No Labels’ Ultimate Guide to the 2020 Election helps you cut through the election noise, giving you an unbiased education on the true nature of America’s challenges and a hard look at why so many proposals from the far left and right are failing to meet the moment. We hope you will use this book as a go to resource to help evaluate the proposals from 2020 candidates and to kickstart a constructive conversation with family and friends about the presidential campaign.
Here is a flavor of some of the essential and sometimes counterintuitive facts from the Ultimate Guide to the 2020 Election that will help you understand the forces driving some of America’s toughest problems.
Modern global record keeping of weather began in 1880. According to both the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 17 of the 18 warmest years have occurred since 2001.
Climate change is a real and growing problem. Why isn’t the world moving faster to deal with it?
Perhaps the most important measurement in determining the viability of an energy source is power density; a measure of how much power you can extract from a unit of volume, energy, or mass. The most relevant metric for renewables is watts per square meter(w/m2).
So how much power can you squeeze out of a given piece of real estate?
In the case of renewables, the answer is not much:
Meeting all of America’s current electricity needs with wind power would require a land mass twice the size of California.
The US accounts for only 15% of global carbon emissions, and even as the US decreases its own emissions, other countries—particularly China—are increasing theirs. Put aside the coal-fired power plants China already has. The hundreds of new coal plants China is building now will equal the output of all coal plants in the US. Solar and wind power still account for only about two percent of all global energy use.
The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates the US is spending about $200 billion per year less than it should to get our infrastructure up to just a B grade.
According to Common Good, a nonprofit that has spent years advocating for fixes to the process for building infrastructure, “Permitting for infrastructure projects can take a decade or more. Multiple agencies oversee the process, with no clear lines of authority. Once permits are granted, lawsuits can last years more. These delays are costly and, often, environmentally destructive.”
Despite the rampant hysteria and vitriol in the immigration debate, most Americans are remarkably sensible about what is needed to fix our immigration system. It’s a good thing, too, because everything about the immigration debate requires nuance. While both the Left and the Right tout their own curated facts and arguments, they rarely tell the whole story.
The number of illegal immigrants living in America has effectively been flat for the last ten years.
But the number of illegal immigrants in America also quadrupled in the two decades prior.
Illegal immigrants do commit all categories of crime at lower rates than native-borns.
But unauthorized immigrants are also much more likely to be involved in fatal car accidents because they don’t typically have driver’s licenses.
Legal immigration is generally good for the economy and for US workers
But it isn’t good for all workers in all places, and the benefits accrue more to some (white-collar workers who live in cities) than others (blue-collar workers who don’t).
The Character of America
America is and always has been a nation that welcomes immigrants.
But the share of foreign-born people living in the US is now higher than at any point in almost a century.
Americans might imagine that government wastes most of our tax money on useless programs and things they don’t like. But the biggest drivers of our national debt are things Americans like the most:
Americans are accustomed to regular government shutdowns, which are often caused by Congress’s inability to agree on how or where money should be spent in the federal budget. But you might be surprised to learn that these increasingly contentious budget debates focus on only 31% of all federal spending. The other 69% is basically on autopilot, and it keeps growing every year.
The 69% share includes programs like Social Security, Medicare, and interest payments on the debt, and refers to ongoing obligations the government is legally required to pay every year.
Mandatory spending typically goes to fund consumption in the present.
The 31% share must be “appropriated” each year, and includes everything else that Congress fights over when trying to pass a budget.
Discretionary spending often represents investments in the future, as funding for priorities like medical research, education, and infrastructure plant the seeds for future economic growth.
Fifty years ago, the federal government spent twice as much on discretionary (future-oriented) spending as it did mandatory. Now, the ratio is flipped, with government spending twice as much on mandatory as discretionary spending. And this disparity will keep growing over time.
As for Social Security and Medicare—the two programs most responsible for the growth in mandatory spending, their finances become more tenuous every year. In early 2019, the annual report from the program’s trustees forecast that under current law, Social Security will be unable to fully pay promised benefits by 2035 and that Medicare will be unable to do the same by 2026.
