Shockingly, the answer you receive will depend on who answers -- a Democrat or a Republican.
Let's face it: Most of us are, at best, amateurs at economics. We don't really know which candidate, or which party, will be better for the economy. When one Nobel Prize-winning economist says the Bush tax cuts were too small, and another Nobel Prize-winning economist says that the same tax cuts will take a generation to fix, we are understandably confused, and we tend to line up under the economist who says what we want to hear.
It's the same story with international trade, health care, regulation and just about any other economic issue.
As the interminable American presidential election process and the accompanying 24/7 media swarm roll over our consciousness and overwhelm our ability to think, like an avalanche crushing a tree, it's important we treat with healthy skepticism everything we hear coming out of the candidates' mouths, even the candidate we pray to God will win.
We are about to be bombarded with so many opinions, from so many directions, on so many different topics, with so many distortions -- from foreign policy to health care to taxes to economics to rumors from 30 years ago -- that our heads will spin.
There will be debates and opinion pieces, and debates about opinion pieces. There will be newspaper articles and blogs, and blogs about newspaper articles. There will be talk shows, political ads, endorsements, tears, accusations -- and counter-accusations. The noise and its demands on our attention will be crushing, relentless, cruel, unyielding and, when it's all over, we will be full of information, but possibly stupider, not wiser.
Don't Know, Don't Care
The truth -- complex, subtle, and resistant to angry sound bites -- will disappear into a sinkhole of cacophony.
The Democrats will lay the recent subprime crisis at the feet of the Republicans, as if the negligent rating agencies, the eager mortgage lenders, the aggressive investment bankers and, in some cases, the irresponsible borrowers played no role in any of it. The populists -- from the right and the left -- will curse companies for making profits, slam free trade as being anti-American, and promise you that they will crush that pharmaceutical company whose drugs are helping to keep you alive.
The Republicans will scare us with the dangers of higher taxes and greater regulation under a Democratic administration, ignoring the real economic accomplishments of the Clinton administration and the growing budget deficits of the Bush administration. No one will mention the great leverage that the Federal Reserve has in affecting the economy, or the continual growth in the U.S. economy during both Democratic and Republican presidencies.
The economic policies of a presidential administration do affect the economy, but so do a lot of other things, like the Fed, the global economy, the animal spirits of the entrepreneur and many other variables.
So, if you really do hear that question at a party, the answer is: We don't know -- and we don't care, either, because we're going to vote on other things.
Most of us pick the party first, then the candidate. Suppose some Spock-like economist, free of emotion and political inclinations, were to prove that a Republican president would be better for the economy. What do you think would be the response of a die-hard Obama supporter: "That's it! I'm changing my vote to Mitt Romney"?
And if the same Star Trek economist were to prove that Democrats are always better for the economy, most Republicans would probably yawn, and then make fun of his pointy ears.
Fred D. Snitzer is chief operating officer in the investment-management firm of Prudent Management Associates, specializing in high-net-worth and tax-deferred asset management. For information, go to: www.prudentmanagement.com .