World governments cannot ignore workers while pushing for economic success in the future, said Ethan B. Kapstein, the newly appointed Stassen Chair in International Peace at the University’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.
“After World War II, states struck a bargain with working people. Now that bargain has become unstruck,” Kapstein said. “So now we have to renegotiate that bargain.”
Kapstein lectured Monday evening in Cowles Auditorium, located in the Humphrey Institute. This was his first lecture since he was appointed the Stassen Chair.
His speech, entitled “Workers and the World Economy,” drew a crowd of about 50 people. In the audience was three-time former Minnesota Gov. Harold Stassen, for whom the Stassen chair is named.
Reading from Stassen’s 1947 book, “Where I Stand,” Kapstein compared today’s economy to the economic climate the governor lived in as a young adult.
“When from coast to coast wages were being hammered down and the inevitable strikes were being met by force, by martial law or by policemen’s clubs,” Kapstein read, “Unions by the score were broken. This was a sorry state, in industry after industry, state after state. Capital was too strong. Labor was too weak.”
Looking up into the faces watching him, Kapstein spoke of the current economy.
“Today we’re being met by a new age of economic insecurity,” he said. “For the global economy has left millions of people in its train.
“Rapid technological change and increasing economic competition are destabilizing job markets.”
Kapstein, whose chair is a joint appointment with the Humphrey Institute and the University’s Department of Political Science, said the government is unable to respond to economic changes because of globalization.
“Just when working people most need the state to act as a buffer between them and the global economy, it is abandoning them,” he said.
Kapstein said workers face many problems, such as low wages, in the future. He said much of the money invested in technological advances is returned to investors but this extra money is not passed on to workers.
“What the United States and its trading partners must do is act to relieve some of the immediate pressure acting upon workers.
“To do that they’ll need to develop a coherent package of policy initiatives, increase productivity, transfer income and create jobs,” he said, adding that the current government is not doing any of these things.
Kapstein said Congress’ goal to balance the budget is in opposition to improving workers’ wages.
“President Clinton may have been right to proclaim that the era of big government is over. Perhaps the American people will decide ultimately that those who need assistance should look elsewhere,” he said. “But I think it would be reckless to make such profound choices about the state and its society in absence of a serious debate about the alternative policies.”
Following the speech, Stassen said Kapstein is coming to terms with some of the great problems that face America and other countries today.
“As I sense it, he is convinced that globalization is inevitable,” Stassen said.
Stassen, who signed the original United Nations Charter, said Kapstein’s lecture raised a number of economic issues that will probably be scrutinized in the future.