Guest speakers from both sides of the political spectrum address economic inequality

Written by Shannon LaGassa, Victoria Slater, and Rianne VanDervoort, CAS communications interns

On October 15, 2014, the Janus Forum was held in the Armstrong Student Center’s Wilks Theater. The Janus Forum is an opportunity for the Miami community to witness a discussion from two opposing viewpoints about an important and timely issue and arrive at their own opinions. This fall's guest speakers, Melissa Boteach and Scott Winship, encouraged the audience to ponder the question, "what should government do about economic inequality?"

Boteach, Vice President of Center for American Progress' Poverty and Prosperity Program, first took the stage to introduce her views and solutions on the matter. She argued that economic inequality lies within many problems, including the lack of education and the child tax. She was followed by Winship, a Walter B. Wriston Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, who also argued that economic inequality lies within more than just one solid problem. His solutions included dispersing income tax credit differently amongst single parents and addressing the minimum wage protocol.

Addressing the Minimum Wage Issue

After delivering their opening statements, Boteach and Winship were each given time to give a rebuttal. Boteach delivered hers first. "The debate here today is on solutions and what we should do about it," she said. "There's a lot of common ground or at least interesting discussion to be had about what to do with the middle and bottom of the income scale."

Disagreeing with Winship's remarks, she said the bottom and middle classes experienced flat wages and did not see a lot of growth, which impacted economic recovery and resulted in a slower rate.

For his rebuttal, Winship challenged Boteach's claim that the minimum wage should be raised to about $10.65, saying that it is about average when taking into account inflation and other economic factors. He believed some of the studies that Boteach quoted are unreliable due to the fact that they often double count factors.

"While the share of income going to the top one percent has risen since 1980, the increase has been overstated due to a number of technical measurement issues around investment income," he said. "I prefer to look at what's happened to compensation concentration at the top."

The two speakers agreed on strengthening the earned income tax credit for childless workers. They also agreed that income inequality, along with growth and mobility, are dire problems facing this country. They largely disagreed on the connection between various different economic factors and the solutions that should take place.

Audience Questions from the Twitterverse

The event closed with the questions portion, in which student moderator and ASG Secretary for On-Campus Affairs Kristin Fowler collected questions from the audience through Twitter. One question was in regards to Boteach's stance on Representative Paul Ryan's Opportunity Grant proposals that aimed to combat poverty.

"I am for expanding the child tax credit piece, but I think it is potentially dangerous that only married couples would get this credit," Boteach responded. "The marriage rate in this country is not 100 percent. There are perfectly good reasons for married couples to get divorced, including domestic violence. We don't want to create perverse incentives for people to further exasperate their economic security in case they need to split up for what might be very good reasons."

Winship responded to a question about the gender employment gap. "Part of the reasons for these equality issues is the legacy of the previous generation's social norms," he said. "There are a lot of 60-year-old workers who are still in the workforce that probably have a much bigger gender gap than today's 20-year-olds. Studies show, for instance, that in today's law students, just out of law school, there is virtually no gender pay gap."

Regarding a question on how education can help break the cycle of poverty, both speakers agreed that alternative forms of higher education, such as online schooling, vocational schools, or apprenticeships, can help bridge the gap between traditional students and students who may not benefit from a four-year university.

The Janus Forum is sponsored by The Thomas W. Smith Project on Liberty, Democracy and Citizenship; Miami University's Department of Political Science; the Harry T. Wilks Leadership Institute, and the Office of Diversity Affairs. It is made possible through the generous support of The Thomas W. Smith (Miami '50) Foundation.