Ed. note: Associate Professor Zaki Eusufzai of LMU’s Economics Department wrote a light-hearted letter to his friend making the case for civic engagement and tuning in to the sixth DNC candidates debate at LMU.
Thanks for your text message. Yes, we are proud that LMU has been selected to host the Democratic Debate and no, Joe, I cannot get tickets for all my neighbors! If there are plenty of tickets to go around, I will put you on the list, right after fifty of my closest friends. Just kidding.
Anyway, whether you get a ticket or not, you should tune in and watch the debate. Now, knowing very well your penchant for sports, beer and cars – in that order – I know I must make my case before you are convinced. And having been your neighbor for a few years, I know it won’t be easy. But still, let me try.
We have never talked politics and I don’t even know what party you support. As a business owner with its day to day responsibilities and activities, your days are poles apart from mine, what with me being an academic, or as you like to say, an “egghead.” You like to think that you inhabit the real world, while people like me inhabit the “ivory tower.” And you may be right. But both of us do have similar kinds of responsibilities when we get home. I have seen you worry about health insurance for your family members (like when your brother-in-law got into a motorcycle accident), seen you care about education for your employees’ children (remember when Stella’s daughter was designated as gifted and you wanted to sponsor a college education for her?). I have seen you get mad when you were penalized when your water use exceeded your “allocation” and you didn’t think that the allocation took due consideration of your growing family. These are all issues that affect me as well, as you already know.
So, no matter our political shades, what happens in the political and economic arena affects our daily lives and concerns. Take for example, the debate among the Democrats about “free college” for everyone. One of the first things we are taught as economists is that “there is no free lunch.” Of course, someone will have to pay. So, a ton of questions come to mind – who will pay, what will be the effect on existing private colleges, will this actually make the younger generation more productive and better human beings? And the debates will not provide answers. But what they might do is illuminate different aspects of the issue that you might not have thought about. The candidates plugging the issue will extol its virtues, while the candidates opposing it will point out its deficiencies. And you will be a better-informed voter, even if you decide to vote for someone else outside the group.
The same thing is true about the other hot-button political issues – the debates about “Medicare for all,” taxes on the super-rich, and action(s) to mitigate climate change. All will have implications for your daily life from now on. This is because these issues have lives of their own. They will have an impact on yours well beyond the election. They will have effects well beyond who the winner is. They will have effects well beyond you and your immediate family.
Take the example of a gas tax to fight climate change. If it passes, it will have an impact on your driving, your pocketbook, and perhaps your vacations. If it doesn’t pass, that will also have an impact on your driving, your pocketbook and perhaps your vacations – only this time around, through the effects of climate change. So, you really can’t hide. Economic policies are hard taskmasters in that way. They extract that pound of flesh from you one way or other. Remember that saying about no such thing as a free lunch? It means that there is a cost to everything. Maybe not on the same persons in the same way, or on all persons at the same time, but there is always a cost. Think of a balloon filled with water. If you push on one side with your finger, it bulges somewhere else. You cannot push on one side without affecting the rest of that balloon. So, what you need to decide, or what you can decide is which is the least cost option for you. Which is the one whose costs you can live with? The one that inflicts the least damage on you. And by you, I just don’t mean you on your own. I mean you, the loved ones around you and other people that you may care about.
I can almost hear you asking if the debates will really help you pick a candidate. And what if you really don’t care about anyone on that stage, anyway? And here I must point out that helping you pick out the right candidate is not really the most useful part of this debate. You know these politicians. They will say anything, promise you the moon even, to get your vote. No, that’s not what the debates are about. The debates are mainly about bringing issues to the forefront, airing the pros and cons of any policies. They are not going to make you an expert on health care or free college or on wealth taxes. But they will help you understand the various possible approaches to confronting the issues. And in the end, when it is time to vote, you can do so based on your own values, your own gut instincts. That’s because you can learn manners even from the ill-mannered – just don’t do what they do! In the end, you can even say, “I don’t trust anyone among you to deliver, I am going with someone else.” And that’s when you will have delivered a vote based on informed judgment. It is still a judgment, not certainty based on any kind of expertise, but it will be an informed one.
And making that judgment is important, as I said above, because these issues, however they are ultimately decided, will be a part of our lives, a part of the lives of those who are around us and those who are going to come after us. With your informed judgment, you will be helping to create the world you wish to live in. But to come to that informed judgment, you need to tune in first.
Finally, if you still find the prospect of listening to the candidates boring, I’m sure the overhead shots of our beautiful LMU campus, especially if there are ones around sunset from a helicopter (or more likely nowadays, a drone) alone will be worth the trouble of tuning in.
Cordially yours, your friend and neighbor:
Zaki Eusufzai is an Associate Professor of Economics at Loyola Marymount University