With the 2012 presidential election a month away, senior economic advisers to President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney discussed the candidates’ economic visions at Low Library on Monday. The event, which was billed as part of the University’s World Leaders Forum, featured Columbia Business School Dean R. Glenn Hubbard, an adviser to Romney, and Harvard professor Jeffrey Liebman, an adviser to Obama, CC ’83. Chrystia Freeland, global editor-at-large of Thomson Reuters, moderated the debate in a packed Low Rotunda.
Hubbard focused on mistakes that he said Obama has made during his presidency, arguing that Romney will turn the economy around by improving consumer confidence, lowering marginal tax rates, and reducing government intervention.
“We’re going to rely more on market forces and less on government intervention,” Hubbard said. “Romney’s plan will deliver change.”
Liebman, though, said that Obama inherited a large deficit and structural economic problems from the Bush era, adding that he has made great strides to increase employment while cutting the deficit.
“The president has plans to address three issues: bettering the current job situation, promoting lasting growth—in particular for the middle class—and reducing the deficit,” Liebman said.
Hubbard, on the other hand, argued that indicators like decreasing GDP growth rates, continually high unemployment, and a reduction in wages indicate that Obama’s policies aren’t working. He blamed Obama’s tax policies, as well as a shortage of free trade, as underlying problems.
“Every president who has confronted a recession has done better,” Hubbard said. “This has by far been the weakest recovery for the past 10 recessions.”
Hubbard attributed the Obama administration’s shortcomings to the president’s belief that raising taxes on the rich would allow government spending to remain high, as well as what Hubbard called Obama’s decision to regulate rather than reform. He said that high corporate tax rates make the United States “not competitive” in the world economy.
“The bottom line is that economic recovery was not the focus of the first two years of Obama’s presidency,” Hubbard said. “There was no plan to reduce government spending. Instead, there was only massive regulation.”
Liebman countered that the Bush administration turned a large surplus into a deficit—a deficit that Obama is working to shrink, he said.
“Throughout President Bush’s two terms, he imposed two tax cuts. And he didn’t pay for them. Then, the nation engaged in two wars. And he didn’t pay for them,” Liebman said. “Finally, he created a prescription drug program for the elderly. And he didn’t pay for them.”
And the policies adopted by the Bush administration, Liebman said, are the same policies that Romney is now proposing.
“Under Romney, we’d see two million jobs cut. Under Obama, we plan to increase the number of jobs by one million,” he said. “That’s three million jobs hinging on who wins this election.”
During a Q-and-A session with the audience, the two economic advisers also addressed climate change, China’s currency, and corporate tax rates. They agreed that whoever wins the election should support scientific research, invest in new technology, and work to deal with climate change and harmful emissions.
Audience members said they found the discussion engaging. Some attendees wished that it had lasted longer.
“I thought the one-minute speeches were on the short side,” Jun Jun Lau, CC ’14, said. “Also, I wish they had talked more about recent issues, such as real estate and mortgages.”
Siran Jiang, CC ’16, said she was glad that Hubbard and Liebman actually answered every question they were asked.
“I think that’s really rare to see in a debate of this sort,” Jiang said. “There were, of course, some evasions—such as when Professor [Joseph] Stiglitz posed that question about median income—but for the most part, I was impressed with the candidness of their responses.”
By Songyao Wang
Columbia Daily Spectator
Published October 9, 2012