Last week, Planet Money brought together five different economists, who represent a pretty broad spectrum of political ideologies in general, to see what policies there are that all of them (mostly) agree on -- and then noted why every single one of those policies is political suicide
for a Presidential candidate. The list of economists is a fantastic one, including my Econ 101 Professor, Robert Frank (who I forever remember kindly for letting me take my first ever college final exam late, after I accidentally overslept, waking up in my dorm room an hour and a half after the exam began...). Also included is Russ Roberts, whose writings and thoughts on economics I follow closely. Then there's Dean Baker, whose work we've cited here
a few times. Next up is Luigi Zignales, who I had the pleasure of meeting a couple months ago, and whose new book, A Capitalism for the People
is on my shortlist of books I need to read this year. Finally, they have Katherine Baicker
from Harvard, whose done really interesting work on health care economics -- a field that needs plenty of study.
So what policies did all five agree on? Here's the list (though you really should listen to the podcast to hear them all talk about the details)
One: Eliminate the mortgage tax deduction, which lets homeowners deduct the interest they pay on their mortgages. Gone. After all, big houses get bigger tax breaks, driving up prices for everyone. Why distort the housing market and subsidize people buying expensive houses?
Two: End the tax deduction companies get for providing health-care to employees. Neither employees nor employers pay taxes on workplace health insurance benefits. That encourages fancier insurance coverage, driving up usage and, therefore, health costs overall. Eliminating the deduction will drive up costs for people with workplace healthcare, but makes the health-care market fairer.
Three: Eliminate the corporate income tax. Completely. If companies reinvest the money into their businesses, that's good. Don't tax companies in an effort to tax rich people.
Four: Eliminate all income and payroll taxes. All of them. For everyone. Taxes discourage whatever you're taxing, but we like income, so why tax it? Payroll taxes discourage creating jobs. Not such a good idea. Instead, impose a consumption tax, designed to be progressive to protect lower-income households.
Five: Tax carbon emissions. Yes, that means higher gasoline prices. It's a kind of consumption tax, and can be structured to make sure it doesn't disproportionately harm lower-income Americans. More, it's taxing something that's bad, which gives people an incentive to stop polluting.
Six: Legalize marijuana. Stop spending so much trying to put pot users and dealers in jail — it costs a lot of money to catch them, prosecute them, and then put them up in jail. Criminalizing drugs also drives drug prices up, making gang leaders rich.
So there you go. Six proposals from five economists who represent a very wide spectrum of political views, which they all agree on. And nearly every one of those is political suicide (though, to be fair, Libertarian candidate -- and former beloved New Mexico Governor -- Gary Johnson's platform actually does
include many of these).
The show suggests they're going to explore in future episodes why so many proposals that a large number of economists think make sense are simply politically unfeasible, and I look forward to that. But, a lot of these are situations where old policies effectively locked us in, and making changes would upset an awful lot of existing infrastructure and jobs, not to mention beneficiaries of those policies. And that's one of the reasons why we're always a bit worried about government leaping in to regulate areas where they don't fully understand what's going on. Those regulations can (and often do) lock us into a situation that is not easy to get out of -- even if getting out of it makes a lot of sense...
What's really unfortunate, of course, is that we can't even have reasonable discussions about most of the proposals above. Bringing up nearly any of them is considered a political non-starter, even though if people really understood the overall impact of them, they might agree that all are at least worthy of discussion.