Ep 5: Chris Campbell: US Economy and Hope for the Future

Chris Campbell

Chris Campbell is the former Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of the Treasury. He currently serves as Chief Strategist at Duff and Phelps. He is a frequent guest commentator on national news shows like CNBC. I sat down with Chris to discuss his experience working with President Trump on the economy, as well as his thoughts about the impact of COVID19 on the economy. Chris has an optimistic view about the future of the United States.

How Economics Have Changed with President Trump

Campbell was in a unique position because of his confirmation to the treasury and this allowed him to be involved in many key decisions for the economy early in Trump’s presidency.

“The first two years I was the only person confirmed on the domestic side. It was the President, the secretary, and Gary Coehn to set the economic terms of the US economy. Very early in the administration the President gathered us and ordered us to change course or reverse course.”

Campbell quickly noticed the distinct differences between Obama and Trump:

“Obama had a different worldview than President Trump. He wanted our international allies to come up with a consensus on the economy and then adopt that international consensus in the United States. President Trump has a different world view. He believed and made sure that we developed a set of standards and regulatory concerns that were good for the United States and export that to our international community. The Treasury changed from an outward view to inward view, which then pushed those policies out.”

“I will give the Obama administration some credit. We went through a real tough challenge in 2008-2009 with the financial crisis. There was a deep hole that we had to dig out of. There was a slow migration, positive turn. “

“It was significantly accelerated when working with Trump with historic tax reform and significant change on regulations. Under the executive order, every new order we made we had to remove two. Every time we made a new regulation, we had to combine two of them. That combined with  the tax reform package set forth a new day for the US economy. Metrics from the economy were the strongest it has ever been.”

COVID19’s Impact on the Economy

The economy was thriving but everything changed with COVID19:

Impact of COVID on Business

“Then COVID happened. You can’t plan for something like that. It has been a real challenge for the economy. When an economy is forced to close for long periods of time any small business has a run and it can take a month or two off. Even large businesses have a run where they can usually have a couple months to be able to take a break and be ok. Anything beyond that makes it very complicated. You start to see bankruptcies.”

“Even as retail users come online. The foot traffic is not going to be there. You will see a lot of businesses hoping to reopen and hoping that the economy will improve. But when people don’t come they won’t be able to survive.”

Government Response to COVID

“The fed and the treasury and the administration generally working with Congress have done a lot. The Feds have done pretty much everything they can do. Turning the spigot as much and as far as they can to keep as much liquidity in the market as much as possible.” 

“Congress is working to make sure that each person that qualifies got a check helped to stabilize the economy. The reality is that any government and certainly an economy like ours is a capitalist market. The government can’t take over the normal course of what the consumer has and what the consumer does. We can’t survive that long. “

US Economy’s Impact on the World

“We have to find some careful way of opening our economy back up. One reason is because we are the economy engine for the entire world. Because of our spending patterns. US consumers impact the world.  Every country becomes dependent on us because we spend so much money. “

“We are entrepreneurial and risk takers. We like to spend money and have fun. We are an exceptional country. When Americanism is on hold, there are challenges in our country and around the world.”

President Trump’s Approach to International Relations

“Lots of things are happening that are quite alarming. President Trump had a unique way of dealing with our international friends and foes. He got advice from Harry Kissinger as a candidate and it has been a guiding post for a long time. The advice was, “You should never let anyone get too comfortable, you should always keep even our friends on their toes.”

“He has a very unique way of engaging that keeps everyone guessing as to what his next move will be. In the past, when there was strategic economic dialogue with China during the meetings. There was a lot of talking, but not a lot of promises being kept. This went on for Clinton and Bush. Obama canceled the last two years, knowing that nothing was happening. “

“The President ran against China a lot during his campaign. He engaged with China and closed phase 1 of a trade deal. It would not have been possible with any other president. We have some wins economically.  Brexit has been decided so we know the UK will exit. We will get a trade deal with them pretty quickly. “

Geopolitical Changes

 “With that overlay, we have some interesting geopolitical challenges.  Largely because of COVID19 there has been a perception that America is weak. I’m a very proud American and  I would never bet against America ever.

