White House Burning: MIT Sloan’s Simon Johnson discusses new book on national debt at April 10 event

Published: March 21, 2012

Professor Simon JohnsonProfessor Simon Johnson

MIT Sloan professor Simon Johnson, the former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, will discuss the national debt and his new book, White House Burning: The Founding Fathers, The National Debt, and Why It Matters to You, from noon to 1 p.m. Tuesday, April 10 in Wong Auditorium.

The event is free and open to the public, but seating is limited. Follow the talk and learn more about the book using #whburning on Twitter.

Johnson, the Ronald A. Kurtz (1954) Professor of Entrepreneurship wrote White House Burning with James Kwak, associate professor at University of Connecticut School of Law. Kwak will also join the April 10 discussion. The pair is also authors of 13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown. That book earned high praise from media and government figures alike.

At MIT Sloan, Johnson and Kwak will discuss topics including:

  • Does the U.S. face a fiscal crisis? What are the real dimensions of this crisis, and which issues are exaggerated by the current debate?
  • What measures are needed to stabilize or reduce the U.S. debt-to-GDP ratio? Is there any chance that such steps will soon find political support?
  • How and when exactly did the U.S. lose its long tradition of fiscal responsibility? Will we find our way back to policies consistent with that tradition—or is some form of U.S. default inevitable?

In White House Burning, the authors help demystify the national debt, explaining how it came to be and what it means for future generations. The book tells the story of the Founding Fathers’ divisive struggles over taxes and spending. It charts the rise of the dollar, which made it easy for the United States to borrow money. The authors account for the debasement of the U.S. political system in the 1980s and 1990s, which, they argue, produced today’s dysfunctional and ineffective Congress. And, they write, if the nation persists on its current course, the national debt will harm ordinary Americans by reducing the number of jobs, lowering living standards, increasing inequality, and forcing a sudden and drastic reduction in Social Security and Medicare.

In addition to his professorship at MIT Sloan, Johnson is a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, D.C., a co-founder of baselinescenario.com (a much-cited website on the global economy), a member of the Congressional Budget Office's Panel of Economic Advisers, and a member of the FDIC's Systemic Resolution Advisory Committee.

Prof. Johnson is also a weekly contributor to the New York Times’ Economix blog, and is a regular Bloomberg columnist. He has a monthly article with Project Syndicate that runs in publications around the world, and has published high-impact opinion pieces in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Business Week, and The Financial Times, among other places. In January 2010, he joined The Huffington Post as contributing business editor.

From March 2007 through the end of August 2008, Johnson was the International Monetary Fund's Economic Counselor (chief economist) and Director of its Research Department. He is a co-director of the NBER Africa Project, and works with non-profits and think tanks around the world.

Wong Auditorium is located in the Tang Center (E51) at 70 Memorial Drive on the MIT Sloan campus.

This event is sponsored by the MIT Sloan Office of External Relations and the MIT Sloan Politics and Policy Club.