Michael Zweig, Economist, Activist

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By Jenna Lofaro

Michael Zweig is an accomplished economist, professor, and author. He has worked as a professor at SUNY at Stony Brook and been awarded the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in teaching as well as the President’s Award for excellence in teaching.  He also sees himself as an activist in social causes.

When asked how he charted his life, he said that as a young adult he was very much like every other confused college student, unsure of direction.  His family always had maintained a large involvement in his life, and he remembers taking a lot of science and math courses because his father had been an engineer and his brother a mathematician. The concepts of math found in certain parts of economics were always there in the background.

While attending college, Michael also found himself involved in the Civil Rights Movement, which had just started to take off. Later, he found himself involved in many more social movements throughout the decades, including the anti-war movements over Vietnam.

He was and still is very passionate about social movements. Social movements are one of the main influences on history in today’s world, he said.

He even asked me why I thought social movements were so important in the nation’s history and how they had come about. He smiled and nodded in agreement to my answer that social movements build when groups of people feel they have not been heard and that their issues in society have not been acknowledged. So they band together and make themselves heard so that the problem no longer can be ignored.

Along with his involvement in social movements, Zweig is also very active union worker. Unions are very important to seeking and achieving goals for the group they present.

Michael Zweig found his career in teaching after his days of protesting and social movements had slowed. At one point, he had considered going to law school, but trouble he had gotten into during earlier protests may have affected his choices. He went ahead with a degree in economics and found a focus based on studying the inequalities of the capitalist system and the experiences of working class society.

His writings and current works focus on the large gap between the wealthy and the large majority of working people. One of his book titles calls the working class “America’s best kept secret.” In his classroom, he encourages his students to voice their opinions and make sure that they fight for what they believe in.

He recounted a story of a former student, an immigrant who had arrived recently and felt he did not have the right to speak out. Later in a graduation speech, this same student said it was Michael Zweig that first made him believe that he had a voice and had the right to speak out.

When asked if he would describe his life as meaningful, he says that almost everyone wants their life to have meaning and to have achieve something. He is not an exception to this. He also feels that much of his work was done in the name of bigger, more meaningful agendas.

For example, he said, he is just one person out of thousands who are fighting for the same things and rights. He finds meaning in the impact he has made on students, such as the one previously mentioned, but also in the family he has raised.

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