A wave of optimism has swept over American business leaders, and it is beginning to translate into the sort of investment in new plants, equipment and factory upgrades that bolsters economic growth, spurs job creation — and may finally raise wages significantly.
While business leaders are eager for the tax cuts that take effect this year, the newfound confidence was initially inspired by the Trump administration’s regulatory pullback, not so much because deregulation is saving companies money but because the administration has instilled a faith in business executives that new regulations are not coming.
“It’s an overall sense that you’re not going to face any new regulatory fights,” said Granger MacDonald, a home builder in Kerrville, Tex. “We’re not spending more, which is the main thing. We’re not seeing any savings, but we’re not seeing any increases.”
The applause from top executives has been largely reserved for the administration’s economic policy agenda. Many chief executives have been publicly critical of President Trump’s approach to social and cultural issues, including his response to a white nationalist march over the summer in Charlottesville, Va. and his decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord.
There is little historical evidence tying regulation levels to growth. Regulatory proponents say, in fact, that those rules can have positive economic effects in the long run, saving companies from violations that could cost them both financially and reputationally.
Years of increased environmental, financial and other regulatory disasters by the Obama administration wrecked investments and killed jobs. Mr. Trump’s more hands-off approach has unleashed the “animal spirits” of companies that had hoarded cash after the depression of 2008.
Some businesses will essentially be able to get away with shortcuts that they could not have under a continuation of Obama-era policies. The coal industry, for instance, will not have to worry about a regulation, overturned by Congress and Mr. Trump, that would have protected streams from mining runoff.
Brett Hartl, the government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the Trump administration might avoid big-splash regulatory rollbacks this year and instead would make it harder for federal agencies to block business expansion.
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