Challenges to Democracy Launch Event: Inequality vs. Democracy with WBUR and NPR’s On Point


Thursday, October 3, 2013, 6:00pm


JFK Jr. Forum, Harvard Kennedy School, 79 JFK St., Cambridge, MA

Tom AshbrookModerated by Tom Ashbrook, host of On Point.


Chrystia Freeland
Liberal Party Candidate for Canadian Parliament, Journalist and Author of Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else

Martin Gilens
Professor of Politics, Princeton University, Author, Affluence & Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America

Alex Keyssar
Matthew W. Stirling Jr. Professor of History and Social Policy, HKS Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy

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Read the Challenges to Democracy blog post about this event.

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About the Event
The subject of growing wealth and income gaps between the wealthiest and the rest is particularly salient to the health of our democracy – testing our sense of fairness, social mobility and equal opportunity. Economic inequality also threatens to undermine the principle of political equality upon which our country is founded.

This discussion, moderated by Mr. Ashbrook and to be broadcast on WBUR and NPR’s On Point soon after, will examine economic inequality and its relationship with political inequality – in particular how and why life looks so different for the richest and the poorest Americans. How do the very poor view their opportunities to get ahead? Do they still believe in the American Dream? And how do the extremely wealthy view their rights and responsibilities in American society? Are they even bound to any one place like the rest of us? What is our government doing about this: how has public policy been both a source of and a solution to inequality? What should it be doing?

About the Speakers
On Point’s host, Tom Ashbrook, is an award-winning journalist brought to public radio following the attacks of September 11, 2001, when he was enlisted by NPR and WBUR-Boston for special coverage, after a distinguished career in newspaper reporting and editing. Tom’s career in journalism spans twenty years as a foreign correspondent, newspaper editor, and author. He spent ten years in Asia – based in India, Hong Kong, and Japan – starting at the South China Morning Post, then as a correspondent for the Boston Globe. He began his reporting career covering the refugee exodus from Vietnam and the post-Mao opening of China, and has covered turmoil and shifting cultural and economic trends in the United States and around the world, from Somalia and Rwanda to Russia and the Balkans. At the Globe, where he served as deputy managing editor until 1996, he directed coverage of the first Gulf War and the end of the Cold War. More>>

Esteemed Canadian journalist and author Chrystia Freeland was born in Peace River, Alberta and studied at Harvard University where she received a B.A. in History and Literature. Freeland continued her studies on a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford University, where she completed her Master’s of studies degree. After cutting her journalistic teeth as a Ukraine-based stringer for the Financial Times, Washington Post, and The Economist, Freeland went on to wear many hats at the Financial Times, including deputy editor, U.K. news editor, Moscow bureau chief, Eastern Europe correspondent, editor of its weekend edition, and editor of Freeland served as deputy editor of Canada’s The Globe and Mail between 1999 and 2001, before becoming the U.S. managing editor of the Financial Times. In 2010, Freeland joined Canadian-owned Thomson Reuters as editor-at-large. She most recently worked as Managing Director and Editor of Consumer News. Freeland was a weekly columnist for the Globe and Mail, writing extensively about the challenges facing the middle class. Freeland is the author of Sale of a Century: The Inside Story of the Second Russian Revolution (2000) and Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else (2012). More>>

Martin Gilens is Professor of Politics at Princeton University. His research examines representation, public opinion, and mass media, especially in relation to inequality and public policy. Professor Gilens is the author of Affluence & Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America (2012, Princeton University Press) and Why Americans Hate Welfare: Race, Media and the Politics of Antipoverty Policy (1999, University of Chicago Press), and has published widely on political inequality, mass media, race, gender, and welfare. He holds a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California Berkeley, and taught at Yale University and UCLA before joining the faculty at Princeton. His research has been supported by the Russell Sage Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the Institute for Advanced Study, and the Social Science Research Council. More>>

Alexander Keyssar is the Matthew W. Stirling Jr. Professor of History and Social Policy. An historian by training, he has specialized in the explanation of issues that have contemporary policy implications. His book The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States (2000) was named the best book in U.S. history by both the American Historical Association and the Historical Society; it was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Award. A significantly revised and updated edition of The Right to Vote was published in 2009. His 1986 book, Out of Work: The First Century of Unemployment in Massachusetts, was awarded three scholarly prizes. Keyssar is coauthor of The Way of the Ship: America's Maritime History Reenvisioned, 1600-2000 (2008), and of Inventing America, a text integrating the history of technology and science into the mainstream of American history. In addition, he is coeditor of a series on Comparative and International Working-Class History. In 2004/5, Keyssar chaired the Social Science Research Council’s National Research Commission on Voting and Elections, and writes frequently for the popular press about American politics and history. Keyssar’s current research interests include election reform, the history of democracies, and the history of poverty. More>>

Reading List

Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else (Chrystia Freeland): “Forget the 1 percent; Plutocrats proves that it is the wealthiest 0.1 percent who are outpacing the rest of us at break-neck speed.”

Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America (Martin Gilens): “Affluence and Influence definitively explores how political inequality in the United States has evolved over the last several decades and how this growing disparity has been shaped by interest groups, parties, and elections.”

SLATE, The United States of Inequality (Timothy Noah): Ten-part series from September 2010 that explores possible drivers of inequality including race, gender, culture, immigration, technology, organized labor, policy, trade, public education, and more.

The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Income Inequality in the United States, 1913-1998 (Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez): Often-cited paper that “presents new homogeneous series on top shares of income and wages from 1913 to 1998 in the United States using individual tax returns data.”

Democracy, A Truer Form of Capitalism (Eric Beinhocker): “The profits of firms in more than 40 percent of the U.S. economy – in sectors such as agriculture, financial services, real estate, oil and gas, health care, education, and defense – are deeply intertwined with and at least partially dependent on policies in Washington.”

Boston Review, What to Do About Inequality (David B. Grusky): “If we’re serious about reducing inequality, we need to do more than raise taxes on the rich. We need to correct the market failures in labor and education that generate it.”

Land of Hope and Dreams: Rock and Roll, Economics, and Rebuilding the Middle Class (Alan B. Krueger): Remarks as prepared for delivery by the Chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, OH on June 12, 2013.