Robinson: Candidates Spar Over 'Right' Size of Government

For undecided voters worried about the economy and unsure of which candidate’s ‘path to recovery’ will work best, MHC economics professor Michael Robinson offers a simple guideline to help citizens cast their ballots on Election Day.

In terms of economic policy, Robinson says the underlying difference between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney is that they— and by extension, their parties— have fundamentally different ideas about the effectiveness of markets and how large a role government should play in them.

“If you believe in the assumptions of perfect competition, then… limited government is the right way to go, it’ll get you the most job growth,” Robinson said. “If you believe there is a lot of imperfect competition, lots of externalities, (and) lots of informational problems, you need a very big government, meddling in all kinds of markets, to get anywhere near efficient outcomes.”

“So now which of those is true? That’s the huge question,” he added.

Robinson said the debate over how to reshape Medicare puts the difference between the two candidates into especially stark relief.

While both candidates continue to insist their approach is the correct one, Robinson said neither end of the spectrum corresponds well to the way markets actually work.

“The reality is it’s neither completely one way or the other,” he said.

Robinson specializes in microeconomics; labor economics; applied econometrics; and women in the economy. Much of his research has centered on wages and income, with a focus on the economics of discrimination.