LectureHop: Presidential Economic Advisers Forum 2012

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All I had was a cell phone.

The most recent World Leaders Forum event was a debate between the economic advisers of each of this year’s candidates to the presidency. Perpetual pseudoeconomist Artur Renault attended and wrote:

When I told a friend from outside of school that I was going to watch a debate between Obama’s and Romney’s economic advisers, he knew how it would play out. “It’s gonna be ‘Spend.’ ‘No, save.’ ‘No no no, SPEND!’ ‘You don’t understand, SAVE.'” I laughed and thought this probably would be right. But this seemed like the closest thing to a presidential debate that would come on campus this year.

Of course, this meant that the World Leaders Forum registration turned into the Hunger Games once again, causing the server to crash and many people to be unable to to register for the popular event. Therefore, the group that watched this debate was a large one, and the line outside was even larger.

We crowded into Low’s rotunda, which was sunk into grayness because of the cloudy weather outside, and filled the vast array of chairs set out for the event. PrezBo made the opening remarks, praising Columbia’s economic tradition, and going back to our school’s role in FDR’s economic policies. “Economics is much more than a question of spending and raising money,” he also said, “it is a reflection of the society we choose to live in. Our economic decisions have profound effects on areas as widespread as education, healthcare, politics, and the future of Big Bird.” Everyone laughs.

The forum members were then introduced. R. Glenn Hubbard, Romney’s Senior Economic Adviser, is also dean of Columbia’s Business School. Jeffrey Liebman is Obama’s Senior Economic Adviser, but also a professor at Harvard. Faculty panelists were Sharyn O’Halloran, professor of political science and international and public affair; Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Laureate professor of business, finance, and economics; and Michael Woodford, professor of political economy. The debate was moderated by Chrystia Freeland, global editor-at-large of Reuters.

What followed was a very predictable debate, not far from what my friend had predicted. Hubbard trashed the current situation at every opportunity, while Liebman outlined the positive consequences of Obama’s economic plans and blamed many of the problems on Bush. They also consistently pointed out problems in the opposition’s economic plans: Hubbard emphasized that Obama’s spending cannot be made up for with tax increases to the wealthy, while Romney’s $5 trillion in tax cuts seemed impossible to Liebman.

The debate continued in much the same way throughout its entirety, in fact it mostly was a reprise of last week’s presidential debate. Hubbard was far more eloquent than Liebman, who seemed nervous and less prepared.

Some good things to learn from this debate: “ideas are important, and universities are the place to debate these ideas.” This statement in Hubbard’s introduction emphasizes the privileged position we are in during this election; colleges are where we can learn about this elections, and meanwhile learn about ourselves. And it is important to do so without focusing on the bickering and arguing, but in the core concepts themselves.

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