02/26/2012It started last fall. I was in Boston, working madly on the page proofs for our new book, when my friend and co-author said he was going to run for president.
This was a real first for me. I've never had a friend who ran for president before. The closest I have ever been to even knowing a presidential candidate is having good friends who were tight with Michael Dukakis.
So I wasn't quite sure what to say. Perhaps levity would do. I could ask him, "Do you really want to move to Washington?"
But I didn't because we're supposed to humor crazy people, and I've always thought anyone who wants to be president isn't playing with a full deck. This notion has been reinforced every four years for my entire adult life, particularly during primary season.
Then I started comparing the qualities and abilities my friend has with the better-known candidates. I came to a surprising conclusion.
My friend would be a better president. He would be better than our current president, Barack Obama, simply because Obama is so intransigently clueless about our economy. He would also be better than the assorted embarrassments who want to be our next Republican president.
So let me tell you about Laurence J. Kotlikoff. As a professor of economics at Boston University, he would be the first academic to become president since Woodrow Wilson. He's incisively bright, so I've been happy to play Boswell to his Dr. Johnson in the three books we've written together. More important, while most academics work with a handful of other researchers during their careers, Kotlikoff has worked with dozens. I'd characterize him as willful, but quite capable of "playing well with others." He might even be able to work with both political parties. Indeed, he once told me that Democrats think he is a Republican and Republicans think he is a Democrat.
The reality is that he is 100 percent Economist, always looking for ways to make things work equitably and well. And that's what is not happening today.
Can our economy be fixed? Perhaps, but not by the political duopoly of institutionalists we now suffer under. Both parties owe too much to institutional interests. These are the same interests that provide helpful support to legislators, writing the abundant fine print in legislation the rest of us have to live with.
But Kotlikoff thinks our mess can be fixed. He also has concrete plans for how it can be done, plans that would lower marginal tax rates for everyone while bringing in about 20 percent of GDP in taxes. He calls them "the purple plans" because purple is the color you get if you mix blue and red, the colors associated with our traditional parties. You can read about the plans at thepurpleplans.org.
What's most important about Kotlikoff is that he is actively concerned about the issue that may destroy our economy if we don't do something about it well before the 2016 election. That issue is called the fiscal gap -- the enormous chasm between the trillions in Social Security and Medicare benefits promised and the tax revenue our government can collect.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, recently pointed out that in his State of the Union address, President Obama devoted only 40 of his 7,000 words to these programs. Republican candidates haven't been bringing much to the table either.
Candidate Kotlikoff, however, has specific plans to reform our tax system, Social Security and Medicare -- not to mention our bet-everybody-else's-ranch banking system that was so ably defended by both parties at the expense of every voter who has any savings left. Understanding these systems has been his life's work. The need to change them is why he is running for president.
Is this a silly gesture from an ivory tower resident? No. It's a serious sign that we need a new way to reach a political consensus and make major changes.
A few months ago I heard Bill Bradley speaking at an investment conference in Austin, Texas. The former Democratic senator from New Jersey spoke forcefully about how our traditional selection system was broken and how we never got to hear new ideas from outside the ossified ranks of our dysfunctional two-party system.
Bradley praised a website, www.americanselect.com, that would bypass traditional politics and use the Internet to draft another candidate. That candidate would represent the growing army of voters who are fearful of our future if we continue down the "same old, same old" path.
On the Web:
Kotlikoff declares for president: kotlikoff2012.org
Kotlikoff website: kotlikoff.net/-laurence-j-kotlikoff
The Purple Plans: thepurpleplans.org
Sen. Hutchinson on the State of the Union address: hutchison.senate.gov/?p=published_article&id=984
Americans Elect 2012: http://www.americanselect.org
(Scott Burns is a principal of the Plano, Texas-based investment firm AssetBuilder Inc., a registered investment adviser. The opinions of this article do not necessarily reflect the views of AssetBuilder Inc. This information is distributed for education purposes, and it is not to be construed as an offer, solicitation, recommendation or endorsement of any particular security, product or service.)