Distinguished economist next in Bryan Series

Courtesy of Patrick Singleton

Next week, Robert Reich will speak for the Bryan Series on the defining challenge of our time. Most Guilford students, and most Americans, probably cannot identify that challenge.

“When does inequality become such a problem for the country that the middle class no longer has enough purchasing power to get the economy out of first gear?” asked Reich in a video message he sent to Guilford about his upcoming talk.

“A problem large enough that our democracy is basically taken over by big money, leaving the rest of us without much of a voice? Are we in danger of reaching that point, and, if so, what do we do about it?”

Reich is an economist with a knack for making economics come alive. Both during and after his time as secretary of labor for the Clinton administration, Reich vocally denounced the growing inequality between the rich and the poor as the cause of the country’s current state. Others, including the current president, have acknowledged this inequality as our defining challenge.

“(Reich) has become quite a champion for this whole matter of income inequality,” said Associate Vice President of Communications and Marketing Ty Buckner, one of the people overseeing the Bryan Series. “We committed to bringing him well over a year ago, but knew that the topic would be timely, even now. It’s a problem that’s not going away, certainly not very quickly.”

Reich has wanted to come to Guilford for years.

“I’ve admired its Quaker and liberal arts tradition, (its) ethic of preparing men and women for constructive action dedicated to the betterment of the world,” said Reich in a phone interview with The Guilfordian.

Admission to the lecture is free for Guilford students. Many students jumped at the chance to learn more about Reich’s work and his approach to the topic.

“I look forward to hearing Reich talk about how income inequality undermines democracy, one of the most foundational aspect of our country,” said sophomore Devon Murphy-Anderson in an email interview.

Others know less about Reich, but still expect to learn from his talk.

“No matter what people’s beliefs are, it’s good to be open,” said first-year Dani Gottbrecht. “If he has ideas on improving the economy, or America as a whole, I’m very open to hearing them.”

Associate Professor of Political Science Ken Gilmore is writing a book about inequality for a class he teaches. Each semester, Gilmore shows his class “Inequality for All,” Reich’s documentary about the implications of what happens when income and opportunity exist for Americans in unequal portions.

“(Reich’s message) ties in with the ethos of (Guilford),” said Gilmore. “Why does a college exist if not to give people the opportunity for success?”

Reich currently teaches as a professor at University of California, Berkeley. He was voted one of the most effective cabinet members of the twentieth century when he served under Bill Clinton. He has often appeared on The Daily Show, NPR and many other programs. His movie, “Inequality for All,” is on Netflix, iTunes and DVD.

The Bryan Series focuses on finding distinguished speakers such as Reich to visit Guilford, so that community members can learn from them.

“We look for different factors,” said Associate Director of the Bryan Series Suzanne Ingram. “They need to provide a good message and be substantive. (He) has a message for the world, pretty much.”

The lecture will take place at 7:30 p.m., Feb. 17, at Greensboro Coliseum Complex. Tickets for students are free, but all student tickets available ahead of time are sold out. A limited number will be available at the door. Reich will also be part of a student discussion on campus at 4 p.m. the day of the event for students who have signed up.

In anticipation of his visit, Chair and Professor of Economics Bob Williams will give a talk about inequality on Sunday, 3:30 p.m., and the Center for Principled Problem Solving will screen his movie.

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