Are you keeping track of the presidential candidates' economic policies? Or do you view the contest simply as an endgame, waiting to see who wins and who loses?
My friends who regularly watch sporting events tell me there's more to a game than just the final score. Some who follow baseball keep detailed statistics. Others who are football fans know the quarterback ratings.
In other words, serious fans have real information for making judgments and deciding where to place their bets.
So maybe we should create an economic scorecard for the presidential election and monitor the candidates' policies, promises and performance. These aren't the only issues on which you'll base your vote, but they are likely to have a real impact on your future.
With that, let's take a look at three key categories. (Your contributions and comments are welcome at my
Right now, it's hard to figure out who will be affected by higher taxes and who will get a tax cut based on the rhetoric from the candidates.
Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, the Democrat, promises a middle-class tax cut, but he doesn't define "middle class." In some policy speeches, it appears the cuts will go to individuals earning less than $200,000 or couples earning under $250,000. Obama hasn't specifically explained where he'll raise taxes, though presumably the wealthy and corporate America would be in this category.
As for Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican, his acceptance speech included the promise that he will "keep taxes low, and cut where I can." That implies making permanent President Bush's 2002 and 2003 tax reductions, such as the estate taxes and other cuts that were scheduled to "sunset" in 2011.
So far, the tax commitments are murky. Then again, even clear-cut promises such as "read my lips -- no new taxes" can be broken after the election. Can the candidates better define their tax pledges, and can they then carry them out?
The latest unemployment figures -- a five-year high on the jobless rate at 6.1% -- make it tough for McCain to campaign on a platform of respect for President Bush, while still promising job creation. What would he do differently from our current President, who has been in office while hundreds of thousands of jobs have vanished in the past year?
McCain says the private sector should create jobs, and he articulated a plan in his acceptance speech. "As president, I will enact a 'jobs for America' economic plan that creates jobs, helps small businesses, expands opportunities and opens markets to American goods." Details, please.
Meanwhile, Obama wants to form federal job training programs and end what he calls "tax subsidies" for companies that ship jobs overseas. Also, he pledges to protect American jobs though tough new trade deals. Can government legislate job protection when the economics of foreign labor are so compelling?
And what's the true cost of all these promises to a country already in $9 trillion worth of national debt?
Obama says if he's elected, he will cut taxes for "95% of all working families and provide an immediate $50 billion to struggling states so that they don't have to cut back on health care and education and can rebuild roads and schools." Now, all he has to do is explain where he'll get the money to do that.
McCain has come lately to the supply-side view that cutting taxes encourages growth. The tax policies he has recently articulated also encourage childbirth, because he promised to double the tax exemption for children from $3,500 a year to $7,000. Clearly, the man believes in tax incentives.
But are these the right ones? That brings us back to the real issue being played out in the global markets for U.S. debt and for the dollar. If politicians make all these promises to buy our votes, what is the ultimate cost, and how do we fund it? Do we print more dollars to pay off the political supporters, and destroy the value of the currency? Or do we go hat in hand to global central banks, hoping they'll lend us money by purchasing our debt?
So let's track both candidates' economic promises and policies. Together we'll try to sort out their economic positions and the impact they'll have on our future. Someone should keep score, and it might as well be our readers. And that's the Savage Truth.
Terry Savage is an expert on personal finance and also appears as a commentator on national television on issues related to investing and the financial markets. Savage's personal finance column in the Chicago Sun-Times is nationally syndicated. She was the first woman trader on the Chicago Board Options Exchange and is a registered investment adviser for stocks and futures. Savage currently serves as a director of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Corp.