Let’s Talk About The Issues … Part I

I was thinking this morning about the election.  Surprising, isn’t it?  I wasn’t thinking about Trump, per se, but about the actual issues that are facing the candidates, the issues that voters care about, or should care about.  It seems that actual issues or challenges facing our country have taken a backseat to the hateful rhetoric and we are hearing very little, getting few answers.  So, I was thinking about what I consider to be the most relevant issues at this time and wondered how my list stacked up against that of the rest of the nation.  Turns out, the issues I think most important are not necessarily ranked the same as the average citizen.  Again, surprise!

Most often when doing this sort of analysis, we use the top ten, but I decided that was a bit much for a relatively short article, so I am sticking to the top five, which allows me more latitude to discuss each one.  The top five, according to Gallup survey of July 13-17 are:

  1. Economy
  2. Racism/Race relations
  3. Dissatisfaction with government
  4. Crime/Violence
  5. Ethics/Moral/Religious decline

And now my list:

  1. Bigotry/racism
  2. Environment/climate change
  3. Gun control
  4. Education
  5. Refugee crisis/immigration

Note that, for the purpose of this discussion, I am only addressing domestic issues, though certainly a list of international/foreign relations issues is of equal importance and deserves to be discussed in some future post.  It would seem, however, that this election, the issues that are getting the most attention are domestic, so I shall stick to that for the moment.

There is only one issue that overlaps both lists, and that is racism.  I prefer to use the term ‘bigotry’, as the term racism truly only refers to discrimination and conflict between different races.  That, in itself, is a huge issue, but the bigotry in this nation extends far beyond racism.  There are also conflicts and discrimination between religions, against the LGBT community, immigrants, and women.


In examining the Gallup list, the economy is apparently the #1 issue on the minds of Americans today.  I disagree, but let’s take a quick look at what aspects of the economy seem to be concerning people the most (again, I will use only the top five):

  1. Economy in general
  2. Unemployment/jobs
  3. Federal budget deficit/Federal debt
  4. Gap between rich and poor
  5. Lack of money

I cannot address the first one, ‘economy in general’, as it is too vague.  It is my habit, when discussing almost anything, to try to pin people down to specifics. I think that if a person cannot give specific examples, that is an indicator that he/she is not thinking for his/her self, but merely parroting what they have been told, and I haven’t the time to waste on lemmings.

The second – unemployment/jobs – I do not see as a top five issue.  The economy has created some 14 million jobs in the last six years, and the unemployment rate has been at or under 5% since October 2015.  While the economy can always be improved upon, it is certainly not in the dire straits some would have us believe.  For a more in-depth, detailed analysis, I suggest you check out  Erik Hare’s discussion .

The third – federal deficit/federal debt – it should be noted that these two are related, but not the same thing. The deficit is the difference between what the government collects in revenues and spends in one year.  Think of your household budget for a year:  if you spent more than you brought in, then either you dipped into savings to fund that deficit, or you borrowed, leading to debt.  The federal debt is the amount owed by the federal government.  To clarify, however, there are two major components to the federal debt:

  • Debt held by the public, such as Treasury securities held by investors outside the federal government, including those held by individuals, corporations, the Federal Reserve System and foreign, state and local governments.
  • Debt held by government accounts or intragovernmental debt, such as non-marketable Treasury securities held in accounts administered by the federal government that are owed to program beneficiaries, such as the Social Security Trust Fund.

A detailed analysis of whether we should be concerned, and if so how concerned, is beyond the scope of both this post and this writer.  However, below is a simplified pie graph showing where the federal government spends its money:

fed-spend

Just as with your household budget, if you have a deficit you need to either: a) find a way to earn more money, or b) spend less.  It’s quite a simple concept, but the implementation of either of these may be more complex.  In order for the federal government to bring in more, it must increase tax revenue, and those who can best afford to pay more taxes scream the loudest at the mere mention.  Otherwise, the government must cut spending.  Now look again at the chart.  Again, this is far too simplistic an assessment of a complex issue, and certainly the issue needs to be addressed, but I do not rank it in the top five, and the solutions will not be simple, but will be a combination of many things, all of which are likely to require some sacrifices.

The fourth item – the gap between rich and poor – is extremely important, but does not make my top five list, though it likely would have made my top ten.  Income disparity will not even begin to be addressed until both parties can come together and begin to agree on this issue.  The culprit:

  • Laissez Faire Capitalism – French for “leave alone” which means that the government leaves the people alone regarding all economic activities. It is the separation of economy and state. While ours is not a true laissez faire economy, it meets much of the criteria – too much. Reaganomics, and Reagan’s ‘trickle down’ theory, said that if the wealthy corporations are successful in making profit, they will build more factories, hire more workers, pay them better, and thus contribute to a stronger economy.  Guess what?  It did not work.  The stockholders and executives of those rich, successful corporations were greedy and did not choose to share that wealth.  Nor is it likely until the federal government steps in that anything will change for the better.  The republican-dominated congress has thus far protected the wealthy businesses with tax incentives, resisting the call for a significant increase in minimum wages, and more.

What I find interesting is the very people who complain the loudest about this issue are the ones who keep voting for the people who continue to support this type of economic policy.  The pattern continues, as every single person on Donald Trump’s recently-selected panel of economic advisors are in that category of 1%, and several have a history of blatantly exploiting those who are not in the 1%.  Think about it.

The fifth item – lack of money – is again too vague to address with any degree of detail, but to those who complain about not having enough money, I would ask a few simple questions:

  • How do you define “enough”?
  • Do you have a home to sleep in, food to eat, and clothes to wear?
  • Are you able to pay your bills on time?
  • Do you spend money on non-essentials, like a more expensive car, large-screen television, more clothes than you need?
  • Do you buy convenience foods or eat out more than twice a month?

