"The Direct Line" - Fall Term 2004

Rockefeller Center Director Andrew Samwick provides commentary on a variety of issues in the Direct Line, which is published at the start of each term.

Dartmouth enjoys a special view of presidential politics. Last year at this time, candidates for the Democratic nomination were busy campaigning for New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary. The nominations have now been decided, and Dartmouth's home state has become just one of about 18 hotly contested battleground states. In the interim, the Rockefeller Center has been fortunate to have Governor Howard Dean and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind as distinguished guests, interacting with students, faculty, and the community to offer their insights on the electoral process and the campaigns.

The 2004 election is without question the most important in several decades. It is the first presidential election since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. This and every election for decades to come will serve as a referendum on the incumbent president's conduct of the war on terror and the challengers' credentials to do better. It is also the last presidential election we will hold before the Baby Boom generation starts to collect Social Security retirement benefits. Over the next three and a half decades, the size of the elderly population will increase by about two-thirds relative to the size of the working age population, causing the financial burden on future workers to increase substantially. Last year's Medicare prescription drug legislation also created a new benefit for the elderly, the cost of which will be borne primarily by future generations. Young people, in particular, have much at stake in this election.

Unfortunately, the minimal national discussion of these fundamental issues has been drowned out by sensational stories on peripheral issues. The news media are consumed by what happened in Vietnam or the Alabama National Guard over three decades ago—episodes that are far less relevant to the qualifications of the two major candidates than their more recent experiences. The media devote a disproportionate amount of ink and airtime to the “outsourcing” of jobs to developing countries, even though globalization accounts for a small minority of job losses and brings with it many advantages, such as lower prices for consumers and greater efficiencies in production. This is the politics of distraction, and by shifting the public's attention from the essential to the superficial, it does the nation a great disservice.

The antidote to this state of affairs can be found close to home. The liberal arts education that students receive at Dartmouth challenges them to search for truth in a wide range of disciplines and to ask the right questions in any endeavor, including politics. At the Rockefeller Center, students' traditional educational experiences are complemented with opportunities for more intensive discussion, training, and leadership in the policy realm. As I assume the directorship of the Center, I look forward to enhancing its role as a catalyst for public policy research, teaching, and deliberation. Through these activities, the Center aims to contribute to the “more perfect union” to which the founders aspired at the birth of the republic when they established the office of president.

Andrew A. Samwick is the Director of the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences, the Sandra L. and Arthur L. Irving '72a, P'10 Professor of Economics at Dartmouth College, and a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research. In 2003 and 2004, he served as chief economist on the staff of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers. 
Since joining the Dartmouth faculty in 1994, his scholarly work has covered a range of topics, including pensions, saving, taxation, portfolio choice, and executive compensation. Professor Samwick has been published in American Economic Review, Journal of Political Economy, Journal of Finance, Journal of Public Economics, and a number of specialized journals and conference volumes. He graduated summa cum laude with a degree in economics from Harvard College and received his Ph.D. in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He blogs about economics, politics, and current events.