In Europe, U.S. national elections always garner much attention. When the American people elect a new president, Europeans are overly eager to get to know who the next “most powerful person in the world” is going to be. However, little attention is ever paid to whom any individual state will elect as their next governor (unless the race involves a famous actor known mainly for his role in the “Terminator” films).
Being Dutch, I have little experience with the electoral system used in the U.S. In Holland, people do not choose their governors directly. In fact, in Holland, you do not really vote for a person per se, but rather for a party whose ideas you find appealing. Witnessing the Wisconsin gubernatorial race from my Dutch perspective, it is striking to see how little attention is being paid to the content of political programs and how much emphasis is put on the candidates running. It almost makes you think that in the U.S. one needs to be slightly narcissistic to run for office.
Currently, the two main candidates for Wisconsin’s governor are Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton, a Democrat, and Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, a Republican. A careful look at their campaign websites shows that both claim to focus on the economy and job creation. A closer look at their plans for the economy, however, reveals substantial differences.
Lawton’s plans are progressive in nature, aimed at improving the economic situation in Wisconsin by strategic investments — most prominently in sustainability. Sustainability is a hot topic in European and Dutch politics nowadays, where concerns over the environment influence policies designed to tackle the current economic crisis. Governments across Europe acknowledge that great employment benefits can arise from a shift toward a more sustainable economy. Having grown up in Europe, the importance placed on environmental economics seems like a no-brainer.
But Walker seems to adhere to “old-school economics.” His focus is on decreasing taxes and state expenditures to limit the budget deficit. However, contrary to what Walker states on his website, this will not lead to job creation. Right now, the economy is in crisis. Thousands of people in Wisconsin are at risk of losing their jobs and primary sources of income. Decreasing government investments at this point will decrease employment. As such, Walker’s policies will worsen the effects of the crisis for local people and young graduates struggling to find a job already. Tax decreases in times of crisis do not lead to an increase in spending but to an increase in savings instead. Walker still adheres to the economic policies of cutting back. That is old politics which will lead to failure.
Even though I agree with Walker that the economic policy focus should be to make Wisconsin more competitive, it is questionable whether his policy plans will actually achieve this goal. Lawton’s plans are much more far-reaching. A sustainable economy is likely to create many jobs and may help Wisconsin shift towards a knowledge-based, innovative green economy. And since we boast a renowned institution in the University of Wisconsin, it should not be too hard to be innovative.
This is not to say that no attention should be paid to government deficit at all. After all, no one would want Wisconsin to become the next California. Therefore, both candidates should follow a more European-styled course: stimulate the economy in the short-run, but propose structural economic reforms for the middle- and long-runs. Huge deficits will eventually become unsustainable, but the effects of deepening the recession can be disastrous as well. Finding a balance is essential.
And even though I agree with the message Lawton is trying to send, she needs to clarify a lot. Her ideals are well thought-through but need direction. At times like these, too much is at stake to vote solely based on outer appearances and party membership. It would be good if the Wisconsin people decided to vote based on content and issue positions alone, forcing both candidates to come up with less broad policy proposals.
Maybe it would be a good idea to follow the Dutch example. In Holland, most parties create a “concept budget” for the next four years, and the statistical bureau independently assesses the effects of the proposed policies on several factors, such as employment, deficit and expected growth rates. Were something similar implemented in Wisconsin, the people of this state would truly get to know what they are voting for.
Lars Jacobs (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior majoring in economics.