I think you get the picture.  Economize, learn to make and follow a budget, set a list of priorities, etc., etc., etc.  If you answered yes to the 2nd question on this list, then I will be happy to point you to millions of people in developing nations who do not have adequate food, clothing and shelter.  This really should not be a campaign issue to begin with.

I seem to have run on somewhat more than I meant to. My initial intent was to cover all five of the topics in both lists with this post, but I have already exceeded what I consider a readable post length, so I will make this a two-part post, with the rest to follow in a separate post.  I must have gotten carried away … as so often happens these days.  Actually, as I have much to say about some of those other issues, it could end up being a three-part post.  Who knows?  I hope you will stay tuned …

24 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About The Issues … Part I

  1. I would point out in the discussion of Reaganomics that sometimes policies can make more sense when put into the context of the problem it is trying to solve. In this case, an important distinction for what type of fiscal policy to use in response to economic headwinds is the channel through which these headwinds move. When dealing with a supply side shock to the economy(such as the oil price shocks of the Reagan era) the economy is facing a downturn due to increased costs for inputs of production. It makes sense in this case, to try to smooth cyclical factors by improving conditions for the owners of the means of production, which acts in a way that decreases their costs. The important thing to consider here however, is that most recessions(including 2008) are caused by demand shocks, which a supply side response would be ineffective at dealing with. I’m not disagreeing with your premise that this is a great cause of inequality today, but I feel the distinction of when it is a good solution, and when it is a bad solution, is important.

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    • You make a valid point. Unfortunately, certain people still believe that the policy is viable even in today’s economy, when in fact it has outlived its usefulness, at least for now. Thanks for reading and commenting! Always appreciated.

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      • Hahaha! I really, REALLY hope you are joking, Senam! I barely have a grasp on economic concepts as it is! I depend on Erik Hare to explain these things. Ask me anything EXCEPT to explain economic theories … PLEASE! 😀

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      • I’m still getting used to WordPress, so I hope I’m replying to the right thing. It comes down to what’s called the short run aggregate supply/aggregate demand model. If I could imbed pictures here it would be a lot easier to explain, but I’ll do the best I can with words.

        Essentially, the aggregate supply curve posits a positive relationship between output:GDP, and the price level:Inflation. The basic story here is that when the prices increase in the economy, businesses have more incentive to produce more goods(because they can earn more money per good). The aggregate demand curve is similar, but with a negative relationship. The story here is that when prices are lower, people want to buy more goods, because they are cheaper. Equilibrium occurs when the aggregate supply and aggregate demand curves meet, which determines the overall level of output and price levels in the economy.

        The important thing here is that there are factors other than price levels and output levels that can change the curves. Assume there is some change in preferences that causes people to desire saving money more than consuming, this would decrease demand for goods at all price levels. That change in demand would shift the demand curve to the left, and result in lower levels of output, and lower price levels at equilibrium. Assume instead that new technology allowed goods to be produced more cheaply. This lowers the cost of producing goods, and shifts the aggregate supply curve to the right, which increases output, and lowers prices.

        In the case of a negative shock to supply(like in the Reagan era) the aggregate supply curve shifts to the left, which decreases output, and increases the price level(so called stagflation, though some of that also had to do with central bank policy). If you want to get back to the original equilibrium point, you must choose an action that increases the aggregate supply, which would shift the curve back to the right(tax cuts for businesses and the wealthy). If on the other hand(as is the current situation) we have a negative shock to demand, the aggregate demand curve shifts left, and we have a decline in output, and inflation. To get back to equilibrium, we would have to do something to increase the demand curve, which would be something like tax cuts for low income people, increased government investment, etc. If however, instead, we target the aggregate supply curve, we don’t return to the original equilibrium. A right shift in the aggregate supply curve would result in increased output(on top of the decreased output because of the shock) and decreased inflation(on top of the already decreased inflation from the shock). This results in a new equilibrium with lower inflation, but an ambiguous change in output(though usually lower because of the limitations on the government’s ability to act).

        For the equality question, in the case of a supply shock, decreasing costs to firm owners essentially just re-balances the costs they’ve already taken, but in the case of a demand shock, the result is decreasing the costs to firm owners, when the wealth of consumers has actually been affected, which acts to redistribute income at the new equilibrium upward.

        Hopefully that simplified things a little. Sorry about the length(it’s actually much more complicated than that, there’s whole textbooks dedicated to these types of issues). If there’s anything confusing about that I’m happy to try to explain it better.

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  2. Pingback: Let’s Talk About The Issues … Part III | Filosofa's Word

  3. Pingback: Let’s Talk About The Issues … Part II | Filosofa's Word

  4. All politicians appall me, American politicians seem worse than our British versions of dishonesty and self-deception. It’s beginning to make me wonder why I ever bothered to conform and follow societies rules at all.

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  5. Good and sensible to address ‘Issues’ if candidates are capable/able to do so….by the sound of the present situation in USA – one is a non-starter……Note how ‘debates/discussions will descend into ‘dung-flinging’….. 😉 Hugs!

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  6. I will stay tuned, you can be assured. But I note the #1 problem facing this country (and the world) is overpopulation. It is (in my view) at the root of all the others. But it’s not a “domestic” issue, strictly speaking. However, at some point folks must start to acknowledge it so we can address it rather than pretend it’s not there.

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    • Globally, you may be correct. It certainly contributes to poverty and hunger worldwide. And I agree … so many issues we just find it simpler to pretend we just don’t see than to work toward solutions. Sigh. Thanks for reading, Hugh! I promise something a bit lighter once this series is finished! I can’t believe I thought I could do the whole thing in a single post!

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