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Tim Pawlenty and Christina Romer at Vanderbilt IMPACT Symposium 2011

Posted by on Tuesday, March 22, 2011 in Economics, Extracurriculars, General Information, Speakers, Speakers Committee, Student Life, Vanderbilt Programming Board.

Tonight I went to go see Tim Pawlenty, former governor of Minnesota, and Christina Romer, former chair of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, speak on “Bridging the Gap: America’s Middle Class,” which is the theme of Vanderbilt’s 2011 IMPACT Symposium. IMPACT is put on by the Vanderbilt Programming Board’s Speakers Committee each year.

The talk was very exciting.  Romer was very pro- Democrat policies and Pawlenty is a Republican (who actually just announced that he is running for president).

I think the most of what I got from tonight’s debate-form talk is that both Republicans and Democrats want what is best for the U.S., but they cannot seem to agree on what is the best way to get to the same goals.  There seems to be multiple ways to get to the same goals, but no one knows (or will know till the end) which way is right.

The goals they seemed to agree on were

1) reduce unemployment

2) reduce deficit.

These goals are great, but it comes down to HOW? – a question of national preference (revealed through voting) and politics in leadership.  Agreement seems somewhat hopeless as numbers can be manipulated and data for one country or one particular time period cannot always be applied to the current situation.

Another thing that struck me is that sometimes intuition and our basic morality seems to be ignored.  I (being an economics student) understand the importance of data and incentives, but I also think that there is a truth that good, honest business practices will yield good, honest results.  Although we can’t expect humans to be perfect (honest and hard-working all the time), I believe that big institutions like the government need to set ethical expectations.  I think focusing on the data can sometimes minimize good work ethic and common sense.  Mistakes (like the bad-lending practices and GM’s lack of innovation before bailout) need to acknowledged and need to have consequences.  We need to set the right tone with our employees and employers, and although drastic situations called for drastic remedies, we must not merely count on regulation to fix the problem of ethics in the workplace: we need to set a national atmosphere of honesty and hard work.

Perhaps, it’s because I’ve always been biased to think that there’s something beyond the “obvious problem” of unemployment or deficit – it’s the attitude and approach to how the government, firms, and individuals operate, an atmosphere that can be changed.  In economics, we learn that expectations play a huge part in forecasting, recovery, demand, etc., etc…  I think we all want the best for America, but instead of assuming that we have honest, hard-working people, let us keep working to maintain an atmosphere that promotes being honest and hard-working.

Now I’m sounding like a politician! Whew, that presentation got me thinking!  That is why Vanderbilt is awesome – bringing great speakers and different viewpoints to campus to get the leaders of tomorrow (Vanderbilt students) thinking!

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