DECATUR — On a night when Central Illinois went to the polls, leading financial journalist Allan Sloan came to Decatur to say that, despite the politicians we have now, there is hope for the American economy.
The editor-at-large for Fortune magazine took just about everything to task first, however, in an hourlong talk Tuesday night called “Yes, It Can Be Done: The Threat to the U.S. Economy and What to Do About It.” Giving the T.W. Samuels Lecture at Millikin University, Sloan bemoaned dysfunctional politics that ignore economic issues to concentrate on gay marriage, gun control and abortion.
The 68-year-old writer and commentator said our politics was out of whack because unfairly drawn congressional districts were dominated by extreme candidates who won primaries and were then assured of election. He said having districts drawn by an unbiased process would let in more centrist candidates.
“People would be forced to go the center … being a screwball wouldn’t work for you,” he added.
A fairer and more rational political system would then have more chance of taking on the biggest problem we face: fixing the economy. Sloan faulted a tax system that made his effective tax rate higher than billionaire financier Warren Buffett’s and said the way to manage the nation’s finances was to collect more and spend less.
“It’s really simple: You get more money from taxes and spend less money than we plan to spend now on expenses and benefits,” he told an audience of several hundred. “It’s not hard.”
Part of the reason it seems so difficult, he said, to craft consensus solutions comes back to the toxic political system fed by news organizations on the right and left only interested in extreme views. Sloan labeled them “Petri dishes growing neuroses” and said finding common ground meant listening as well as speaking.
“Put yourself in other’s shoes, try to understand where they are coming from,” he said. “You don’t have to agree with them, but you ought to at least have some understanding of them.”
Sloan believes there remain solid reasons to be cheerful, however, ranging from some standout public schools to America’s growing energy independence. “Maybe I’m high on soybeans,” he said. “But there are actual signs of hope.”
Many in his audience said they were seeking someone to point the way. “I think we’re all looking for a little bit of comfort, you know?” said Candace Baker from Mount Zion. “We need to get a better handle on all this.”