Students in Professor Susan Helper's seminar already get to learn from one of the nation's foremost experts on manufacturing. But on Monday they received an added bonus: a chance to meet with one of the U.S. senators most directly involved in setting federal policy in this area: Ohio's Sherrod Brown.
Helper is one of the country's leading scholars on the automobile industry, the person national reporters invariably call for insight regarding GM's future, Toyota's troubles and the policies most likely to help revive this beleaguered sector. Brown, meanwhile, has focused much of his political career on issues of labor and the economy. Over the years Brown has tapped Helper often as an adviser to his office and to other federal leaders. For this spring's economics seminar, Helper turned to Brown's staff to help enrich her students' academic experience.
Over the course of the semester, Helper's students not only studied the academic aspects of economic policy, but also developed the kinds of documents political leaders would use in a Congressional hearing. The students' work so impressed Brown that he elected to sit down with the students this week.
The class discussion touched on questions such as whether policy should shift toward protectionism or free-trade and whether some other nations have an edge in developing alternative energy or training the unemployed for jobs in demand.
The senator also spoke about the gradual shift of the U.S. economy away from manufacturing.
"One of the reasons we see flat wages in this county is because we don't make things anymore," Brown said.
Helper said students in the seminar have considered whether government policies can improve the design of manufacturing markets, leading to higher efficiency and a better standard of living for workers.
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