Last Friday in Lynch Auditorium, great minds gathered to speak about a pressing issue: economic inequality. It’s a topic that always seems to loom over political debates and poll data, but what are its actual effects on the lives of Americans? What can be done to change it?
The event, sponsored by the American Public Philosophy Institute, sought to provide a forum in which different viewpoints on the issue could be presented, opening the opportunity for constructive social dialogue on problems facing modern America. It certainly succeeded in achieving this.
The three renowned speakers held a variety of opinions on the topic. However, each agreed that economic inequality is not an independent issue, but is linked in some way to other real problems in society.
Michael Greve, a professor of law at George Mason University, suggested that a certain amount of economic inequality is healthy for society and that we should instead focus on other issues that we can more readily fix.
William Galston, a columnist at The Wall Street Journal and former advisor to the Clinton administration, explained that inequality is a problem because of its consequences, ranging from slow economic growth to democratic instability.
Perhaps the most interesting argument was from Ross Douthat, a New York Times columnist, who sought to form a bridge between the extremes of opinion concerning the topic. Explaining that economic inequality was only a consequence of other, larger issues, Douthat gave historical context to show that even past periods of relative economic equality were riddled with deep social instability.
This context and the balanced viewpoint he expressed is the outlook necessary to properly and effectively remedy the problem of economic inequality while maintaining the design of capitalism to afford social mobility and return on labor.
But whichever way the causal relationship flows, economic freedom is a good thing. The question is how much of it is healthy for the economy, encouraging growth and social mobility without overly volatile markets abandoning risk management principles.
How exactly this is to be accomplished is a complicated issue, but educated dialogues, like the one held last week in Lynch Auditorium, are essential to providing ideas that originate from the people affected, rather than from Washington. Such a forum that both educates citizens and provides an environment to share different approaches to resolving problems in the community lies at the core of democratic society and ensures that the founding principles of self-government remain intact.
Judging by the popularity of certain candidates in the 2016 presidential race, Americans are upset with Washington. Political outsiders such as Ben Carson and Donald Trump have skyrocketed in the polls by their appeals to average Americans and by promising to support the shrinking middle class. The popularity of the self-described democratic socialist, Bernie Sanders, especially indicates people’s frustration with the current economic system.
These anger-fueled populist messages can be dangerous to prudent political leadership, but they are popular because these issues directly affect American citizens.
Economic inequality will continue to be a major issue defining the presidential race, heightening the importance of educated discourse in enabling voters to navigate the huge field of candidates, all of whom promise to fix these problems.
The value of this kind of discourse here on campus is immense. All of the issues discussed in this panel pertain to the improvement of American society. As young people, that future will be our own.
Living under the laws of a democratic community necessitates responsible involvement in the improvement of its political institutions. Exercise of free speech is one way to enrich the variety of opinions leading to progress.
So get out there and join the conversation, using your words — and your vote — to improve your own life and the lives of all people.