Michael Bar discusses the economy and the presidential election

National debt, health care and the impending fiscal cliff are likely to be the top economic concerns facing the next president, says Associate Professor of Economics Michael Bar. He addressed students and members of the public as part of SF State's public lecture series on the presidential election.

Speaking on Sept. 20, Bar discussed the government's debt problem and highlighted the importance of understanding the economic context behind the messages we hear through campaign speeches and news coverage.   

"When you hear in the news that the national debt has reached sixteen trillion dollars, that doesn't tell you the full picture," Bar said. "Whenever someone uses 'trillions' there's some political motivation. It's used to intimidate voters."

Photo of students and members of the public in a lecture hall, with Michael Bar lecturing from the stage.

Students and members of the public listen to Associate Professor of Economics Michael Bar at one of this fall's public lectures focused on the presidential election.

He believes that reporting government debt as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) is more helpful since it indicates a country's ability to repay the debt.

"That percentage is what ratings agencies like Standard and Poor look at when they compare countries and give them a credit rating," Bar said.

Bar reported that the U.S. government's debt is high -- at 67 percent of GDP -- but it's not the highest it's ever been. In the years after World War II, America's debt was 108 percent of GDP.

"No country in the world has zero public debt," he said. "But rising debt is a problem."

Bar presented the presidential candidates' proposed economic policies and encouraged the audience to do their own research on the candidates' proposed policies.

"There's no magic button that a president can push and we'll experience four percent growth," Bar said. "And there are many political and social issues attached to the government's income and expenditure. For example, social security expenses will rise as the nation's baby boomer generation gets older."

One of the social issues at the center of recent debate is income inequality, prompting discussions about how taxes should be used to redistribute wealth.

"There's been a lot of talk about fairness and both candidates have used the word fair to defend completely opposite tax policies," Bar said. "Fairness is very subjective. The candidates will have to make a case for whether the wealthiest one percent are paying their fair share of taxes or not." 

Faculty experts will continue to provide commentary on the presidential election through a public lecture series that runs through Dec. 13. Lectures are held on Thursdays at 4 p.m. in HUM 133.

Video of the lectures can be watched at http://coursestream.sfsu.edu/plsi276.

There will be a special election night event on Tuesday, Nov. 6 from 5 p.m. – 10 p.m. in McKenna Theatre (Creative Arts Building), when students and members of the public can watch live coverage of the election results and hear analysis from faculty experts.

-- Elaine Bible