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Priority Issues of the 2016 Presidential Election

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 3/11/2015 Nake M. Kamrany
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The emergence of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in the U.S. presidential race underscores the growing disdain of the American public with the existing political and economic order. Stagnating domestic conditions and a counterproductive foreign policy have prompted the emergence of unconventional candidates who appeal to voter disenchantment. The next president should note that it is vital for the U.S. government to reduce its reliance on military engagement as a solution to world concerns and instead focus its resources on tackling domestic problems such as our prison and justice system failures, immigration, and the burden of college debt. Moral arguments aside, economic strategy necessitates that we get the hundreds of thousands of non-violent incarcerated Americans out of the prison pipeline and back into the workforce in addition to enfranchising the 11 million immigrants who could further contribute to our tax base. Crippling college debt will also have rippling effects across our economy. In essence, issues of equality and opportunity will help define the upcoming election.
U.S. Must Reduce Military Engagement in Foreign Affairs
For the last four decades, U.S. hyper-reactive interventionist foreign policy has been costly and counterproductive, leaving some of the American public with a feeling of government failure. Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan have demonstrated that despite the loss of blood and wealth, the U.S. essentially left all theaters without improving our national security. During the Vietnam War, it was argued that if we did not defeat the communists in Vietnam they would eventually arrive on the shores of California. The North Vietnamese took over the U.S. embassy in Saigon but none showed up on the shores of California. Likewise with respect to Iraq, it was argued that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, and if we did not secure them, imminent atomic danger lurked off our shores. None were found. When we did finally pull out of Iraq, we ended up just turning over enormous influence to Iran, which was hardly a boon to our security. In Afghanistan, the Taliban regime was changed to our installed puppet governments who could neither defeat the Taliban nor create a stable democratic system. In the process, billions of American taxpayer dollars disappeared and thousands of lives were lost. Our current involvement in Syria, Libya, and a few places in Africa have pitted us in sectarian wars and ethnic discourses in which we have no clearly defined mission. It is now very obvious to the U.S. public that such military involvement has been more or less a catastrophe. Our interventions have resulted in the deaths of thousands of American troops and innocent civilians without concrete results . Our approach has been short sighted and arguably immoral given the repeated nature of our failures. Our policy in the Middle East essentially represents Bin Laden phobia, which ironically undermines our national security by fostering more radicalization and resentment towards the U.S.
The U.S. faces Major Domestic Policy Issues
While the U.S. government spends its treasure and time attempting to micromanage Middle Eastern affairs, on the domestic front, high and discriminatory incarceration, an unresolved immigration crisis, and mounting college debt are drawing public attention. The U.S. rate of incarceration is a disgrace. America incarcerates 753 per 100,000 , while comparable European incarceration rates per 100,000 are 153 for England, 96 for France, 92 for Italy, 66 for Denmark and 90 for Germany. This is largely due to our ineffective criminal system where prosecutors and judges are incentivized to incarcerate rather than cure. Nonviolent criminals should not clog our justice system, consume our tax payer dollars, and have their humanity and economic productivity stripped from them. It's more expensive to incarcerate than to pursue other alternative forms of punishment or treatment. In particular, drugs addicts should be treated in clinics as they are in Europe instead of being jailed and provoked into becoming violent criminals. Moreover, the criminal justice system seems to overly convict and punish minorities, especially black men. The recent string of police shootings of unarmed black men reminds us of the pressing need to reform law enforcement protocols and rewrite our codes.
Recent vitriolic remarks by republic presidential candidates denouncing undocumented workers underscore the need to finally address immigration. For those undocumented immigrants - some 11 + million - who are already residing in the United States, a policy should be devised to allow them to become U.S. citizens in the long run. It is essential that they join the U.S. society as citizens and become acculturated rather than remain outside the American system of opportunity. While some argue that it isn't fair to other immigrants waiting in line and to American workers trying to find jobs, our perception needs to square with economic reality and must also recognize the struggle of the 11 million people already here. Given the circumstances, we contend that the best way forward is to provide a path to citizenship and encourage work, thereby increasing the tax base. Moreover, it is imperative that we continue to ensure immigrants' children are given the education opportunities to advance in American society. Certainly many schools and government programs are already full and underfunded, but the consequence of neglecting 11 million people is both morally heinous and economically disastrous. Citizenship, and the enfranchisement that comes with it, must be present in an immigration solution. Any presidential hopeful should straighten up to this reality and put forth a policy that is inclusive and fair.

Another white elephant that has emerged in the U.S is the cost of college education. As compared to the European countries where there is little or no tuition, we have our students take a heavy mortgage type loans for their education, which puts them into long term debt ranging from 10 to 30 years of loans. The average annual student loan in 2015 for private college education has reached $31,231 while the total student borrowing bill has reached $1.19 trillion . The worst aspect of these loans is the annual interest rate that students are charged. In 2015, the average annual interest charges for private student loans has been increasing, with some of the highest reaching 11% , as compared to 14.9% for credit card , 3.8% for mortgage loans and 3.7% for auto loans. Student college costs have defied the distributional objectives of the nation and will contribute to keeping the poor out of college and the middle class saddled with debt.
It follows that the U.S. should seek a smarter path forward to rectify the above inequities and dissonances. Specifically, we should reduce our over reliance on military engagement. As long as we are able to maintain superior military technology, then we should be able to cut the military budget appropriately. With these newly available resources, we could re-allocate the budget from building prisons and military equipment to schools. We should revise the minimum wage law to a "living wage" so that it would support even costs including room and board, healthcare, and education. Education, wellness and greater earnings tend to drive down crime and promote greater economic activity.
All of the above indicators are currently being provided in many European countries. The United States is the richest and most powerful country in the world and it should lead the rest of the world in all of these indicators as well. The proposals contained herein have nothing to do with the issue of capitalism or socialism. It has to do with the right of each individual to receive basic needs as a matter of right from the cradle to the grave. These rights will be a key point in the next election, so we hope the candidates are listening.
Nake Kamrany is Professor of Economics at USC, Jessica Greenhalgh graduate from USC with a BA in Economics, and is the Director of the Global Income Convergence Group, and Samuel Kosydar is Assistant Research Director at Global Income Convergence Group in Santa Monica, Calif.

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