Here’s Every Mention of the Economy in Last Night’s Republican Debate (It’s a Short List)

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This morning, you could find any number of think-pieces about the Republican presidential debate online. As expected, most of the pieces are about Donald Trump. But I have to say, I’ve also encountered a disturbing trend in today’s recaps; they suggest that without Trump, last night’s debate was all about “issues.” This isn’t really true. Instead, what we got was a lot of meta-talk about issues—who hates immigrants more, who has hated immigrants for the longest, who’s going to launch the most brutal assault on ISIS—and more Trump-like bluster. I suppose after so many months of Donald Trump overload, the media assigned to cover the Republican side of the presidential primary can’t quite remember what an actual policy discussion sounds like.

Here’s what we didn’t hear last night: any talk about the middle class. Or raising the minimum wage. Neither of those phrases was mentioned even once. Gun responsibility was mentioned by a moderator and then promptly ignored by Marco Rubio. In fact, the economy was largely ignored. Here, I made a list of all the times the candidates mentioned the American economy, in chronological order:

  • Ted Cruz, incredibly, suggested that tax cuts and deregulation could help stop ISIS.
  • Marco Rubio warned that switching to clean energy would “destroy our economy.” It’s a patently absurd suggestion that indicates Rubio does not have even a basic understanding of how the economy works. Clean energy is getting cheaper, clean energy jobs are on the rise, and when you support industries like gas and coal through subsidies, all you’re really doing is socializing the high costs of environmental impact. You’re putting taxpayers on the hook for trillions of dollars of damage and letting Big Oil off free.
  • John Kasich said that “the conservative message is economic growth and along with economic growth goes opportunity for everybody in America.” The first part is kind of true; Republicans talk more (and speak more forcefully) about growth. But the fact is that Democratic presidents are better for the economy, and the trickle-down agenda that Republicans have been pushing for years has led to increased inequality. The American people are realizing, finally, that trickle down economics is a scam; you can talk all you want about growth, but if you support policies that give more money to the rich, you’re not seriously endorsing growth.
  • Ted Cruz promised that his flat tax would “reduce enormous economic growth,” which is absolutely untrue. The flat tax is a regressive tax that—all together now—would lower taxes for the rich and increase taxes on the poor.
  • Seems a little…flimsy for a two-hour debate, doesn’t it? Aside from Ted Cruz’s decidedly unserious flat tax, where are the policies? Is it even possible for these candidates to mention the economy without trying to frighten Americans into thinking everything is going to collapse if they get the chance to enjoy even a little bit more economic opportunity than they enjoy right now? Even without Donald Trump in the room, the Republican debate was still a circus: all flash and dazzle and audience manipulation, with entirely too many clowns.

    Daily Clips: January 29th, 2016

    What economists got wrong about free trade: A new paper suggests that the downsides of free trade have been downplayed by economists and politicians alike. There has been a long standing assumption within these circles that workers’ main recourse against the disruption of free trade is their “desire and ability to pack up and move to a new city with more jobs.” The problem? That assumption doesn’t have a very firm basis in reality. They look at an example in Tennessee where “few workers within the commuting zone of struggling plants moved away after their work prospects declined.”

    A lot of this is highly unsurprising. For right now, however, we know that free trade is a staple of our current economic system. It’s not going away anytime soon. So how do we deal with this?  How can we ensure people have the economic means to move if their jobs become redundant?

    Weekly look at a David Brooks article: It’s articles like these that make me get up in the morning. FOR ONCE, Brooks has written a truly brilliant column on the state of American conservatism. He laments how far to the right “conservative” ideology has meandered and he takes a look across the Atlantic to see what conservatism used to looked like. He quotes, at length, a speech from Prime Minister David Cameron where he addressed the state of poverty in the UK:

    The welfare state and the market are important, but, [Cameron] argues, “talk to a single mum on a poverty-stricken estate, someone who suffers from chronic depression, someone who perhaps drinks all day to numb the pain of the sexual abuse she suffered as a child. Tell her that because her benefits have risen by a couple of pounds a week, she and her children have been magically lifted out of poverty. Or on the other hand, if you told her about the great opportunities created by our market economy, I expect she’ll ask you what planet you’re actually on.”

    How beautiful is that? That’s a self-reflective conservatism I can relate to.

    Colbert roasts Trump:

    Daily Clips: January 28th, 2016

    Economics might be very wrong about growth: Our team here has often spoken about the need for some serious conceptual change when it comes to conceiving of economic growth (see here & here). In this article, the author tackles the long-held assumptions of economic growth:

    the idea of exponential growth rests at the core of essentially all modern theories of growth – theories purporting to explain how capital, labor and technology combine to increase productivity. How valuable can such concepts be if they don’t even get the basic observed pattern of growth right?Perhaps Summers and Gordon are correct that the fast growth seen over the past couple centuries was a unique, unparalleled episode, and that future growth will be much slower about standard economies:

    Elizabeth Warren: Anyone Who Says ‘Change Is Just Too Hard’ Is in ‘Bed With the Billionaires’ She’s certainly got a point.

