tv The Crisis of the Middle- Class Constitution CSPAN May 1, 2017 7:02am-8:01am EDT
[inaudible conversations] >> i come in everybody. how are you all? i am really, of the event staff at politics & prose. thank you for being here tonight. if you are standing, there are a couple of more states over here. i recommend them. or in the front. i recommend them, too. we are clearly filming tonight, so we will be very grateful if you could silence your cell phone. you don't want that on the recording and when we get to q&a, is finite better audience microphone )-right-paren ask her questions into the microphone. finally come at the end of the night before you go to the register over there, fold up your chair. with the event staff will be very grateful. "the crisis of the middle-class
constittion" is ganesh sitaraman second book. history of the idea of income inequality and constitutional republic, spoiler, it doesn't assume the idea of class division and the argument we need to adapt their constitution that we see all of our country. it's so important in every american needs to read this book. a senior fellow at center for american progress. policy director to elizabeth warren during the senate campaign. his writing has appeared in the new york times, "boston globe," political and more. we are glad to have them at politics & prose. please join me to welcome him.
[applause] speed make thank you. i would like to thank c-span for covering this event and thank you all for coming today. if people want to come on down, there's lots and lots of space. don't be shy. we are going to be shy. okay. i expect some of you were a little bit skeptical about coming to a talk called "the crisis of the middle-class constittion." what more could be said about economic inequality and the crisis that the middle class. and the new criterion your inseam you probably wonder what could be said by someone who looks like he's 12 years old. i'm going to try to take on this huge task, might even call it a huge task and it's a hard task and the reason it is so hard is because we know a lot about it. there are a lot of people really
upset in the last year about economic inequality. both bernie sanders and donald trump relied an economically populist rhetoric and got a lot of support for it. we've also seen data on rising economic inequality over the last 30 years of data on shrinking middle class and insecurities of the middle class over the last generation as well. i'm not an economist at want to a different question. you've got to be skeptical. the constitution doesn't say anything about the middle class and they appeared it doesn't say anything about economic inequality or inequality in the theater if anything, the constitution gets in the way of economic -- combating economic decision and corporations who disproportionally increase public policies.
they are a constitutional problem. i tried to explain to you why. for most of the history of constitutional file, constitutconstitut ional theorists and statesmen were worried about the problems of inequality. they are worried if the society is deeply divided into rich and poor, and the rich would oppress the poor and the poor would confiscate the wealth of the rich and the result would be strife ,-com,-com ma violence and resolution. the founders of the country knew that history. they were steeped in history and they were well aware that economic inequality is a serious source of instability. if the wealthy to power, they would slowly till the last outcomes would favor that. as john taylor said in 1814, when the rich plunder the poor, it is slow and legal.
the people increasingly angry of rising economic and political inequality respond if not through some sort of mass uprising. they would look for leaders to help them overthrow the oligarch he paid to future broadway sensation, alexander hamilton may have heard of him. he did not. in the first of the federalist papers that federalist papers that those vandals overturned liberties of republics greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people, commencing demagogues and ending. oligarchy, tyranny is citizen to unequal republics conference the dire faith. so thinkers have had to to this problem for the first is economic class into the structure of the government. ancient rome was a center for the love he and then there was
the poor. in england the house of lords for the wealthy. house of commons for the poor. a call base class worker constitutions. they build class conflict as a share in governing and also a check on the other end this creates stability. the second solution was first articulated by aristotle who said the best government is a government in which the middle class was bigger then the rich and poor and therefore the middle class would govern. he called this a middle constitution. i called the middle-class constitution, has the title of the book. this solution is achieved. the idea you don't have that many poor people, that many rich people, just as there isn't that much economic inequality. as a result you don't need to send it to this check-in system
that existed in the constitutions. the founding generation understood the history and they believed that america was unique in the history of the road because the distribution of wealth here was relatively equal. i know that seems crazy to us, but put yourself back in the 18th century. what you have is a sparsely pocketed the country among the eastern seaboard. but the center of the world is western europe and the people in the american colonies. london, paris. people here live across the ocean, across the atlantic, what they see are big differences. though feudalism in america. though hereditary aristocracy unlike in europe. even the richest people here, the george washington censured many of you have been to mount vernon down the road. beautiful home. but nothing compared to the policies of the dukes and duchess is in england.
