What if the dominant paradigm of economic thinking in the United States is wrong? On Tuesday evening, in his talk titled “The Once and Future Worker: How Consumerist Consensus Led America Astray and How to Recover,” Oren Cass, senior fellow for policy research at the Manhattan Institute, outlined his vision for an economy that would take into account the interests of workers.
The event, held in Main Lounge, was hosted by the Bowdoin College Republicans.
In his lecture, Cass compared current forms of welfare that give people money so they can consume with a system that would focus resources on creating productive workers and families. He argued that his model would benefit all units: the individual worker, the family, the community and society as a whole.
The talk was based on the argument in his recent book, “The Once and Future Worker: A Vision for the Renewal of Work in America.” In it, Cass rejects what he see as the prevailing view of economics in the United States for the past 50 years: the prioritization of overall economic growth and subsequent redistribution, with a general focus on consumption. Cass, instead, favors a production-oriented approach.
“A labor market in which people can support healthy families and communities is the fundamental driver of prosperity; it should be the fundamental goal of public policy,” he said.
He argued that this approach would benefit workers, too.
“Having a role as a productive contributor to a community, to a society [and] being able to achieve self-sufficiency and provide for family are actually much more important [than consumption is],” he said.
Cass also thinks this economic model is most capable of addressing the needs of the working class. He attributed the rise of Donald Trump in the Republican Party to his ability to talk about work in a way that the party failed to do previously.
“In a party that thought the answer is still ‘the market is going to solve this,’ [Trump] really emerged and talked about the things the market wasn’t solving,” Cass said.
Cass has his own experience in politics. Before joining the Manhattan Institute, he was the domestic policy advisor for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. He was also a management consultant at Bain & Company and an editor of the Harvard Law Review.
Francisco Navarro ’19, co-chairman of the Bowdoin College Republicans, said Cass’ focus on work and the working class were relevant to the current American political context, especially since the 2016 presidential election.
“Definitely a component of that election was the working class. It will continue to be an important factor for American politics, and I think [Cass] has a pretty unique way of viewing that,” Navarro said.
Though the talk was organized by the College Republicans, Navarro insisted that it was non-partisan and that students of all political leanings had something to learn.
“One of the conditions [for Cass] to come was that it would not be a talk just for Republicans,” Navarro said.
He hopes the lecture will kindle debate beyond his visit.
“I would encourage [students] to not leave this talk within the walls of Main Lounge, Moulton Union Tuesday 7:30 p.m.,” Navarro said. “But take the conversation and lessons to the lunch tables, to your other groups and see your administration and professors to pressure them that we need more.”