By Keith Leslie, JMI Intern, Senior in Economics at Florida State University
Posted Thursday, September 20, 2012
In the midst of the election season, one Florida State University (FSU) graduate student is taking steps to give students the tools they need to become informed voters. Josh Humphries, who’s seeking a master’s degree in Applied American Policies and Politics, has devised a program called Seminoles Decide to provide a civil forum in which students can learn more about the pressing issues in the presidential race.
“With all of these campaign ads, there is a lot of rhetoric, but not a lot of fact,” said Humphries. “Seminoles Decide is a program designed for students to take advantage of local resources, learn the basics of the different parties’ views, and make informed voting decisions.”
Seminoles Decide consists of a series of panel discussions, each of which is focused on an issue in the presidential election. There have already been such forums on health care, same-sex marriage, the economy, and education. Seminoles Decide will conclude on November 1 with an event called “The Summit,” which will recap the four previous panel discussions and address other points of interest regarding the election.
Last week’s Seminoles Decide forum focused on the economy. The panel members were Bob Sanchez, Policy Director of The James Madison Institute; Dr. James Gwartney, Professor of Economics at FSU; and Dr. Larry Polivka, Director of FSU’sClaudePepperCenter. Recent FSU graduate Nick Russell moderated.
Most voters consider the economy to be the most important issue in this election, and the panel acknowledged some of the many pressing economic issues. Both Mr. Sanchez and Dr. Gwartney noted the immensity of the national debt, which is now over $16 trillion, as well as the looming concerns due to the unfunded Social Security and Medicare liabilities.
Dr. Gwartney also pointed out that the ratio of theU.S.debt to the overall size of the economy as reflected in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the highest it has ever been, and that the unemployment rate is well above its historical average.
“Will college students and graduates ask ‘Is this the new normal?’” asked Sanchez, referring to the current woeful state of the economy.
The panelists compared the current economic policies to those that were implemented in response to the Great Depression and World War II, which provided a background for the discussion, but they came to drastically different conclusions regarding the events that took place.
“Historical context is extremely important for observing today’s policies,” stated Dr. Polivka. He then noted that after WWII, spending increased at the state and federal levels; as the public sector expanded, the debt shrank until it nearly tripled the 1980’s during the Reagan Administration.
On the other hand, Sanchez and Gwartney claimed that these policies are counterproductive since the increased spending will lead to higher taxes in the future, putting a drag on the economy. They both stated that current policies are having a similar effect, citing the sluggish GDP growth rate as evidence for their claim.
The discussion then moved to the economic policy goals of the two primary presidential candidates. All three panelists agreed that neither candidate has presented a plan that is specific enough. However, they disagreed on which candidate would better facilitate economic prosperity. Dr. Polivka believes, based on the last three years, that President Obama has an investment strategy to improve the growth rate and continue to pursue policies to stimulate the economy. He noted that the President wants to restore teaching jobs with the intention to better prepare young Americans for the future.
Mr. Sanchez portrayed a very different image of President Obama. He mentioned that the current spending programs appeal to special groups at the expense of all taxpayers. He sees very serious problems with the President’s redistributionist policies, citing Margaret Thatcher’s famous quote that “eventually, you run out of other people’s money.”
Dr. Gwartney also seemed skeptical of the President’s policies and encouraged voters to “evaluate outcomes, not intentions.” He agreed with Sanchez’s point that public services pander to special interests for campaign contributions while private firms are driven by a profit motive.
The panelists also agreed that there is a lot of uncertainty regarding the policy goals of the President’s challenger, Governor Mitt Romney. “We’ve seen and know what to expect from Obama: growth of government,” said Gwartney. “However, I am less confident of what to expect from Romney. He says he intends to shrink the size of government, but there’s what you say and what you do.”
“Obama keeps blaming the previous administration for the continuing declines,” said Sanchez. He feels that under Obama there will be more spending and more debt. However, he also noted Romney’s lack of specificity, and that such broad statements carry a certain amount of uncertainty.
Bringing the discussion to a close, Dr. Polivka reiterated the importance of having an understanding of history, recognizing its complexity, and realizing that “each economic experience doesn’t necessarily have a nice fit” into a historical context. All of the panelists encouraged the audience to utilize available resources to make informed voting decisions.
The final Seminoles Decide forum will be held Nov. 1 at FSU’s Turnbull Center. For more information, go to http://dsa.fsu.edu/elections/seminoles-decide