An Economist’s View of the Campaign

Mouna Algahaithi, News Editor

Clarion News editor Mouna Algahaithi sat down for a Q&A with Madison College Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, John Peck.

Q: What economic “hot topics” should young voters be paying attention to?

A: College debt; environmental issues; immigration; workers rights; trade issues.

Q: Bernie Sanders paints a bright and beautiful future… but how will he be able to fund all of these dreams of his if elected as president?

A: His ideas are based on the Tobin Tax idea, which is something economists have talked about for long time. It specifically looks at international currency transactions but there have been a lot of other people, even Lawrence Summers, who was Obama’s economic advisor, proposed a tax on financial transactions.

When people buy stock, why isn’t there a tax on that? All of us pay sales tax, it would sort of be a sales tax on Wall Street, and they’re making all this money off these currency stock bonds, transfers and transactions, so why shouldn’t there be a .05 percent tax, for example?

Most countries in the world have these taxes. Sweden and most of all of Europe have these taxes, and there actually used to be taxes like that in the U.S., until fairly recently. It would make sense, and you could use that tax money to fund things like free college education or fund other things.
The only real criticism I’ve heard about it, is that there will be a tax in the stock market, which means that it won’t be as free as it used to be. Well, we all pay sales tax, and that doesn’t deter people from going out, so there will still be people trading in the stock market.
When they did a similar tax in Sweden, I think it reduced the stock market by 5 percent or something, so it wasn’t a huge impact on the stock market.

What it will impact is the people who just do it for the fun of it, speculators, so there are all these people that make this money off high speed trading and stuff like that, so they’ll be deterred from doing so. Those people shouldn’t be in the marketplace anyway. They are the ones causing all the chaos and flash crashes which have happened due to computer trading, and that shouldn’t be allowed anyway. The Tobin tax should help limit that.

It’s incredibly feasible, but Wall Street will be fighting it, and there’s this idea of no new taxes. But, it would be the return of an old tax that existed before, and a perfectly fine way to pay for things like college education. We have gasoline tax for roads and communication taxes on our cellphones, which supposedly subsidize these rural broadband accesses. We pay lots of taxes people don’t know about.

Q: Sanders mentions that the U.S. has the world’s largest number of incarcerated individuals in the world, and that we spend more on locking people up then we do on funding their education.

A: In WI you’ve seen this total shift of funding from the university system to the prison system. It’s like the department of corrections is booming and we’re spending all this money to incarcerate people, and we can’t even find the money to get people through school? It’s sort of the school to prison pipeline, where basically we’re shuttling people into prison systems. Why are we prioritizing incarceration over education? It’s a sad indicator of a society.

Q: How has someone like Trump advanced as much as he has?

A: He’s anti establishment and a lot of people like that. He says whatever he wants to because he can’t be bought, because he has all his own money. People like that cowboy mentality thing, which is why it’s funny.

I was talking to some people who were in Janesville at the Trump rally, and asked, ‘If trump wasn’t a candidate, would you vote for Sanders?’ and a lot of them said ‘Yeah, I like Sanders too because he’s speaking against the power structure’. It’s sort of this weird split of people who don’t like the elites and at the same time, Donald Trump is one of them, which is ironic.

The person who can be the most outrageous and obnoxious politically can get away with it because he’s independently wealthy, so he has that appeal, The media feeds on that because they love controversy, because that’s how they sell more. That’s why you see him on the news all the time, because he dictates it with ‘I have the agenda and this is what my agenda is’, and the media gives him a free microphone because he draws viewers in, and they love scandal and controversy.

Q: Why aren’t young people voting?

A: I’d be curious to see in this primary how many do go out to vote, especially because someone like Sanders is on the ticket. It’s always a challenge to get people more involved. That’s what’s sad about US democracy in general; we’re one of the oldest democracies in the world but we have a really anemic democracy. There are a lot of people that don’t actually vote.

People don’t feel like they have a real choice. If your choices for cereals are only Kellogg’s and General Mills, and you really want something else, but those are the only choices offered to you, then the two party system makes it much more difficult. That’s why you have much higher voter turnout in other countries because there’s a wider range of parties and they have a more participatory range of democracy.

Sometimes, for a lot of young people, the way to get into local politics is through a national campaign and I’m hoping people are excited about Sanders campaign… even if that doesn’t go all the way to the end, maybe they’ll be involved in local politics. We saw that after 2011 occupation at the Capitol. We saw a lot of young people actually got involved in politics for the first time. “

Q: What would you say to young voters?

A: Voting is one of the easiest things to do in politics…  but how do you exercise your political rights everyday? I’d encourage people to look beyond the ballot box. There is a lot more going on in politics than that. How can you get involved besides just supporting candidates? You can work on issues, help craft legislation and push new bills, among other things at the local level.

There are lots of grassroots politics going on year round that need help, whether it’s helping Madison College improve diversity here on campus or keeping the downtown building open. There are lots of politics within this very institution. This education system is like a giant political system in itself. Who makes decisions here, for example? Getting involved in student government is important and beyond that.”