Forum discusses tanking economy

IUS Horizon

More than 50 people packed into the Hoosier Room on Monday, Feb. 9 to hear a panel of IUS social science faculty discuss the economic crisis.

The panel included Stephanie Bower, professor of history, Jim St. Clair, professor of journalism, Sam Sloss, professor of sociology, and Joseph Wert, associate professor of political science.

Bower examined the economic collapse from the historical perspective.

“In the 1980s, the Midwest was defined by the term rustbelt,” Bower said. “It wasn’t always that way. From the 1880s to the 1930s, the Midwest was the center of innovation.”

Bower said the Midwest was once at the forefront of the auto and steel industries, and also boasted the most productive farms in the world.

“The cutting edge competitiveness of the region’s industries created opportunities for thousands of workers,” Bower said. “But once the depression hit in the ‘30s, the Midwest suffered a great decline. After World War II, the regions’ industries failed to innovate.”

Sloss examined the economic crisis from a sociological viewpoint, claiming covert governmental practices were largely to blame.

“The people at the top wrote the laws to benefit themselves and destroyed government secrecy in the process,” Sloss said.

“What ended up happening is that corporations began to police themselves, and the businesses started to run government by making you think that the government is the problem,” Sloss said. “They’re making money from misery.”

St. Clair examined the media’s role in the crisis and whether or not the media should have been more aggressive in foreseeing the economic collapse.

“Journalists seem to be trapped by conventions of objectivity, and therefore refrain from being aggressive analysts,” St. Clair said. “Part of the problem is the beat system, which limits a reporter’s range of sources. The power of interpretation is then placed into the hands of sources, giving the reporter a too limited view of the real story.”

He also blamed the practice of pack journalism for the media’s lack of foresight into the economic meltdown.

“Reporters tend to produce stories similar to those of other reporters,” St. Clair said.

“Editors are skeptical of breakout journalism, which really puts the brakes on a lot of important stories.”

Wert analyzed the crisis from the view of a political scientist.

“People have come to expect that when things go wrong with the economy, the federal government will always be there to bail us out,” Wert said. “Until the Great Depression, the federal government really had a ‘hands-off’ attitude when it came to the economy. That’s all changed.”

Erin Mathieson, nursing sophomore, attended the event.

“It was very informative,” Mathieson said. “It was really interesting how they brought different perspectives from across the social science. Sloss was a lot of fun to listen to, he’s very passionate about what he’s talking about.”

While Mathieson said she was interested by the topic, she said she is still looking for answers.

“It was more of a history lesson of what we’re learning about the economy,” Mathieson said. “It never really answered questions as to why it happened in the first place.”

Staff Writer