    Will Washington Pass nation’s First State-Level Carbon Tax? There will be a ballot initiative in 2016 where Washingtonians can decide whether or not they want to attach a $15-per-ton tax on carbon emissions (which adds up to about 25 cents on a gallon of gas). The levy would gradually rise over the next 40 years.

    Tweet of the day:

    A Long-Delayed Equal Pay Bill Comes Back to Life in Olympia

    Ashley Stewart at the Puget Sound Business Journal says a long-delayed bill that provides more opportunities to fight gender pay inequality is now on the move again in the Washington state legislature. House Bill 1646 was held up last year in the state Senate, but it’s been tightened and refocused, thanks to “groups including the Washington Technology Industry Association, Microsoft and Legal Voice,” and it’s about to hit the spotlight again.

    If passed, this would be the first revision of the state’s equal pay law since 1943. You can read the text of the bill here (PDF), but the gist of it is that any “employer in this state who discriminates in providing compensation based on gender between similarly employed individuals is guilty of a misdemeanor.” It allows victims of discrimination to recover their pay through civil action, and it makes it illegal for an employer to demand “nondisclosure by an employee of his or her wages as a condition of employment.”

    “Women often don’t even know if they’re being underpaid,” said state Rep. Tana Senn, the Mercer Island Democrat who introduced the bill. “Women can’t ask for more or resolve the difference if there’s pay secrecy.”

    House Bill 1646 is particularly aimed to improve the tech sector—a huge driver of Washington’s booming economy, and one of the worst industries when it comes to gender inclusion. Stewart writes, “Women make up 17 percent of software engineers nationally, for example, and only 14 percent in Washington state.”

    Workplace inclusion is so necessary. We solve problems through inclusion—we need as many different perspectives and solutions as possible—and if we continue to exclude or marginalize fifty percent of the population, other nations will overtake the United States as the most diverse, inclusive economy in the world. This is a first step toward creating a more inclusive environment in Washington state. It’s about time.

    Daily Clips: January 27th, 2016

    Nick Hanauer joins Iowa public radio: Iowa has much lower rates of income inequality compared to the nation as a whole, but in the last fifteen years they’ve been slowly catching up to national levels. Unfortunately.

    In this interview, Nick Hanauer ridicules trickle-down economics and highlights the necessity for middle-out economics, which puts the middle class at the heart of economic growth and not the rich. As he says,

    You don’t pour money into rich people and have prosperity pop out the other end like donuts.

    Never thought of it that way.

    Jobs are under attack, but not by robots: There are a lot of people that are techno-pessimists. We here at Civic Skunk Works are not apart of this group. And a new article follows our line of thinking, arguing that robots and automation are not holding back our economy, that in fact:

    Slower productivity growth and low-wage jobs are leading to the unequal distribution of productivity gains. Those are the real headwinds that America faces.

    Tweet of the day:

    Elizabeth Warren: “Right now i’m hearing a lot of ideas on our side to try to make college affordable for hardworking people and i don’t hear anything from Republicans except ‘no’.”

    The Price of Exclusion Is High—Like, in the Tens of Millions of Dollars, at Least

    If the Indiana state flag stands for discrimination, Americans will spend their money elsewhere.

    If the Indiana state flag stands for discrimination, Americans will spend their money elsewhere.

    As you may recall, last year Indiana passed a law that made it legal to discriminate against gay people on religious grounds. The response to this law was immediate and overpowering: musicians, consumer groups, and tech industry leaders all called for a boycott of Indiana until the law was repealed. One response to Indiana, written by Civic Ventures heads Nick Hanauer and Zach Silk, made an economic case for inclusion:

    Here’s the 21st century reality: inclusion strengthens our country, our institutions, and our economy. And politicians in the twenty-one states fighting to keep their discriminatory marriage practices appear to be totally clueless about how modern technological economies work, and how extreme the competition for talented workers that drive innovation has become.

    And now we’ve got proof that exclusion comes with a price. Bryan Slodysko writes for the Associated Press:

    Indiana may have lost as much as $60 million in hotel profits, tax revenue and other economic benefits when a dozen groups decided against hosting conventions in Indianapolis last year due at least in part to the controversy surrounding the state’s religious objections law.

    A document prepared by the tourism group Visit Indy shows that the 12 out-of-state groups were surveyed and all said that the state’s controversial law played a role in their decision to hold their events elsewhere.

    And if you recall, Indiana did an about-face on the discriminatory law very quickly; these losses came after just a few weeks in the national spotlight. The bad press that Indiana absorbed during the whole media uproar will continue to mark the state as a discriminatory, exclusionary place for years to come.

    The lesson from Indiana is clear: you can’t just carve out a slice of the population and mark them as acceptable objects of discrimination without repercussions. Hatred and exclusion aren’t just morally abhorrent—they’re economically disastrous.

