It’s the Economy, and This Guy’s Not Stupid
Economist Larry Kotlikoff is running as a write-in candidate “I wouldn’t do this if I thought my chances were small”
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.”