Jun 242008
Authors: Aaron Hedge

Economics professor Martin Shields stood in front of about 20 Fort Collins residents Monday night and told them that the only way to fix the economy is to provide more funding for education.

He cited statistics showing that, on average in northern Colorado, people with college degrees make nearly $40,000 more than workers who had dropped out of high school, and that the disparity is growing steadily.

At the same meeting, though, philosophy professor Philip Cafaro thinks the U.S. would be looking up financially on seven conditions:

Increase the minimum wage to half the average hourly wage

Expand the earned income tax credit

Create a more progressive federal and state tax structure

Repeal the Taft-Hartly Act to make stronger unions and create an employee free tax act

Limit immigration

Enact universal health care, and

Require high-school students to take a financial management class.

But some Fort Collins residents are skeptical, as they expressed at the community forum, which was hosted by Democratic state Reps. Randy Fischer and John Kefalas.

“If I were the CEO of a company making widgets, I would move overseas today,” said one the community members attending the forum in response to increasing minimum wage.

But Cafaro, who has seen the economy flourish in countries like Austria, where the average convenience store employee is guaranteed at least six weeks of vacation a year and makes a much bigger hourly wage than their U.S. counterpart, says that although economic growth has been spectacular since the turn of the century, economic disparity has steadily grown in the last 25 years.

“Growth clearly is not the answer here,” he said. “We have to do something different. . It’s almost as if everyone got a college education, we’d be fine. Well we wouldn’t, because someone still has to take out the garbage.”

He said that, despite the challenges of his proposals, anything is possible, mentioning his history in foreign countries.

“I think Americans are suffering from a massive lack of imagination,” he said in response to an audience member who questioned the economic viability of raising the minimum wage.

Colorado has a minimum wage of $7.02 — nearly $2 more than the $5.15 federal mandate. But Shields said it doesn’t help.

Using the example of his own students, he said raising the minimum wage doesn’t affect the price paid by companies on average to undergraduates.

“I asked all of my students if they work and most of them did,” he said. “Then I asked them if they made minimum wage, and none of them did.”

They all made more than the minimum.

“Economists are not good at talking about fairness — that’s not part of the vernacular,” he said earlier in the presentation. To fix the problem that has been the subject of headline news for several months, Shields encouraged politicians to increase funding for higher education and reduce outsourcing.

“As a society as a whole, we have decided it’s okay to have cheap stuff and put people out of jobs,” he said.

News Managing Editor Aaron Hedge can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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