With the presidential election looming ahead and the economy considered unanimously to be the most defining issue, a debate between the senior economic advisers of the candidates could not have been more fitting for last night’s World Leaders Forum event. President Bollinger in his introductory remarks emphasized the importance of the night’s debate referring to the election’s impact on the job security of many including Big Bird, which received a welcome chuckle from the audience prior to the somber tone that permeated the rest of the night.
Glenn Hubbard, dean of the Columbia Business School and senior economic adviser to the Romney campaign, gave the first speech laying out the grim statistics underlying the economic recovery and attributing President Obama’s poor leadership for their cause. To address the structural issues plaguing the economy, Hubbard pointed to the Romney economic plan, which would carry out the following: 1) fix the broken tax code 2) address unsustainable fiscal policy 3) encourage free trade 4) rein in health care costs 5) establish an effective regulatory climate. Hubbard stressed how all these measures would be undertaken while ensuring that the role of the federal government would be minimized. Hubbard ironically closed with the famous Obama slogan of 2008 “Yes We Can,” when referring to Romney’s ability to turn the economy around.
Jeffrey Liebman, a professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and senior economic adviser to the Obama campaign, then took the stage offering his advocacy for President Obama’s economic policies. Liebman immediately started off by contrasting the economic ideologies of Governor Romney and President Obama, stating that Romney desires to return to a “trickle down” approach, while Obama subscribes to a “bottom up” approach to build the economy. After highlighting the economic accomplishments of the Obama Administration such as the American Jobs Act, Liebman turned to criticize Romney for lacking specifics in his plan. In addition, Liebman argued that Romney’s $5 trillion tax cut would involve cutting individual rates by 20 percent, which could not be paid for even if all tax deductions and loopholes were accounted for. Liebman concluded that this means that either middle class families would be hurt by massive spending cuts to offset the tax cuts or higher taxes in other forms. Liebman characterized Romney’s denial of these claims as an attempt to prove that “2 – 1 equals 0”.
Hubbard in his first rebuttal denied Liebman’s claim that Governor Romney defended a $5 trillion tax cut, referencing a Washington Post article released earlier in the day that supposedly debunked the claim. Hubbard went on to question what policies, if any, Obama’s plan proposes. Liebman response started off with listing specifics in Obama’s plan such as withdrawing from Afghanistan, but quickly turned back to comparing the growth rates of Obama’s first years in office to the first years of the Bush administration, which happened to be lower despite following an economic boom.
An expert panel consisting of reputed economics professor Josesph Stiglitz, political science professor Sharyn O’Halloran, and political economy professor Michael Woodford was then called upon to ask the participants questions ranging from how the candidates would address the end-of-the-year fiscal cliff to the rising income inequality. At the end of the night, when asked for a decision on the winner of the debate, the expert panel disappointed the audience by proclaiming a tie.
Overall, though Hubbard was clearly the more charismatic of the two speakers, he failed to draw contrasts between Obama and Romney in the manner that Liebman repeatedly did. Furthermore, Hubbard’s responses often represented his own views as opposed to Governor Romney’s while Liebman spent more time criticizing the policies of President Bush rather than promoting President Obama’s economic plan. Perhaps this is merely indicative of the strategies employed by both campaigns rather than a failing of the debate participants themselves.