OK, I admit it. I did not watch the Democratic debate from Vegas live. Sorry, Hillary, Barack, and John, but Michael, Pam, and Dwight come first on Thursday. (Surprise, surprise, The Office did a little dramedy last night. Nice.) But I did TiVo the debate, and when I got around to watching it (also, I admit, after watching Survivor: China), I was surprised at what I learned:
1) Massive tax hikes on the middle class are suddenly a big vote-getter. Who knew? Here's a chunk from Barack Obama about his idea to make Social Security solvent by raising the income cap on payroll taxes:
I've heard [Hillary Clinton] say this is a trillion-dollar tax cut on the middle class by adjusting the cap. Understand that only 6 percent of Americans make more than $97,000, so 6 percent is not the middle class—it's the upper class. ... But understand, this is the top 6 percent, and that is not the middle class.
OK, so this is Obama's deal: He wants to reduce the take-home pay of more than 10 million "upper class" Americans today—and if he wants to call, say, a mid-level marketing manager in suburb of New York or Chicago or L.A. "upper class," more power to him—and subject those folks to a $1.3 trillion tax increase.
To what end? So future retirees from, in all likelihood, a far wealthier America can receive a richer set of benefits because those benefits are linked to our rising standard of living rather than inflation. I love that sort of bold, contrarian thinking. I am sure his odds in the popular RealClearPolitics betting markets are surging even as I write this. Wait. I just checked. Obama's odds have actually dipped another percentage point to 16 percent vs. 71 percent for Hillary. Just wait.
2) One of Bill Clinton's big accomplishments was really a bust. I recently read a story about how many lifelong Republican CEOs are planning on abandoning the GOP in 2008 and voting for Hillary Clinton. And it was clear from their comments that they're betting on Hillary really being Bill 2.0 when it comes to economic policy. Yet when Hillary was asked whether the North American Free Trade Agreement was a failure, here was her answer: "NAFTA was a mistake to the extent that it did not deliver on what we had hoped it would, and that's why I call for a trade timeout when I am president." Translation: NAFTA was a mistake. By the way, the unemployment rate when NAFTA took effect in 1994 was a lofty 6.6. percent vs. 4.7 percent today, as roughly 30 million net new jobs have been added.
3) Competing in the global economy doesn't matter. Would you think that in a two-hour debate the subject of making America more productive and innovative so we can better compete with rising Asia might have earned a mention or two? Nope. Just a lot of talk about unfair trade and dangerous products from China. Just remember: Rising worker productivity will determine our future standard of living.