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· *VMBB Senior Chief Of Staff*
22,951 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
October 16, 2012

How to Score the Debate


I had to write this column before the presidential debate was finished, so I thought the most useful thing I could do is to offer the scoring system I’ll be using to determine who did best. You can fill in your own scores. My system is not based on zingers or extra points for energizing the base, but rather on what I believe many Americans really want from the next president. You see, I believe this time is different — that many Americans understand something is very wrong, that we could go the way of Greece or Japan if we don’t shape up, and that they will embrace a candidate who trusts them with the truth, that is, an honest diagnosis of where we are and how we get out of this mess. Up to now, neither candidate has been willing to do that.

So, first, I’ll be looking for that honest diagnosis. We are where we are today, in part, because the merger of globalization and information technology has transformed how goods and services are bought and sold, made and designed. This merger makes old jobs obsolete faster and spins off new jobs faster, but all the good new jobs require higher skills. As a country, notes Lawrence Katz, the Harvard University labor economist, we have historically ensured that our work force kept up with new technology by steadily expanding public education — first universal primary education and then universal secondary education. But since the 1980s, says Katz, when we needed to move to some form of universal postsecondary education to keep pace with globalization and I.T., we didn’t. Instead, he points out, “our high school graduation rates stopped improving and our growth in college graduates slowed substantially — far below what we need for rapid growth and shared prosperity.” Today, our workers ages 50 and over are the most educated in the world; our younger workers are in the middle of the global pack for industrialized countries; and our national dropout rate remains stubbornly high, around 25 percent.

So what did we do? We created employment for our unskilled workers by a massive injection of subprime credit that created a large number of home construction and retailing jobs. Meanwhile, Wall Street also ballooned, in part by shifting from an industry that funded “creative destruction” of new firms to an industry, as the economist Jagdish Bhagwati put it, that funded “destructive creation” of unproductive financial instruments.

“For too many years, our job creation engines were excessively reoriented from competitive global markets to inwardly oriented sectors that were taken to unsustainable levels, (e.g., construction, finance, housing and retail),” wrote Mohamed A. El-Erian, the chief executive of Pimco, in The “The result was an unbalanced and vulnerable labor force. Our generation also overdosed on debt and credit entitlement. We got seduced by financial engineering. ... Too little genuine growth, too much debt, and a risk culture gone crazy culminated in the very messy global financial crisis of 2008 and its aftermath — a costly shock to society whose impact will be with us for quite a few years still. ... For years, Western societies have under- and mal-invested in education. As we slipped down global rankings, we convinced ourselves that our traditional global edge in entrepreneurship and innovation” could compensate for our declines in educational attainment. They can’t.

All of this came to a head during the terrible 2000s. The housing/credit markets exploded, creating a systemic banking crisis and a painful recession, which coincided with our sharpening education deficit, which coincided with two wars and a big tax cut that dramatically worsened our national deficit. The result is a deep hole.

That hole requires us to now cut spending, raise and reform taxes; stimulate the economy by investing in infrastructure, research and teachers; spur more start-ups; and offer more people postsecondary vocational or college education. So, first, listen for anything like that diagnosis from the candidates.

And, second, listen for a plan that rises to the true scale of that challenge, one that proposes job-creating infrastructure investments tied with a program to stimulate more start-ups (which have slowed) tied with a credible deficit-reduction plan — that would be phased in as the economy recovers — tied with a plan to get more Americans postsecondary education. Yes, I know, Obama has many such initiatives, but he has not made them the centerpiece of his campaign, or highlighted them in his commercials, or tied them together into a compelling package that gets people out of their chairs, saying: “Yes, he’s got the answer!” Instead of campaigning on how good is his plan, he has campaigned on how bad is Romney’s.

Third, the country wants a plan that is fair. The wealthy have to pay more, but everyone should contribute something. And, fourth, the country wants a plan that is aspirational — a plan that is about making America a great country for the next generation, not just “balancing the budget.”

So I am scoring the debate with these criteria in mind. I have argued for a year now that the candidate who offers such a plan wins the election. If neither does, someone will still win — probably narrowly — but the country will lose by a mile.
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