Why is Wall Street Worried?—Let us count the ways.
1) The proverbial Wall Street capitalists believe that, with new federal income tax rates, the removal of FICA ceilings, increases in capital gains rates, decreases in deductions, and simultaneous tax raises, not only will Obama remove incentives for innovation and productivity, but that he does not seem to care about—or perhaps appreciate—he consequences?
2) On the spending side, investors see too many subsidies and entitlements that may Europeanize the populace and erode incentives, while creating so much debt that in the next decade, should interest rates rise, the federal budget will be consumed with servicing borrowing and entitlement obligations. A redistributive economy in which government ensures an equality of result is Wall Street’s worst nightmare. Debt can only be paid back by floating more foreign debt, issuing more US bonds at home, raising taxes, or printing money—all bad options in the mind of the investor.
3) Too many are beginning to think Obama is, well, a naïf—and hence dangerous. He chest-thumps speeches Geithner cannot deliver. He says we are near the Great Depression—but then, after the stimulus package passes, suddenly hypes future growth rates to suggest that we will be out a recession, soon after all? Add in all the talk of high-tax, Al-Gorist cap-in-trade, wind and solar, socialized medicine in the midst of a financial crisis, and at best Obama comes across as confused and herky-jerky, and at worse, clueless on the economy—as if a Chicago organizer is organizing a multi-trillion-dollar economy. Talking about 'gyrations' and confusion about profits and earnings, and offering ad hoc advice about investing do not restore authority.
`4) Given the amount of debt the US is incurring (and the decades needed to pay it off), given the loose talk about the ‘rich’, and given the rumors about nationalization, investors are unsure whether the United States will remain a safe haven for investment, or even offer a climate for profit-making, since it would either be taxed to the point of seizure, or its beneficiaries would be culturally and socially demonized. Ultimately perhaps some will accept that as the price of doing business in a socialist US, but for now it creates doubt. This is not a defense of Wall Street (a year ago Richard Fuld and Robert Rubin were our Zeuses on Olympus who strutted like gods), simply a warning that we are going from excess to stasis, and the cure will be as bad as or worse than the disease.
5) Uncertainty. Who is now our Commerce Secretary? Which cowards is the Attorney General talking about? What did Geithner mean about pernicious oil and gas companies? What is with this Solis, and card check? How hard is it to ensure a Richardson or Daschle is clean? In other words, market watchers see after five weeks chaos, and think there is no sure and steady paradigm in which they can make careful business decisions and anticipate with some surety future risk.
So the perfect storm forms, and millions of individuals come to millions of identical conclusions: “Cut your losses with these guys, and get your cash out before it gets worse” rather than “Wow, what bargains! I gotta get in before the window of profit opportunity closes.”
But is there an alternative?
Do Republicans offer an antithesis? Can they explain the Bush deficits and take responsibility for them, as well as the Republican congressional creepiness from 2002-06 (Craig, Stevens, Cunningham, Foley, etc)? And most importantly, will they offer counterproposals—a stimulus much smaller, mixtures of loan guarantees, tax cuts, and (some) public works alone, coupled with spending caps as soon as GDP growth returns? Can they articulate how the market corrected, say, in 1980-3, without our government going socialist? Can we get a plan not merely to balance the budget, but to pay off the debt? If not, legitimate criticisms of Obama fall on deaf ears without some positive alternative.