Penn Arts and Sciences

Annual Theme 2012-13

In 2012-13 Penn SSPF turned its attention to the Global Economic Crisis
, with special attention to the overlapping issues of the financial system, inequality and austerity. A series of groundbreaking economists, political scientists, sociologists, anthropologists and historians explored these issues in talks followed by lively discussions. Most of these are available on YouTube through the links below; click on event names for fuller descriptions, including links to selections of the presenters’ work.

Global Economic Crisis Faculty Advisory Committee:
Julia Gray (Political Science); Robert Inman (Wharton); Roberta Iversen (Social Policy and Practice); Julia Lynch (Political Science); Thomas Sugrue (SSPF Director); Susan Wachter (Wharton).

  • Thursday, October 18, 2012 - 4:30pm - 6:00pm

    View now on YouTube.

    THE STORY OF AMERICA is a story of dreamers and defaulters.  It is also a story of dramatic financial panics that defined the nation, created its political parties and caused millions to escape to new towns in the Northwest or cross the Mississippi into Texas. As far back as 1792, panics boiled down to a simple question: would Americans pay their debts—or was it just a nation of deadbeats?  More

  • Friday, October 19, 2012 - 12:00pm - 1:30pm

    View now on YouTube.

    THE ONGOING CRISIS can best be understood as a classical debt crisis. It has followed the path of dozens of other debt crises, including those in Latin America and Asia, which helps give us insight both into its causes and its implications. The experiences of the past five years also prompt us to ask why such crises recur. Lunch provided, discussion encouraged. More

  • Friday, November 2, 2012 - 2:00pm - 4:00pm

    View now on YouTube.

    Co-sponsored by the Penn Economic History Forum.

    THE MARSHALL PLAN, of mythic stature in common discourse, means many things to many people. It is invoked whenever a large international assistance program is called for, most recently in the context of Southern Europe. But the historical Marshall Plan was actually rather small and assistance was only its outer shell. Its core was a project to reconstitute Germany as an export-led economy, in large part by sheltering it to the greatest extent possible from inherited debts and reparation demands. As an assistance program the Marshall Plan was small. As a debt relief program, it was big. Refreshments provided, discussion encouraged. More

  • Friday, November 9, 2012 - 2:00pm - 3:30pm

    View now on YouTube.

    Co-sponsored by the Penn-Temple European Studies Colloquium

    AMERICA'S GOVERNMENT TAXES AND SPENDS less than most other rich countries. And our current political debate centers on how much to cut from key programs. Lane Kenworthy argues that in coming decades we're likely to move in the other direction. Public spending, particularly on policies that ensure economic security and enhance opportunity, will increase rather than decrease. Refreshments provided, discussion encouraged. More

  • Friday, November 9, 2012 - 4:00pm - 5:30pm

    View now on YouTube.

    THE SHARE OF TOTAL INCOME going to top income groups has risen dramatically in recent decades in the United States and in many other (but not all) countries. Why do these increases at the top matter? Several answers can be given. The most general is that people have a sense of fairness and care about the distribution of economic resources across individuals in society. There are also specific economic reasons why we should be interested in the top income groups: their impact on overall growth and resources, their impact on overall inequality, and their global significance. Refreshments provided, discussion encouraged. More

  • Friday, November 16, 2012 - 12:30pm - 2:00pm

    View now on YouTube.

    Co-sponsored by the Penn-Temple European Studies Colloquium

    IN THE WAKE OF THE FINANCIAL CRISIS, elites in the United States have succeeded in casting government spending as useless profligacy that has made the economy worse, centering the policy debate budget on cuts – austerity – as the only way to restore prosperity. Unfortunately, while attractive, austerity is a very dangerous idea that rests upon a tenuous and thin body of empirical evidence.  To understand why it nonetheless remains so powerful as a doctrine requires engaging not only with its relatively short history, but its prehistory in the thinking of Hume, Smith, Ricardo, Mill, Schumpeter, Hayek and the neoclassical critics of Keynes. Lunch provided, discussion encouraged. More

  • Friday, January 25, 2013 - 12:00pm - 1:30pm

    View now on YouTube.

