Mad Libs: Economy Edition

With a presidential race focused on the ailing U.S. economy, Foreign Policy asked the experts to help fill in the blanks.

Obama should have…

Focused on economic recovery and job creation rather than remaking the health-care system. —Steven J. Davis • Broken up the large, too-slow-to-lend, too-big-to-fail Wall Street banks. —David Smick • Taken advantage of his popularity and mandate to propose and push for true reform of entitlements. —Jeffrey Miron • Said that the 2009 stimulus was a great first start, was not nearly large enough, and we will almost certainly need more, the day after it passed. —Dean Baker • Started acting unilaterally sooner. —Richard Thaler • More forcefully promoted financial reforms and infrastructure investments, creating a second "New Deal." —Ann Harrison

Done more for housing. —Peter Diamond • Pushed for another stimulus package. —William Gale • Understood that Republicans would block any further attempts to ensure a robust economic recovery, and pushed for a larger stimulus package in 2009. —Menzie Chinn • Endorsed Simpson-Bowles. —Daron Acemoglu • Pounded the Republicans at every opportunity over their refusal to go along with plans to promote job creation and help the unemployed. —Mark Thoma • Tacked more to the center-right. —Tyler Cowen • Followed President Clinton's example and moved to the political center after a disastrous midterm election. —Richard Burkhauser • Allowed market forces to work instead of following the Bush administration's path of bailouts. —Edwin Burton • Governed more, campaigned less, taken on his left, and struck a deal that was available to him on the deficit. —Irwin Stelzer • Been more courageous on trade policy and on deficit reduction. —Uri Dadush • Lowballed the administration's January 2012 forecast for future unemployment, in order to be able to outperform expectations. —Jeffrey Frankel • Stayed in the Senate. He wasn't ready to be president. —Eugene Fama

My out-of-the-box idea to bring back U.S. jobs is

Create a G.I. Bill for people whose jobs have been eliminated by globalization. —Daniel Altman • Raise the federal minimum wage to $12 per hour. —James K. Galbraith • Reduce the cost of hiring, separate health care from employment, eliminate the minimum wage. —Mark Calabria • 

Shorten workweeks. If we really don't have enough that needs to be done, we can all work shorter hours. — Dean Baker • Encourage the natural gas boom, including rapid construction of a transportation infrastructure for refueling compressed and liquefied natural gas. —Martin Baily • Invest more in education. We need a more skilled workforce. —Richard Thaler • End the tax advantages for outsourcing. —Daron Acemoglu • Increase immigration as a way of reviving the housing sector. —Justin Wolfers • Have the Fed commit to reflationary policies (raising target inflation to 3 to 4 percent) until unemployment is below 6 percent. —Jeffry Frieden • Remove the high-cost regulatory impediments to the IPO market. —David Smick • A zero capital-gains tax rate and significant entitlement cutbacks. —Amity Shlaes • Cut expenditure, cut expenditure, cut expenditure. —Jeffrey Miron • A stable, simple, and transparent tax system. —Steven J. Davis • Solve the eurozone crisis. —Maurice Obstfeld • We don't need an out-of-the-box idea. Good ol' stimulus works in a weak economy. We just need to do it. —William Gale

If Congress fails to avoid the "fiscal cliff," then

The U.S. economy will be pushed into recession, taking the global economy with it. —Mohamed A. El-Erian • There will be an immediate recession in 2013 -- probably short-lived, but it will set back the necessary long-term fiscal rebalancing. —Tim Kane • The economy will go into a double-dip recession, with unemployment rising maybe above the peak level of the Great Recession. —Martin Baily • [The United States] would become more like Europe with high unemployment and relatively low levels of income. —John Coleman • There will be a temporary economic slowdown, but also a smaller deficit that will help bring the economy back into balance in the longer run. —Uri Dadush • Negative 2 percent knock to GDP, but maybe some fiscal sanity in the longer run. —Tyler Cowen • It will scramble to enact retroactive tax cuts early in 2013. —Donald Marron • In January Congress will have to cut some tax rates for the middle class from the new, higher rates. This will be easy. —James K. Galbraith • Tax rates will climb, enabling bigger government and pushing the U.S. modestly closer to a Greek-style fiscal crunch at some point in the next couple of decades. —Daniel J. Mitchell • Both consumer and business confidence will collapse, the dollar will weaken, and U.S. equity markets will take a significant hit. —David Smick • There might be a recession, but the resultant reduction in the deficit might, just might, prove to be a reasonable substitute for the elusive "grand bargain." —Irwin Stelzer • The economy is likely to stagnate regardless, unless there is a major retrenchment of government activity. —Edwin Burton • It will have caused the most predictable and preventable recession in U.S. history. —Jeffrey Frankel • We will have even more evidence that politicians on Capitol Hill are more interested in posturing meaningless games than in doing anything that really matters for the fiscal position of the U.S. government. —Ricardo Reis • It won't. The future success of the country requires a functional Congress, and the current stakes are too high for Congress to fail again. —Lee Ohanian