america had another thing, too. vast lands to the west. it is limited to white men at the time could become a property owner and have a measure of economic independence. let me read you a couple of accounts. the first is from mel webster who you probably have heard of. the creator of our dictionary and he said that inequality of property is the very soul of a republic. while this continues people will inevitably possess the power and freedom. liberty expires in a commonwealth will inevitably assumes another form. second is charles pinckney of the delicate constitutional convention and here is what he said at the convention in the summer of 7887. america was not different from
the inhabitants of any state we are acquainted with in the modern world that the people of greece or rome or any state we are acquainted with the mom and they believe america had a greater quality than found among the people of any other country in the quality would continue because the nation possessed immense tracts of land cultivated land which would ensure there'd be few or a few dependent. what you see here is the belief that economic inequality was necessary to have a republican second that americans are relatively economically equal. so the republic would be possible. it's actually good reason to think they might've been right about this. it wasn't just the belief they had. to economic historians have done extensive work on economic inequality and they found in 1774 covered the edge of the american revolution, the top 1%
took home 8.5% of national income. that's the famous 1976. in comparison today that top 1% take on 20% of national economy. huge difference. they conclude in the late 18th century, america had the most egalitarian distribution of wealth of any country it can calculate in the world. with relative equality is a bad outcome on the founding generation adopted or can't addition, they didn't make a class warfare can't you two should. there's no system of government, no property requirements for becoming a senator. the framers knew how to write these provisions. they debated the constitutional convention and state constitutions that they ultimately rejected them for a federal constitution and is a radical change. this is what is deeply radical about her tuition. -- constitution.
we have a middle-class constitution that is based on the assumption that america has and would continue to have relative economic equality. over the course of the 19th century, the economy fundamentally changed their industrialization, urbanization, closing of the frontier, chitra mark is the work and agriculture to wage work in factories put pressure on the economic foundation of our constitutional system. during the gilded age, economic inequality was on the rise. economic power was concentrated in a small number of crafts and people at the time were worried that this is a threat to the republic on the threat to our constitutional system. the nervous about said there could be no real political democracy unless there's some in approaching an economic democracy. i will reach a passage from the book to give you a feel for the
concerned to corrupt the political system turning their government away from a republic. this is from the 1880s and 1890s. marcus daly was determined to stop william andersen clark. clark lake day-lewis and industrial night and two on copper, mills, lumber for the banks, retail store and utility. but clark wanted was to win elected office in montana. he wanted the status and power that came with public leadership if he wanted to support colonies that improve his business holdings. when clark stood for congress in 1888, damien and pasted their hand-picked candidates name of her clark on ballot leading to the loss in an instance as spectacular so they can montana they can montana swore at the copper kings. over the next two decades, copper magnate said montana but engage in the most late and surprising and shocking efforts of corruption to gain political power in american history.
do they cancel business contracts with those who support political and send a newspaper to compare with clerics are the two fought over whether the state capital would be located at anaconda for helena which clark supported and they gave away cigars, bought rounds of drinks. clark decided in the 299 that it was his last best chance to get into the senate and he was willing to pay legislators whatever cost. the opening bid was $10,000 with many reportedly coming in at 20,000 in one room or $50,000. clerks and remarked it was then wheeled me into the senate or to the poor house. click said he had never about a man who owned a sale. by some estimates, clark spent $431,000 to buy 47 bills in the state legislature and offered 200,000 but was rebuffed.
