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Brown Bagging It

When the massive economic meltdown occurred last fall, members of the Barnard community had many questions but few answers to help them cope with the crisis. Recognizing that Barnard’s expert faculty could offer some clarity (if not exactly comfort) about the situation, President Debora Spar launched the Brown-Bag Lunch Discussions, specifically to address critical global events as they arise. The inaugural program, “Understanding the Economic Crisis: A Panel of Barnard Experts,” on October 10, drew a standing-room-only crowd to the James Room, eager to hear members of Barnard’s economics department attempt to untangle and make sense of the economic situation.

“President Spar responded quickly to the need for information about the crisis,” said Joanne Kwong, media relations director. “Barnard has such a wonderful resource in our world-renowned economists. This first program was a response to an issue of unusual urgency, and drew upon the immense intellectual power we have here.”

Provost Elizabeth Boylan, who introduced the moderator and panelists, first welcomed those in the James Room as well as those tuning into the Webcast. She underscored that this and future sessions would be streamed live on the College Web site, allowing all community members to participate in the learning session. “This new series will feature Barnard’s esteemed faculty of scholar-teachers ... and demonstrates our dedication to the imperative of lifelong learning.”

In her opening remarks, moderator Lynn Najman ’72, a registered investment adviser with her own firm, LRN Associates, said emphatically, “This is an issue critical to every one of you, whether you’re a student looking for a job or a loan; if you’re working and have a retirement plan in place; or you’re a retiree, living on fixed income. How much is panic? How much is real?”

Among the faculty members who shared their insights and expertise was Perry Mehrling, a professor of economics, noted expert in the area of finance and monetary economics, and author of Fischer Black and the Revolutionary Idea of Finance and The Money Interest and the Public Interest: American Monetary Thought 1920-1970. Congress called upon Mehrling to help develop the $700-billion bailout plan. Rather than having the government buy failing banks’ troubled assets, Mehrling believes that the government should sell credit insurance.

His colleague, David Weiman, Alena Wels Hirschorn Professor of Economics and an economic historian, offered both an analysis of how the country reached this stage, and his policy agenda of steps to be taken for recovery and reform. Mariana Colacelli, assistant professor of economics, provided perspective on other economic crises in history, indicating that these events “happen from time to time. The key is how large they go, and how to recover.”

For Marcellus Andrews, an instructor in the economics department and a commentator on economic matters for National Public Radio’s business-affairs journal, Marketplace, the crisis highlights “a system that is thoroughly broken. Recovery has happened when folks do something, and do something right. We will rebuild over the long term.”

-Merri Rosenberg '78, illustration by Tamara Shopsin

Brown-bag series video stream: You can watch this panel discussion online at www.barnard.edu/brownbag