By Monica Chapman
It's not everyday that two politically opposed ideologues can evoke unanimous laughter and support from a bipartisan crowd. But Saturday's debate between Distinguished Professor of Economics Richard Vedder and political strategist David Wilhelm did just that.
The event highlighted three days of academic sessions at Ohio University's Alumni College, which ran July 31 through Aug. 2 on the Athens campus. The casual debate featured the opposing viewpoints of two of Ohio University's most-notable and quotable affiliates on the economy and the Obama economic plan.
Vedder, a conservative Republican and nationally recognized economist, criticized Obama for pushing what he characterized as an unnecessary stimulus package, an irresponsible budget, a radical health-care plan and a ruinous cap and trade system. Vedder argued that self-correcting market forces would bring an end to the economic downturn and that governmental intervention was largely detrimental.
Wilhelm, a liberal Democrat, venture capitalist and an informal adviser to the Obama administration, pointed to the cost of doing nothing, arguing that Obama's administrative action with respect to the bank bailout staved off economic catastrophe. He credited the stimulus package, in part, with economic turnaround and ardently defended health-care reform and climate change legislation as policies that will lead to economic benefits for all.
Though no jabs were spared, the mutual respect between Vedder and Wilhelm, a 1977 Ohio University alumnus, was evident. Between political disparages, the opponents showered one another with compliments.
"At the end of the day, whether we are right-wing, left-wing, Republican, Democrat, you name it, we are all Bobcats," Wilhelm said.
Read on for excerpts from the debate.
On the bank bailout:
"[Obama] acted and the nation was able to walk back from the precipice. And just think what would have transpired had he done nothing, had he let the marketplace simply do its own business. It would have been the great unraveling." -- Wilhelm
"The president was continuing the work that began under the last administration… But let's not say that Obama saved the financial system because the true meltdown came in the week of Sept. 15 of last year." -- Vedder
On the stimulus package:
"All that the stimulus package will do is increase inflation and raise the debt burden of our children. We're engaging in economic child molestation while pursuing short-term political expediency, harming a generation already facing a crushing Medicare and social security burden." -- Vedder
"When they were discussing this stimulus package, the downturn was even worse than they knew at that moment. We now know that it was the sharpest decline in the post-World War II era. I think the real question is, 'Is it big enough?'... [The stimulus package] will boost aggregate demand, it will provide relief for consumers, assistance to states and the reinvestments that we need. It's not perfect, but it's working." -- Wilhelm
On health care:
"If you care about business competitiveness, you need to be for health-care reform. If you care about the size of the federal debt, the single most important driver of the federal debt over the course of the next 20 years, 30 years, 40 years, if we do nothing, is the cost of providing health care, period. ... There will be a huge cost if we do nothing with respect to health-care reform." -- Wilhelm
"The notion that somehow we should hastily reorganize spending of 50 percent of our national output in a month before the August recess shows astonishing recklessness." -- Vedder
On cap and trade energy policies:
"That is the mother of all legislative Obama-nations. It is 1,428 pages long and will impose carbon taxes exceeding $2 trillion over the next decade. Now there's a great idea -- raising taxes dramatically on manufacturing businesses when unemployment rates approach 10 percent!" -- Vedder
"A marketplace of carbon credits would permit the carbon dioxide goals to be met in the most efficient ways possible. Why should we be afraid of such a regime? Even here in southeastern Ohio, where we once relied on coal.... How much more opportunity is there in the many alternative energy companies that exist in the Athens area? ... We do not need to fear the new energy economy. In fact, we will benefit from it." -- Wilhelm
On the future:
"I think foreign money will flow into this country because we are stronger.... That is a good thing, and it is due in no small part to greater activism with this administration and this nation at this moment." -- Wilhelm
"I think we are going to recover. We always recover. But it didn't take Obama to do it, it takes markets to do it... We are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, unless Obama adds more tunnel." -- Vedder