This debate is about the real track record

The second presidential debate will focus on the economics of the middle classes, writes CAP's Heather Boushey.

President Obama and Governor Romney are preparing for their next big showdown in New York tonight. This debate will feature audience questions in a “town hall” format. Many Americans, including myself, will want to know who will do more over the next four years for the middle class and who will support the strongest job creation. This is the key challenge facing American and is the political territory that could be most decisive in next month’s election.

Romney will win this debate if he is able to convince the American public that President Obama’s economic policies have been a failure and that his economic plan will generate job gains. Romney claims that his economic plan will create 12 million jobs and that 7 million of them will come about as a result of his tax cuts.

But US economists, including myself, question whether Romney’s job creation claim can be believed. If anything, Romney’s 59-point economic plan will most likely push the US back into a recession. Economists estimate that, at best, it will create around 87,000 jobs in next year, or, at worse, could actually lead to the loss of anywhere between 300,000 to 600,000 jobs.

Romney’s economic plan is a “jobs fail” because it is based on the same economic logic that supply-siders have been pushing on the US economy for some time now. The supply-side story is that if the government gives the wealthy back their taxes, they will invest those added funds, thus growing the economy, creating jobs, and improving middle-class incomes. In the 1980s and 2000s, policymakers did exactly that, but it didn’t work. Both eras experienced significant tax cuts aimed at higher-income households that were supposed to spur investment.

President Obama will win the debate if he runs on his record and exposes the Romney economic plan. Over the past year, the US economy has added 1.8 million jobs, which is a strong track record of solid job gains, month after month. The private sector has added jobs every month for 31 months and the unemployment rate is now where it was when Obama took office.

Jobs have come back because policymakers acted decisively. In February 2009, before he had even been in office a month, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which pumped nearly $800bn into the U.S. economy and stopped the haemorrhaging of jobs. Later that year, the administration helped stabilize the auto industry, which has helped that sector turn itself around into a job-generating industry for 27 of the past 36 months.

If Obama can articulate his record and expose Romney’s plan, tonight’s debate will be a home run. If Romney can avoid scrutiny and run down the President’s record it, could be game on for the third and final debate.

Heather Boushey is Visiting Fellow at IPPR and Senior Economist at CAP

Obama and Romney after the first debate. Photograph: Getty Images

Heather Boushey is a Visiting Fellow at IPPR and senior economist at the Centre for American Progress in Washington DC

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Inside Big Ben: why the world’s most famous clock will soon lose its bong

Every now and then, even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care.

London is soon going to lose one of its most familiar sounds when the world-famous Big Ben falls silent for repairs. The “bonging” chimes that have marked the passing of time for Londoners since 1859 will fall silent for months beginning in 2017 as part of a three-year £29m conservation project.

Of course, “Big Ben” is the nickname of the Great Bell and the bell itself is not in bad shape – even though it does have a huge crack in it.

The bell weighs nearly 14 tonnes and it cracked in 1859 when it was first bonged with a hammer that was way too heavy.

The crack was never repaired. Instead the bell was rotated one eighth of a turn and a lighter (200kg) hammer was installed. The cracked bell has a characteristic sound which we have all grown to love.

Big Ben strikes. UK Parliament.

Instead, it is the Elizabeth Tower (1859) and the clock mechanism (1854), designed by Denison and Airy, that need attention.

Any building or machine needs regular maintenance – we paint our doors and windows when they need it and we repair or replace our cars quite routinely. It is convenient to choose a day when we’re out of the house to paint the doors, or when we don’t need the car to repair the brakes. But a clock just doesn’t stop – especially not a clock as iconic as the Great Clock at the Palace of Westminster.

Repairs to the tower are long overdue. There is corrosion damage to the cast iron roof and to the belfry structure which keeps the bells in place. There is water damage to the masonry and condensation problems will be addressed, too. There are plumbing and electrical works to be done for a lift to be installed in one of the ventilation shafts, toilet facilities and the fitting of low-energy lighting.

Marvel of engineering

The clock mechanism itself is remarkable. In its 162-year history it has only had one major breakdown. In 1976 the speed regulator for the chimes broke and the mechanism sped up to destruction. The resulting damage took months to repair.

The weights that drive the clock are, like the bells and hammers, unimaginably huge. The “drive train” that keeps the pendulum swinging and that turns the hands is driven by a weight of about 100kg. Two other weights that ring the bells are each over a tonne. If any of these weights falls out of control (as in the 1976 incident), they could do a lot of damage.

The pendulum suspension spring is especially critical because it holds up the huge pendulum bob which weighs 321kg. The swinging pendulum releases the “escapement” every two seconds which then turns the hands on the clock’s four faces. If you look very closely, you will see that the minute hand doesn’t move smoothly but it sits still most of the time, only moving on each tick by 1.5cm.

The pendulum swings back and forth 21,600 times a day. That’s nearly 8m times a year, bending the pendulum spring. Like any metal, it has the potential to suffer from fatigue. The pendulum needs to be lifted out of the clock so that the spring can be closely inspected.

The clock derives its remarkable accuracy in part from the temperature compensation which is built into the construction of the pendulum. This was yet another of John Harrison’s genius ideas (you probably know him from longitude fame). He came up with the solution of using metals of differing temperature expansion coefficient so that the pendulum doesn’t change in length as the temperature changes with the seasons.

In the Westminster clock, the pendulum shaft is made of concentric tubes of steel and zinc. A similar construction is described for the clock in Trinity College Cambridge and near perfect temperature compensation can be achieved. But zinc is a ductile metal and the tube deforms with time under the heavy load of the 321kg pendulum bob. This “creeping” will cause the temperature compensation to jam up and become less effective.

So stopping the clock will also be a good opportunity to dismantle the pendulum completely and to check that the zinc tube is sliding freely. This in itself is a few days' work.

What makes it tick

But the truly clever bit of this clock is the escapement. All clocks have one - it’s what makes the clock tick, quite literally. Denison developed his new gravity escapement especially for the Westminster clock. It decouples the driving force of the falling weight from the periodic force that maintains the motion of the pendulum. To this day, the best tower clocks in England use the gravity escapement leading to remarkable accuracy – better even than that of your quartz crystal wrist watch.

In Denison’s gravity escapement, the “tick” is the impact of the “legs” of the escapement colliding with hardened steel seats. Each collision causes microscopic damage which, accumulated over millions of collisions per year, causes wear and tear affecting the accuracy of the clock. It is impossible to inspect the escapement without stopping the clock. Part of the maintenance proposed during this stoppage is a thorough overhaul of the escapement and the other workings of the clock.

The Westminster clock is a remarkable icon for London and for England. For more than 150 years it has reminded us of each hour, tirelessly. That’s what I love about clocks – they seem to carry on without a fuss. But every now and then even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care. After this period of pampering, “Big Ben” ought to be set for another 100 or so years of trouble-free running.

The Conversation

Hugh Hunt is a Reader in Engineering Dynamics and Vibration at the University of Cambridge.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.