Brancaccio to give sobering assessment of economic future


David Brancaccio

Lori Humphreys | Staff Writer

David Brancaccio, host and senior editor of “NOW” on PBS, is a self-described “wiseacre.” But he is also described in the 2000 Kirkus review of his book, Squandering Aimlessly, as providing “surprisingly shrewd instruction and sound financial advice, all embedded in appealing reportage.”

This combination of candid observation and insightful economic reporting suggests that Brancaccio’s presentation “Fixing the Future” at the Contemporary Issues Forum at 3 p.m. Saturday in the Hall of Philosophy may be the impetus for energetic dinner table conversation.

Brancaccio does not tiptoe around his opinions; he is direct and clear. His first premise is the conviction that, “the current economy is a giant mess, and it’s not going to fix itself. It is failing so many people.”

Though a sobering assessment, “Fixing the Future” is an optimist’s blueprint. It is not utopian but rather visionary, hopeful and perhaps tinged, but just tinged, with romanticism. It relies on the building of a new economy based on sustainability, community and another measure, other than money, to assess a person’s value. Brancaccio has traveled the United States from the Atlantic to the Pacific finding examples of an economic paradigm, which he thinks is “nibbling” at the old economy and will gradually replace it.

He envisions a world where programs like Sustainable Connections, a network that is developing regional and local economic relationships in Bellingham, Wash., will be the rule, rather than interesting and unique exceptions. He is seeking practical, economically feasible solutions, not utopian ones.

“These models are not inventing; they are remembering the idea of community,” he said.

Even a state government is exploring unorthodox possibilities. Brancaccio said he admires Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, who has created a new instrument, the Genuine Progress Indicator, to measure Maryland’s economic and social health.

“We should not be serving the grinding machine of GDP,” Brancaccio said.

There is a challenge to these ideas, however, that Brancaccio acknowledges. If it’s true that our society has defined a person’s value in terms of dollars, how will the money or value convention change?

Brancaccio’s answer: “As the movement grows, the cultural values are going to evolve.”

But not without pushback.

“The winners in our existing economy will fight to the death to protect its privileges,” he said.

Brancaccio received a Peabody Award for PBS’ “Marketplace.” He graduated from Wesleyan College, where he earned degrees in history and African studies. He received a master’s degree in journalism from Stanford University.

This is Brancaccio’s first trip to Chautauqua, and he is looking forward to the place and his conversation with Chautauquans. His wife is joining him.

The Chautauqua Women’s Club sponsors the Contemporary Issues Forum.