by his example here so excuse and sweet corruption that in montana and no longer has an offensive smell. senator william clark took office in washington only to have investigations opened immediately after hearing testimony from state legislators and even montana supreme court justices who clerks agents attempted to ride. the investigation committee and an amazing maneuver presented in his allies in montana can try to get the governor of the state making military governor be at the governor at which point the lieutenant governor appointed clark to fill the now vacant senate seat that clark had just denied. this was the kind of corruption that was going on in the gilded
age. money, buying fantasies, buying politics can be shaping political outcomes. the populace and progressives are deeply worried this would ruin our constitutional provision. they came up with the most creative solutions. on the economic side they invested antitrust laws to break up consolidation of corporate power. they have a constitutional amendment to created contacts in order to prevent economic power from unduly influencing politics. they passed the real campaign finance reform and a constitutional amendment for the direct election of u.s. senators. these battles continue through the progressive era in evening to the new deal. after world war ii, the idea that economic inequality was a threat to our republic largely disappeared from our national consciousness. this has been for a few reasons. the first is the new dealers largely want to battle over whether the federal government can't additionally is able to
act and the national economy. over economic policy as a result shifted from being a constitutional debate to a debate about regulation and policy. the second change was the cold war. from the sound into the 19th century and early 20th century, people came to america, founders and waves of immigrants afterwards left aristocracies and monarchies to come to a republic. they knew there was a difference between a and republican aristocracy. after world war ii, the contrast shifts and now the question is capitalism versus communism. in contrast of the fears communism could again discussions of inequality. the third is that we entered a period of prosperity that economists call the great depression. gdp was upcoming media made can set at america's middle class grew larger and larger. as a country we undertook
policies to make this happen. regulative finance commit securities and exchange commission, glass-steagall. impose taxes at high rates and we also invested in around people to get them in the middle class. we send a generation of college, encouraged homeownership come invested in infrastructure like i raised created jobs in growth and put into place programs that would help lift up the poor. medicare, medicaid, head start. economic inequality simply became less of an issue. i know some of you have been thinking from the very start, what about women? how many possibly coexist with the reality of deep inequality between these groups and across these groups? in the book i distinguish between two traditions. the first is one i've been talking about so far the
middle-class constitution and for there to be a republic you have to have relative economic equality within the political community. this leaves open an important question. who's in the political community? that's a question fiercely contested including violently contested in our history, but over time we can trace a tradition called the tradition of inclusion which has expanded the political community to include women and minorities. the key thing to think about is what happens when these two traditions intersect. when you expand the political community becomes necessary for other members of the political community to also be able to join the middle class. throughout our history, stayed systems under the civil war, the rake is action republicans have not just for emancipation and political rights but also 40 acres and a meal for a measure of economic independence. i will reach you thaddeus
stevens was a pennsylvania congressman, one of the leaders of the reconstruction republicans and he proposed a bill confiscating the estates of the top 10% of rebel planters and redistributing that to the freed slaves of the south. here's what he said. without this, this government can never be as it has never been a true republic. it has more the features of aristocracy and democracy. the southern states have been despotisms, not governments of the people. it's impossible in a practical equality of rights can exist for a few dozen men monopolize the whole property. the larger the number of small proprietors, the morris safe and stable the government. after his death, one of his colleagues said he knew that a landed aristocracy and a landless class are like dangerous and republic and by a single act of justice he would
abolish both. so the aim of the reconstruction republicans was to link these two traditions together inclusivity, but also the middle-class and economic equality. we also forget this is a key partisan civil rights movement. the march on 10 with a dream speech was the march for jobs and freedom. economics and politics. what i think is important about this today as we have to understand that as it expanded the political community, we have to make sure everyone has a part -- a chance to join the middle class. this is a challenge because once again in an era of increasing economic inequality. that's why this is a constitutional problem. the constitution wasn't designed for the society of inequality. it was designed for a society of relative equality.
looking at the long history of republics, we have a couple of options for how we can deal with this going forward. the first is we can try to realign this mismatch of economic equality and constitutional structure by abandoning economic equality. we can say we want to be unequal society and we can embrace the class warfare approach. they give up on being a middle-class nation. that would mean we would have to change our constitutional structure at the root level. born for the rich and poor. we might resurrect the tribune from rome. a professor at the university of chicago thinks we should do just that. i think these are pretty outlandish to be implemented. and probably undesirable. i don't think we want to be a country that has fixed economic classes. the second option is that we have to rebuild our middle class.
