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Top economists weigh in on minimum wage at MIT

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz (second from right), spoke during a panel discussion he shared with (from left) Rebecca Blank, Alan Krueger, and Robert Solow at MIT’s Ray and Maria Stata Center Thursday.

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz (second from right), spoke during a panel discussion he shared with (from left) Rebecca Blank, Alan Krueger, and Robert Solow at MIT’s Ray and Maria Stata Center Thursday.

CAMBRIDGE — Fast-rising rates of economic inequality in the United States and poverty-reduction policies were the subjects of a daylong colloquium Thursday at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that featured several of the nation’s leading economists.

A higher minimum wage was a favorite topic by a panel that included two former advisers to presidents. Princeton University economics professor Alan Krueger, chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers until August, said national efforts to increase the minimum wage currently stands a “decent chance” of success.

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He noted that public policy experts should begin to think about using technological innovations to create alternatives to labor unions. Krueger also said more preschool programs, which benefit low-income children, are among the “lowest-hanging fruit” for policy reform.

“The problem is, how do you pay for it?” Krueger said. “Everybody seems to agree it makes sense.”

MDRC, a social policy research organization based in New York, sponsored the event at the Ray and Maria Stata Center. More than 100 academics, students, researchers, and public policy experts were in attendance.

Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, an economics professor at Columbia University and a former member of the Council of Economic Advisers to President Clinton, suggested federal policy makers focus on ways to reform Social Security and tax policies that address workplace automation. He also said there is a dearth of research about the effects of minimum wage increases on job creation.

The Netherlands has an elaborate minimum wage system that accords different wages based on age and other factors, said Robert Solow, a professor of statistics and economics at MIT since 1949. He also suggested public policy leaders focus on improved vocational education.

Megan Woolhouse can be reached at mwoolhouse@globe.com.

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