Why is Larry Kot­likoff run­ning for pres­i­dent? To warn of loom­ing eco­nomic doom

Econ­o­mist Larry Kot­likoff is run­ning as a write-in can­di­date “I wouldn’t do this if I thought my chances were small”

Bloomberg Businessweek (Europe) - - CONTENTS - Peter Coy Edited by Al­li­son Hoff­man Bloomberg.com

Move over, Hil­lary Clin­ton and Don­ald Trump. There’s an econ­o­mist run­ning for pres­i­dent: Lau­rence Kot­likoff, known as Larry, who’s jump­ing into the race as a write-in can­di­date. The co-au­thor of a best-sell­ing book on how to max­i­mize in­di­vid­ual pay­ments from Social Se­cu­rity, he’s run­ning as a fis­cal con­ser­va­tive and a lib­eral on such social is­sues as abor­tion, crim­i­nal pun­ish­ment, gay mar­riage, gun con­trol, and mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion.

Kot­likoff’s main con­cern is what he be­lieves is a $199 tril­lion “fis­cal gap”— the dif­fer­ence be­tween how much the gov­ern­ment ex­pects to spend in the fu­ture, in today’s dol­lars, and how much it projects it will take in. Most

of the gap ex­ists be­cause of com­mit­ments to such en­ti­tle­ments as Social Se­cu­rity. “Our true fis­cal in­debt­ed­ness is 15 times larger than the $18 tril­lion you’ve been told our gov­ern­ment owes,” he wrote on his web­site. “Its tremen­dous size can be sum­ma­rized with these five words: Our gov­ern­ment is dead broke.”

Many other econ­o­mists agree with Kot­likoff that the U.S. faces a longterm fis­cal chal­lenge but re­ject his con­cern that the Fed­eral Re­serve, by “print­ing money at an astro­nom­i­cal rate,” will spark run­away in­fla­tion if the econ­omy re­turns to the con­di­tions of the early 2000s. Kot­likoff has lav­ished at­ten­tion on his plat­form—a 131-page doc­u­ment avail­able for down­load through his cam­paign web­site—with­out both­er­ing to line up en­dorsers and donors. In fact, he says he’s un­in­ter­ested in cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions. His web­site fea­tures a slo­gan: “Write me in but don’t send me a penny.” His media strat­egy seems sin­gu­larly re­liant on sto­ries like the one you’re read­ing to raise his pro­file.

If eco­nomic cre­den­tials were the con­test’s only cri­te­rion, he’d win in a land­slide. Kot­likoff, 65, is an ex­pert on Social Se­cu­rity and gen­er­a­tional ac­count­ing, which is essen­tially the study of how much debt the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion is heap­ing onto fu­ture ones. He has a bach­e­lor’s de­gree from the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia

and a doc­tor­ate from Har­vard. He’s a pro­fes­sor of eco­nom­ics at Bos­ton Univer­sity and a fel­low of the pres­ti­gious Amer­i­can Academy of Arts and Sciences. His com­pany, Eco­nomic Se­cu­rity

Plan­ning, cre­ated the soft­ware used for the cal­cu­la­tions in his 2015 book,

Get What’s Yours: The Se­crets of Max­ing

Out Social Se­cu­rity. Writ­ten with Philip Moeller and Paul Sol­man, it spent five months in the top 10 on the New York

Times list of ad­vice, how-to, and mis­cel­la­neous best-sell­ers. The book brought so much at­ten­tion to lu­cra­tive strate­gies for in­creas­ing Social Se­cu­rity pay­outs that Congress stirred it­self last year to shut them down.

Kot­likoff doesn’t have a back­ground in for­eign pol­icy or social is­sues, but he does have ideas on those top­ics. “As Pres­i­dent,” he wrote in his plat­form, “I would de­liver a clear mes­sage to North Korea that our pa­tience has run out and that we will per­mit no fur­ther test­ing of nu­clear weapons.” He states un­equiv­o­cally that the Sec­ond Amend­ment pro­tects the right to bear arms be­fore rais­ing a rhetor­i­cal ques­tion he doesn’t an­swer: “But does it per­mit us to own tanks and drive them around town or, for that mat­ter, jet fight­ers?”

Write-in can­di­dates face long odds. In the 2012 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, all of them to­gether col­lected 0.11 per­cent of the vote. So far in this elec­tion there are 82, not yet in­clud­ing Kot­likoff, ac­cord­ing to the web­site MyTimeToVote.com. Among the de­clared write-in can­di­dates: Mouse, Mickey; Vader, Darth; and Bunny, Soul. Kot­likoff nev­er­the­less in­sists that his write-in cam­paign can suc­ceed by go­ing vi­ral. “I value my time very highly,” he says. “I wouldn’t do this if I thought my chances were small.”

Kot­likoff is ob­vi­ously more into poli­cies than polling. Dur­ing an in­ter­view, he grabs a piece of pa­per to sketch out a graph of life cy­cle con­sump­tion pat­terns. “What peo­ple are go­ing to hear from me is the truth,” he says, “and that’s go­ing to be re­fresh­ing.”

The bot­tom line Bos­ton Univer­sity pro­fes­sor Larry Kot­likoff’s pres­i­den­tial plat­form pro­poses so­lu­tions for what he warns is a $199 tril­lion bud­get gap.

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