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JANUS forum to focus on inequality

Photo by Brett Milam | The Miami Student
Scott Winship

By Lana Pochiro, For The Miami Student

Speakers Melissa Boteach and Scott Winship will receive a warm welcome on Wednesday when they meet for Miami University Political Science Department's fall Janus Forum. Their discussion will center on the pivotal question, "What should government do about economic inequality?"

JANUS Forum President Andrew Geisler said he believes this question addresses an essential concern.

"Every semester the group of students involved deliberate on what issues are most salient with the Miami student body, and what's in the news," he said. "Questions like these go to the heart of what kind of a society we want to live in. Since we are the next generation, college students have to at least be thinking about these problems."

JANUS Forum Moderator Kirsten Fowler echoed Geisler's sentiments.

"Since the economy went downhill in 2007, it has been a major topic in American politics," she said. "Its something that affects everyone in America."

Geisler predicts the debate will encourage critical thinking about the state of our country's class system and the government's involvement.

"The discussion will naturally flow into talk of how to best lift the 15 percent of Americans in poverty out of it, and what to do about the fact that the American middle class collectively has not gotten a pay raise in 15 years," he said. "Are these two data points the result of the rich getting richer? Or are there other things the government has done to exacerbate these problems, things completely unrelated to top earners and marginal tax rates?"

Both speakers have considerable background in this subject area. Boteach works at American Progess educational institute as Vice President of Half in Ten and the Poverty and Prosperity Program. Winship specializes in economic mobility, inequality and insecurity as the Walter B. Wriston Fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

Fowler and Geisler expressed excitement regarding the speakers and their opposing viewpoints.

"We hope to provide students two distinct perspectives on the most important issues of our day," Geisler said. "Both Melissa Boteach and Scott Winship work on this issue at the highest levels of the public policy world, so they are a perfect fit for our event."

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Beyond their notable expertise and opposing standpoints, Fowler predicts that Boteach and Winship's experience in think tanks will create a unique debate.

"They're definitely from different sides of the spectrum, but they're both from think tanks," Fowler said. "I think it's going to be a different style. Last semester we had two journalists, and the semester before that we had two politicians, but these speakers are from think tanks. Theway they think about issues is going to be different."

These different perspectives and ideological leanings create the productive discussions that Janus Forum aims to facilitate.

"I expect they disagree sharply on how sure we are that inequality is a problem in and of itself, but may find some agreement on certain policy solutions to the nation's economic mobility problem--something like the earned income tax credit," Geisler said.

Although points of disagreement create debate, Geisler noted that the intersections of opposed perspectives provide useful solutions.

"I am excited to hear where, if anywhere, they agree on anti-poverty programs," he said. "A 15 percent poverty rate in a country like ours is unacceptable, and the way to get policy passed is with buy-in from both sides of the political aisle."

The Janus Forum's discussions hope to provoke critical thinking about pressing topics like economic inequality.

"Hopefully the forum serves as a useful foray for students into one of the most important public policy debates going on in our country, and makes them think harder about the real problems our generation faces," Geisler said.

Fowler said the focal goal of the Janus Forum is to engage Miami's students and community in discussions about these contemporary issues.

Fowler emphasizes the method of using Twitter to field questions for the speakers as opposed to the former open-mic segment as a key way to engage Miami's students.

"We can hear from a lot more people and help them contribute to the conversation," she said.

The Janus Forum will take place at 6 p.m. on Oct. 15 in the Armstrong Center's Wilks Theater. Tickets are free and available at the Miami University box office.