March 2, 2007

Profs outline potential ’08 election issues

Three hundred students filled Kent 107 on Monday for U of C professors Allen Sanderson’s and Charles Wheelan’s lecture “America Undressed: The ‘Naked Economics’ of Domestic Issues,” Chicago Society’s third annual event inspired by Wheelan’s book Naked Economics.

Wheelan, a lecturer at the Harris School of Public Policy, and Sanderson, an economics lecturer in the College, discussed the key domestic issues likely to sway voters in the 2008 presidential election.

“I think this is going to be a presidential election for the ages,” said Wheelan, who predicted that fuel taxes, health care reform, and immigration will take center stage next November.

Wheelan argued that the electorate will be deeply affected by the gasoline tax and that a carbon fuel tax would trump a gas tax “by far” in its efficiency and wide-reaching effects. Furthermore, a carbon tax would eliminate the need for federal subsidies and emissions caps.

Health reform, unlike the fuel taxes, is a complex issue without clear solutions, Wheelan said. “This is radically different from the carbon tax. I don’t think there’s an elegant fix.”

Wheelan called for a reevaluation of U.S. health care, noting that loopholes within the system misallocate spending so that select individuals benefit at the expense of the majority.

The talk also hashed out immigration reform and the related issues of job displacement and outsourcing.

Wheelan said that unskilled immigration disproportionately affects unskilled U.S. laborers. “Immigration does not affect everyone equally. In my heart, I think [immigration] does affect low-skilled [American] workers,” he said.

Sanderson disagreed with his colleague’s view of immigration, and said that inadequate education coupled with technological advances pose the greatest threats to the unskilled labor force.

However, both speakers agreed that placing moratoriums on immigration, outsourcing, and technological advances would not solve the problem of job displacement for U.S. workers.

Wheelan said he preferred domestic policies that would help laborers “get back on their feet.”

“My challenge to any presidential candidate is what are you going to do, in both the short and the long run, for the people that used to scan the groceries,” he said.