    THE RISE OF CONSUMER BORROWING – virtually unknown before the twentieth century – has altered our culture and economy. Starting in the years before the Great Depression, increased access to money raised living standards but also introduced unforeseen risks. As lending grew more and more profitable, it displaced funds available for business borrowing, setting our economy on an unsustainable course. Through vivid stories of individuals and institutions affected by these changes, Hyman charts the collision of commerce and culture in twentieth-century America, giving an historical perspective on what is new – and what is not – in today’s economic turmoil. Lunch provided, discussion encouraged. More

  • Monday, January 28, 2013 - 4:30pm - 6:00pm

    View now on YouTube.

    Cosponsored by the Penn Economics Department
    the Wharton Finance Department

    A NOBEL-PRIZE WINNING ECONOMIST looks beyond the headlines to examine the deeper issues driving day-to-day events in Europe and other polities experiencing "fiscal crises" – and suggests that economic theory may help point the way out, though not by promising any easy solutions. As he has written, the "concept of equilibrium ties our hands by asserting that if you want to change outcomes, then you have to reform institutions. This is subversive. Nevertheless, that is what economic theory teaches." More

  • Friday, February 22, 2013 - 12:00pm - 1:30pm

    ANALYSTS OF THE GREAT RECESSION have taken the popping of the housing bubble, the crash of the markets in securities backed by home mortgages, and the ensuing insolvencies of the great banks as their point of departure, and understandably so.  Wall Street was the initial site of the implosion, and its collapse dealt a devastating blow to the global system.  But from Fed Chair Ben Bernanke on down, mainstream economists, with few exceptions, have denied the need to look beyond finance and the asset markets (and perhaps international financial imbalances), to diagnose the catastrophe.  They have insisted that, until the meltdown of 2008 began to affect it, the real economy was strong, the so-called fundamentals beyond question. Lunch provided, discussion encouraged. More

  • Friday, March 15, 2013 - 12:00pm - 1:30pm

    View now on YouTube.

    Co-Sponsored by the Latin American and Latino Studies Program

    IN THE WAKE OF DEBT CRISES IN THE 1980s and a “lost decade” of middle-class growth in the 1990s, and despite the 2002 South American economic crisis and the global economic crisis of 2007, the size of the middle class in Latin America and the Caribbean recently grew by 50 percent—from approximately 100 million people in 2003 to 150 million (or 30 percent of the continent’s population) in 2009. Over the same period, the proportion of people in poverty fell from 44 percent to around 30 percent.   How has this happened, and what are the policy implications for the region and perhaps the world?  Drawing from a recent World Bank report for which he was the lead author, Ferreira digs into the data to explore who has moved into the middle class over the past 15 years, which factors enabled them to do so, and to what extent these same factors explain the drop in poverty. Going forward, there are many potential benefits from a growing middle class, but whether they come to fruition will depend, to a large extent, on whether countries manage to anchor their middle classes in a new, more cohesive, social contract that emphasizes the inclusion of those who have been left behind. Lunch provided, discussion encouraged. More

  • Friday, March 22, 2013 - 12:00pm - 1:30pm

    THE DOMINANT PUBLIC DISCOURSE surrounding the recent mortgage crisis often coalesces around two stories. The first is a story about the greed and speculative practices that led homeowners to buy more home than they could afford; the second is a story about predatory lending practices that steered homeowners, in particular poor and minority homeowners, into bad loans.  In-depth interviews with working-class and lower-income African-American homeowners have revealed a third narrative of default and foreclosure, one tied to stories of health crises and failures of public safety nets during tough economic times.  For these populations, the fragility of home ownership has been exacerbated by policies that have stratified both health and wealth along racial lines. Lunch provided, discussion encouraged. More

  • Thursday, March 28, 2013 - 5:00pm - 6:30pm

    View now on YouTube.

    IN THE WAKE OF THE FINANCIAL CRISIS, Great Recession and sluggish recovery, good federal policy can help rebuild the American economy and make it both more stable and equitable. Misguided policy could take the nation down a very different road. In an era of divided government and political brinksmanship, many sensible policies don’t get the public airing they deserve – much less the legislative action we desperately need.  Peter Orszag, Citigroup Vice Chairman of Corporate and Investment Banking and the former head of the Office of Budget and Management, discusses the options facing economic policy makers. More