we had to reshape our economy maker politics by democratic. we talk about the political movements and political reforms for voting to campaign finance. we have to do these things not for economic reasons, not just because they're important week source system. we have to do these things because the risk at the core of our constitutional system and what it means to have a republic. here's the thing. the founders would've understood this. they knew they were built in the constitution on economic assumptions and they knew that someday conditions for change. i'll just end with a quote from the father of the constitution, james madison, who thought quite a bit about this problem over the course of his life and in 1829, he sat down to compare the availability of land, to move west with the estimates for
population growth and the audit would be 100 years before america had to confront the problem of inequality. he said would not have been, quote, the institutions and laws of the country must be adapted and it will require for the task of the wisdom of the wisest patriots. they think what we need today are wise teacher at two can help reform our system so we can preserve our republic. thank you. [applause] so i'm happy to answer some questions if anyone is interested. we have a mic. the front. feel free to come on up, get in line. questions i will point out often have they often have it? often have they? at the end. if you have questions, that would be terrific.
and if you can say her name to us also. >> caroline albright. >> iconic airline. >> this is exactly what you're talking about, but it will give time for other people to think of questions. i thought the middle-class is a modern thing. it was an engaging times like the odyssey. aristocrat and peasants or whatever. we did get done until we had in history so to say. so how did aristotle come up with this idea? >> it's a great question. part of the question is what do we mean by middle-class? this is a hard question for anyone using the phrase because a lot of time and people save middle-class, what they want is give me a number, a fixed dollar amount. that's a hard thing because in
every society, every country across time, that completely changes inflation, prices. dollar amounts commend these things are difficult. i do find middle-class of the book i say not the very rich, not the very poor. that's consistent throughout history at you see people talking about this in these terms. for aristotle, it's pretty simple to see there can be rich, poor and also people in the middle. the thing that aristotle says, he doesn't talk much in politics about these mental constitutions. the reason why he says is this it be the best constitution, the middle constitution. when we look around, we don't have the societies that are middle-class people. here it is all rich and poor. for him it was all theoretical. you still see people talking about rich or poor and they recognize the middle. the middle marches that
different times in different places. in florence there's a writer who i read about in the book who identifies a change that happened leading to the rise of what he calls the mediocre. it means that middle. the people in the middle. in between rich and in between poorer. there is a sense of that, too. james harrington in england in the 17th century recognize that that there are people in the middle. at the 18th century see lots of people in early america. they say the middle people. somewhere in between the wealthy and the poor. the middle-class itself does take prominence in the torre era as the phrase, but i think the basic idea is pretty can escape route to political thought of the centuries before that. >> thank you.
>> yeah, let me thank you for a very interesting and talk. i have a few questions. i am from the caribbean, has said he saw another than are mostly come from a different angle. and i was somewhat surprised that you declared obviously the constitution to be kind of the middle-class cons to shame. i'm sure you know the great political right of pointing out how the constitution was written in the united states. granted it was bland and the opportunities for people to get in. ..
happened. that, basically, what you had in these societies, in western societies, right, was the largest solidarity mechanism starting to fracture and break apart, right? the kids of the working class know we're moving up. they were becoming educated. and they didn't have much relationships as their fathers had with the working class. so they didn't feel this need for -- [inaudible] so the issue is, obviously, for this thing to work, all of the institutions have to work in a certain way at a certain time together. once you get the supreme court -- [inaudible] but fundamental right-wing people, you've got a political system packed by increasingly right-wing people who don't really reflect -- i mean, we know hillary clinton won by three million votes. he's still president, right? so the system itself is a huge problem. so the issue is, and the issues
that you put forward also seem to me to demand, right, you didn't touch on him to demand a much more -- >> [inaudible] >> no, no, a much more economic democracy. so how do you think about these issues, and do you see any moves anymore because -- [inaudible] french-dutch. so how do you see this playing out, and do you have a lot of optimism? >> thanks, great questions. so on the first question, so a little bit of background. about a century ago, there was a historian named charles beard and he wrote a very are famous book, and in the book he argued that the constitution was designed by the founders basically to rig the system the serve their own personal be economic interests. and he went through in great detail showing the different interests of all the particular
people at the constitutional convention s and so in trying to link that up to outcomes of the constitution. this thesis, which really sticks with us, i think, a lot of people in the historical imagine if nation was actually -- imagination was decisively debunked by his attorneys in the -- historians in the 1960s who found beard was wrong. but the broader claim is still a very powerful one, that the constitution was rigged by people to try to establish a more aristocratic form of government. but i think the challenge that we have to ask ourselves if we think about the constitution that way is why didn't they rig it more. [laughter] and just think about that though. the whole history of governments before that included things like property qualifications for members of upper houses like the senate, even for the house of representatives potentially.
