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Former Gonzaga Dean Talks About "Economic Divide"

Doug Nadvornick/SPR

Every day, you see and hear people offer opinions on the question of why America is so divided. Today [Tuesday], former Gonzaga business school dean Clarence "Bud" Barnes took his shot at it in an economic symposium sponsored by the university.

Before Barnes offered his ideas about the four main areas of economic divide in America, he told an economist joke.

“It was, I believe, President Reagan who said, ‘If you put five economists in a room, you’ll probably get six opinions.’ And there’s some truth to that," he said.

And then he went on to offer his own opinion.

Barnes worries about the growing divide in income and wealth distribution in the U.S. It’s not the rich getting richer that’s the problem, he says. That means there’s more money to invest and to hire people. The issue is where that wealth is coming from. In some cases, he says, it’s coming at the expense of people at the lower end of the economic spectrum.

“This is a prescription for social tension, social tension among those who are finding themselves left out. Even among those who are working, left out,” Barnes said.

He believes the 2017 federal tax reform law has many good things in it and has helped to keep the economy strong. But he says wealthier people and companies will reap the most benefit, simply because they own more of the stock and other assets that are gaining in value.

Then he went on to immigration.

“We are two million workers short in agriculture. Two million. There are farms that produce vegetables, fruits, berries, as you can see up there, livestock, that are not able to go out and find the workers to help both cultivate, harvest and then pack and get those products to market in a timely fashion. Our farms are really suffering because of this inability to hire farm workers,” Barnes said.

He criticized the president and the Congress for their inability to develop more effective ways for farmers and other companies who can’t find labor here to import it.

“My goodness, as the president of the United States, bring that core group of individuals from both houses of Congress together and, if you want to lead, give them 60 days to come up with a better plan for bringing immigrants into this country as guest workers. You can do that,” Barnes said.

Barnes then went on to address outsourcing by American firms who build factories to build their goods overseas. Barnes says it’s true that many American industries, such as clothing manufacturing, have been harmed due to outsourcing, but, he says, foreign companies are outsourcing their work to the U.S.

“What they’re doing is they’re creating opportunities in insurance, finance, banking that they would otherwise be using in the country in which the product is sourced. And this is true with a number of foreign manufacturers who see opportunities to use American talent to help produce the products that they want to export themselves,” he said.

Clarence “Bud” Barnes is a former dean of the Gonzaga School of Business. He spoke Wednesday at the university’s annual economic forum at the Davenport Grand Hotel.