“Blasphemy!” you might expect the attendees to scream. Yet when Anthony W. Orlando, W’09, suggested that Joseph Wharton—the Joseph Wharton—may have started the Wharton School to help him lobby politicians for protectionism, not one word of protest could be heard.
Orlando, an author and up-and-coming economics scholar at California State University, was not simply bashing the founder of his alma mater. His ultimate point was that Wharton, as with many born of privilege, became successful in part because of good fortune and personal connections; and that such facts are often left out of founding lore, for such institutions as Wharton as well as everyday people.
His is not an attack. Along those same lines, his most recent book, Letter to the One Percent, is not an attack either.
It’s a “call to action, a plea for compassion,” Orlando explained to the attendees of a presentation in March hosted by Wharton’s Legal Studies and Business Ethics Department and its Professor Emeritus Arnold “Skip” Rosoff.
Written by a Wharton alumnus, Letter is also a quantitative analysis for why there needs to be a call to action. Also a recipient of a M.Sc. in economic history from the London School of Economics, Orlando believes that many of the United States’ current economic problems are caused by a resurgence of income inequality. It is not so much an issue of “the rich get richer” as everybody else stays the same; rather the issue is a “change of power,” meaning the rich are getting richer and more powerful while everyone else is slipping.
One case in point: The International Monetary Fund has tested whether inequality affects national growth and found that countries with higher levels of income inequality demonstrate less economic growth and shorter durations of it.
“You can see this show up in United States data,” Orlando said.
For Orlando, the turning point was 1982. Deregulation of lending and credit, the savings and loan industry, the junk bond and buyout crazes, Reagan tax cuts. It was the start of the financialization of the U.S. economy, corporations investing less in the real economy and creating wealth, and more in rent-seeking.
For him, the solution in part is about education and reason.
“The longer we neglect these issues, the worse the problem will get,” he says.
Orlando’s presentation was full of his own analysis and that of others, and the faculty in attendance quizzed him and voiced their concerns—as well as their approval. The consensus appeared to be that Orlando had put plenty of rigorous effort into his argument, which means the best way to do it justice would be to read his book (rather than getting into the nitty-gritty here). Whether you agree with his politics or not, fellow Wharton alums, will you take the call and at least listen to Orlando’s point of view?