About the Presidential Plenary, from Ken Lipartito

Simon Johnson of MIT is a noted author and columnist on economic and financial affairs whose articles I'm sure you have read in the New York Times and Huffington Post. I think his book on the financial crisis, 13 Bankers, is the best out there. Lou Galambos of Johns Hopkins is probably the most prominent business historian in the United States (and especially well known in Italy!). His new book, The Creative Society—And the Price Americans Paid For It, is a stunning history of business, the professions, and the middle class in the twentieth century. Jennifer Klein of Yale wrote a wonderful book on labor politics and the welfare state, For All These Rights, and is working now on caregivers and health care policy.

I entitled the panel "Business and the Good Society," as it seemed to me that now would be the time to consider the question of how private interests do, or do not, serve the larger social good. It's an ancient question, and one that also has been in almost continuous debate since Adam Smith and the proposition that private vices can produce public virtues. Each of the speakers in different ways has addressed a version of this question in their writings—whether from the perspective of a specific sector of the economy (finance), or from the perspective of a class (labor, the middle class). All of them write about the relationship between the state and private business. And I think all of their work gives us an important, historically informed perspective on the economic and political issues of the past decade or so. I freely admit that I conceived of this panel in light of the financial crisis and subsequent Great Recession, which raised in my mind the question, "Has capitalism now finally broken the link between private interest and the public good?" Has something decisively changed in the economy that requires us to reconsider Smith's Enlightenment faith in the virtues of free markets? The speakers might disagree—or even question whether such a link ever really existed. I throw these ideas out there as a platform that all of them can use if they like, but I don't have any doubts that these presenters will have plenty of exciting and original things to say.