Four prominent economists proposed policy changes they say will promote economic equality at an Institute of Politics event Thursday.
At the event, titled “What’s the Next Big Economic Idea?”, the panelists discussed universal basic income, a federal job guarantee, and job incentives in front of a group of over two dozen Harvard students and affiliates.
Harvard Kennedy School Professor Jason Furman ’92 moderated the forum, which included Annie M. Lowrey ’07, a contributing editor for The Atlanti; Darrick Hamilton, a professor of economics and urban policy at The New School; Oren Cass, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute; and Will Wilkinson, vice president for research of the Niskanen Center. The speakers shared specific proposals they believe hold the most promise for American economic policy.
Lowrey, a former Crimson magazine editor, joined the panel via Skype and advocated for a universal basic income. She argued for the benefits of guaranteeing everyone of working age a fixed amount of money, regardless of employment status.
“There is currently no form of social insurance that helps people, regardless of circumstance, save for income,” Lowrey said.
Hamilton made his case for a government-funded job guarantee, saying that it would improve both infrastructure and the lives of the working class.
“The policy that I’m talking about is a mandated right for empowerment for people, and that relates to [Lowrey]’s policy,” Hamilton said. “It would enable workers, particularly those at the low end, to bargain for better wages and benefits without the fear and threat of destitution from unemployment.”
While Hamilton said he had no “big objections” to Lowrey’s proposals, he also pushed back on Lowrey’s support of a universal basic income.
“I like the intent around the U.B.I., but I have concerns with the universality of it,” said Hamilton.
Cass said he supported a government-funded wage subsidy to help low-wage workers while encouraging work.
“When we’re looking for our prosperity as a society, what really matters is that people can find productive work to do and that they can, through that work, support their families and their communities,” Cass said.
Wilkinson criticized the current state of housing regulations in cities.
“When restrictions make housing too expensive, it makes it impossible for workers to move to the labor markets where they’re most productive,” he said.
Though their ideas of implementation differed, each economist said they generally support for their colleagues' ideas. Cass noted the importance of thinking “boldly” about policies and the large impacts they can have on the American working class.
All four speakers agreed on multiple occasions that each proposal would be better than the policies currently in place and lauded each other’s large-scale thinking.
“I’m not timid in my belief that we can actually do this,” Hamilton said.
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