Economics
College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Boudreaux Discusses the Middle Class at Economics Community Forum

by Rashad Mulla

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Donald Boudreaux

The state and fate of the middle class in the United States is the subject of much discussion. In this election year, competing narratives on jobs, income and the economy paint markedly different pictures of this important topic. The Department of Economics at George Mason University presented a respected faculty member to weigh in on the debate.

Donald Boudreaux, professor in the Department of Economics, spoke on Monday, Sept. 17 as part of the department's signature speaker series, the Economics Community Forum. Boudreaux's lecture, "The Fate of Middle-Class Living Standards: 1975-2012," took place in the Meese Conference Room in Mason Hall on the university's Fairfax campus.

According to Boudreaux, today’s middle class is decisively better off than the middle class of 1975. He made this assertion even in the face of statistics that show only modest increases in income over the last 30 years, with exponential cost growth over the same time period.

Many new developments have made us better off, yet are so small and slight that we take them for granted, Boudreaux said. In one example, he noted that the cost of a car battery in 1975 (made available through a product sales magazine) was equivalent to nine hours of work, whereas today’s middle class can afford a car battery by working for only 4.9 hours. Because of incremental developments like this and the markets and competition that have made them possible, the middle class is actually much better off than it has been at other points in history, Boudreaux argued.

About 50 people, including graduate students, undergraduate students, alumni and community members, attended the lecture and were highly active during the question-and-answer session that followed. Many attendees stayed afterward to speak to Boudreaux.

The department hosts at least two Economics Community Forums per semester. The aim of the program is to allow the Mason community to be more aware of the work of the Department of Economics.  A faculty member from the department gives each speech. The lectures are open to all, with a special emphasis on alumni, students and Fairfax and Arlington community members.

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