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October 11, 2016

Uncommon Interview: Write-in Candidate Laurence Kotlikoff

On Thursday, the Chicago Maroon interviewed Laurence Kotlikoff, a professor of economics at Boston University who is running as a write-in independent candidate in the 2016 presidential election.

Kotlikoff stressed that current policies place an unfair burden on the current generation of college students. He spoke about how the United States’s poor fiscal policy has resulted in a massive amount of debt. He also said that the United States's current stance on climate change is endangering future generations.

The Facebook page Laurence Kotlikoff for President is managed by first-year Adam Oppenheimer. The page had 120 likes at the time of publication. 

Chicago Maroon: What makes you a better candidate than Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, or Gary Johnson?

Laurence Kotlikoff: Being a trained economist, having dealt with these policy issues that were facing policy problems, knowing how to measure our fiscal insolvency, having written a book on healthcare reform, having written a book on banking reform, having written a book on taxes and tax reform, having written a book about social security and social security reform, and having done lots of research on these topics, that makes me more knowledgeable about the problems from a position of technical knowledge to understand where the country is and where it needs to go. When you’re trained as a lawyer and you do not have economics training, you’re not really equipped to assess economic problems and to fix them. When you’re trained in business—well, in Trump’s case he was not trained; his experience is in scamming people and ridiculing people, and he’s sold himself up as a brand, but that doesn’t give him any expertise in dealing with any of these domestic issues. He’s got no real handle on our policy problems and how to fix them. And I don’t see anything in terms of concrete policy proposals coming out from Clinton or Trump on their websites that really is what’s needed.

When it comes to foreign policy, Secretary Clinton has had a lot of foreign policy experience which I haven’t. On the other hand, I’ve been all over the world. I travel all the time. I’ve talked with high level officials from presidents to heads of central banks to labor ministers. So, I’ve had a lot of experience that equips me to handle foreign policy challenges [...]

CM: Why do you think students like those at the University of Chicago should vote for you in this upcoming election?

LK: I think they should think about their future and understand the problems we’re facing. […] Then, go back to the website of Clinton and Trump, and see whether any of these problems are even being described or addressed. And I think [...] that they’ll see that I’m a far better choice to be serving as president than either of these individuals.

[…] I remain optimistic about my chances. In economics we have game theory where you can have multiple equilibria. You can have an outcome that’s stable but you can have another equilibrium that’s equally stable. Which equilibrium is chosen is based on people’s beliefs of what other people are doing. If everybody coordinates on equilibrium A, they go there. If everybody coordinates on equilibrium B, they go there. There’s nothing in economics and the math that will tell us the probability of this equilibrium versus that, that’s the nature of mobile equilibria. So, we can’t put in a probability assessment. For example, if John Kasich were publicly to endorse me tomorrow […] it would flip the entire election with one tweet. [...] So many people are unhappy with the equilibrium they’ve coordinated on, which is Trump or Clinton. […] 

So, I think, going back to your question, I’m expecting and hoping that Chicago students will do their homework and that they will immediately get to work to make it happen. I put myself out there, it’s now your generation’s job to make this happen. 

CM: One of the most extensive parts of your platform is tax reform. [Would] you mind briefly explaining some your proposals and how they might be better than current tax policy?

LK: So, right now we have three taxes that are dysfunctional. We have a corporate income tax that is generating very little revenue. Its biggest “achievement” is to drive investment and jobs out of the country. It’s not hurting the companies, it’s hurting the workers who are left behind without the jobs and the higher wages. We have an estate and gift tax that’s generating far too little revenue given the spending we have. So, I’m going to replace these things with functional taxes that are going to do what we are trying to achieve. So, one of the things I have is a personal consumption tax on the rich. It’s on consumption so it’s not paid for out of wages but paid for out of the wealth. That’s a proposal that dates back to a bipartisan bill called the USA Tax. It was introduced years ago […] You’d have to pay taxes […] on your airplanes, yachts, and cars, any major durables that you purchased, you’re getting consumption services and you have to pay on those.

[…] I’m introducing an $80 per cubic ton CO2 emission carbon tax, starting immediately. I’m also introducing a tax reform, a $2000 payment per person that’s independent of your income—something we reference as a negative income tax. I’m also modifying the food stamps program so that free food is distributed to children in low-income neighborhoods in schools in the form of free meals a day, and also to adults in food distribution centers in low-income neighborhoods. I’m also introducing a new health reform that’s a fundamental change. 

