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Pulitzer Prize winner discusses new book on American economy at Crain lecture

Former Pulitzer Prize winner Hedrick Smith spoke Wednesday at the McCormick Tribune Center on the shrinking power of the American Dream.

Sarah Tassoni/The Daily Northwestern

Sarah Tassoni/The Daily Northwestern

Former Pulitzer Prize winner Hedrick Smith spoke Wednesday at the McCormick Tribune Center on the shrinking power of the American Dream.

Sarah Tassoni, Reporter

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Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Hedrick Smith discussed his new book, “Who Stole the American Dream,” which details economic changes and the American middle class, as part of the Crain Lecture Series on Wednesday.

About 50 people attended the event in the McCormick Tribune Center, where Smith compared the economic situations from the late 1970s to today. He attributed the wide income gap to the change in business leaders’ morals and decline in middle class political influence.

“Unions have gotten weaker and the influence of the middle class is nonexistent,” Smith said.

He said this decline also resulted from the increasing number of businesses in Washington, D.C., which climbed from 175 in the late 1970s to more than 2,000 by the mid-1980s, as well as a shift of focus of business leaders to top-tier employees.

Smith said the income gap also stems in part from stock market activity. Through their participation, CEOs have learned to manipulate the system to earn more money, but also suffer when stocks go down, he said.

“This is not just unfair,” Smith said. “This is not smart economics.”

Smith discussed the reasons corporations have shifted their markets abroad, noting that China in particular offers businesses more subsidies, including free land.

He addressed the common notion that developed countries can no longer thrive on a manufacturing economy, citing advances Germany has made with such a system.

“Somehow Germany has done this in the face of the changes and we have not,” he said.

Medill sophomore Amy Li, a representative for the Medill Undergraduate Student Advisory Council, was one of the MUSAC members who had dinner with Smith after his talk.

Li said Smith told stories about his reporting and documentary work in other countries.

“The international platform he was able to explore was really interesting because he’s been to all these places and really dug into them at a deep level,” she said.

Evanston resident Dick Dooley attended the talk and said he agreed with Smith’s work.

“That’s a take that needs to be heard, is overdue to be heard,” Dooley said. “But will it be spread to the people who should hear it?”

While there are many actions that can be taken to change the management of the American economy, Smith said it is up to the people to place pressure on those in power, as many government officials and business owners are satisfied with the policies in place.

“We’ve got to put the pressure on them,” Smith said. “We have to get to that Rosa Parks moment where we say, ‘I’m not going to the back of the bus.'”

Jillian Sandler contributed reporting.