I’m still undecided, though my absentee ballot needs to get sent sooner rather than later, so I should probably start to figure something out. In the mean time, I’ll keep breaking down the sources of my remaining doubts. As I mentioned last week, I strongly favor President Obama on social policy, so today I’ll talk about economic policy.
While I’ve gone back and forth on this one, I think I generally come down in favor of Romney on economic issues. Romney’s record in Mass. was generally fairly centrist, so I’m hoping* that he will be able to work with what’s likely to be a divided Congress and come to some sort of compromise that will at least BEGIN to handle our long term debt issue (though that is likely to be the work of the next couple decades worth of Presidents).
I’m somewhat skeptical of Romney’s plans for tax policy, though on its surface, I like his plan to put a cap on the amount of deductions people are allowed to take. I don’t know enough about it to know if there are some loopholes, but in principles it’s a good way to start to raise revenue. There are too many loopholes with too many vested interests defending them to go after one-by-one, so it’s probably going to take something wholesale like that.
On the spending side of things, entitlements need a look taking a look at, though I have strong doubts that either party has the fortitude to do what really needs to be done. Romney/Ryan will likely go after unemployment benefits/food stamps/etc., while I doubt Obama will go after any – when what we absolutely need to do is start changing the retirement age for benefits like Social Security and Medicare. The biggest wealth differentials in this country are between the old and the young right now, and these programs were created when life expectancy was WAY lower than it currently is – these programs simply weren’t crated with the current ages in mind.
One relatively big beef I have with Romney/Ryan, though, is there obsession with cutting entitlement programs, particularly Food Stamps. A huge percentage of Food Stamps end up going to children. From a marginal utility standpoing, I do not think that the government can spend a dollar better than by using it to buy food for the poorest of children – no child should suffer because there parents are too poor to pay for the necessities. The conservative counter to this is frequently some version of “Oh, these parents just using their kids as an excuse not to work – if we cut food stamps, then they’ll work and the kid will be fine.” I simply do not believe this – even if that’s true, in an economy where unemployment is 8% plus, quite clearly there are many cases where the choice is between giving a family Food Stamps or having them go hungry for hundreds of thousands of children. I refuse to live in an America where a child goes hungry, and I sincerely doubt charity can fill a hole that is measured in hundreds of billions of dollars.
A couple caveats, as always:
I have strong doubts about the President’s real influence on the economic process, particularly in the short term. My opinion about President Obama has essentially nothing to do with the last 4 years – I think he’s actually done a pretty good job with a bad hand. I just have more doubt about his political ability/inclination to handle the long-term structural issues that need to be addressed (and addressed soon).
My real doubts, though, come from my own knowledge gap. The economy and budgeting process is essentially the most complicated thing short of the Large Hadron Collider. Even people who know a LOT about the economy disagree about what we need to do and how we need to do it, so me (knowing very little), is very unlikely to know which candidate will be the right choice.
As I mentioned before – a vote is a prediction. It’s a statement that “I think this candidate will be better for this issue than that other candidate.” Even after you’ve parsed the different candidates policy choices (a difficult task in even the most transparent campaigns) – you’re still stuck with not really knowing what they’ll be able to get done in office, or what that will do for you in the long run.
So yeah, Romney on the economy – I think he’s better positioned to handle our long term structural problems, and I think his positions on entitlements are unlikely to gain much real traction. That said, my caveats discount this view fairly steeply, so I’m not sure where this leads me. Tomorrow, foreign policy….