Posted: April 2nd, 2015
You are the chief economic advisor to one of the presidential candidates—whether Republican or Democratic or some other party is your choice. The question of raising taxes on the so-called 1 percent of earners keeps coming up in debates and town halls. Should your candidate defend or oppose such cuts? What economic concept supports the stance your candidate takes on the question?
Please write a 500-word editorial for him or her, something that your candidate can publish in leading newspapers around the country. (In newspaper parlance, such a piece is called an op-ed, meaning “opposite the editorial page.”) Remember: although the candidate is a politician, you are an economist. You are writing in your candidate’s name (“As a candidate for the highest office in the land, I believe that taxes are a necessary evil”), and you want your candidate to sound as if he or she knows something about economics without appearing to be so academic that the audience will tune out.
You may wish to use Jonathan Chait’s op-ed “Captives of the Supply Side” http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/09/opinion/09chait.html?ref=opinion as background, making your editorial either a rebuttal or an endorsement of Chait’s argument. As before, however, please cite some recent article from the Wall Street Journal to give specific weight to your argument. You will certainly want to study the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal and New York Times to get a feel for how op-ed pieces are structured.
Evidence and Citation
This course requires you to communicate your opinions on a certain set of topics about which the discipline of economics has something to say. An opinion, of course, is not enough; a winning argument is backed by evidence, data, statistics, and authority.
If you say that cutting taxes will lift the economy out of recession, you need to offer some sort of proof that this is true. If you say that the income tax is too high compared to the tax rates of other industrial nations, then show me actual numbers. If you assert that a certain nationality’s workforce is the best in the world, define and quantify the word “best.” In this world, you cannot expect to be accepted on faith alone, but you can certainly expect to be taken seriously if you approach your arguments seriously. Taking care to argue with the force of evidence is proof, among other things, that your arguments are in fact serious, and not mere assertions of what you believe to be true.
Your assignments will not call for footnotes or parenthetical citations; indeed, I will not read a paper that comes in with them, and it will earn an automatic D. In the real world, only formal reports come with such things; op-ed pieces do not, speeches certainly do not (for how can you hear a footnote number?), and most other kinds of business writing do not.
For the purposes of this class, forget that you know how to use a footnote—which does not mean that you do not have to cite your sources. That is to say, your assignments will call for research, the consideration of expert opinion, and the use of good, solid, accurate data. That research and the enlistment of good data and outside opinion, all of which add weight to the opinions you venture, can be acknowledged without footnotes in the following manner:
• The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2013 that the rate of unemployment fell by 1.5 percent in the first quarter of that year.
• As Ben Bernanke, the former head of the Federal Reserve, assured reporters in August 2008, the fundamentals of the economy remain strong.
• In his influential book The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith advances the idea that a metaphorical invisible hand guides the market.
• The famed economist John Kenneth Galbraith argued in such notable books as The Affluent Society (1958) that the state has a responsibility to provide for the economic welfare of its citizens.
• Milton Friedman, a champion of free-market economics, argued over a long career and in many works that government interference in the marketplace has a negative, suppressive effect on wages.
• Thomas Sowell, a conservative economist, argued in an op-ed piece published in the Wall Street Journal on August 25, 2010, that economic stimulus programs do not always have the positive results that Keynesians claim for them.
Inserting your sources into an argument in this way makes your argument all the stronger. Who, after all, would dare contest the wisdom of such important thinkers and data sets? The idea is to shore up your opinion to the point that it is unassailable. Outside of academia and the law, such shoring up takes place outside of footnotes. To repeat: We will not use footnotes, bibliographies, or other formal citations in this course.
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