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The Political Economy of Polarization in America, with a Few Ideas on Reversing It

This talk will address underlying political and economic conditions that have led to increasing polarization in the US over the past 50 years, culminating in controversies over guns, immigration, COVID-19, and teaching about race. Concluding ideas on reversal will draw from Professor Ferguson’s prior experience as a community organizer. 

Faculty Member: Bill Ferguson ’75
Discussion Date: Oct. 11 at 1 p.m. 

Meet Professor Ferguson

Bill Ferguson is the Gertrude B. Austin Professor of Economics at Grinnell College, where he has taught since 1989. He is the author of The Political Economy of Collective Action, Inequality, and Development (Stanford University Press, 2020) and Collective Action and Exchange: A Game-Theoretic Approach to Contemporary Political Economy (Stanford University Press, 2013). Both books advance the proposition that successful development requires resolving underlying collective-action problems. The earlier book begins with micro-level foundations of political economy and ends with macro-level attention to knowledge, distributions of power, institutions, and growth. The latter book extends these macro themes by focusing on how distributions of power shape configurations of institutions and associated types of collective-action problems that condition prospects for achieving functional political and economic development.

Professor Ferguson is past Secretary-Treasurer of the Midwest Economics Association and prior chair and founder of Grinnell’s Policy Studies Concentration. After graduating from Grinnell College in 1975, with a B.A. in history, he worked as a neighborhood community organizer in Seattle Washington until 1982, when he shifted to studying economics, receiving his Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1989. His teaching has ranged from institutional political economy, applied game theory, and policy analysis to labor economics, British economic policy, and climate policy. His early publications focused on the wage-productivity gap in the US economy and modeling implicit bargaining power in employment relationships. After 2008, he shifted to institutional political economy and development. While writing his 2013 book, he visited Indiana University’s Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, where he discussed his 2013 book manuscript with the late Elinor Ostrom.

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Tuesday October 11
1:00 PM - 2:00 PM
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