Journalism in the Public Interest

11 Key Reads on the Economy Ahead of Tonight’s Debate

With the economy on the debate schedule tonight, we’ve rounded up some of the best coverage of the critical economic issues in the presidential election.

Members of the media prepare on Oct. 2, 2012, for tonight's first presidential debate on domestic issues. To prepare you, we've rounded up some of the best coverage of the critical economic issues in the presidential election. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Oct. 3: This post has been corrected.

With tonight's debate focusing on domestic policy, we've rounded up some of the best coverage of the critical economic issues in the presidential election. (Don't worry; they're not all long reads.)

State of the Economy

Romney Better Off for Not Asking as Economy Improves Since 2009, Bloomberg, September 2012
The Romney campaign often asks the question, are you better off than four years ago? Bloomberg looked at 70 indicators of economic well-being and according to 51 of them — including growth, hiring, housing starts and the stock market — things are indeed better now than when President Obama took office. Of course, the economy was in big trouble four years ago, the recovery isn't exactly rip-roaring, and it isn't often clear what can be attributed to Obama's policies.

Fiscal Cliff

The Fiscal Cliff, In Three and A Half Graphics, NPR Planet Money, September 2012
On New Year's day, spending cuts and tax increases are set to go into effect, unless Congress votes otherwise — what's known as the "fiscal cliff." Leave it to Planet Money to create one of the clearest explanations of the cuts and tax increases: three graphics break it all down.

Debt and Deficits

Obama vs. Boehner: Who Killed the Debt Deal?, The New York Times Magazine, March 2012
Last year, Obama and Republican House Speaker John Boehner almost hashed out a "grand bargain" to cut the deficit by $2.8 trillion over the next decade. This is the best account of how that deal fell apart — what ultimately put U.S. on the path to the fiscal cliff it faces in January. Short on time? Check out the short video explainer that accompanies the piece.

The Three Best Charts on How Clinton's Surpluses Became Bush and Obama's Deficits, The Washington Post, September 2012
As the national debt hit $16 trillion last month, the Post's Ezra Klein rounded up three charts to explain how that happened. Each chart accounts for how the debt built up slightly differently, but they agree on one thing: "The primary drivers of the debt predate Barack Obama," Klein writes. "The post-9/11 wars and security build-up, the Bush tax cuts, and the 2001 and 2008 recessions simply began before Obama became president."

Financial Reform

Bank Lobby's Onslaught Shifts Debate on Volcker Rule, Bloomberg, March 2012
Though the financial reform bill known as Dodd-Frank was passed in 2010, details are still being hashed out — and in cases weakened — amid a flurry of lobbying. (As the New York Times reported, Congress members themselves are still working behind the scenes to influence how the law is enacted). Romney has pledged to repeal Dodd-Frank.

Bailout — for Banks and Homeowners

Bailout Tracker, ProPublica, ongoing
Four years later, how much are taxpayers in the red from bailing out companies during the crisis? We gave the latest tally last month, showing how the government is likely to lose billions on General Motors, and has actually profited from the bank bailouts.

The Great American Foreclosure Story: The Struggle for Justice and a Place to Call Home, ProPublica, April 2012
A deep dive into the causes and consequences of the housing crisis, and how many of Obama's policies have fallen short of expectations. Some pin the failure of those policies on the banks: A recent study says that some of the country's biggest banks failed to help some 800,000 homeowners get loan modifications through a government program. As Businessweek pointed out, Romney's housing plans, while still vague, appear similar to Obama's.

Jobs and Stimulus

Work, Esquire, March 2012
We often hear the numbers, but Esquire showcased the human side of long-term unemployment with this collection of profiles. (Yahoo! also explored the issue using a selection of readers' own stories, in July 2011. They showcased the thousands of submissions on a Tumblr, which is still being updated.)

Number of Green Jobs Fails to Live Up to Promises, The Bay Citizen, August 2011
While President Obama once promised the stimulus and other programs would create five million green jobs over 10 years, the Bay Citizen says the "results so far suggest such numbers are a pipe dream." In addition to scandals like Solyndra, some clean-tech companies simply didn't produce as many jobs as hoped. SolFocus, featured in this article, employed 90 people, and outsourced the construction of its solar panels to China — another key issue in the campaign. (ProPublica also has a database letting you see how stimulus money has been spent in your community.)

The Safety Net

Even Critics of Safety Net Increasingly Depend On It, New York Times, February 2012
In 2010, spending on programs like Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid consumed 66 cents of every dollar of revenue, up from 37 cents for every dollar in 2000. This money has increasingly gone to the middle class. This piece provides a good primer on the safety net and its expansion, surveying several sides of the debate — including those who collect benefits while voicing their support for cutting assistance.

'Back At Square One': As States Repurpose Welfare Funds, More Families Fall Through Safety Net, Huffington Post, June 2012
Welfare reforms gave more control over allocation and eligibility requirements to individual states. Many have since used funds to plug budget holes, and some have ended up creating hurdles for the unemployed to find jobs. This piece chronicles one woman's plight in Georgia, where it's particularly difficult to obtain benefits.