you could imagine designing a system that way. the 1780 constitution of massachusetts, the longest standing constitution in the history of the world, written by john adamss had property qualifications in it for the governor, for the senators. it was deeply aristocratic. these kind of designs were debated widely throughout the colonies at the time and rejected. that is a radical change. and the reason that they were rejected, there's a number of reasons. some are practical, how exactly would you design those things and so on, but one of the things you see consistently in the notes from the constitutional convention is them referring to the people who were absent at the constitutional convention, and that's the people. and they knew what the people wanted, and they knew what the people believed which was this was actually an equal say and they couldn't rig the system more without running afoul of what the people would accept and what the people really wanted.
so the founding generation, the people who ratified the constitution when they were embracing it were not embracing a document that they thought was rigged for the system. you don't see people who are federalists making the argument this is a great constitution because it entrenches the elite and will overthrow all the power of the people. that's not what they say. what they say is this is a great constitution because every aspect of it draws, some directly, some indirectly, from the great fountain of the people, the great part of the democracy. everything is rooted in that, and so there was a sense at this time that that was a real constraint, a real thing that people believed. and so that's why they didn't rig it more. the baseline isn't how we think about democracy today, the baseline for them is looking at 2,000 years of history and looking at the european experience. and on that grounds i think it's a quite radical document. to your second question, how should we think about the
changes that we need today, there are a lot of things, and we could go into these, i'm sure, there's many policy experts in each of these areas. but we talk a lot about things like the minimum wage. it's a way to lift wages up. we talk about redistributive mechanisms, taxes, transfer programs, but there's also things you can do with predistribution. thinking about how the economy be runs. antitrust for the progressives, as i suggest in the book, was one of the ways they thought about this. and the idea here is if you have a nation of small business openers, small proprietors, what you have is not a massive concentration of wealth in the few, you have it being distributed across everyone. so antitrust was partly about that. and what's interesting is when you go back and look at whether it's louis brandeis, roosevelt or orrs, they often -- or
others, they often talk about it in constitutional terms, that it is essential to preserve our constitutional system. >> hi, good evening. thanks much for your talk. as you were speaking, i found myself sort of thinking throughout, you know, what happens if we take this interpretation sort of flip it on its head? so i've heard the argument advanced that a certain amount of inequality is good in a society. particularly you see that in the argument that, well, it's an incentive, and it's an economic driver, having the opportunity to move from one class to another motivates people to work and, in fact, having another class provides that incentive. i'm curious how you would approach that if perhaps the other alternative interpretation would be not that equality was presupposed in the framing of the constitution, but rather that inequality was presupposed and was accepted to be a good thing. what's good and what's too much, of course, is a large field for
debate. similarly, i recall being in elementary school and have been taught time and time again how our own legislature mirrors that of the roman republics, upper house, lower house, in fact, is modeled on that very same thought process which involves an upper and a lower class. so i'm just kind of curious what your thought process is in terms of what happens when we take that argument and look at the mirror image and start thinking in terms of what inequality's role is. >> great. thanks for the question. so, you know, to start with the second part of it, thinking about the roman case, i'll just stress, again, the key difference actually between our system and the prior systems is that it doesn't build in class directly into the structure of government. and this is a hard thing to tell in some cases because we think of the senate maybe as the roman senate or as the house of lords, and we think of the house of commons as the house of representatives.
