October 12, 2010

Government, personal debt is focus of seminar

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The increasing debt that challenges the nation and state, the impact on future generations, and potential solutions are the focus of a seminar next week at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute will host “Rising Debt: Sinking the Future?” on Monday, Oct. 18, in the Student Center ballrooms. The event is from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Sara Imhof, the Midwest regional director and policy analyst with The Concord Coalition, and Scott D. Gilbert, associate professor, SIUC Department of Economics, will present keynote addresses during the seminar. In addition, there will be a lunchtime deficit reduction exercise where the audience will get to work with trade-offs involved in reducing deficits and debt.

The event, including the luncheon is free and open to the public, but advance registration is required for meal considerations and seating is limited. To register, contact institute project coordinator Christina Rich at 618/453-4078 or by email at clrich@siu.edu by Friday, Oct. 15. Open seating will be available for those who wish to only listen to the speech and not be included in the meal.

Institute Director David Yepsen said the debt is at the center of public policy issues that face the nation, state and people in their daily lives. This is the first of several programs set for this year that will focus on debt, Yepsen said.

“Debt is a problem in American society,” Yepsen said. “Federal debt, state debt, personal debt, student debt and international debt are issues that in some way touch all of us. At one level, it’s pretty boring until you consider the fact we face a future of higher taxes, fewer benefits and a lower standard of living as a result.”

Yepsen said some debt, however, is necessary, and the question is what to do about the existing debt and balance all of the interests.

Imhof said she will touch upon several areas, including major components of the federal budget; historical trends and future projections of the national debt and deficits, and the risks associated with carrying large debt loads, “especially with regards to foreign lenders and interests costs.”

Imhof will also take a look at the biggest challenges going forward and challenge people who attend to offer ideas for improving the future fiscal outlook.

The Concord Coalition is a “non-partisan grassroots organization dedicated to educating the public about the causes and consequences of federal budget deficits, the long-term challenges facing America’s unsustainable entitlement programs, and how to build a sound foundation for economic growth,” according to its website.

Imhof said it is important to translate a $13-plus trillion dollar debt and $1.3 trillion deficit and negative compounding interest associated with the debt and deficit “into layman’s terms, figures people can understand.

“We have to show people what will happen if we stay on our current path and what we’ll be burdening their kids and grandchildren with,” she said.

“Shared sacrifice and a willingness to consider tax reforms are essential, not really in question,” she said. People “should be participants in the process, help lay out national priorities and make them more consistent with our national values than they currently are.”

Prior to joining the organization in 2008, Imhof was a senior policy analyst for the Government Accountability Office’s health care team, focusing on Medicare quality and long-term care health policy issues, according to her biography. She is an adjunct assistant professor in the University of Iowa’s Health and Human Physiology program.

Imhof is a three-degree graduate from Iowa, earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing, a Master of Arts in health promotion, and doctorate in health management and policy.

Gilbert’s discussion will focus upon “National Debt in the Time of Public Insurance.”

“Most of the U.S. government’s spending dollars are transfer payments that supplement the incomes of relatively few Americans,” Gilbert said. “The growing size of these transfer payments, plus emergency measures to bail out a sinking economy, have outstripped tax revenues and fueled the federal debt.”

Gilbert said he interprets the transfer payments and bailouts as forms of public insurance. He will explore the nature of insurance as a financial contract, and “consider reforms to this contract that could ease the future debt burden and improve societal well-being.”

Gilbert is also director of undergraduate studies in the University’s economics department. He earned a doctorate in economics from the University of California, San Diego, in 1996. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of California, Berkeley.

For more information on this program, contact the Institute at 618/453-4009 or visit http://paulsimoninstitute.org/.