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Wine bar on 2200 Penn opens doors
By Ella Mitchell, Contributing News Editor • June 14, 2024

Journalist tackles economic issues

Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist Steven Pearlstein tried to get to the bottom of global economic issues in a lecture at the Elliott School of International Affairs Friday afternoon.

Pearlstein was invited by GW’s Institute for International Economic Policy to present a lecture aimed at questioning how much more work is necessary to mend global economic troubles. Pearlstein’s 30-minute lecture was ripe with anecdotes and had the crowd of approximately 100 students and alumni engaged in the discussion.

He opened the lecture by asking the audience how they thought international economics had been implicated “as the cause of the recent financial crisis and the global economic downturn.”

After allowing the audience to discuss the question, Pearlstein said he thought America’s culture seriously contributed to the global downturn.

“We could blame the economists, but there is another way to think about it,” Pearlstein said. “That the richest country in the world lived seriously beyond its means for 10, 15, 20 years and if this country were any other country in the world that would not have been allowed to exist.”

Event organizer Kyle Renner, executive assistant to the Institute for National Economic Policy, said Pearlstein’s speech was placed on the Alumni Weekend calendar because the topic was relevant to both alumni and students.

“It’s obviously a timely topic,” Renner said. “Alumni want to make sure the University is doing well and current students want to make sure they are going to get a job based on the education they receive.”

Pearlstein placed much of the blame for economic problems on forms of what he called currency inflation, expressing the idea that the American dollar is the reserve currency and that its value didn’t adjust properly because of outside intervention.

“Our currency didn’t go down because people didn’t want it to go down,” Pearlstein said. “They wanted to sell us stuff and they sold it to us, and then basically lent us the money to buy it. They kept it going year after year after year, creating this great bubble. It seemed great, but it was a mirage.”

Despite the seriousness of the topic, Pearlstein peppered his lecture with comments that drew laughs from the crowd.

“I’m not an economist,” Pearlstein said at one point in the speech. “I just play one on TV, I’ve never even taken an economics course.”

Elliott School senior Nick Stulck said Pearlstein’s speech was informative and that he was glad to be able to see a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer on campus.

“He has a very good narrative,” Stulck said. “He got into a lot of details that are often missed.”

Pearlstein offered his views for the future, saying that, although governments have taken actions to keep the economic downturn in control, a long-term solution may not be in place to keep economic problems from coming up again.

“We have succeeded in using policy to keep this from spinning out of control,” Pearlstein said. “We haven’t really figured out a new place that we can go to where we produce roughly what we consume.”

Henry Yaniz, a GW alumnus who graduated in 1977, said Pearlstein’s ideas made a lot of common sense.

“You come away with the sense that there’s probably not enough sacrifice in the U.S. and we’re looking for an easy answer, for someone to solve our problems and that’s not the way,” Yaniz said.

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