but there is a big difference in how people thought of these over time. and the shift, the radical thing that james madison explains in the federalist papers is that our -- and, actually, you see this throughout the debates in the ratification of the constitution -- is that our system, a separation of powers is not based on checking and balancing classes. it's based on checking and balancing just different institutions. the president, one house of the legislature, another house of the legislature, but the whole idea is it's not about classes. and what they say is why is this, why would it ever be about classes? we don't have classes here that we would need to check against each other. and that is something you see said in these debates. on the broader question about inequality, you know, the idea here isn't that there's perfect equality, certainly. there was not perfect equality at the time of the founding. far frit, there are big -- far from it, there are big differences.
their not the huge extremes you would see in europe at the time or even today. and i think that's the idea, that there's got to be a range that is brought. and one thing i'll say about this is how culturally this is important. so you talked a little bit about the need to spur people to act. but the other side of this is what it takes to have a virtuous citizenry. and one of the things that's surprised, i think, to a lot of modern ears is how skeptical they were of commerce because they thought it would destroy virtue. one of the important things about the middle class is it gives everyone a measure of being similar to each other and a measure of economic independence, and both of those things they thought developed the kinds of virtues that were needed for people to be equal citizens in a republic. so i think that's another way of thinking about the same set of ideas, that this is really a different world where they have different considerations. things like virtue are at the
forefront of their minds. >> good evening. joel heller. a lot of the examples you gave for the idea that the time of the founding of america was kind of premised on an idea of equality had to do with property ownership. do you have any examples aside from that that show this idea of economic equality was kind of built into the system? and also do you think property ownership still needs to be part of the constitution, or part of the conversation today when talking about restoring the middle class? >> so most of the founders talk quite a bit about property. the reason is because property was a primary mode of wealth at the time, and there was a lot of land, property available near america. here in america. is property's really core the how people think about this. and you see it throughout the writings of basically every one of the leading founders. maybe most famous is jefferson who says when he gets rid of the entail, which is a way to link
property to your descendants over time. if you've watched downton abbey, the very first season is all about the entail. this made property law professors just giddy with delight -- [laughter] for years, that pop culture knew the entail. jefferson said he, quote, laid the axe to the pseudoaristocracy because property was the key way an aristocracy would develop over time. there is the sense that there were other people in the founding who weren't just farmers. there was a lot of artisan allay boar, people are owners of their own work, there were some merchants. there was a merchant set of people. but the comparison in what merchants made even between america and europe was pretty stark. so by one account the wealthiest merchants in america had wealth levels of about 50,000 british
pounds compared to in london where the wealthiest merchants were around 800,000 pounds. so that's a factor of ten plus in thinking about just the differences among merchants. so i think even in the cases where we're not just talking about farmers and agricultural land, there were stark differences between america and europe. >> thank you. thanks for a great presentation. >> thank you. >> i'm wondering about the role of political populism in relation to inequality, sort of historically but, of course, especially in the present context. it seems like populism ought to have, ought to potentially be a sort of process that society goes through to sort of react to rising inequality. maybe it doesn't always work that way, i don't know.
but historically, can you say that it typically works that way? and if that is true, then given that now we have inequality, rising inequality, we also have rising populism, does that hold some hope? for the future? >> great question. so you do see populism throughout american history, and i'll -- and it comes this waves. it comes often at times at fear of inequality, fear in the changing economy be, the jacksonians are poppe risks at -- populists at a time when there is big changes in commerce. one scholar calls in the market rev hugh, the expansion of commerce in the 1820s, and jacksonian populism is in part a reaction to that. during the gilded age you have the populists, but a group of people also we consider populists with a small p, the knights of labor, the farmers alliance, there's a wide variety of these groups that organize
and really try to change the nature of the economy. doing some of the things like i suggested, antitrust, income taxes. but, in fact, the populists in that period presaged many, many of the 20th century skulls, they advocated for the eight-hour work days, for banning child labor. thaw used the -- they used the phrase be equal pay for equal work referring the women getting paid equally way back in the 18th century. there was a strand of populists that tried to unite african-americans and white working class people in the south even. and they organized them. they pushed hard to try to link across race in order to push back against what they saw as a minuter aristocracy that was keeping down both races. that effort failed, obviously. but there was a lot of populism at different times to push back against this.
