Section: News

CSAD furthers inequality debate

By Eric Geller

Kenyon College became a hub for the American economic inequality debate last week when a diverse group of journalists, academics, think tank researchers and government officials descended on the Hill for the Center for the Study of American Democracy (CSAD) conference “The Politics of Economic Inequality.”

The Collegian covered the opening address by former Congressional Budget Office director Douglas Holtz-Eakin in last week’s issue, but the rest of the conference played out after that issue’s deadline. Last Thursday and Friday, faculty, students and community members attended talks by famed political scientist Robert Putnam and former Council of Economic Advisers chairman Austan Goolsbee, as well as a collection of panels that tackled economic inequality from several different angles.

Last Thursday morning, Assistant Professor of Political Science Thomas Karako, CSAD’s director, welcomed the audience at the “Public Policy and Inequality” panel by saying, “I’m going to say this all day long, but I think this is going to be my favorite panel.”

The discussion, moderated by Associate Professor of Political Science David Rowe, was full of competing graphs and economic indicators, as the Economic Policy Institute’s Ross Eisenbrey and the Manhattan Institute’s Scott Winship presented dueling narratives about incomes and economic mobility in the U.S.

“We can think that mobility isn’t high enough— and I do — but it’s not the case that it’s worsened over time,” Winship said during the panel, which also included MSNBC’s Suzy Khimm and William Galston from the Brookings Institution.

At the Public Narratives about Inequality panel that afternoon, the New York Times’ Ross Douthat, the Washington Post’s Jim Tankersley and “Marketplace’s” Lizzie O’Leary discussed how the media covers economic inequality.

O’Leary played a “Marketplace” report about Walmart employees relying on food stamps to shop at their employer’s stores. Afterward, Douthat, a conservative columnist for the Times, criticized “journalistic narratives that don’t deal with some of the economic tradeoffs” of different policies. He said the price of the basket of goods for a working-class American has gone down in recent decades.

This prompted O’Leary and Tankersley to point out that health care and education costs have, in fact, risen. Douthat, relating his comment back to the “Marketplace” story about Walmart, responded he had only been referring to literal necessities like food.

Goolsbee’s talk on Thursday night began on a light note when he highlighted an article in last week’s Collegian to illustrate the difference between facts and interpretation. He referred to the article “SMAs, DAs, experience surge in membership applications” by Maya Kaufman ’17, poking fun at its description of the position of Beer and Sex adviser as “a competitive, sought-after job.”

“Indeed, I’m sure it is,” Goolsbee said. “Evidently there’s been explosive growth in the number of applicants.” He called this observation a fact and then contrasted it with the interpretation of Beer and Sex Co-President Emily Estus ’14, who, he said, “attributed the explosive demand for this job to … programming.”

“Yes,” Goolsbee said, prompting laughter from the crowd. “I’m sure the Beer and Sex advisory position was popular because of the Polar Plunge.”

To watch video interviews of some of the CSAD panelists, click here.

For additional coverage of CSAD on Storify, click here.

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