  • Friday, March 29, 2013 - 12:00pm - 1:30pm

    IN MAY 2012, PENN LAW SCHOOL AND THE WHARTON FINANCIAL INSTITUTION CENTER (FIC) organized the conference “Is U.S. Government Debt Different?” The event was financed by a Sloan Foundation grant to the FIC. The conference was conceived against the background of skyrocketing U.S. government debt, the standoff over the statutory debt limit between the Congress and the President of the United States in the summer of 2011, and the ongoing debt crisis in the Eurozone. This confluence of shocks and near misses created the urgent need to consider the unthinkable: default, restructuring, or a wholesale reassessment of the U.S. Treasury securities’ place in the world. The conference brought together leading economists, historians, lawyers, market participants, and policy makers to discuss different aspects of U.S. government debt, including its role in the global financial markets, its constitutional, statutory and contractual basis, and its sustainability. Now, post-election, with the fiscal cliff debates fresh and more battles over the debt looming, the editors of the conference volume (available as a free e-book) sort through and discuss the conference’s most valuable lessons. More

  • Friday, April 5, 2013 - 12:00pm - 1:30pm

    View now on YouTube.

    IN A DEEP SENSE INEQUALITY WAS THE HEART of the financial crisis.  The crisis was about the terms of credit between the wealthy and everyone else, as mediated by mortgage companies, banks, rating agencies, investment banks, government-sponsored enterprises, and the derivatives market.  Those terms of credit were what they were because of the intrinsic instabilities involved in lending to those who cannot pay.  Like any Ponzi scheme, or any bubble, it is a matter of timing: those who are in and out early do well and those who are not nimble always go bust.  As Joseph P. Kennedy said in the summer of 1929, “Only a fool holds out for the last dollar.” More

  • Friday, April 12, 2013 - 12:00pm - 1:30pm

    THE RECENT CRISIS IN GREECE has been more than a financial crisis: it has been a social crisis and a crisis of identity that has bolstered the political fortunes of Neo-Nazis and xenophobes and further burdened the already difficult lives of immigrants. An anthropologist and commentator who has worked with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Greece for over a decade provides a close-up glimpse of the effects of the global economic crisis on a vulnerable population. Lunch provided, discussion encouraged. More

  • Thursday, May 9, 2013 - 2:00pm - 4:30pm

    View panel discussion now on YouTube.

    Co-sponsored by THE WHARTON SCHOOL and the Penn Institute for Urban Research (Penn IUR)

    The talk by Chairman Bair will be followed by a panel discussion on financial regulation featuring Bair and Wharton Professors Franklin Allen, Richard Herring and Susan Wachter.

    AS CHAIRMAN OF THE FDIC DURING THE FINANCIAL CRISIS, Sheila Bair oversaw the successful resolution of over 350 banking institutions representing assets in excess of $800 billion.  Working in tandem with the Federal Reserve Board and US Treasury Department, the FDIC was deeply involved in the frenetic efforts to stabilize troubled financial behemoths such as Wachovia, Citibank and Bank of America, representing trillions of dollars in assets.

    Chairman Bair fought a public --if not always successful -- battle against government bailouts and decried the lack of adequate tools to deal with failing financial conglomerates.  She successfully sought new authority in the Dodd-Frank financial reform law to place all large financial institutions under the same type of receivership process the FDIC has successfully used for insured banks, thus shifting the financial burden of failure onto creditors and shareholders, not taxpayers. More

  • Tuesday, September 10, 2013 - 5:30pm - 7:00pm

    Tuesday, September 10, 2013 - 5:30pm - 7:00pm
    Irvine Hall, Amado Recital Room

    Co-sponsored by the Penn Institute for Urban Research (Penn IUR)

    Please join the Penn Social Science and Policy Forum and the Penn Institute for Urban Research for a roundtable on Detroit's unprecedented municipal bankruptcy and its implications for urban finance, pensions, and the future of American cities. Speakers include Gilles Duranton, Professor of Real Estate and chair of the Real Estate Department at the Wharton School, Robert P. Inman, Richard K. Mellon Professor of Finance, Economics, and Public Policy, Wharton School; Jeremy Nowak, Chair of the Board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia and President of J Nowak and Associates, LLC; and Thomas J. Sugrue, David Boies Professor of History and Sociology and Director of the Penn Social Science and Policy Forum. Moderated by Susan M. Wachter, Co-Director of the Penn Institute for Urban Research. This event is free and open to the public. Please register here.

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