so one of the things i think is most striking that i found in researching the book is how many times change happened because of real grassroots action. it required leaders also, there were always leaders, teddy roosevelt and others, but there was massive mobilization on the ground. one example be, the united states passes a corporate tax in 1895, and this is partly a response to the panic of 1893 and the massive depression that follows, and people get organized. they're angry. there's march anything the streets, there's violence, and this is an element of populism, and it leads to economic change. and i'm not advocating for violence, certainly, but the idea that people who are really engaged can push political actors to be responsive to their needs is an important one and really drove a lot of the progressive changes both on the economic side and on the political side. >> hi. my name is bonnie, and you spoke
about aristotle talking about the great middle class as it was at that time. as i recall, he wrote about having serious doubts about a democracy because he said that a democracy leads to tyranny. and so what was important to him was education and that the educated people be the ones to be in the hierarchy, the ruling hierarchy. the benevolent ruling hierarchy. so you haven't said anything about education, but you've talked about owning property, kind of an equality of wages and everything. what's the connection with education since we're mindful of the fact that the current person who sometimes sits in the white
house -- [laughter] said i just love educated people because they're the -- uneducated people because they're the ones who vote for me. your thoughts? >> so education, well, there's multiple ways we can think about education in the context of the system. the first is we might have a link between education and the middle class or the education and economics. some people think and define the middle class based on education. and that gets back to our conversation earlier about how we think about what is the middle class. there's another idea that we have, largely 20th century idea, but there's an element of it in the 19th century too that education is the best, maybe even the only way to move forward into the middle class. there's a book by a couple of economists called "the race between education and technology" which suggests that education is the way to stay ahead of technological changes and still be able to be successful in the new economy. so we can think about education on the economic side of the ledger. on the political or
constitutional side of the ledger, a number of people throughout our history have believed that education was very important for having a virtuous citizenry, for having citizens who understood their duties, understood their responsibilities in the society. and so education was a key component of that. but they also thought that education was important for uniting us as a people. so many of the founding generation advocated, for example, for a national university. james madison at one point said he thought this would be good because it would help build social harmony. so there was an element of bringing people together. in the 19th century, you see the land grant colleges which are both an element of economic opportunity, but also are there the help build an educated citizenry throughout the west and throughout the growing expansion of the country. so i think education plays a role in many of these different dimensions and is an important one. i'll just add one other thing about how education can be experiencial and help lead to
virtue n. the gilded age period, the populists, many of them thought that the answer to the problems of their period -- which was basically the creation of the corporation, that's what they saw as one of the big innovations where there were now owners, shareholders and wage workers -- was not socialism, it wasn't national own you areship, it was creating cooperatives x. the idea was that the workers would both be openers and workers but also share in governing the corporation, and that would train them in the process of making hard choices, learning how the institution ran. and these would be the kind of virtues that are good for the education of a middle class person but also of a citizen who has to deliberate on national questions where there are trade-offs and where there are real challenges as well. so there's different kinds of ways to think about education in that context. >> we're just going to take these last two questions.
>> thank you for coming here. i was a bit disappointed for you not bringing up scandinavia. they established something in their equality. hard taxation, welfare system. how such a thing with the onlying thing american think about is reducing taxes. i think that's very important point. >> not all americans. >> yeah. welfare. i believe that a lot of americans think welfare system is useless thing, and you did not mention welfare. so just want you to comment on this. >> yeah. so when we talk about inequality, there's a few different things we can and should talk about.
