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ThePlumLIneGS whorunsgov plumline
Posted at 11:14 AM ET, 08/06/2012

Which candidates’ ideas would actually ease the economic crisis?

The Chicago Booth School of Business regularly surveys a group of dozens of economists on pressing public policy questions of the moment. The group says it assembled this group to be geographically and ideologically diverse and to reflect a range of opinion in the economics profession.

I have sent the dozens of members of this group a question: Which candidate’s economic ideas are more likely to ease the unemployment crisis and speed the recovery in the next few years, and why?

The goal here is twofold: First, to see if we can establish whether there’s a consensus view among economists as to which candidate’s ideas would be more likely to help solve the most pressing national crisis of the moment. Second, to generate more discussion around this fundamental comparative question, which should be at the center of the presidential race, but oddly isn’t the subject of nearly enough reporting or analysis, particularly given that the race is supposed to be all about the economy.

The responses have only just begun trickling in — I will be posting more as I get them — and the first few favor Obama.

David Cutler, Harvard: Obama. He says:

To understand the candidates on jobs, think about teachers, police officers, and fire fighters. Private job creation has been modest; the public sector has shrunk. There is no way we can have a real recovery without rehiring these vital workers. On this point, the plans are clear — Obama will better fund state and local governments, while Romney will slash support to them. The economic choice is clear: Obama wins.

Eric Maskin, Harvard: Obama. He says:

I think the Obama program is more promising for the economy in the short term. In particular, proposals to spend on infrastructure and prevent layoffs of public workers, such as teachers and firefighters, attack the unemployment problem directly. Romney’s plans are vaguer than Obama’s, but much of what he does lay out is likely to have either minimal effect (e.g., streamlining permitting for oil and gas exploration) or negative impact (cutting government spending at a time of struggling recovery).

Maurice Obstfeld, Berkeley: Leans Obama, with reservations. He says:

Romney’s plan is long on desirable goals -- sure, everyone should get “a great school and quality teachers” -- but short on specific means of attaining them, and doing so without busting federal/state/local budgets. As another example: How exactly does he propose to open new markets? The plan’s focus is not really on the short term.
Obama, as well as Romney, appreciates that investment in education is necessary for long-term growth, but how to finance it? From what I see in California’s budget battles, the Republican position values low taxes far above investment in public education.
Obama’s plan comes closer to addressing the short-term need of creating more aggregate demand, more demand for labor, and stemming the public-sector dismissals that have been such a drag on overall net employment growth (including fires of “quality teachers”). What is missing is a strategy for tackling the federal deficit over the longer-term.

This comes after economists at Moody’s Analytics and Macroeconomics Advisers have both said Romney’s ideas will do little to address the short term crisis, and could make things worse. By contrast, both those firms have said Obama’s American Jobs Act would create over one million jobs. Hopefully we’ll soon have enough opinions to see if a consensus can be established.

There’s a larger story here. Ezra Klein writes today that there is a fundamental “policy gap” between the candidates, in the sense that one candidate (Obama) is proposing meaningfully detailed policy responses on a range of issues, while the other (Romney) just isn’t doing that. As Ezra notes, pointing this out is not “partisan”; you can think Obama’s policies amount to a fiendish Kenyan Muslim Marxist plot while simultaneously demanding more policy specificity from Romney.

Similarly, it is not necessarily “partisan” to solicit expert opinion on which candidate’s proposals would actually address the short term economic crisis. Sure, Romney apparently wants this election to be all about Obama — he wants it to be little more than a referendum on Obama’s economic performance, a dynamic that (he seems to think) is aided by lack of specificity on his part. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us need to oblige him. The question of which candidates’ ideas would do a better job in speeding the recovery should be absolutely central in an election that ’s all about the economy. Shouldn’t it?

By  |  11:14 AM ET, 08/06/2012

 
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