Election panel tackles economics

On Wednesday, President Levin moderated a panel on economic issues pertinent to the presidential race.
On Wednesday, President Levin moderated a panel on economic issues pertinent to the presidential race. Photo by Sara Miller.

During one of the most partisan presidential elections in recent memory, Yale hosted a panel to present objective data and quantitative analysis on some of the biggest economic issues of the election.

Over 200 members of the Yale community gathered in the Yale Law School auditorium Wednesday night to listen to a panel of economics professors discuss the financial ramifications of the upcoming election. Moderated by University President Richard Levin, the panel, entitled “The Economy and the Election,” brought together three leading scholars to address the new healthcare reform bill and the budget deficit, among other economic issues. Benjamin Polak, chair of the economics department and an organizer of the panel, said it would provide a nonpartisan, nonpolitical discussion of the issues at stake when Americans head to the polls on Nov. 6.

“One can review the situation and what the options are without necessarily getting heavily into political discourse,” Alan Auerbach, one of the panelists and a professor of economics and law at the University of California, Berkeley, said in an interview Monday.

The three panelists — Michael Graetz, a tax law professor at Columbia University, Amanda Kowalski, an economics professor at Yale, and Auerbach — each presented for roughly 30 minutes on their topics of expertise and answered questions from Levin and audience memebers during the panel discussion.

While Auerbach outlined the policies and proposals of Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama in his presentation, the candidates’ platforms were not the focus of the panel. Instead, the discussion kept returning to a central issue: the budget deficit.

“We know that one of the issues today is a question of a very harsh fiscal deficit in the United States,” Levin said.

Auerbach presented a chart that anticipates the deficit will grow to 700 percent of GDP by 2062, and Graetz talked about the extra trillion dollars that unfavorable interest rates will incur on the deficit every year.

In the end, Kowalski tied all the concepts together by discussing the effects of healthcare reform on the deficit.

She compared the Massachusetts healthcare model to national healthcare reform, explaining that reforming the healthcare system in Massachusetts costs the state about $800 million annually, while a national overhaul of the healthcare system would cost closer to $1.8 billion per state annually.

Once the panelists finished their individual presentations, audience members asked questions about economic tradeoffs in balancing the budget.

One attendee asked the panelists to discuss whether Romney’s plan to cut taxes could decrease the deficit. Before they could respond, Levin intervened and asked the professors discuss tax cuts rather than Romney’s specific proposals.

In response to the question, Graetz said it is difficult to determine how tax cuts could lessen a budget deficit.

“Something has to give, and what has to give is uncertain,” Graetz said.

Four students interviewed said the panel provided a fair perspective on the economic issues at play in the election.

Samson Mesele LAW ’14 said the panelists seemed to analyze the subjects they discussed with the intent of explaining issues to audience members.

“[Graetz] clarified that the largest tax expenditure is the expenditure for employer-provided health insurance coverage, which a lot of people don’t realize,” Mesele said.

This panel is the first of two lectures. The second, scheduled for Nov. 1, will focus on the macroeconomy, the recession and recovery.

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