Sad but true, much of the commentary on the State of the Union Address is going to focus on “signals” allegedly being sent by the president concerning this or that group of powerful people, most notably a Republican Party that is getting itself ready to be offended by his refusal to accept their policy agenda.
There will also be talk about the president’s success or failure in wooing business leaders, whose confidence in him, we are often told, is essential to economic recovery. On that topic, Matt Yglesias provides an important reminder:
The notion that economic growth depends crucially on the subjective feelings of the business executive class is one of the most pernicious ideas to take hold over the past 12 months….
The fact of the matter is that businessmen like conservative politicians. If you ask them “how do you feel about the incumbent politicians these days” they say “I feel great” if and only if the incumbent politicians are conservatives. Economic growth was better in the 1990s than in the 2000s, but businessmen liked George W. Bush better than Bill Clinton. Growth was better under FDR than under Eisenhower, but businessmen liked Ike. And that’s fine, businessmen are free to like or dislike whomever they want. But their subjective view of politicians doesn’t cause or hamper economic growth.
If we really believe the profit motive is an important factor in the functioning of a capitalist economy, we have to accept that capitalists will take advantage of opportunities offered by an economy governed by politicians they don’t approve of. Sure, business folk rightly look to the political class for stable policies and competent management. But beyond that, anxious measurement of their temperature towards Obama and his administration is a waste of time.