Presidential Debate #2: No Serious Solutions Offered

Presidential Debate #2: No Serious Solutions Offered

Gerald Epstein: Romney's tough talk on China is pure campaign rhetoric and his tax math is nonsense; Obama didn't talk about poverty, climate change, financial regulation, and low wages -   October 17, 2012
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Gerald Epstein is codirector of the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) and Professor of Economics. He received his Ph.D. in economics from Princeton University. He has published widely on a variety of progressive economic policy issues, especially in the areas of central banking and international finance, and is the editor or co-editor of six volumes.


Presidential Debate #2: No Serious Solutions OfferedPAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore.

And now joining us to give his views on the presidential debate, the second debate, is Gerry Epstein. Gerry is the codirector of the Political Economy Research Institute, known as PERI, in Amherst, Massachusetts. And he's a professor of economics there. Thanks for joining us, Gerry.


JAY: So what did you make of the economics presented by the two candidates?

EPSTEIN: Well, there was much less difference presented than one would have hoped, and there was a lot left on the table by both of them. Of course, Romney's really tried to move towards the center and deny the drastic cuts in the budget and for social spending and the massive increases in military spending that he wants. He wants to deny that he's going to—his arithmetic doesn't work, and so he will lead to a massive increase in the budget deficit.

But Obama left so many things unsaid. He sounded like a kind of mild Republican in his approach to economics.

JAY: What are examples of that?

EPSTEIN: Well, first of all, of course, he didn't say anything about poverty. He talked a little bit about, you know, building ladders for those who want to get ahead, but there's almost nothing there about that.

He said zip about climate change, nothing about this massive problem that's facing all of humanity. He said he can drill as much oil and get as much gas as the next guy and said, well, we have to look at all the energy sources, but said virtually nothing—he said nothing about climate change.

He said nothing about inequality, the fact that the economy has reached 75-year highs of inequality and that that's a real problem. He does talk in code a bit about that and say, we've got to help the middle class, but no direct attack on inequality. He said nothing about financial reform and said nothing about raising wages.

So I was not necessarily disappointed in Obama, 'cause I didn't expect it, but it just shows how narrow the discussion is.

JAY: Yeah. I'm—it seems remarkable, 'cause even within Obama's kind of boundaries of where he's willing to go in terms of philisophically and politically, he could have said more about the causes of the crisis in '08. He has suggested some of that in the past. And this issue of wages and lack of demand, of course, they all ignore this completely, the idea that wages need to go up for more people to be employed and for the economy to move. It's completely off the table as far as any kind of discussion.

EPSTEIN: That's right. He really doesn't project a vision of what the problem is short-term or long-term with the economy and how promoting wage-led growth is really a solution.

Of course, Romney has his own tricks—this cheesy term, trickle-down government, you know, and he said three times, governments don't create job, governments don't create jobs, etc. But, of course, when he talks about the military spending, he's all up in arms about, you know, you cut military spending, that'll cut jobs. So he's totally incoherent on these issues as well.

But Obama really does not project a strong vision for the positive role of public investment, of public investment in infrastructure, public investment in a green transition to deal with our climate-change problems, raising wages, empowering workers to organize, reducing the massive share and amount of wealth and income going to the rich. It's just not fair.

So it just makes clear once again what we've known is that he's better than Romney by far, for a lot of reasons, but the only way that he's going to promote the kinds of policies that we need is if workers and community organizers and those on the left really push him if he gets reelected.

JAY: And why do you think he doesn't hit Romney on this regulation question? I mean, it's not—you know, 2008 is not that long ago. The issue of the lack of financial regulation, even though, you know, my opinion is that's only a piece of why there was the meltdown in '08, but certainly it's a significant piece, he didn't hit him on it at all. And Romney essentially wants to get rid of Dodd–Frank and deregulate.

EPSTEIN: Yeah. Once again Obama's playing the same card he played all along, it seems to me, which is he still wants to win back Wall Street. The financial contributions of Wall Street to his campaign are way down. They've moved over to Romney. But he desperately wants to get that back. I think that's clearly one of the reasons.

The other thing about the discussion that was totally disingenuous was—on both sides was all this—especially on Romney's side, was the China bashing. You know darned well that once he—if he were to get elected, Romney wouldn't say squat about China. And Obama has been very weak on trade issues as well.

JAY: What did you make of that last—.

EPSTEIN: [crosstalk] China bashing is a good idea, but there are some real issues with—trade issues with China and some other countries. And Obama said, well, we need to have these trade agreements. But of course most of the trade agreements are job-destroying trade agreements, rather than job-enhancing ones.

JAY: And what did you make of this Romney comment—I assume he may have said this before in the campaign, but I have to confess I'm not following every word he says, so it's the first time I heard it, but that he would declare China a currency manipulator on day one, put tariffs on their products if they don't change. In other words, he would declare a trade war with China. I mean, does he mean a word of this?

EPSTEIN: No. It just shows that he's really desperate. He knows this is a big issue in Ohio and Ohio and some other places. But there's no way that he would declare China an exchange rate manipulator, because that would declare trade war with China, which is not anything that multinational capital wants. They want to be able to set up shop in China, export to the United States. And that calls for a moderate or even a low exchange rate. So I'm sure Romney was just lying through his teeth on that.

JAY: Okay. So just finally, with all your critique of President Obama, you did suggest that he's—you know, you think he's way better anyway. So if you're in a swing state, how do you vote?

EPSTEIN: I vote for Obama. Look, it's the difference—there's just no question. It's the difference between staving off a total takeover by right-wing oil and gas interests, anti-women interests, anti-gay interests—they'll destroy the Supreme Court even more than it's messed up now. And on economic issues, Obama is slightly better in terms of employment and inequality. So there's no question about it.

But Obama will not do much on his own. It really takes a concerted, massive effort on the part of those on the left and workers to push him and the Democratic Party.

JAY: Okay. Thanks for joining us, Gerry.

EPSTEIN: Thank you.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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