2012 candidates slip on Econ 101

@CNNMoney November 9, 2011: 5:47 AM ET
Economics: Presidential candidates slip on Econ 101

Creating jobs for Econ 101 tutors?

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Every 2012 contender attended college. They all graduated. They went to schools like the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, Texas A&M, Morehouse, Penn State and Emory.

But decades have passed since these Presidential candidates first stepped onto campus as freshmen. Is it time for an Econ 101 refresher course?

America's Econ 101 professors say yes. In their view, the candidates continue to offer ideas and policies that wouldn't pass muster in their classes -- populated by 18 year-old college students.

"There are so many economic 'misstatements' being made," said Jonathan Lanning, a professor at Bryn Mawr who is teaching two introductory economics classes this semester. "And it isn't confined to any one candidate."

Michele Bachmann promised to bring back $2 gas. Tim Pawlenty suggested sustained 5% GDP growth was a realistic target. Rick Perry would balance the budget with lower tax revenues.

No dice, say the professors.

Stephen Golub, who is teaching Econ 101 at Swarthmore College this semester, said some of the ideas floated by Presidential candidates would earn a failing grade in his class.

"I think it's grossly irresponsible what they are saying," Golub said. "It's not about economics. It's about getting elected. They are promising things that are impossible to deliver or make little sense."

The rhetoric sounds good on the campaign trail. Not in the classroom.

The simple laws of supply and demand render Bachmann's $2 gas promise void, said Erik Nelson, an Econ 101 professor at Bowdoin College.

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Rick Perry labeling Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke as treasonous? "Really over the top," said Golub.

Another professor who teaches at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Michael Salemi, was able to identify statements from six candidates that "would earn failing grades in my Econ 101 class."

Salemi called Ron Paul's rationale for returning to the gold standard "one of the most dangerous ideas put forward by a politician in recent years."

And the idea of waging a trade war with China that was bandied about by Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney at a recent debate?

"If we learned anything from the Great Depression it was that starting a trade war by passing new tariffs leads to reprisals," Salemi said. "In the end there are no winners, only losers."

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Nelson said the tax plans floated by Cain and Perry are prime examples of policy proposals that are designed to appeal to primary voters.

"If either of these men are the Republican nominee for president, I suspect their flat tax proposals will go the way of all other short-lived flat tax proposals," Nelson said.

Bernard Salanie, an economics professor at Columbia University, said Perry's simplified tax form just won't cut it.

"It is a bit depressing to again hear the argument that we will be well on the road to recovery once our tax returns fit on a postcard," Salanie said.

And it's not just Republicans -- the Democratic candidate is slipping too.

Neither "side" has a "truly comprehensive understanding of even basic economics," Lanning said.

Nelson pointed to President Obama's green jobs initiative, which he said is an attempt to wed job creation and energy production in a way that is unlikely to produce real results.

"They should either concentrate on a policy that aids job creation or a policy that creates more green energy; attempts to do both with one policy means they do well on neither goal," Nelson said.

Lanning couldn't be sure any of the candidates would fail his Econ 101 class, but he did say they wouldn't survive moving up to 200-level classes next semester.

"I can say that none of the rationales for various policies that I have heard display a basic 200-level understanding of key economic concepts," he said. To top of page

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