If Romney becomes president, the U.S. economy will

Improve somewhat more than under Obama. —David R. Henderson • Grow faster than it is growing now. How much faster depends on how much policies will change, which in turn depends on the political composition of Congress following the elections. —Lee Ohanian • Grow faster thanks to fundamental tax reform that is bipartisan, grow faster thanks to freeing the health-care market, grow faster thanks to a free trade agenda, and experience a jobs surge. —Tim Kane • Continue to recover slowly, but his policies will exacerbate the widening gap between the rich and the middle class and worsen the situation of the poor. —Martin Baily •

Suffer from growing income inequality, growing inequality of opportunity, and growing poverty among children. The result will be an increase in structural unemployment and a reduction in the economy's potential growth rate. —Laura Tyson • Experience a further deterioration in income and wealth inequality. —Mohamed A. El-Erian • Have an even less equitable distribution of economic opportunity, become less meritocratic, and grow much more slowly in the long term. —Daniel Altman • See an unprecedented wave of upper-income tax avoidance. —James K. Galbraith • Be much riskier for typical households as social insurance programs are eliminated. —Mark Thoma • See inequality increase, as well as deficits. —Richard Thaler • Grow somewhat faster and offer a more attractive environment for business investment and job creation. —Steven J. Davis • Have businesses confident enough in U.S. government policy to invest and restructure to become more globally competitive and employ more U.S. workers. —Stacie Beck • Face a lot of the same problems as it does now. —Tyler Cowen • Continue to stagnate. —Jeffry Frieden • Probably do pretty well if he just has big tax cuts and doesn't worry about the deficit like past Republican presidents. —Dean Baker • Probably do better, but only if he can strike a deal on the deficit that includes some tax increases. —Irwin Stelzer • Probably be fine. But I don't think there's much of a chance that he'll implement much of his agenda. —Justin Wolfers • Depends on what the pressure of politics allows him to do. —Eugene Fama • Sputter. —Peter Diamond

The worst thing about the economic recovery is

How slow it has been and how hard hit low-skilled workers have been. —Martin Baily • The dismal state of the labor market, with essentially zero recovery in the employment-to-population ratio since mid-2009. —Steven J. Davis •

The unprecedented level of long-term unemployment. The longer would-be workers go without jobs, the more their skills and attachment to the labor force deteriorate and the harder it becomes to match them with new jobs. —Karen Dynan • That so little has been done to reform the institutions that were at the epicenter of the financial crisis that caused the recession. —Deborah Lucas • That the U.S. has not addressed the fundamental policy mistakes that helped generate the past crisis and recession: "too big to fail," misguided housing policies, runaway entitlement and other spending, and an out-of-control regulatory state. —Jeffrey Miron • That it doesn't feel much like a recovery because household balance sheets are still weak and business investment is still held back by macroeconomic uncertainty. —Daron Acemoglu • Politicians have used a weak economy that was caused by bad government policies as an excuse to adopt more bad government policies. —Daniel J. Mitchell • The slow pace of recovery fuels an endless parade of cranks, intent on using projected deficits to justify cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, which would do vast personal harm and no economic good. —James K. Galbraith • We are seeing how many of our problems were "baked in" some time ago. —Tyler Cowen • That it was avoidable. Failing to take the opportunity to invest in infrastructure when construction workers are unemployed and the government can borrow at negative interest rates is criminal. —Richard Thaler • That with better monetary and fiscal policy -- particularly fiscal -- the recovery didn't have to be so agonizingly slow. —Mark Thoma • The unnecessary suffering caused by the 12 million jobs below what a normal recovery would have generated. —Tim Kane • The callous way Republicans have preempted any attempts to use fiscal policy productively, while Americans have been suffering joblessness and deprivation, just to accomplish their personal political goals. —Daniel Altman • How slow and faltering it has been. —Justin Wolfers • That it might take a decade. Tens of millions of people are suffering because the folks in Washington are too incompetent to manage the economy properly. —Dean Baker • Its absence. Bad policy has prevented the economy from making a normal recovery. —Edwin Burton • It hasn't happened. —Eugene Fama


The Innocence of YouTube

It's time for Internet giants to explain when censorship is and isn't OK.

In 2006 Egyptian human rights activist Wael Abbas posted a video online of police sodomizing a bus driver with a stick, leading to the rare prosecution of two officers. Later, Abbas's YouTube account was suddenly suspended because he had violated YouTube's guidelines banning "graphic or gratuitous violence." YouTube restored the account after human rights groups informed its parent company Google that Abbas's posts were a virtual archive of Egyptian police brutality and an essential tool for reform. After the Abbas case, Google concluded that some graphic content is too valuable to be suppressed, even where it is most likely to offend.

