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Uncertainty, over-regulation keep recovery in check, Economic Summit members say


The following ran in the Feb. 18, 2012, edition of the Dallas Morning News. Economist Michael Cox provided expertise for this story.

February 29, 2012

By Cheryl Hall

Business leaders at The Dallas Morning News’ Economic Summit hope to have a more upbeat spiel at the next meeting a year from now. But they’re not all that optimistic that they will.

For the third time in four years, The News brought together the Dallas mayor, economist Michael Cox and leaders from industries vital to the economic well-being of our area — chief executives such as Gary Kelly of Southwest Airlines Co., Doug Brooks of Brinker International Inc., Ken Hersh of NGP Energy Capital Management LLC, Norm Bagwell of Bank of Texas and Lucy Billingsley of Billingsley Co.

The 10 participants used words like anemic, not robust and malaise to describe a U.S. recovery that they believe is being thwarted by mounting and amorphous regulation and a lack of political courage needed to tackle the deficit.

And while they all thanked their lucky stars for being planted in the Lone Star State, they say that growth, even on their home turf, will be restrained until pervasive uncertainty begins to clear.

“Give us the rules of the game, and we’ll play the hand that we’re dealt,” said Bagwell. “It’s really hard to make the best decision when you don’t know what the rules are going to be. After the election, we will have a period of more clarity of what’s going to happen in the near term, and we’ll make more business decisions based on that.”

“I don’t think it matters who gets elected,” Brooks said. “A large restaurant group was in D.C. a couple of months ago, and we talked with some elder statesmen. They talked about the old days when the two parties would get together late at night and work things out. They said they’d never seen the division that there is now. There is no conversation. Whoever gets elected has to figure out how to work differently. I’m very optimistic about our organization and our industry. But I’m very pessimistic about what’s going to happen in Washington, D.C.

“People didn’t know what a debt ceiling was. As soon as the [crisis] happened this summer, not only did our restaurant sales go down, stock prices for retail and restaurant businesses went down instantly, too. It was amazing.

“There was a lack of confidence in the decision-making process of both parties. That still exists.”

If by some chance bipartisanship takes hold after the election, they could be singing an entirely different tune.

“If I’m surprised, we’ll be sitting here talking about the new American boom and how long it’s going to last,” said Cox, director of the O’Neil Center for Global Markets and Freedom at Southern Methodist University’s Cox School of Business....



O’Neil Center for Global Markets and Freedom at SMU’s Cox School of Business

“We’ve got looming government debt that people don’t want to stop. They want to stay on the government payroll. The shock for me is how many people there are in America who are ready not to pursue opportunity and be ambitious and make something of their lives and are perfectly willing to live their lives at someone else’s expense.”