Correction: We originally said the government lost billions on General Motors and AIG. While the government is currently $2.6 B in the hole on its AIG investment, it's likely to turn a profit. The GM investment is likely to result in a loss, but they're still recouping funds.

Thanks ProPublica. We will learn a lot from this. The process of re-shaping North-American economy is about to begin.

I can no longer subscribe to your website that is supposedly a “non-partisan investigative journalist website.” Please…

Let’s keep this simple, shall we?  Here goes:

Gov. Romney is my former governor and did an outstanding job across the board. 
He inherited a $3 BILLION DEFICIT, eliminated it within 2-3 years, all while honoring his campaign pledge NOT to raise taxes, and he chose not to run for reelection, leaving a $2 BILLION *SURPLUS* for his successor Gov. Deval Patrick (D-Milton, and who literally lived one block from my old house, yet I never saw Mr. Patrick even ONCE the entire 10-1/2 years I lived in Milton and I was a director on the neighborhood assn. board for about 7-8 of those years).  The infamous David Axelrod ran Patrick’s campaign, and then of course Obama’s.  Axelrod’s company was begun solely to get WHITE voters to vote for BLACK candidates.  Mission accomplished, but look where it’s gotten us on all fronts: domestic and foreign policy is a joke, we are nearly bankrupt, Obama has completely shunned Israeli PM Bibi Netenyahu, basically giving the green
light to the fanatical Islamists arouns the world to MURDER American officials like Ambassador Chris Stevens, two ex Navy seals and civilians.  I am DISGUSTED at the actions
and lack thereof on Obama’s part, but I am
not surprised.  Off to Las Vegas for Obama for a fundraiser, just one day after Americans were MURDERED, and his administration knew about the impending violence, possible attacks, coincidentally on 9-11 (wow, what are the chances of that happening?!?  Sarcasm

Obama has given us exactly
what he said he would—a fundamentally changed America.  Sadly, not the good kind of “change” he sold to a nation of people who
felt “it was time for a first black president.”
Talk about racism!  The only reason MANY people voted for him was ONLY because he
was black!!!  If Obama were a white man with all his radical ties, Marxist ideologies, etc., he wouldn’t have made it out of the primaries!!!

This is not a game. I hope people
realize this election will forever change America and its founding principles of freedom
from tyranny.  The choice is yours.  I choose freedom and Romney/Ryan to pull this country back from the edge of the cliff!

p.s. Save the “you’re a racist bigot” name calling for this post.  I would vote for US Rep
Allen West (R-FL), Lt. Col., Army (retired) who is running for reelection this year.  For those of you who don’t know, Rep West is black.  He is enemy number one on
The Democrat’s hit list. Please support this true American patriot!  TAKE BACK OUR COUNTRY NOW—BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE!

Annette Tchelka

Oct. 3, 2012, 2:59 p.m.

I have been reading two excellent books, Shadow Elite by Janine R. Wedel and The Price of Inequality by Joseph E. Stiglitz.  In Wedel’s book she talks about privatization of govt sector jobs and how it not only costs American taxpayers 4 x as much but also results in lack of transparency and accountability to the American taxpayer.  Romney & Co Republicans are all in favor of privatization and it is against our best interests.

With regard to Stiglitz he addresses an issue called “rent-seeking”, how the 1% fleece the rest of us by getting tax breaks, discounted natural resources and the ability to engage in predatory lending, etc., all at our expense.  In other words, redistribution of wealth from the bottom and middle to the top, yet I’ve never seen these issues addressed (perhaps I missed the articles).  But these are clearly two ways in which both parties have failed the American people and should receive more exposure.

This should be e-mailed to each of the major networks to use as reference to analyze the debate and to determine which of the candidates had the best real understanding of the state of the nation.

Stop using the word Round Up, unless it’s meant to remind people of Romney’s attachment with Monsanto and Bain. Roundup is DEADLY.
No GMO foods in the sacred food supply. No Romney either.

clarence swinney

Oct. 4, 2012, 10:48 a.m.

I wanted blood got smiles

He could have destroyed Romney with facts and attacks on predecessor
I have E-mailed data to the White House many times. Ignored?

Bush last budget spent $3510B.
Obama last budget(2013) projects $3800B
That is 8.6% increase in spending or lowest in history

DEFICIT—Bush last budget ended 9-30-09 with a $1400B Deficit
Obama last budget(2013) ends 9-30-13 projects $901B deficit.
A 35% cut (he promised 50%)

TAXES—Bush gave biggest tax cut in history. We borrowed $6100 B much of which
was because the rich kept their money and were not taxed enough. Romney promises more of Bush tax cuts which cuts revenue and increases debt.
Obama cut taxes for 96% of workers to stimulate the Great Recession economy. His Executive order Efficient Spending in Government was designed to offset some of the lost revenue from the payroll tax cut.
Today, We rank just below Mexico and Chile As Least Taxed nation.
Obama 2013 budget projects tax revenue of $2900B or 20% of our national income and 21% of our gdp. Our National Tax Rate is 20%. It “Must” go up to pay off debt.

