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New economic forum to examine income inequality, healthcare in America

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The economy has long been a primary subject of nightly newscasts, dinnertime debates, and presidential elections. But for many, it’s still a mystery, chock-full of nuance and technical jargon.

To help solve that problem, Northeastern’s  Department of Economics is hosting a new three-part forum on economic policy in America without a single mention of “wage drift,” “cost curves” or the “output gap.” The forum will feature frank discussions with prominent policymakers and thinkers who will tackle income inequality, healthcare policy, and the nation’s economic future with the lay audience in mind.

“The idea is to make economics more user-friendly, accessible, and provocative to non-specialists,” said program organizer John Kwoka, the Neil F. Finnegan Distinguished Professor of Economics. “There won’t be anything technical in any of these talks.”

The first installment of the fall series will be held Thursday at 3 p.m. in 220 Shillman Hall. Jeffrey Frankel—director of the National Bureau of Economic Research’s program in international finance and macroeconomics—will give a talk titled “Inequality in America: How do we Achieve an Economy that Works for All?”

“Frankel is a well-known guru on trade policy, the financial crisis, and issues of inequality in the domestic economy,” said Kwoka, who plans to continue the series in the spring. “To say the least, his talk will be highly topical.”

David Cutler—the Otto Eckstein Professor of Applied Economics at Harvard and the senior healthcare advisor to Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign—will deliver the series’ second lecture. His talk, titled “Health Policy in America: What the Future Holds,” will be held Wednesday, Oct. 25 at 3 p.m. in room 378 of 140 The Fenway.

In an op-ed for The Washington Post in June, titled “How Congress could pass a bipartisan health bill people actually like,” Cutler argued that there are “two areas where Republicans and Democrats enthusiastically agree: the need to address the opioid crisis and the need to lower medical spending.”

“An agenda focused on medical spending could pay major dividends,” he explained. “Estimates suggest that one-third or more of medical spending in the United States is not associated with improved health. Eliminating this waste would be the equivalent of a $1 trillion tax cut annually—a program the likes of which the country has never seen.”

Eric Rosengren, president and CEO of Boston’s Federal Reserve Bank, will deliver the third and final lecture in the fall series. His talk, titled “The Economic Outlook for the United States,” will be held Wednesday, Nov. 15 at 4 p.m. in the Cabral Center. Kwoka, for his part, described the current state of the U.S. economy as “uneven.” “On one hand,” he explained, “unemployment is down. On the other hand, wages have stagnated.”

Kwoka is looking forward to the forum. “The experts will focus on topics that have been on the front pages of websites and newspapers for the past several years,” he explained. “The audience will learn something and no doubt have some provocative ideas put before them.”

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