Memphis Economist: 'I Don't Believe in National Economies Anymore'

Published on: May 9, 2016


Andy Meek, The Daily News

The day after Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd met with officials in Shanghai as part of an economic development trip to Asia, Michael Drury shared with an audience of business professionals his idea about national economies.

They’re more or less an artificial construct in the modern world – at least to an economist like him.

“I don’t believe in national economies anymore,” said Drury, the chief economist at Memphis-based McVean Trading.

His point – somewhat illustrated by the Tennessee governor meeting with counterparts on the other side of the globe in recent days – is that everywhere from the national down to the local level is subject to the economic effects of globalization.

Most business-related decisions made these days, Drury said at The Daily News’ Money & Markets seminar May 5 that he keynoted, stem from multinational corporations deciding where to pay their taxes, where to put down factories, what workforces are the most attractive. And those are decisions they make by stacking different regions around the world up against each other to reach a conclusion.

It’s not a question of whether that’s good or bad, scary or something to try to push back against. It just “is” – a somewhat obvious notion but one that he repeats, often, as a measure of how he looks at the world.

Economists, he said, are often looked to for their predictive analysis. Drury, though, shoos away such notions.

“I’m in the ‘is’ business,” is how Drury puts it. “And if you can figure out where the world ‘is,’ then you’ve got a chance to forecast where it’s going.”

So where is the world going? Here are a few quick takeaways from Drury and members of the finance community in Memphis who participated in a panel discussion at the seminar, the latest in The Daily News’ series of keynote-driven speaker events:

Per Drury, it’s helpful to think of the U.S. as the suburb of the globe. It’s where the well-to-do still want to be. The factories and manufacturing, meanwhile, have moved to and are modernizing in places like Asia – manufacturing jobs that, presidential candidates’ insistence notwithstanding, Drury insists aren’t coming back here.

Panelists Kent Wunderlich, chairman, CEO and general counsel of Financial Federal, said he thought slashing corporate tax rates could immediately give the economy a jolt. Financial adviser Amy Koch of Wunderlich Securities said health care expenses “are frightening, overall,” based on conversations with entrepreneurs and small business owners.

On balance, Drury allowed himself more optimism than the alternative in his remarks. He likes to think, for example, that we’re in “year one of a global recovery,” as opposed to “year seven or eight” of a slower, plodding one.

This is also, he stressed, “a great time to be an entrepreneur.” Financing is probably as cheap as it’s going to get, so why not, he reasoned, grab some now and put it to work for your business?

The alternative? “It’s a terrible time to be an investor.”

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