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Forum gives students inside look at economy

BY MORGAN OLSEN | JANUARY 28, 2010 7:30 AM

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Everyone knows that our country is trying to crawl out of a recession, but not everyone understands how or why we got here.

Dean Baker, a codirector of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C., spoke to UI students and local residents about exactly that on Wednesday night.

Baker’s lecture kicked off the university’s weekly forum of lectures concerning important domestic policy issues. Every Wednesday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., the UI Public Policy Center and the UI history department will host free sessions on such issues as health care, poverty, immigration, and taxes.

The forums, which double as a history and political science class, will offer 12 to 14 topics throughout the semester.

“We want students to get access to some expertise they normally wouldn’t get access to,” said Peter Damiano, the director of the Public Policy Center. “We hope to expose students to topics from a whole bunch of areas that will be important to them for the rest of their lives.”

As the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, Baker promotes democratic debate on economic and social issues in order help the public make more informed decisions.

Baker’s lecture, “The Great Recession: How We Got Here and How We Get Out,” focused on the national housing bubble, which he blames for the economic downfall.

UI junior Chris Collier said Baker presented a new perspective of the economy for him.

“He really narrowed it down to the housing, which was an interesting perspective to get,” Collier said. “It was very articulate and very composed.”

Baker cited rising vacancy rates, a boom in commercial real estate, and stagnant rent prices as signs that were neglected.

“Two factors affect the housing fall in certain locations,” he said. “One is they tended to have less-vibrant communities. The other is they had relatively few restrictions on building laws.”

He credited financial issues as a secondary cause of the overall downfall.

In his most recent book, False Profits: Recovering from the Bubble Economy, he goes in-depth on his view of what caused the current economic crisis and how we can fix it.

While Baker predicts unemployment to stay high for the next two years, he said he is optimistic about fixing the problem at hand.

“He simplified complicated issues to an understanding level,” said John Solow, an associate professor of economics. “Not a lot of the information was new to me, because I am an economist, but to a student, it will help you sort out what’s happening.”

UI junior Austin Quint also said he thought the first forum of the semester was informative.

“It opened my eyes to the reality behind how limiting our debt can be,” he said. “I was surprised that more people did not see this crisis coming.”


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