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Debate Questions

Questions that I would like to see asked of our presidential candidates.

1. Is the problem with residential housing the bubble or the bust? If you believe the bubble, what is your strategy for transitioning to a new equilibrium in housing prices. If you believe the bust, what do you think should be done to restore the market conditions of 2005?

2. You both advocate infrastructure spending as a way to create growth and jobs. What is the causation between infrastructure spending and growth? Is there ever a point of diminishing returns and how would you know when that point has been reached?

3. You have both quoted studies from the American Society of Civil Engineers. ASCE calls for a 650% increase in highway spending, $2.2 trillion over the next five years, to catch our highways up to what they call "minimum tolerable conditions". There is no support for anywhere near this level of spending in Congress, among the American people or, I suspect, from either of you. What is your alternative plan? 

4. What role does the federal government have in land use policy?

5. The Federal Reserve has a program of buying $40 billion worth of mortgage securities monthly. Do you support this policy and, if so, what do you believe it will ultimately achieve? If you do not support it, why? 

6. Excluding those already convicted or under indictment, can you identify any individual in the United States that you believe should be held criminally responsible for financial fraud?

7. Are banks that are considered too-big-to-fail an essential part of the American economy? If yes, do you see any downside to this consolidation and how would you address that? If no, what is your plan to end the current too-big-to-fail situation?

8. What role do local and regional banks have in revitalizing America's economy? If you believe they have a significant role, what would your administration do to address local and regional bank insolvencies brought about by real estate declines?

9. Do Americans save enough? What do you think are the implications of your answer?

10. You both claim we are headed to energy independence, largely because of new innovations in natural gas recovery. Assuming this is true, how long will it take to switch our automobile fleet, service stations, refineries and distribution systems from oil-derived gasoline to natural gas or natural-gas created electricity? How much will that cost and what is your plan to make that happen?

11. An unfathomable amount of the energy produced in power plants is wasted as a normal part of daily operation. In an energy-hungry world, what steps, if any, would you take to capture this lost energy?

12. Can government be innovative? If yes, provide examples of how? If no, what steps need to be taken to avoid stagnation in critical government sectors?

13. Should states be laboratories? How is this done without leaving some behind?

14. Businesses learn significantly from small and modest failures. Is this an approach that applies to government? If so, how would your administration embrace small failures to make larger progress? If not, how would you propose that government innovates and expands its knowledge?

15. Canada has a higher rate of home ownership than the United States, yet they have no mortgage interest deduction. What is the purpose of the mortgage interest deduction if not to increase home ownership rates? If increasing home ownership rates is the purpose, what has gone wrong?

16. How would you compare the future of a city like Detroit with the future of a city like Phoenix?

17. Do you believe America's urban areas contribute more to government revenues than they require in government services? How about suburban areas? How about rural areas? Does it matter and why?

18. If City A steals a business from City B through tax breaks and subsidies, in general, is the American economy better off?

19. Who has more impact on job creation and why: America's president or America's mayors?

20. Point to an instance in your public service career where you passed up jobs and growth today for a greater and more stable prosperity in the future.

21. If you could set the gas tax at whatever level you chose and would be ensured to have the full support of Congress and the American people in doing so, what would you set the Federal gas tax at and why?

(Please note: Strong Towns is a non-partisan 501(c)3 non-profit organization. These questions are not provided in support of one candidate or another -- that should be abundantly clear -- or in advocacy of a specific issue or cause.)



If you would like more from Chuck Marohn, check out his new book, Thoughts on Building Strong Towns (Volume 1)

 You can also chat with Chuck and many others about implementing a Strong Towns approach in your community by joining the Strong Towns Network. The Strong Towns Network is a social platform for those working to make their community a strong town.

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Reader Comments (6)

Given the dodgy nature of the debates to date, I'd say your querries are way too pointed, specific, and direct to elicit an answer from either candidate. With that being said, however, you definitely have my vote to moderate the next Town Hall event!

October 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTC

I agree! They're not the type of questions that would actually be answered in the middle of a campaign (or ever?) in our system (is it different in other systems?) but they are PRECISELY what we should be talking about, in depth. Thanks for raising them.

October 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMeika

Great questions.

Unfortunately, these questions are outside the scope of either campaign. I'm convinced now, more than ever, that we have serious structural issues in the way we govern, our system of taxation and the way we go about economic development. I think we need to rework how we look at all forms of government and their responsibilities. For example; I don't think that Mitt Romney reducing the income tax burden by 3 to 4 percent, nor Barack Obama increasing it 2 to 3 percent, will do anything to address the problematic economic situation of the United States.

October 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel

Not that it would have made a difference, but you should have sent these questions to the Commission on Presidential Debates before last night's debate.

The final debate will be focused on foreign policy. The following topics will be covered:

America's role in the world
Our longest war - Afghanistan and Pakistan
Red Lines - Israel and Iran
The Changing Middle East and the New Face of Terrorism - I
The Changing Middle East and the New Face of Terrorism - II
The Rise of China and Tomorrow's World


October 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterForaker

Awesome questions. As others have said, the candidates would amaze us at their ability to wiggle out of the question and not answer it...just like a magician!

October 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLawrence

There are two problems here. The first is that many of these questions require an understanding of reality, which is not really fair, given the fantasies in the system that have dominated both public policy or strategies and the tactics that have been used during the last 60 years of the great sprawl experiment. I fear that even intelligent people like the candidates would be unclear what some of these questions are really asking. I don't think they would be "wiggling out of the questions" because they don't want to give honest answers. I think they would be trying to redirect the question because they don't know the answers. The second problem is that these questions are being asked on a Strong Towns blog. I totally appreciate that these questions have been prepared and posted here. That is fabulous and a great stimulant to the thinking of those of us who visit here. The problem is that I doubt that this location is visited by either the candidates or their primary advisers.

The first problem can be fixed to an extent by sending a copy of Thoughts on Building Strong Towns to the candidates through a reliable source and providing the questions in writing, along with a short piece for each question explaining the parameters sufficiently so that they have the ability to understand the purpose of the question and what the possible answers could be. I am not suggesting giving them your answers, but the goal here should be more getting them to understand the questions sufficiently so that who ever gets elected has been smartened up to be able to make better decisions. The response to the first problem takes care of the second.

The positive by-product is a future candidate being approached at a stump speech and, when a person asks a question holding your book, the candidate recognizes the book by the cover at a distance of about 30 feet and proceeds to impress us with his knowledge of the subject matter. I don't know if there is anything that candidate Obama did that impressed me more than when he recognized Jane Jacobs book by the cover from that distance and proceeded to talk with an awareness and understanding of the subject.

Do you have the means to get the book and the questions into the hands of the candidates? If not, let me know and I will work on it.

October 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPaddy Steinschneider
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