Obama should have attacked his predecessor but he will never do it en mass.
Let Obama ratings fall watch out. He may get mean which is not his nature.

He inherited a hell on earth why not use it.?clarence swinney

But all these articles (on a quick scan) ignore the thirty-trillion-dollar question:  How?

Romney plans to cut public television’s budget?  Is he aware that Congress set’s the budget of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting?  Is he suggesting that the CPB (of which the President is a member of the Board) take the money and run, perhaps, instead of funding public television?

Obama is creating jobs?  How?  I don’t mean show me some statistic that says so, I mean what mechanism do we have in use that provably directs employers to hire more non-minimum-wage employees.

With the amount of cash being thrown at banks (domestic and abroad) through Quantitative Easing and other Fed gimmicks, what mechanism is in place that is staving off runaway inflation, if the candidate believes such an eventuality is likely?  Is there no mechanism and we can show that the number of dollars no longer correlates with the price of goods and services?

For all the talk of “bringing jobs back” to American shores, why has neither candidate pointed out that every administration since Kennedy has had a banana republic tax break?  Manufacture through an overseas subsidiary, and taxes fall off the face of the Earth until they’re declared to be in American accounts.  Gosh, where have all the jobs gone…?  Must be the higher standard of living, couldn’t be an added profit of 35%.

Of course, there’s only one part of the budget that the President really has control over (since the budget in general is authored and passed by the House).  The President does control how we wage war.  Do the candidates have any thoughts on our NOT wasting billions of dollars and thousands of lives on wars against some vague notion of terrorism that only rarely nets us an actual terrorist, rather than cheesing off a bunch of unemployed Arabs?

And speaking of that, we need to be asking questions about things the President can actually control.

Why is the Obama administration fighting to protect indefinite detention while claiming they’re against it?  How does the Patriot Act not get vetoed?  Why is nobody stopping the NSA’s wiretapping, which is a clear violation of a whole bunch of protections?  What about the blatant lying in all the rhetoric (on both sides) over the Libyan and Egyptian protests, starting with the fact that we don’t list any consulates in Benghazi?  Why is every single statistic provided by either candidate such a transparent lie?

And, hey, why are there only two candidates on the stage?  You’d think the Commission on Presidential Debates had a vested interest in limiting the debates to major-party candidates.  Like…I don’t know, if the debates were managed by party bigwigs.  Oh, they are?  And they won’t let anybody in without a 15% rating in national polls that don’t ASK about third-party candidates?  Well, there you go, then.

But hey, the candidates want to talk about how they’re going to fix the deficit, so that’s what the election is going to be about…

(Righting the economy is a matter of empowering individuals, not making sure big companies stay in power.  Likewise, it’s a matter of stopping people from making money from merely having money, which drains the system, rather than fussing over the personal tax rates that best fund wars nobody claims to support.)

clarence swinney

Oct. 7, 2012, 12:28 p.m.

It should be #1 in any debate. We rank 4th in oecd nations.
Our nation was founded on egalitarian values.
The growing chasm of income and wealth should head a debate on why ordinary people are not doing so well since most of our new prosperity gets channeled upward to a tiny part of the population.
We must tax wealth to get more income and wealth down to the middle class workers who have been shafted by Conservatives since 1980. A disgrace to fight a minimum wage increase for lower income workers. A disgrace to fight removing the Bush tax cut for top 2% who own 50% of all financial wealth and get 30% of individual income. Some with incomes in millions like-4000-3000-2000-1000-500-100.
  The working population must get help to have a good middle class standard of living.
A good start will be a $10 per hour minimum wage.
It can be done via the tax code. Higher taxes on income and estates. We have incurred so much debt while letting rich get off paying a Fair part of income in taxes. Higher wages. Safe retirement pensions and health care benefits.
Sounds like a union organizer no just a very very very concerned citizenclarence swinney

clarence swinney

Oct. 10, 2012, 9:27 a.m.

My first act will be to defund Planned Parenthood. Darn. They prevent more abortions than any unit in America. Mitt loves abortions? PP provides preventative health care for millions of the poorest of poor women. Do not Mormons worship Jesus Christ?

My first act will be to repeal Obamacare. Darn. I thought it is a law of the land passed by Congress.
Mitt now a dictator who can do as he pleases.

My Five Trillion Tax Cut will not add to the deficit. I will pay for it by eliminating tax break loopholes for my rich backers. Sho nuff!

Obama took 716 Billion out of Medicare. Cutting payments to Mitt insurer pals is bad bad bad.

Half of green jobs firms he financed went bankrupt. Less than 10% is not 50% except in Mitts math.

I oppose Dodd-Frank. His ultra rich pals said the same thing.

I will not cut education budget with my trillions for more killing machines. Sho!. Mittmagic.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Buying Your Vote

Buying Your Vote: Dark Money and Big Data

ProPublica is following the money and exploring campaign issues you won't read about elsewhere.

Get Updates

Our Hottest Stories