    Daily Clips: January 26th, 2016

    The most recognizable faces of the campaign: Vox put together an online poll where they reached a sample of about 2,000 registered voters and asked them to identify faces from the campaign trail. The results, in large part, were very predictable. See here:

    Ted Cruz > Tom Brady

    Ted Cruz > Tom Brady

    The most surprising result to me is the high recognition of Jeb! I guess the millions of dollars he spent on advertising hasn’t been a complete waste.

    Headline of the day: This makes me feel warm inside.

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    Obama bans solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prisons: Change I can believe in.

    Stay sane America, says David Brooks: He says that there are crazies on both parties, likening Bernie Sanders to Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. That’s where I stopped reading the article.

    No, Flint’s Water Crisis Does Not Prove We Should Privatize Clean Drinking Water

    If you knew that one of these three bottles of water wasn't subject to government regulation, would you drink from any of them? (Image courtesy of nenetus at

    If you knew that one of these three bottles of water wasn’t subject to government regulation, would you drink from any of them? (Image courtesy of nenetus at

    Everyone agrees that the poisoned drinking water of Flint, Michigan represents a disastrous failure on the part of local government. After all, clean drinking water is the most essential ingredient for a functioning society—if you can’t get clean water, everything else collapses. This is why pretty much everyone agrees that clean water is a public good, that it’s the government’s responsibility to provide clean drinking water to its citizens.

    Note that I said “pretty much” everyone agrees that clean drinking water is a public good? I had to make that distinction because conservative economists exist. And to conservative economists, basically any so-called “government intervention”—yes, including clean drinking water—is evil. And so our old friend Tim Worstall begins to quibble for Forbes

    [A public good] is not something which is good for the public (which clean drinking water definitely is) nor a good that should be supplied to the public (which clean water definitively is). A public good is something that is non-rivalrous and non-excludable. That is, if I’m able to enjoy a supply of something that doesn’t diminish the amount of that same thing that someone else is able to enjoy or consume. And secondly, that there’s no real way to exclude people from being able to enjoy that. Obviously, neither of these are true about the supply of lead free drinking water. Don’t pay your water bills and you’ll quickly find out how quickly your supply can be excluded, and my drinking the water really does mean that you don’t have access to that particular portion of water: not until it’s been back through the treatment plant at least.

    Interesting that Worstall bases his complaint on a semantic argument, and interesting that Worstall knows he’s fighting an unpopular battle. He continues:

    It probably is true that the absence of pandemic disease through the existence of a decent sanitation system is a public good. But drinking water is not, not by the economists’ definition.

    So Worstall is trying mightily to split hairs, here. The water is not a public good, he argues; the fact that the water is clean is a public good. Why does he care about this issue?

    If something is a public good then it’s very difficult to make a profit from it. This means that private markets will undersupply it, or at least potentially will. So, intervention to get the amount we think would be societally useful is often a good idea. Please do note that I’m not banging an ideological drum here; this just is the simple economics of the matter. People often say that vaccination is a public good; it isn’t. It’s the end result of a successful vaccination program that is, the herd immunity.

    Please note that while Tim Worstall promises that he’s not banging an ideological drum, people in Flint are literally dying from tainted water. He later even tries to clarify that “All of this is not a discussion of the state of the water supply in Flint, Michigan.” Except he wouldn’t be trying to launch this “discussion” if the disaster in Flint hadn’t happened. It’s almost like Worstall’s basic humanity tried (and failed) to intercede with the writing of this blog post; ultimately, as is always the case with Worstall and moral crises, the conservative in him won out.

    Read this mincing paragraph and tell me Worstall doesn’t know he’s trying to spin a sweater out of a mound of bullshit:

    Please don’t get me wrong here: the provision of clean drinking water is at the heart of civilization itself, and I don’t think anyone should be deprived of it because of poverty, political manipulation nor even bureaucratic incompetence… However, it is not a public good and thus the argument that government must spend more upon it does not apply, nor do any of the other public goods arguments.

    So he thinks that water is necessary and should be provided to everyone regardless of their financial status, but he also thinks that it shouldn’t be supplied by the government? Let’s for a moment pretend that Tim Worstall is a real economist. And let’s take his premise seriously: say private business is in charge of all the water supplies in America, with maybe a very small government regulation office in charge of keeping them honest. How long do we wait until someone like Stewart Parnell knowingly endangers his customers by providing tainted product? Or until someone knowingly cheats the regulation system, like Volkwagen? Or until some company repeatedly fails at its attempts to provide a clean product, like Chipotle? Or until someone prices the product out of the hands of the poor, like Martin Shkreli?

    We’re big fans of capitalism here at Civic Ventures. But after witnessing the kind of failures we’ve seen in recent years, you’d have to be outright dumb to argue that capitalism is the solution for everything. Government has its place, and one of those primary duties should be to protect and preserve the cornerstones of civilization. If you choose to let the market decide on the profitability of your safety, you’re making a bad bet.