Ben Casselman wrote a generally excellent article about my candidacy today on FiveThirtyEight. There are a few parts that are rather snarky, a statement about our campaign that’s off base, and one unanswered question that Ben raised.
Ben elegantly and succinctly described the essence of my platform. He’s a terrific writer as his followers well know. To his credit and that of FiveThirtyEight, he, unlike so many political reporters, actually chose to write about my campaign, rather than decide all on their own that I didn’t have a billion dollars and, therefore, had no chance of winning. So why bother?
For people whose jobs are constantly threatened by social media, the political press should be aware that a candidacy like mine can go viral and do so within a few hours. The Orange Revolution and the Arab Springs are examples in which politics as usual was changed thanks, in large part, to social media.
Now is my campaign going viral? It may well be thanks to Ben’s article or thanks to the 20,000 economists my volunteers are now emailing and urging to send chain emails or thanks to the top Egyptian newspaper that just interviewed me or the top Russian paper that interviewed me a couple days back or to the Detroit Free Press article that posted this morning or thanks to the Philly Voice article that posted yesterday or thanks to the PBS interview that posted last week or thanks to the Reason podcast that will post in a couple hours or thanks to …
Ben doesn’t know about all this and other media attention because he’s not in possession of my cell phone or email account. Yet he wrote, “In reality, Kotlikoff has effectively zero chance of winning, not least because he has little name recognition and no serious strategy for changing that.”
If the top newspapers in Germany, Australia, Denmark, Russia, and Egypt are up on this campaign, I imagine I’ve got a lot more name recognition than Ben understands. The notion that I have no serious strategy for going viral is also off base. I have a natural network of 20,000 economists around the country. As I write, all 20,000 are all being emailed by my small, but incredibly hardworking campaign staff. Each economist is being asked to start a 50-recipient chain email letter that advertises my campaign, asks recipients to go to www.kotlikoff2016.com, view the video there and read about my positions, and, most important, keep the chain going by forwarding the email to 50 others and asking them to continue the chain.
Ben knows, but didn’t bother to mention, that just one email chain of just 10 people that goes 8 rounds will reach the entire voting population. So it’s actually in the power of any single person on the planet to get the word of our campaign out to every single American voter.
Ben’s article begins with a discussion of my willing to be a grown up, unlike Trump, and congratulate the winner of the election. This was the snarky bit, but the point he makes that “You probably didn’t even know he was running.” is in large part an indictment of his and others’ waiting so long to do their job. Major media from Bloomberg News, BusinessWeek, and the Wall Street Journal on down covered the announcement of my campaign in May. But Ben Casselman waited until it we were two weeks from the election to decide to call me. Now, to his lasting credit, Ben Casselman did call me. He also spent two hours on the phone carefully discussing my policies and he described them with remarkable clarity and speed. He’s an extraordinary reporter.
But there are hundreds of other political reporters who aren’t Ben Casselman — who refused to this day to answer my campaigns almost daily requests, starting in May, for interviews. Had I lied and said I had $1 billion in inherited wealth, they would have been all over my campaign. Indeed, I wouldn’t have had to spend a penny to get ongoing media attention and tons of contributions. But I’m not into lying and anyone viewing my lifestyle would realize I’m not loaded.
So, the fact that many people may not today know I’m running is in large part due to the press not doing its job. There are 6 legal candidates (candidates who can will almost all the electoral votes). I’m arguably the most qualified by training, policy positions, international experience, and ability to pull our country together. But if the press doesn’t cover my candidacy or concludes, because I’m not rich, that I have no shot and then reports their opinion as if it were fact, it’s tough to gain traction. Ben’s assessment that I have zero chance of winning is his opinion. He hasn’t collected any data on how many people in the U.S., let alone around the world know of my candidacy. The polls he’s looking at haven’t included my name. Nor, as a theoretical proposition, can Ben Casselman or anyone, myself included, figure out the probability of final straw events, occurring. Could anyone have predicated that the the Tunisian man who soaked himself in gasoline and then lit himself on fire had “zero chance” of producing a political revolution in Tunisia. The problem with Ben Casselman is that of so many brilliant young reporters. They are too young to have seen the impossible repeatedly happen. But the other, huge problem is they infuse fact-based reporting with their opinion to the point that the reader can’t tell the difference.
Ben raised the question of whether legal immigration can bail out our ongoing Ponzi scheme that has left our country insolvent. He calls my proposal that we restrict immigration as “odd” because “most economists see immigration as a crucial way of supplementing the workforce as U.S. birth rates fall.” I haven’t seen any poll of economists on this matter. So I’m not sure where the word “most” comes from. But economists, Alan Auerbach and Philip Oreopolous did a careful study of the net fiscal impact of immigration and found that, on balance, immigrants cost us as much as they make us. So my position that immigration is not our fiscal salvation is not odd. It’s based on a careful study that shows it’s not the answer.
Finally, Ben criticizes my campaign for having essentially no paid staff, not running TV ads, and not holding campaign rallies. He adds, “His campaign appears to consist mostly of emailing journalists and complaining that they are ignoring him, …, (which) we mostly have.” The truth is we have politely emailed journalists for months and they haven’t done their jobs. I wrote one email to 455 journalist telling them they weren’t doing their jobs and, voila, Ben Casselman and several others realized I was right and to their lasting credit, picked up the phone and called.
Social media plays off of traditional media and if traditional media is going to boycott a legitimate, legal candidate because he isn’t rich, we have a big problem with traditional media. All manor of candidates with no idea what they were saying on any policy issue have received a ton of attention from the media simply because they had money or political connections. Had I received a fraction of the attention of a Herman Caine, I’d probably be at the top of the polls.
So Ben, thank you for expressing my central policy proposals and views so well and I look forward to more interviews with you. As I told my wife after we got off the phone, “Now that’s a real reporter!” But you and others in the fourth estate need to keep one thing front and central. You don’t just report the news. You make the news. That’s a heavy responsibility that precludes your substituting opinion for fact.