Jaro: Both campaigns make promises they can’t keep

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Jaro: Both campaigns make promises they can’t keep

Jan Jaro, Columnist

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If you haven’t heard from the Obama Truth Team recently, I admire your single-minded focus on Facebook stalking.

You can’t fail to notice the Obama campaign position on making college education affordable for all (thank you, targeted Facebook ads) that has students all around the country fired up to vote for the President despite a stiff job market for recent college grads. While I strongly believe in the value of a college education and applaud his stance on making education accessible for everybody, it’s also maddening to see him make promises that can’t be kept.

From the first day of class, every economics professor tries to hammer home a very important lesson: There’s no such thing as a free lunch. At the same time, it seems the best piece of advice for aspiring politicians is to offer as many free lunches as possible. From promising permanent revenue-neutral tax cuts to stopping the outsourcing of jobs to developing economies, both candidates have espoused bad policy that will unravel in later generations in the same way that the legacy of European labor protections must now be undone. Take, for instance, Obama’s campaign platform of affordable education for all. While a highly educated workforce has obvious public benefits, the rising cost of college is due not to greedy, decadent universities but to the skyrocketing demand for an investment in human capital. It is certainly true that students are priced out of the education market, but most of the pricing out occurs due to the substantially increased risk of loan defaults as well as mismatches between the skills students have and the ones employers desire. The debate on educational opportunities requires a much deeper discussion on the role of industry, better secondary school preparation and access to financial markets than either candidate is willing to offer.

For his part, Mitt Romney has promised to pass sweeping tax cuts while maintaining revenue neutrality and progressivity by eliminating some very popular exemptions. Romney’s promises to immediately restructure the tax code to eliminate most exemptions aren’t much more realistic than Obama’s position on education reform. While it is certainly a positive goal to have a simpler, more affordable tax code to promote entrepreneurship and increase transparency, the largest deductions in the current code come from home mortgage interest and charitable donations, exemptions that taxpayers in every income bracket will be loathe to surrender. Like higher education reform, a reform of the tax code will require a very deep, economically motivated discussion on benefits, tradeoffs and inefficiencies inherent in the system. Yet, our candidates are willing to offer nothing but platitudes and quick fixes when in reality, the policies they advocate do little but kick the can down the road and fail to address the underlying issues.

Not all electioneering is bad, and not every campaign position that the candidates hold is poorly constructed. It’s relieving to hear the Romney-Ryan ticket talk about desperately needed reforms to our entitlement and welfare systems. For his part, Obama has at least gotten the ball rolling on health care and financial reform, although it will take several reiterations over the upcoming decades to solidify systems that work. Nevertheless, I would be a lot happier to hear candidates talk more candidly and intelligently in public about crafting solutions to big problems such as education and taxation. Perhaps our recent obsession with quick fixes reflects on the hardships of the financial crisis. But truthfully, I think many Americans like myself would be willing to hear that we’ve got a really tough road ahead, as long as a well thought-out map was laid out. Sadly, it seems both candidates, along with many of their political brethren, are better at talking about tough choices than they are at making them, and I’m not thrilled to wait until 2016 before the next chance for a politician with real grit, intelligence and realism comes along.

Jan Jaro is a McCormick sophomore. He can be reached at janjaro2015@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, email a Letter to the Editor to forum@dailynorthwestern.com.