More recently, the Innocence of Muslims video led Google to bend its rules in the other direction, temporarily blocking the video in Egypt and Libya "given the very sensitive situations in these two countries," according to a statement given to reporters, even though those governments had not requested censorship and it was not violent, graphic, or directly hateful enough to violate YouTube's guidelines banning gratuitously violent images and hate speech. (The video has since been quietly unblocked in both countries.) From the beginning, Google kept the video up in most of the world -- and denied a request from the White House to remove it completely, but blocked it in countries including India and Indonesia where it has been ruled illegal, in keeping with Google policy to abide by its own rules as well as national laws.

In the crush of events, Google's decision was the best it could have done under the circumstances. Yet little of the rationale behind Google's decisions has been offered directly to YouTube users. Google has made a laudable public commitment to free expression and does a good job of disclosing how it responds to government demands around the world. Given the Internet giant's power to shape global public discourse, it should be equally transparent about its private governance of global speech.

Sovereigns of cyberspace such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter have no legislatures or courts, yet they are carrying out private worldwide speech "regulation" -- sometimes in response to government demands, sometimes to enforce their own terms of service and guidelines. As they attempt this unprecedented feat in a dizzying variety of social and political climates, they will continue to face complex dilemmas. In trying to develop "community guidelines" for the world, they will be both tempted and pressured to bend them to fit other new circumstances. With so many audiences ready to riot, so many provocateurs looking for excuses, and so many channels of communication between them, the companies cannot be expected to prevent -- or take responsibility for -- violence provoked by content posted on their services. What they can do, however, is to make a major contribution to both freedom and civility by explaining their de facto "jurisprudence" as it develops, to the public.

While Google does put up explanatory messages to users when a video has been restricted by government demand, it did not have an appropriate message on file for its decision in Libya and Egypt. For the first 24 hours, Egyptian users were shown a message claiming that the video had been blocked "due to a legal complaint by court order." After that, a message simply said "This video cannot be accessed from your country." While the Innocence of Muslims was an exceptional case of ad hoc censorship that must remain very rare if YouTube is to remain a platform for freedom of expression, it is inevitable that similarly urgent and difficult cases will arise in future. When such rare decisions are escalated to high-level executives who must sign off on deviations to standard procedures - as was the case in this instance - the company should consider posting more customized messages. This would have helped to promote the values that Google was attempting to balance.

The message might have read, for example, "This video clip has been temporarily blocked in your country due to a violent emergency, although no content posted by anybody on YouTube ever justifies violence." In the rest of the world where the video remains unblocked, a notice could read, "Some may prefer not to watch this video due to its offensive content, although it does not violate YouTube's community guidelines against hate speech and graphic or gratuitous violence."  (There is a precedent for this: Google posted an apology and disclaimer in 2009 when Google image searches for Michelle Obama were turning up a racist caricature as the top result.)  Explanations would set a good example of transparency and would contribute to debate about the contours of freedom of expression, especially in countries that are working out their own rules for regulating speech as they make transitions toward democracy, often in volatile contexts.

Google has already developed a robust set of policies and practices to handle government censorship demands, and to inform users about those demands, in its Transparency Report. The report lists requests from governments to block content, including but not limited to YouTube videos, and records Google's responses. It is fascinating reading, by turns amusing and sobering. In 2011 for example, Passport Canada asked Google to remove "a YouTube video of a Canadian citizen urinating on his passport and flushing it down the toilet. We did not comply with this request." Also last year, Google said it had "received a request from the UK's Association of Police Officers to remove five user accounts that allegedly promoted terrorism. We terminated these accounts because they violated YouTube's Community Guidelines, and as a result approximately 640 videos were removed."

Google could expand its Transparency Report to include the decisions it makes of its own accord, whether to remove or block controversial content -- and other Internet companies could follow suit. Columbia University Law School's Internet law guru Tim Wu has suggested setting up a community of experts, or of YouTube users, to give advice on tough questions of regulating speech online: a fine idea but decisions to block content must be made very quickly, before they become moot. In practice, Internet companies will probably continue to make their own decisions; outsiders and experts will continue to critique them after the fact.

Companies could invite discussion about their decisions, though, in online spaces connected to their transparency reports -- and to the very content that has sparked widespread controversy. Given that this entails a new kind of community platform, and editorial functions that may be incompatible with these companies' roles, discussions could be hosted by a neutral third party.

Such a third-party role has a precedent. Both Google and Twitter now link to the independent non-profit website Chilling Effects, which hosts copies of the "cease and desist" notices and other court orders requiring the companies to remove content from their services. A third-party website run by an international community of netizens who share core values of free expression, non-violence, and empathy between different cultures could curate,  and even translate, both mainstream and social media responses to controversial content. These cross-cultural stewards could then moderate a global conversation about what sorts of responses are reasonable and appropriate from different cultural perspectives.

Such a space could become a salutary forum for international debate: a gym for the civil exercise of freedom of speech in a world that needs the practice.

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