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Wealth Inequality and the Eroding Middle Class

by UNC School of Law

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Nov 4th and 5th 2007 Keynote Address: Robert Kuttner Robert Kuttner is a co-founding editor of The American Prospect, a co-founder of the Economic Policy Institute and a Senior Distinguished Fellow at Demos. Panel I. Rising Economic Inequality: Why We Should Care Recent reports of an increasing gap between rich and poor have brought renewed attention to claims of disparities in wealth and income in the U.S. and abroad. This panel examined the data underlying the claims: has the distribution of wealth and income changed dramatically over time? How do race and ethnicity correlate to economic status? If inequality is on the rise, what does this mean for us as a society? How much income inequality is "too much"? Panel II. Labor Markets, Income Inequality and Globalization In an increasingly globalized marketplace, capital crosses geopolitical boundaries with increasing fluidity. Given this new economic reality, is it possible to address problems of income and wealth inequality in one nation in isolation? Is economic inequality the inevitable consequence of a fungible labor market? How have trade agreements shaped the global economy? What role does immigration play and what is its effect on the U.S. labor market? Panel III. How Law Constructs Wealth Patterns Wealth inequality is not a natural phenomenon--it is a product of social and public policy choices, often encoded in law. This panel investigated ways the law can perpetuate wealth inequality or act as a lever for change. Can certain areas of the law function in a more progressive manner to alleviate entrenched wealth inequality? Panel IV. Charting our Next Steps: Removing Obstacles to Change This panel engaged the critical question: what now? What are the political consequences of our definitions of socioeconomic class? Are stronger unions the path to the middle class or do we need to look for new paradigms? Which strategies for change are most effective at the state or local level and can they be duplicated more broadly?