Prof. Benjamin Page, political science, Northwestern University, attributed political inequality in the United States to the legislative system and unequal representation at a lecture Monday.
Page’s lecture began a semester-long speaker series on inequality, hosted by the College of Arts and Sciences Program on Ethics and Public Life.
“This is going to be — intentionally — a very grim and depressing topic,” Page said. “Right now, I would say things are in a bad mess.”
Page noted that nearly half of all political contributions in America come from a select 30,000 people, whom he said contributed to “gridlock” in politics by badly allocating their votes.
“[Very] few wealthy individuals use multiple veto points for their benefit,” Page said.
Page discussed the implications of the current legislative system on political polarization.
“The House of Representatives has really gone wrong because we now have a system of one party rule in the House, which definitely did not used to be true,” Page said. “It used to be that the two parties bargained and came out with compromises that a centrist person in Congress would support.”
An audience member agreed with Page’s assessment, describing the experience of living in Chicago in the ’30s, which was run by a one-party system.
“When you wanted to get something done, you talked to your precinct captain and it got done,” the audience member said. “The system was effective. People recognized that if they wanted something, the government was able to respond.”
Another audience member criticized Page for not “leaving the academy” and teaching the general public.
“People who somehow think that they’re connected to the elite need to wake up to the fact that they’re being used,” the audience member said. “Business students, economic students and law students who are being saddled with an enormous amount of debt [will] be left behind as soon as it is no longer convenient to support them as a creative class.”
Page concluded the talk by emphasizing that “good things can happen in American politics,” discussing the possibilities technology and electronic media have for reducing political inequality.
Prof. Miles Corak, economics, University of Ottawa, will give the next talk in the lecture series Feb. 22.