one is the difference between the -- well, let's split up. we have three categories, the poor, the middle and the rich. there was a period of time in our history where the biggest divides were between the poor and the middle. and, actually, in the period of the great come presentation after -- compression after world war ii, there was a lot of poverty in america, and there was a big divide between the poor and the middle even though we were relatively equal as a society. a lot of policy things helped solve those problems. i mentioned in the talk medicare and medicaid had start many of the welfare programs, programs of the great society were hugely important in alleviating poverty. these programs largely succeeded at doing so. another problem we can talk about is the difference between the very rich and everyone else. and that's actually more where today this is a problem, is that
we see a greater and greater share, the economists tell us, of the wealth going to the wealthiest people in our society. and that is the thing that leads to the possibilities of old gary, aristocracy and so on that we've been talking about. so i think there's an important component to play at the lowest end. but at the moment, i think some of the biggest threats to our republic come from the net of old gary more than anything else -- the threat of oligarchy more than anything else. >> thank you very much for coming. my name is sterling. i'm looking forward to reading your book. what do you think is the impact of technology on wealth inequality? since there's a microphone, i can't help myself. you know, march madness is going on. you've got a few of these basketball players that'll go on to the pros, and they'll make an incredible amount of money. the difference between using the example of george washington, george washington and now, as i see it, one of the main differences is technology. so my question is the impact of
technology on wealth inequality. >> so i think there's a lot of things that impact inequality, and as i started, i'm not an economist, so i won't pretend to choose which ones are the most important or rank them or anything like that, but technology has got to be part of the story here. and the reason why is we've become more productive through technology, but when that happens, people lose jobs. and the question is can people go back and get retrained or reskilled or get other jobs. a great example of in that we're all probably aware of that looms large in our future is in most states one of if not the number one drive -- one job is driving. we now have self-driving cars. in a few years, we may have self-driving trucks everywhere, and that'll be a lot of people who'll lose their livelihoods potentially over a technological innovation that has great promise in a variety of other
leans thats. -- arenas. for example, fewer accidents, more productivity for people being able to drive all night long. machine doesn't need to sleep or take breaks. so so there's a challenge of how we deal in a world of increasing technology with the fact that some people are going to be very deeply disproportionately impacted by this, and i think we see that all over america that it's very, very hard to figure out how you can retrain or reskill for the new jobs of the future, but that's one of our big challengeses, and i think that's a core part of what people today when i talked about the wisest patriots, how are we going to confront these challenges of the future head on and try to solve them. [applause] so as i mentioned at the start, i'm going to hang out here and
sign some books if you get them and come on up, we'll do that right now. [inaudible conversations] >> booktv is on twitter and facebook, and we want to hear from you. tweet us, twitter.com/booktv. or post a comment on our facebook page, facebook.com/booktv. >> but the other sort of contribution that i think the book or i hope the book has is a discussion of the domestic cadaver trade. and this is the trafficking of dead bodies.
i've traced medical school records, anatomy professors that were involved in this traffic, and they wrote letters back and forth to one another looking for the dead bodies of enslaved people or exhuming them from graves. one of the pivotal quotes that i have is a quote from one medical doctor to another who's saying, you know, tell me how much it costs for a dead stiff n-word -- excuse me, do tell me what the cost is of a dead, fine, stiff n, one that'll cut up fat and doesn't smell strong enough to be nosed a mile off. is to i traced this traffic in this trade of these bodies, and i look at the ways in which even after death enslaved people were commodified. so just two final closing, short one-sentence quotes that helped me push through this book, and that is a quote from elizabeth connectly who some of you may
know was the end slaved seamstress to martha jefferson. and she says here when she talks about what death was like, at the grave at least we shall be permitted to lay our burdens down that a new world, a world of brightness may open to us. the light that is denied us here should grow into a flood of end lens beyond the dark, mysterious shadows of death. i thought that was just a powerful way to think about how enslaved people looked at their afterlives. and then finally, i shared this when i was here a few weeks ago. a slave named mingo wrote a poem on the beam of a jail cell wall to his wife after they'd been separated. and he says to her, dear wife, they cannot sell the rose of love that in my bosom glows. remember as your tears may start, they cannot sell thy immortal part. thank you. [applause]
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