UT's Department of Political Science will host a discussion tonight at 7 p.m. in the Baker Center's Toyota Auditorium to explore the topic, "The Political Origins and Consequences of Inequality: A Roundtable."
The discussion will feature four college professors from various universities interested in income inequality: Joe Soss, Fred Solt, Nita Rudra and UT's Nathan Kelly.
"We're talking about people's lives here — their abilities to meet their basic needs and pursue their dreams," Soss, professor at the University of Minnesota, said. "We're talking about questions of social justice and who gets, what, when, how — about what should be rewarded in our society and in what proportions."
These four panelists will talk about inequality as it relates to politics and political influence. They will discuss how income levels affect who is in power and which issues are addressed at a given time.
"The United States is considerably more unequal than nearly any other rich democracy," Solt, assistant professor at the University of Iowa, said. "This has lots of effects. For example, as inequality has increased, class mobility has declined — the wealthy have been able use their money to provide their children with more and better opportunities than anyone else can afford."
This relationship between income and influence/opportunity is one that these professors have explored in depth for a long time.
"When I was in graduate school, I learned for the first time that inequality had been rising steadily for two decades," Kelly, an associate professor in political science at UT, said. "Anytime you see a social outcome that's been moving so consistently in one direction for such a long time, it's something to be curious about."
Jana Morgan, an associate professor of political science at UT and the moderator of the discussion, thinks UT students will benefit from attending the event and taking advantage of the question and answer session at the end.
"The roundtable will give students a chance to hear about a critical political and economic debate from experts doing cutting edge research on the topic," Morgan said. "We all have opinions about politics and inequality, and the roundtable will offer a chance to connect opinions to evidence."
This issue is especially timely, as many college students will soon have the opportunity to vote for the next president. Inequality plays a major role in many of the issues the U.S. will be facing in the coming years, and some of this inequality directly affects college students.
"The distribution of resources is a fundamental debate in politics and much political competition is essentially rooted in the question of who gets what," Morgan said. "Therefore understanding how politics affects this central outcome is really important for gaining insight into political competition and for considering how politics affects our lives."
If UT students feel like their voices are not being heard, Solt explains that inequality plays a major role in that.
"If college students are tired of feeling that no one in government is looking out for people like them, they need to understand that economic inequality is a principal reason why," Solt said. "Getting income inequality back under control, and so making the government more responsive to ordinary people, is going to be a major challenge for the foreseeable future."