NYU professor sheds light on economic inequality

Professor Edward Wolff points to a graph while discussing the official U.S. poverty rates Tuesday evening in Forum Hall.

Tuesday evening, K-State students and faculty filled Forum Hall in the Union to listen to a lecture by Edward Wolff, professor of economics at New York University, on the rise and fall of the middle class in America. Speaking for a little over an hour, he talked to the audience about the nation’s economic fallout between the top five percent and the lowest percent of the population.

“My talk is a sad one, a disturbing one, and even an outrageous one,” Wolff said as he opened his lecture.

He quickly followed this statement up with a striking quote from Warren Buffett, in which Buffett said that the people of the United States were fighting a war and that his side, the one percent, was winning.

Wolff presented a series of graphs and data that showed a negative relationship between the current state of how much large corporations are bringing in and the average wages of the bottom quartile, the lower 20 percent.

“The facts are the facts,” Daniel Kuester, K-State professor of economics, said. “It’s a side of things we don’t hear as frequently as we should, and these are things more people should be aware of.”

Throughout the lecture, Wolff broke down a number of different sets of data ranging from average and median income of the two classes, the differences in their tax rates, and poverty rates from the past 90 years to prove what he called a strong and unequal separation between the two classes.

“It forces the average citizen to feel they have no ability to affect public policy and takes democracy out of the picture,” Lloyd Thomas, K-State professor of economics, said in response to Wolff’s statement on the increasingly difficult economic mobility in the U.S., as well the opportunity to change the direction of the economy.

During his Q-and-A period after his lecture, Wolff suggested two very practical ways to begin to fix this issue, which included a more progressive tax system as well as a thorough welfare program for the unemployed and those below the poverty level.

“Education, while it’s good, will not, I believe, reverse the problem,” Wolff said
. “We need to rethink the social contract between labor and business owners.”

Wolff also said that the answer lies in returning to the social agreement between large corporations and the labor force, where the emphasis is no longer on maximizing profits alone but back on the people and the labor that the economy is built on.

“I feel that a just society is one with an equal distribution of income,” Wolff said, defending his stance on the current state of economic affairs, which he said is an injustice to the American people.