 […] It’s shifting the tax system towards consumption taxation and away from income taxation. But, it’s doing it in a way that is going to stimulate investment. Because getting rid of the corporate income tax when you the highest effective income tax rate in the developed world which is around 35 percent, and you set it to zero, and everybody else is at 22 percent, you’re going to have a massive inflow of investment into this country. Companies are going to be dying to operate here. 

CM: In terms of gun policy, how do you hope to achieve reform with the help of the NRA, an organization that is known for its stubbornness on gun policy reform?

LK: I think part of where the NRA is coming from is that people want to be able to defend themselves. In situations where they’re being attacked, you’re in a nightclub and somebody comes in and locks the door and starts killing people, you want to be able to defend yourself. When I think about what seems to be irreconcilable differences between people, I try to understand both sides of the groups’ sense of concern. So I’m proposing that we deputize a large fraction of the population to be carrying all the time non-lethal weapons to defend themselves and others, including police in these gun terrorist situation. They could be guns with rubber bullets, they could be Tasers, they could tear gas canisters, they could be smoke grenades. 

[…] I’m proposing that police be armed with non-lethal weapons so that they don’t approach people who they suspect of having violated minor traffic ordinances with drawn guns. That’s ridiculous. It should be a last means of defense. I think there’s ways to deal with this series of brutal police incidences that have led to innocent black men being killed by police. That’s destroyed not only the lives of these black men, but also the lives of these people that perpetrated those mistakes or crimes depending on how you read it. […]

If the NRA is not willing to work with me on this, I would take the lead in setting up an alternative NRA, because I think that a majority of NRA members have a different perspective than the leadership of the NRA. So, I would encourage the formation of a substitute NRA with a slightly different name that would put the NRA out of business if it came to it. 

I don’t think the AR-15 assault weapon […] [is] a hunting weapon, I don’t think we need that for recreation. I think it should be banned, and I think we should be banning assault weapons. And I think I can get the NRA to agree to this in the context of addressing some things that they’re concerned about and that everybody should be concerned about. But, I’m somebody who’s very impatient to fix things, and if I were president I would not be cowed down to anybody. […] It’s about time to start acting reasonably. […] These issues are fixable.

CM: You also support a warmer relationship with Russia, however, many members of NATO such as the Baltic states, currently fear Russian aggression. What would be the benefits of bettering our relationship with Russia over fracturing these alliances?

LK: I want to be clear: I’m not suggesting that in any way we…undermine NATO. I’m suggesting from some experience working in Russia in recent years, and consulting in past, I have some understanding of some part of the concern that the Russian government has with their sense of being encircled by NATO and if you ask where they’re coming from when they think about Crimea, they feel […] that Khrushchev just handed this as a present to the Ukraine, never thinking that the Soviet Union would ever be dissolved. When Ukraine had this uprising that kicked out the Russian-backed president and replaced him [...] with the current leader, the next thing was going to be Ukraine becoming a part of NATO and the Crimea having NATO troops right next to Russia’s major naval base. […] Putin is not our friend and not our enemy. He’s a very brutal leader I think, he’s not somebody that we should underestimate in terms of his [lack of] concern of human rights and we see that right now in Syria. 

[...] There’s enough areas of give and take here where we can reach an agreement with Russia.  

[…] This relationship needs to be normalized. It just doesn’t make any fundamental sense for us to be be in conflict with Russia, for the Cold War to be restarted. […] But we can’t underestimate Putin and we can’t think he’s a good guy. I’m trying to talk about a relationship that normalizes our relationship, I’m not understating the nature of this person. […]

Q: How do you hope to alleviate student loan debt?

A: I’m proposing that every student be able to borrow at the long term government bond rate, which is three and half so percent third year bond rate. That’s a whole lot lower than the eight percent that a lot of people are repaying or borrowing. Why do I justify that? […] We have to understand that education is a public good that creates external benefits to society by having an educated population. I think that justifies this kind of […] investment in the education of younger people. […] I would also be publically advocating parents […] take as their responsibility helping their children with educational expenses.  

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