trajectory again. Shame on us. We have made our bed and now we have to sleep in it. I wish there were some concrete ideas on how we could improve our lot, especially here in little New Hampshire, where we should foster civility, community, working together, safe and healthy communities.

It reminds me of a conversation the other day with some parents of grown children with special needs. They explained how the rules do not allow them to form a cooperative where their children, now grown, can live together, share services and remain semi-autonomous and independent. My only response was perhaps they should forego the public funding (with all the strings attached) and just do it on their own. Why don't we allow local communities and parents to provide a good education to our children at half of what we spend today for subpar results? Gary Johnson -- where are you?

Bill Norton, president of Norton Asset Management and principal of Harrington & Reeves, is a Counselor of Real Estate (CRE) and a Facilities Management Administrator (FMA). He can be reached at wbn@nortonnewengland.com.

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