 “There are some international folks that are betting against America. The Russians and Saudi Arabians recently drove down the price of oil. Shale became not viable. That is not the case. Oil has to be around $30 a barrel to be economically viable. That is not the case now. “

“Then you see some uncharacteristic moves from China. China recently has accelerated the date for the takeover of Hong Kong and done so forcefully.  They had 20 years of the one China, two systems allowing them democracy.” 

“They’ve accelerated that by 20 years. Beijing is now completely in charge of Hong Kong. In the South China Sea they’ve had some aggressive moves. One of the most important trade routes. China is now enforcing the South China Sea. If they do that, it will significantly limit the movement of commerce throughout the world. That could be a significant move. “

“China has created a skirmish with India on their shared border. All of these things are interesting and very uncharacteristic of China. All of these have happened within the last two months during COVID19.”

“There are reports coming from China that are calling the US posture on China, a cold war. If perchance, we are going into a cold war with China, that will change the geopolitics of the world and cause a realignment around the world. All of these things are happening right now. We are interconnected.”

Future Changes to Industry:

Less Need for Commercial Real Estate

“Domestically, we are forecasting that we are going to have a different relationship with commercial real estate. Many other firms around the country are going to reduce their footprint knowing now that they have a workforce that can work mobile. There is no reason why you should have the significant overhead of office space. You will see a real change in commercial real estate. You will start to see a deflation period for some real estate. Which is difficult because people continue to bet that real estate will continue to appreciate. “

“There is also a mobile workforce. We see people that were in concentrated urban areas and that made those urban areas very expensive. People are realizing that they don’t have to be in those urban areas anymore and they can now move. That overlaid with economic challenges that when we paid with the tax reform, dense urban areas are no longer becoming more viable. They can live in more suburbia and have more backyards and raise kids. They are becoming very popular and a significant move outside of New York, outside of San Francisco, and LA, Boston, and Chicago. They are moving inland. That has been a migration change. All of those changes are happening. “

“We are going to see a significant change in retail. Large big boxes, large shopping malls are going to have a real challenge. Anchor stores are bankrupt or are going bankrupt. Retail building outlets are on the brink of bankruptcy. The shopping relationship people have with retail is going to change significantly.”

Telemedicine

 “The way we approach medicine now has changed. Telemedicine. We do a lot of those things. The regulations and laws were resistant to telemedicine before this happened and they have had to quickly keep pace to make sure they catch up with the demand for telemedicine and the need for privacy there. With that overlay, there can be a lot of negativity.”

Future is Bright

“One thing that is great about the American people, about the American workforce, about the American entrepreneur is that we are the most creative risk-taking people in the world. With all those challenges and with all the negativity and the bad things that are happening, there is going to be enormous new ways that we do things. There will be new businesses that you couldn’t even imagine today.”

“Post COVID19, there is going to be a lot of great new things that are going to come about. I’m really excited to be a part of that and see what is going to come next as we collectively start changing how we do things. The American spirit is alive and entrepreneurial spirit is alive. I see many deals in New York.  Great new things are out there. It is going to be a lot of fun to have those come online and be a part of them.”

Education

“Education is frustrating. Incumbents on the pro voucher side or charter school side are so dug in. The teacher unions and the other side are so dug in. It has been frustrating for me. “

“We have this golden moment because everyone had to go home and every parent has had to become a homeschool teacher. We are viewing education remotely and we have a chance at changing things. “

“I’m urging my friends at congress and administration to seize upon this moment. Think of it as an infrastructure project where you have this ideal ability right now because so many Americans are focused on this. “


The kids are home, Kids have to dial in to see the teacher. Parents have to be more involved.

“We really need to capitalize on this moment and try to break through barriers. It would really do us well. I really am hopeful they will.  There has been no other time in my lifetime where the entire nation. every parent, has had to take a significant active role in their child’s education and become the teacher to help their kids get through the next grade.”

“I’m really hopeful that both sides will be able to take necessary steps to compromise to get to someplace where we can do something really meaningful.”

