Liz Beson, Illustrator

What do Income Inequality, Wall Street Loans, and Obamacare all have in common? If you said the letter O, you’re right, but that’s not the answer I was looking for. These topics have all been, or will be, discussed as part of the University’s new Politics and Markets project.

According to Political Science department Professor David Primo, the project aims to tackle some of the biggest issues in today’s world, including the three mentioned above. Currently, it does this through a series of panel-based discussions.

The project started this semester with two big discussions which took place in the Hawkins-Carlson Room in Rush Rhees Library.

The first discussion featured panelists from The Cato Institute, Avalere Health, and The Morning Consult who discussed the Affordable Care Act and – in another event – working in Washington D.C.

The most recent discussion tackled the topic of Wall Street with members of the Manhattan Institute, The Other 98% and the Mercatus Center. Conversation centered on the role of regulation and the various functions Wall Street serves.

Each discussion begins with ten minutes for each panelist to lay out their view and then moves into one hour of discussion with moderator questions and, later, student Q&A. Thus far, the panel discussions have been met with public approval. “I thought the panel was great,” freshman Chris Otswald  said. “It really gave me some new perspectives on Wall Street and what it actually does.”

With 105 students marked on Facebook as attending the first event and 126 for the second, it seems that the Politics and Markets project has sparked the interest of a large number of students. “I am really pleased with how the first two events went, and the feedback from students has been very positive,” Primo said. “The biggest compliments I received were the questions from students asking about the date for the next event, and saying that they learned a lot even though they disagreed with a particular speaker’s position. Comments like these show that there is demand for this kind of discussion on campus.”

The Politics and Markets project was officially kick-started this semester after receiving funding from a private foundation led by a University alumnus who does not wish to have the donation publicized. Primo wanted to make a place that would tackle big topics that have become politicized, often at the expense of content-filled discussion.

“The goal is to find a question or problem that is in the news but is often covered superficially or in a confusing way,” Primo explained. “The Affordable Care Act and financial regulation were natural starting points this semester, as they relate to major parts of our economy.” Now that the initial semester of the project is done, the goal has turned to expanding the project and realizing Primo’s long term goals for it.

Primo wants to see the project evolve into a center for research and discussion of hot policy topics. This would include recruiting graduate and post-doctoral students to do important research on a variety of issues, then working to build discussions that would help synthesize and communicate the findings to the outside world.

This center, similar to others like the “Political Theory Project” at Brown University, would not only focus on internal programming but also external programming. Primo believes that such a center would help expand UR’s name along with intellectual discussion on the various topics.

Primo also emphasized the need to grow at the proper speed. “With any new enterprise, there are two related challenges. One has to maintain momentum while at the same time grow carefully and strategically.” He elaborated by saying that he wants the project to continue providing a steady stream of content, and not to “peter out” with too much programming at the beginning and less later on.

But Primo isn’t facing these challenges alone. The project has two student assistants, seniors Shalin Nohria and Emily Trapani who assist in everything from researching possible speakers, to setting panel guidelines. Together, the three have done a lot to develop the Politics and Markets Project over the course of the semester. Only time will tell if the program will mature into the center towards which Primo is working.

Altabet is a member of

the class of 2017.


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