Farsighted Leadership in a Shortsighted World: 9 Issues That Deserve Attention During the 2012 U.S. Presidential Debates and Beyond


Sep 24, 2012

Voters drops state-shaped ballot into voting box.

For nearly 65 years, RAND has cultivated the farsighted perspectives required to address the big, long-term public policy issues. In an effort to look beyond the 2012 U.S. election and promote “farsighted leadership in a shortsighted world,” the latest edition of the RAND Corporation's magazine offers commentaries that transcend partisan rhetoric and foster policies that both presidential candidates could well accept.

The latest edition of RAND Review covers five domestic and four international topics that deserve attention this campaign season and beyond.

  1. Income Inequality

    Charles Wolf, Jr., who holds RAND's distinguished chair in international economics, and John Godges, editor-in-chief of RAND Review, argue that the U.S. debate over income inequality has focused mistakenly on the magnitude of inequality and the changes in it. Instead, it is important to isolate the sources. “The debate neglects why inequality occurs, which reasons are good and which are not, and what, if anything, to do about it.”

  2. Affordable Health Care

    RAND physician Arthur L. Kellermann laments the fact that “the United States has the least efficient health care system in the developed world.” But, he says, the country can change that “by harnessing innovation.” RAND research has identified many promising places to start.

  3. Immigration Reform

    RAND economist James P. Smith assesses the costs and benefits of immigration in dollar terms. The policy dilemma is that “we in America are in the midst of a muddle, with 12 million or more undocumented immigrants already here, . . . and, to be honest, we are complicit in their staying.” He proposes a solution: a pathway to citizenship for most undocumented immigrants now in the United States combined with a commitment to enforce the law without ambiguity in the future so that any additional undocumented migrants must leave immediately. “To unite us as Americans,” says Smith, “we must agree to both parts of this bargain.”

  4. Energy Options

    Keith Crane, director of the RAND Environment, Energy and Economic Development Program, proposes a governance system for federal oil shale lands that is comparable to a port authority “to undertake the coordination, planning and sustained regulatory compliance that are essential to the development of a dynamic oil shale industry.” He also proposes a tax on crude oil—or a refinery tax—as an alternative to the existing federal gas tax used to pay for highways. The tax “could be adjusted on a quarterly basis, as oil prices rise or fall, to maintain a targeted revenue stream.”

  5. Better Schools

    V. Darleen Opfer, director of RAND Education, looks at the controversial topic of evaluation systems that tie student performance on standardized tests to assessments of teacher quality. “RAND researchers and others have found that estimates of teacher effectiveness derived from student test scores, while important, are imprecise. Therefore, teacher evaluations should be based also on observations of classroom practices and other evidence of teacher contributions.”

  6. Resurgence of al Qaeda

    RAND senior political scientist Seth Jones warns of the global resurgence of al Qaeda and implores both presidential candidates to remember the lessons learned in fighting the group. “The struggle against al Qaeda has persisted for over two decades, providing an opportunity to learn what has worked—and what has not.” In the future, Jones predicts, these lessons “will need to be applied in more places and more often.”

  7. Stabilization of Iraq

    RAND international policy analyst Larry Hanauer notes that the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk remains a hotspot that could inflame tensions, drawing Iraq into civil war. He suggests that U.S. diplomacy and targeted assistance could help simultaneously broker agreements between Iraqi and Kurdish leaders and mitigate local ethnic tensions in Kirkuk. “In this way, the U.S. president, regardless of political party, could make a meaningful contribution toward stabilizing Iraq without redeploying U.S. forces to the country.”

  8. Political Change in the Arab World

    RAND political scientist Laurel Miller argues that foreign aid directed at building democratic institutions could promote the consolidation of democracy in Arab countries. According to Miller, there is no parallel in the Arab world to the role that the European Union and NATO played in the Southern and Eastern European transitions to democracy. Therefore, “the international community should encourage the creation of structures in the Arab world, such as a regional organization for democracies, which could facilitate the delivery of institution-building assistance.”

  9. Peace with China Through Deterrence

    James Dobbins, director of the RAND International Security and Defense Policy Center, and adjunct political scientist Roger Cliff see extensive overlap between the positions of the presidential candidates when it comes to U.S.-China relations. Both candidates envision a larger U.S. military role in the Asia-Pacific region while advocating for economic cooperation with China as a means of reducing the likelihood of conflict. They also suggest numerous ways to deter China's growing military capabilities. “At the same time, the United States should draw China into cooperative security endeavors, not only to avoid the appearance of an anti-China coalition but also to obtain greater contributions to international security from the world's second-strongest power.”

In his introduction to the commentaries, RAND president Michael Rich outlines their motivation: “As the U.S. presidential election draws close, there is increasing demand for simple answers to complex questions, immediate solutions to entrenched challenges and ten-second sound bites to sum it all up.” In contrast, “The ideas presented here do not favor one candidate over another. Rather, they favor the recognition and exploration of the full complexity of today's most pressing policy challenges. They ask leaders to take the long view.”