One of benefits of working on a university campus is the opportunity interact with some of brightest minds from across the nation. This month, MSU hosted Nobel Prize winning economist Sir Angus Deaton (Princeton University) and the president of the Minneapolis Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank, Neel Kashkari.
Professor Deaton’s evening talk was attended by over 500 students, faculty and community members. The focus of his talk was his research surrounding the rise “deaths of despair” in middle aged non-Hispanic whites in the US. His research pointed to lack of economic gains for the non-college educated over the past the past few decades, the opioid/prescription drug epidemic and a rise in suicide among this group. He compared the life expectancy of the US to other developed countries and US has been on a different (in a bad way) path over the past 15 years than other developed countries.
President Kashkari was on campus through the connections of MSU Extension Specialist Marsha Goetting. Professor Goetting has served on the Board of Directors for the Helena Branch of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank for the past 6 years. Neel was a mechanical engineer that later obtained and MBA. He worked for the US Department of Treasury, ultimately overseeing the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) before leaving to join financial services company, PIMCO. Neel spoke to an audience of students, bankers, faculty and community members for over an hour, most of which was spent answering student questions. I should point out the students ask better questions than the adults in many cases. His in-depth knowledge of the 2008 financial crisis and the government response since that time was enlightening.
In addition to enriching my life both of these speakers did a very important thing. Both ended their talks with a grand challenge to students. Professor Deaton challenged students to continue to expand the understanding of inequality in our society (the economics of inequality was the primary area of research the Nobel Prize committee cited in his nomination). He clearly indicated there are many areas that still need to be more completely understand to allow for better informed policy choices. President Kashkari challenged students to work hard at the task at hand and doors will open. He said he spends zero time networking and he went from a mechanical engineering graduate to his current position by working hard and walking through doors that opened from that hard work. If even a few students walked away remember each speakers’ final point, I will have some interesting and enlightening people to follow in the coming years.