The intense scrutiny toward the relationship between President Trump's inner circle and Russia appears to have no end in sight. Regardless of whether or not any wrongdoing was committed, we may suffer an economic cost. It's called opportunity cost — the things we give up in the way of policy action while doing battle with the Russia problem.
It is important that we learn the whole story, from both the president and his critics. But Trump and the media must also be careful not to divert all of their scarce attention and resources away from other priorities.
The news that the Trump administration is establishing a "war room" to manage any allegations, investigations, and ever-unfolding rumors about its Russian connections came just as I was preparing a presentation for an industry conference. It turns out that these two seemingly disparate topics were linked by a series of questions I had posed for program attendees.
As luck would have it, I had just polled the attendees, asking three questions to help me sharpen the focus of my presentation: Will the 2017-18 economy be better than 2016, about the same, or worse? What is your greatest challenge in achieving planned growth? And, what would you like to know about the 2017-18 economic situation?
As might be expected, not one person listed the Trump administration's Russia investigation as a matter of concern. They did, however, refer to disruptions that stand in the way of taking care of the people's business. And that is really the point I wish to make.
Of course, Russian interference with the U.S. democratic process is a top concern. But there were other things, practical matters, on my respondents' minds, that also affect our lives. These include: tax and energy policy, the troubling slow-growth economy, finalizing healthcare legislation, and proposed trade interference that may limit the flow of critical imports. There was also a more direct concern about one of Trump's campaign promises: Would he really take action to expand U.S. manufacturing?
It could well be that these same concerns motivated the Trump administration to organize a Russia investigation bunker. The Russia disruption comes at high cost. Like the conference attendees I surveyed, decision-makers nationwide are eager to get on with business. They may believe that the slow economy will continue until Trump-induced policy uncertainty is reduced.
What's at stake is the country's prosperity.
It's hard for business leaders to make major decisions when they do not know what the tax rate will be, what healthcare benefits will be required, and whether suppliers on the other side of the border will be participating as they are now. The major industries they serve are reluctant to make major expenditures until they know the rules of the game.
So in that respect, a war room may be a good idea if it leads to a quick and satisfactory resolution to the Russia question. But it is critically important to remember what the real war is about: not Democrats and Republicans, but prosperity. And we are all on the same side.
Bruce Yandle is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is an adjunct distinguished professor of economics with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and dean emeritus of the Clemson University College of Business & Behavioral Science. He developed the "Bootleggers and Baptists" political model.
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