There’s a TV show I’d like to see, perhaps on public television, or on the Internet. The premise is that the President of the United States sits in a room with economists and prepares his three-slide PowerPoint presentation to the voters on the topic of raising taxes versus cutting spending to balance the budget.
Now add Judge Judy, or someone with a similar skill set, to run the meeting and cut off the participants when they don’t offer brief answers to clear questions. Also include several economist/researchers who are there to verify the accuracy of any assertions made during the meeting.
During the course of the show, as Judge Judy (for example) nails down certain facts, the facts are put on the PowerPoint slide for viewers to keep track of what is settled. When enough facts are assembled for a verdict, Judge Judy and the President discuss what they have learned until the President arrives at a conclusion that is consistent with the facts. And if the data doesn’t point in a conclusive direction, the President would be free to make his decision on some sort of principle, such as fairness, or practicality. At least the decision process would be transparent.
I thought of this idea after reading the comments to my recent blog about the national debt. It’s clear that no citizen has enough information to justify an opinion on raising taxes versus cutting spending. Everyone, including me, seems to have a handful of questionable factoids and some dogma. That’s it.
It’s not entirely our fault. The other day I read in Newsweek that our debt as a percentage of GDP is lower than it was in the eighties. The next day I saw a graph on CNBC showing the percentage of GDP at about triple the level that Newsweek mentioned. Had I seen one of those sources and not the other, I might think I knew something. I expect that most people who think they have enough information on the topic of the budget are having the same problem. The readily available data is always out of context, inconsistent, or filtered through liars.
The budget issue is somewhat unique as national debates go. In the case of global warming, for example, or teaching evolution in schools, there is a clear consensus of the experts to guide those who care about data. But when it comes to issues of taxation and deficits, the experts are more divided, and in many cases intentionally misleading.
You might say the President wouldn’t, and shouldn’t, subject himself to the sort of circus TV show I’m describing. You’re probably right. The way this sort of concept is tested is by throwing someone of lesser office into the mix and seeing if it produces useful results or mockery.
This is the same method used during Presidential campaigns. The candidate for vice president tries out any edgy sound bites first. If the media mocks him, the President can say his running partner was just speaking off the cuff. If the media loves the sound bite, it starts coming out of the presidential candidate’s mouth the next day.
Unlike most of my ideas, this one is entirely practical. And if citizens didn’t watch the show itself, they might be willing to read the twelve bullet points on the slides that came out of it.