Austan Goolsbee is the Robert P. Gwinn Professor of Economics at The University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and former Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.
TKO: Is economic inequality a problem?
AG: I think so.
TKO: To what extent can/should the government be involved in reducing inequality?
AG: It definitely can. The questions hinge around whether it should and how much it should. There is a big debate among economists about whether growth comes from low taxes and deregulation vs from high human capital and investments. Your view on that seems pretty correlated with whether you think high-income tax rates should be higher or lower and what the government should be spending money on.
TKO: If you could make every American aware of one statistic or fact about economic inequality, what would it be, and why?
AG: In the long run, the data tells us that the only true solution to the inequality dilemma comes from investing in the skills of your people.
TKO: You have frequently appeared on conservative-leaning programs, such as Hannity. What role do you think this kind of “across the aisle” discussion can play in affecting the tone and rhetoric of national debate about inequality?
AG: Evidently it hasn’t solved the problem of partisan rancor but I do think that the fact that two people like Sean Hannity and me can be friends and debate issues without hating each other at least hints at a better situation than the one we are in in Washington right now. It’s certainly a world where people have more fun than they do now.
TKO: You have written extensively about how the Internet is affecting the study of economics. Do you think the web and new media has seriously influenced how Americans view poverty and inequality?
AG: I do. That’s an interesting question. I think the way that people can so easily see and compare their life or financial situations to others now makes the issue much more visceral.
TKO: To what degree will the solutions to the problems of inequality have to come from outside Washington?
AG: I think the main causes lie in some deep fundamental forces in the economy not in Washington. The question is whether policy is aggravating or multiplying what is already there.