President Trump’s 2017 tax cuts did have some beneficial impacts for the economy, including providing a short-term boost to economic growth and corporate profits even as it failed to deliver the large wage gains that were expected for workers. Throughout 2018, growth in the US was much stronger than in other developed economies around the world.
But tax cut supporters made an even more ambitious promise: that it would also reduce the deficit. According to President Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, the tax plan would “not only pay for itself but in fact create additional revenue for the government.”
He is wrong. Last year’s federal deficit was $200 billion higher than it would have been without the tax cuts, and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently estimated that the law will add $1.9 trillion to the national debt through 2027.
The answer isn’t as straightforward as either party makes it out to be:
The unemployment rate hit a 49-year low of 3.7% in late 2018.
In late 2018 and early 2019, US wages grew at their fastest rate in a decade.
A June 2018 Labor Department study found that there were more job openings than available workers to fill them.
In 2018, the number of women in the US workforce reached an all-time high.
Rural America has been left behind. Ninety-nine percent of all job and population growth between 2008 and 2017 was concentrated in the 36% of US counties with a city that has a population over 50,000.
The average US salary has about the same purchasing power as it did 40 years ago.
Available jobs are often concentrated in certain industries and regions, and the share of Americans willing or able to move for a job has dropped by half.
For every unemployed American man between 25 and 55 years of age looking for work, there are three who are not looking at all.
A record $293 billion in venture capital funding was invested in 2018.
Eighty percent of this funding went to just a few places: Silicon Valley and the Acela Corridor spanning Boston, New York City, and Washington, DC.
More than a third of Americans have a college bachelor’s degree—the most ever.
Total student debt in the US is $1.52 trillion, or $37,712 for every student borrower.
The US spends $500 billion on higher education.
The US spends only $8 billion on worker training.
Wealth and Financial Security
According to the Federal Reserve, total US household wealth has almost doubled since the depths of the Great Recession.
The stock market hit a record high in 2018.
The average nationwide 401(k) balance hit a new record high of $106,500 in 2018.
Forty percent of American adults reported in a Federal Reserve Survey that if they were faced with an unexpected $400 expense, they would either not be able to pay it or would do so by selling something or borrowing money.
Only 54% of US families own stocks.
One in four nonretired adults has no retirement savings or pension.
For the next president to lead a legislative breakthrough on gun violence, they will somehow need to first forge a national consensus on three points.
The first point is that it is about the guns. More specifically—and most importantly—it is about guns in the hands of violent people and criminals. Each time there is an act of mass gun violence, some lawmaker will suggest that the real problem is violent video games. Or lack of mental health treatment. Or poorly secured schools. And these are all fair and relevant points. Restricting kids’ access to violent video games and expanding access to mental health would unquestionably help.
But it is about the guns.
You might not know it from the “if it bleeds, it leads” coverage that Americans often see on the news, but violent crime (e.g. rape, murder, assault) in our country is in a multidecade decline. According to the FBI, violent crime fell an astounding 49% between 1993 to 2017. So America is not becoming a more violent nation, relative to our history or to the rest of the world. Some countries in Europe actually have higher rates of violent crime than in the US. But rampant gun violence in the developed world is a distinctly American phenomenon, and guns in the hands of the wrong people is the prime cause.
The second point upon which the next president must forge agreement is that Washington must act because states and localities can’t fix this problem on their own. In 2014, the city of Chicago released a report revealing that 60% of the guns used to commit crimes in the city originated from somewhere else, many from neighboring Indiana and Wisconsin which have much more permissive gun laws. Without a more coherent response from Washington, criminals and people who intend to commit violence will continue to be able to traffic and move weapons across state and city lines with impunity.
If these first two points might require ardent gun rights advocates to give ground, then the third and final point would require a similar compromise from gun control activists. That point is that law-abiding gun owners aren’t the problem. A recent study from the University of Pittsburgh found that lawful gun owners are responsible for less than a fifth of all gun crimes, meaning in eight out of ten cases, the perpetrator was someone who illegally possessed a gun. This explains why gun safety measures that are viewed by the public as meting out collective punishment on law-abiding Americans are likely to fail.