Trump and Biden debate: Here’s what we want to hear

Bloomberg Opinion Today

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Today's Agenda

Room for Debate

Well, it's almost here: the first presidential debate of the 2020 election.

These things produce few memorable moments — Nixon's sweating, Reagan's "youth and inexperience," Bush's watch-checking, Gore's sighing and Obama's "Please proceed" just about exhaust the list — and decide few elections. Yet three-quarters of voters say they plan to watch tonight's debate. Tens of them may even change their votes because of it. 

The heightened interest makes sense. This is an unusually heated and important election. And we've rarely seen President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden in the same room, much less directly confronting each other. Anything could happen! There could be flying earpieces, drug-test jokes or threats of violence. Hopefully such foolishness won't get too much in the way of people learning things of actual substance. To that end, Bloomberg Opinion asked its stable of writers for questions they'd like to see asked in this debate. Sixteen responded with questions about everything from climate change to trade wars. Will any of them be answered tonight? It's like a drinking game, but more responsible. Read the whole thing.

Not-So-Hot Desking

Going back to the office in a pandemic, or even at the end of one, is bound to be harrowing. Here in New York, most of us are simply not doing it (and may be doing it even less very soon).

In such circumstances, which office sounds more appealing:​​​​ one forcing you to battle your colleagues every day for limited "hot" desk space, or one offering a roomy work area dedicated just to you, maybe with a nice little cactus? Because he is a normal human, Chris Hughes imagines you'll choose the second option. Some businesses, looking to cut corners post-pandemic, are opting for the first. They may soon find their personnel costs exceed their real-estate costs, as their employees leave in droves for better accommodations, Chris writes. A trend toward roomier work environments could keep office space in demand, softening the pandemic blow for commercial landlords.  

Fight Court

One key topic of debate tonight will be the Supreme Court. Trump's trying to fill an empty seat with a staunch conservative, Amy Coney Barrett, just days ahead of the election. Wary of attacking Barrett personally, Democrats are focusing on hints she may want to overturn the Affordable Care Act. Expect Biden to mention this early and often tonight. Ramesh Ponnuru suggests such talk is overblown, that Barrett has offered no clue she would overturn Obamacare or favor the long-shot lawsuit seeking to do that. 

Of course, Trump has already given a potential future Biden administration pointers on handling court orders it doesn't like: It can simply ignore them. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is doing just that with a lower-court order not to stop the 2020 Census too early, writes Noah Feldman. It's a direct assault on the rule of law, and the court should punish him for it.

Pharma Chameleon

One Trump idea with bipartisan appeal is his argument that drug prices are outrageously high. Everybody agrees, except for that guy who looks suspiciously like three pharma companies stacked in a trench coat. And Trump has certainly been busy the past four years  announcing plans that seem like they might cut prices. But when you study the details, you realize his measures only boost drug-company profits while raising costs to taxpayers, writes Peter Bach, director of the Drug Pricing Lab at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. There are many better ways to force drug prices lower.

Telltale Charts

Trump and Biden debate after a long stretch of unusual stability in how prediction markets see the race, notes John Authers. Will tonight change that? 

If history is any guide, the pandemic's end could bring a period of lower mortality in New York and elsewhere, writes Justin Fox. But there's no sign of that happening yet.

Further Reading

Republicans and Democrats must compromise on economic stimulus now. — Bloomberg's editorial board 

New coronavirus waves may call for more targeted, thoughtful lockdowns of the most vulnerable people. — Andreas Kluth 

It's only fair to claw back gains investors get from Ponzi schemes to help pay back people who lost money. — Nir Kaissar 

Before Covid, Boris Johnson might have been able to get away with a no-deal Brexit. Now he can't afford one. — Therese Raphael 

BMW and Daimler should jump at Uber's interest in their ride-sharing venture. It's going nowhere for them. — Alex Webb 


The Bidens paid much more than $750 in taxes.

Mass airline layoffs may be coming soon to swing states.

Germany has a Dr. Fauci and actually listens to him.

Kominers's Conundrums Hint

Solving our 24 Game Conundrum is the perfect way to kill time before the debate. But if you get stuck on a couple of the harder ones, don't forget: Logarithms are a powerful way to make large numbers smaller, and exponentiation plus a "1" can eliminate any pesky numbers you can't quite figure out how to use. (And for that second bonus challenge, don't be afraid to look for really exotic mathematical functions.) — Scott Duke Kominers


Out: planting trees to fight climate change. In: planting seaweed

There's a bug that can survive in the deep ocean. (h/t Scott Kominers for the first two kickers) 

Care for a cup of Satanic chamomile? (h/t Ellen Kominers)

Some physicists see signs of cosmic strings from the Big Bang

Note: Please send Satanic chamomile and complaints to Mark Gongloff at

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