Politics, economics and health specialists take part in the first presidential debate


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Megan Ranney

Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine and Health Services, Policy and Practice
Director, Brown Institute for Translational Science

At last night’s debate, more than 7.1 million Americans are known to have been infected with the novel coronavirus, and more than 200,000 have died from COVID-19. Healthcare workers and other essential workers across the country still do not have access to adequate testing or personal protective equipment. Only 50% of Americans regularly wear a mask in public, despite ample evidence that wearing a universal mask alone would essentially stop the spread of the virus and allow our economy to quickly reopen.

My dearest wish is for our country to develop a strong and coherent response to this pandemic. With a strong universal message on the wearing of the mask; strong funding and equitable distribution of PPE, vaccines and tests; and high-quality collection and analysis of data on the spread of the virus, it would be possible to reduce infections and reopen our economy. To date, we have not achieved any of these goals.

So I was appalled – but not surprised – to hear President Trump continue to mock masks and claim that he has done a “phenomenal job” in dealing with COVID-19 during the debate. I was excited about Vice President Biden’s support for funding and a solid plan; I only wish we had the chance to learn more about the details of his plan.

President Trump’s only correct statement regarding the virus was his claim that we do not fully know the death toll in other countries, such as Russia and India. I would add that while we are relatively confident in our tracking of death rates in the United States, we do not fully know the extent of COVID-19 infection and transmission rates in the United States due to the lack of testing and contact tracing. We also don’t know who needs PPE. Instead of excellent government data collection and presentation, our country has had to rely on nonprofit and academic surrogates for data collection. I would have liked this matter to be discussed further during the debates.

Moreover, the successes or failures of other countries do not relieve us of our obligation to protect our own citizens. As co-founder of the national association GetUsPPE, I know we are still running short of millions upon millions of PPE items across the country. Our schoolchildren, nurses and nursing home staff remain insufficiently protected against the virus. Let us be clear: without the production and equitable distribution of masks, gowns and other essential equipment, our country will continue to face an uninterrupted spread of the virus. I wish everyone had the chance to wear “the biggest mask,” as Trump said of Biden.

Finally, as a practicing public health professional and emergency physician, I unequivocally believe in the integrity and scientific rigor of our government’s scientists. I appreciated the brief mention of “muzzling” public health scientists during the debate. I hope everyone listening will take responsibility for standing up for what is ethical and true.

Gauti eggertsson

Professor of economics

As an economist, I was naturally looking for clues as to the details of the candidates’ economic policies during last night’s debate. These clues were hard to find. The debate degenerated fairly quickly into heckling and exchanges of insults. Anyone who watched in the hope of learning more about the candidates’ political ideas left disappointed.

For example, there was no discussion of trade policy. We came closest to when Vice President Biden suggested that with President Trump’s trade policy – which was supposed to focus on reducing trade deficits – instead, the US trade deficit – United with China was increasing. (Whether cutting trade deficits is a good political goal is a whole different topic.) Trump could have answered that the annual trade deficit with China is in fact, according to my reading, about the same as it was. when he took office. Biden, in turn, could have pointed out that the overall U.S. trade deficit relative to the rest of the world has grown. Rather than engage in a substantive debate, Trump replied, “China ate your lunch, Joe! This seems to be a representative example of the nature of the debate.

I was also looking for a discussion of tax policy, in light of the recent New York Times article revealing that the President only paid $ 750 in income tax in 2016 and 2017. Again, I was disappointed. Trump suggested he only profited from the tax system lawmakers like Biden put in place and, by the way, claimed he paid “millions and millions” in taxes. (Unlike any of his predecessors, Trump did not release his tax records to support this claim.) Biden, in turn, pointed out that during his four years in office, Trump had aggressively cut taxes. of those with the highest incomes and had increased the loopholes the very rich rely on – loopholes Biden said he hopes to close.

I had hoped to see a substantive debate on tax policy, its possible role in shaping income inequality and other issues. After this debate, I am not optimistic that I will hear anything intelligent or substantial, on this or any other subject, in future debates.

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