Fearless 2020 forecasting not an exact science

From the pages of In Business magazine.

The January edition of In Business magazine recently has included an annual economic forecast to give local business leaders a sense of the year ahead, and as you’ll see on pages 36–40, there are no shortage of opinions about what will unfold. That usually happens when we enter uncharted territory [trade war] and otherwise face so much uncertainty that it’s hard to make concrete plans.

To ring in the New Year, your humble columnist has a few predictions of his own. Given my dismal track record in forecasting — admittedly, some of my past prophecies have been pretty wild — feel free to take these with the grain of salt they so richly deserve.

The White House changes hands if … the Democrats nominate a center-left candidate for president. If they find a moderate who has kept his or her nose clean, they have a realistic shot at removing President Donald Trump from office — without impeachment. Witness the recent victories of moderate Democratic gubernatorial candidates in the red states of Kentucky and Louisiana. Think what a moderate Dem could do in battleground states. On the other hand, if the Democrats convene in Milwaukee this July and nominate someone who can be portrayed as a socialist calamity waiting to happen, the temperamental orange man gets four more.

Economic growth will continue if … the United States and China make progress on their trade dispute. At the time of this writing, there was some optimism that a limited trade deal could be reached that would remove existing high tariffs and prevent excessive future duties on traded goods, with work to continue on issues such as intellectual property theft and the forced transfer of American technology. If that happens, a great deal of existing uncertainty would be lifted, leading to a boost in CapEx and other bottled-up business activity. Any growth will continue to be moderate, however, because it’s hard to expand in a robust fashion when you can’t find enough workers.

Madison will remain an economic star if … the business community is allowed to do what it does best. We ask a lot of local employers and they return the favor with good-paying jobs, ethical business conduct (with a few regrettable exceptions), an increasing commitment to sustainability and diversity, and an eagerness to involve their employees in philanthropic causes. All they ask in return are sensible rules of the game and elected officials and bureaucrats who operate with a little common sense. It’s not too much to ask.

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