Professor speaks about humane economy

A Bradley economics professor said people should compare the U.S. economy to a structure most of us are familiar with: family.

Janett Highfill spoke Wednesday about achieving an equitable economy at a lecture sponsored by the Women’s and Gender Studies program.

“Sometimes, we invite speakers to talk about issues relating to gender, while other times we invite women speakers to talk about their work,” director of the Women’s and Gender Studies program Amy Scott said. “Highfill has recently published a book about achieving a fair economy, and the program wanted to highlight her achievement.”

Highfill began her lecture by addressing people’s conceptions of market economies.

“For many people, the idea of markets just makes sense to them, and they don’t even want to think about them because they’re so obvious,” Highfill said. “There are also many people who think markets are awful. They think markets have awful outcomes and are deeply unfair.”

Highfill said she didn’t agree with either position, seeing both the positives and negatives in markets.

“Markets are very good at helping us coordinate our prosperity and our activity,” Highfill said. “But they don’t really discriminate between good decisions and good luck. They’re not really fair.”

Highfill said fairness is a necessary part of a humane economy, but she urges a nuanced understanding of fairness.

“Any ethical system worth talking about treats equals equally, but the important question is what this equality looks like,” Highfill said. “Is it an equality of income, wealth, opportunity or wellbeing? Once you choose the manner of equality, all other aspects of the individuals’ lives become unequal.”

According to Highfill the United States is currently deeply unfair in regards to income and wealth.

“The way to address this inequality and conceptualize fairness is to turn towards families,” Highfill said. “Families are, unlike markets, very concerned with respecting abilities and needs. We can reform markets by adopting a familial perspective.”

Junior communication major Madison King said she attended the event for extra credit in one of her classes, but she really enjoyed it.

“I’ve looked into fairness from a sociological lens, so it was really interesting to see what fairness looked like in the eyes of economists,” King said. “I think bridging the disparity between the 1 percent and the 99 percent is the central challenge of our time, and I was glad to hear she was interested in that, too.”