Hope for the Future

“I may not know everything. One thing I do know. I know that America will bounce back stronger than it was before. I know that we will create new things that are right now unimaginable. We have this way of rising when all the chips are down. America has a way of picking the chips back up and building a stronger foundation for the future.”

 “I know we are there. I can see it happen. I’m so excited about it. Although we are at a divisive spot politically, I think America is best and does best when it is challenged and people will lead. Because of that we all will do better. I’m excited for the future. This is a short term blip. We’ll come back stronger. Once you get a vaccine. Watch out. We are going to do some fantastic amazing things.”

Campbell’s Path to the Treasury

Chris campbell

Grew Up Homeless

“I grew up very humbly, episodically homeless, eating out of garbage cans for some parts of my life. Because of that I kind of grew up very humbly, but I didn’t do a lot of speaking. It was a challenging time. Ever since I was 16, actually out of necessity I had to go to work. I haven’t taken a dime from anyone since I was 16. Every dime I’ve spent since I was 16 I’ve earned.”

Networking to Survive

“To make it work and to survive, I had to fall on my natural abilities that God gave me. One of those is networking. I did well at networking and found my way into politics. I got involved in a lot of campaigns. I really enjoyed connecting with people and helping people get elected.”

“That led me to Senator Orrin Hatch. We had an amazing connection. My relationship with my father was really troubled so he became a surrogate father for me. We found our politics gelled and our style gelled. Because of that I became a very loyal staffer for him for some time. “

Senate Judiciary Committee:

“I worked for Senator Hatch on the Senate judiciary committee. The Senate Judiciary is the most partisanship committee on the hill. Religion and abortion. Stuff you can’t talk about over at Thanksgiving. It was a difficult committee to be on. I left and got my MBA.”

Senate Finance Committee

“Senator Hatch started calling me back. He was getting ready to take over the Senate Finance Committee. He convinced me that it was time to come back to DC to help him get prepared for the finance committee. I didn’t think I was going to stay for finance. He convinced me to do that.”

“I moved back to DC. We got everything ready and staffed up for finance. I was with him for 8 additional years running the finance committee. We did a variety of things that were transformational economically. That really set me on my current course of working in finance.”

Treasury

“After my time with Senate Finance, I was asked by President Trump and Steve Mnuchin to consider joining the cabinet. I felt guided and strongly compelled to go to the treasury. I accepted the position at the treasury. The confirmation process was very quick. I was very lucky and very blessed to be considered by and approved by all 100 members of the Senate.”

Duff and Phelps

“At my current job at Duff and Phelps, we do governance risk and disputes. We are a 5,000 person firm around the world growing every day. When I left the treasury, I was humbled but honored to get offers from many large corporations. I was impressed by Duff and Phelps. The two guys created the firm literally from nothing. They are scrappy and have an entrepreneurial spirit. It is very hard to find in New York.”

Getting Started In Commentary

“When news providers need insights about the economy they often call on Campbell. Oftentimes, the media turns to people at the treasury. The treasury has a very unique and important role in homeland security. Anti-terrorism. It is a very significant component. They are in charge of cybersecurity for the sector, which is the number one target for our non-friends.”

Final Thoughts

Sometimes in the midst of COVID19 we get a little fearful, Chris assures us that we will come back. America always comes back. We do our best when the chips are down. 

Here are some of my takeaways from my conversation with Chris Campbell:

  1. It doesn’t matter where you begin, you can still do great things.
  2. The world economy follows the US economy 
  3. President Trump keeps our friends on their toes
  4. The politics of the world have changed
  5. You should never bet against America
  6. Geopolitical issues affect the economy.
  7. Changes are coming in the economy:
    1. Reduced footprint commercial real estate
    2. Migration Inland
    3. Significant changes in retail
    4. Telemedicine laws have changed
  8. Americans are the most creative, risk-taking people on the planet
  9. In Education, we are in a golden moment where many of the traditional forces that oppose each other might come together.
  10. American will bounce back stronger than before.