Professor: Disparate Groups Could Be Long-Term Answer to Economy


Dr. Robert Wright, Nef Family chair of Political Economy and director of the Thomas Willing Institute, discussed "How Low Will We Go? Long-term Perspectives on a Flailing Economy" at the Augustana Thought Leader Forum on Friday, Feb. 24, in Sioux Falls.

The following article appeared in the Saturday, Feb. 25, edition of the Argus Leader:

Disparate Groups Could Be Long-Term Answer to Economy, Analyst Says
By Sarah Reinecke, Argus Leader

The short-term outlook for the national economy is grim and, without major reform, long-term effects could last decades.

That’s the analysis of Robert Wright, Nef Family chair of Political Economy at Augustana College.

Wright said Friday that tea party types, Ron Paul and Occupy Wall Street groups — though vastly different — could unite under a neoprogressive banner and work to improve the American Democracy.

“If Paulites, tea partiers and Occupiers can concentrate on common ground, they could implement reforms that would restore Americans’ faith in their government and give them reasons to work hard and smart once again,” he said during the Augustana College Thought Leader Forum at Callaways.

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Wright, who also is director of the Thomas Willing Institute, said incentives to work hard and smart are deteriorating, and unless they are restored the U.S. economy will continue to stagnate. Eventually, that could drag down even the vibrant economy of the Northern Plain

“We need a sea change in our political scene for us to get out of our economic funk,” he said.

Locally though, Wright cited South Dakota’s recent high rankings for economic outlook and other accolades, new construction and confident leaders in Sioux Falls, and called the short-term outlook beautiful.

A century ago, Wright said Progressives — made up of Republicans, Democrats and populists — sought to fight corruption and inefficiency with reform by pushing issues such as direct primaries, direct election of U.S. senators and women’s suffrage.

“It was the Progressives who revitalized American democracy,” he said.

He also said it’s unlikely reform would create economic policies that hurt long-term growth prospects.

“There is little to fear from ‘wrong’ policies,” he said. “What we need to worry about is what we now have in spades, illegitimate and unconstitutional policies that benefit small special interest groups at the expense of taxpayers and overall economic health.”

Reynold Nesiba, an associate professor of economics at Augustana College who attended the lecture, said he agrees that Congress is not working well together. Compromise is absent, he said.

As for three distinctly different groups coming together to create reform, Nesiba said there is support for Wright’s neoprogressive thoughts.

“At first glance, it sounds impossible, and I don’t think those three groups are going to come together, but all three resonate with this idea that government isn’t working for them and that they don’t have a voice so they’re unable to actively participate,” he said. “The problem is, they share some of the same problems, but I presume those groups would come up with pretty different solutions about what to do with issues like inequality and lack of voice in government.”

Duane Anderson attended the event and said he tries to attend all of the Augustana’s Thought Leader Forum events because it’s a good opportunity to get educated by local and national leaders.

“I hope (economic conditions) are better than he predicts,” Anderson said after the lecture.