Last week, I saw a news clip about a Nobel Prize winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz, speaking on behalf of the protesters in Manhattan who are calling for radical change in our economic system that currently allows the very wealthy to pay less of a share of their earnings to taxes than do many of the people who work for them. I was intrigued because one of my advisors on my dissertation was a graduate student at Yale University when Dr. Stiglitz taught there, and always spoke with great awe of that professor whom he had known long ago. It reminded me of several families that were instrumental in leading my own family to the adoption process, and therefore to the adoption of my own daughter. I sometimes call them “grandparents in adoption”, as, if it were not for them, we would not have summoned the courage to proceed with the adoption process and I would not have the family I have today. In many ways, then, I suppose that the ideas shared on that new program came from someone that I can call an “academic ancestor.”
When I was in graduate school in the late 1980s, I recall watching the occupation of Tiananmen Square in China by the young, idealistic citizens who were calling for change in that country. I remember feeling empowered at their courage to stand up to such a huge superpower, and of watching news casts of the occupation that even included a segment of one couple getting married in the middle of the encampment. I recalled the question I had heard before, “what happens if peace breaks out?” and felt that surely that was what was happening in China on those spring days that I, admittedly spent safely in my graduate school apartment.
One morning late that spring one of my friends phoned with what that consisted of only the hesitant phrase “have you turned on the news yet today?” That news told us, of course, that the demonstration had ended violently. As I watch slices of news segments about the occupation on Wall Street, I hope that my confidence in the United States as a country of law and justice is well placed.
I recall my early days in graduate school, when I thought that my work in economics would somehow help make the world a more just and fair place. The best I can say is that I have published some academic articles about the economics of nonprofit organizations and the volunteer labor they use. Now that I have a family, I know that I will never be able to join in protests like the one on Wall Street (and must admit that I probably would never have joined, anyhow.) However, I am still intrigued at the courage of those willing to take a stand against structures they perceive to be wrong.
And so, in honor of the protesters on Wall Street, this economist who actually teaches math and calls herself “math geek mom” joins her voice with that Nobel Prize winner and proposes a topic for discussion. Please “occupy” this space and share your thoughts as to what injustices you see in our economy, and what in particular you would change, if you had the power. For those of us used to “assessment”, feel free to answer the question of how we would know if such changes actually occur. I am looking for a concrete list of things that we might want to see happen, and suspect that my academic readers would have good ideas for such goals. Go ahead, write your thoughts and stories. There are no tanks or guns here, only the power of the pen.