May 31, 2016

Great Political Debates from Intelligence Squared U.S.

Listen to some informed and civil political debates about issues facing the United States in these great debates from Intelligence Squared U.S.. These Oxford-Style debates set forth a motion and then usually have two people on each side debating for or against the motion. Along with debating back and forth, the participants also each get opening and closing remarks to summarize their viewpoints. The moderator of the debates is author and journalist John Donvan, and he does a superb job of keeping the debates well mannered, intelligent, and moving forward. Each debate generally runs 90 to 100 minutes along with questions from the moderator and from the audience. The audience votes on the motion before the debate and then afterwards. Whichever side changes the most members of the audience to vote for their side by the end is declared the winner. These debates can be watched on YouTube or listened to on MP3 from the Intelligence Squared U.S. website. There is also a 50 minute version of the debate on the Intelligence Squared U.S. website (which is the podcast and radio version). We recommend the full version for the most coherent debates, but either way you’ll learn a lot. Challenge your own political beliefs on these complex issues with these intelligent debates!

1. The Two-Party System is Making America Ungovernable

Has the two-party system in America created a toxic dynamic where the most extreme members of each political party can no longer work together? In this debate hosted by Intelligence Squared, Ariana Huffington and David Brooks argue that Democrats and Republicans are stuck in a rotten two party system that forces both sides to obey the party line at the cost of personal beliefs. Their proposed solution is a broader social movement to de-align the two parties and make way for a centrist alternative. In contrast, humorist P.J. O’Rourke is joined by Zev Chafets to argue for how durable the two-party system has remained when put under almost two centuries of stress, and caution against a de-polarized political atmosphere where smaller, single issue-based interests are enabled to fight it out on a national stage.

2. The Rich Are Taxed Enough

In this debate from Intelligence Squared, the two sides square off about the taxation of the rich in the United States and whether they should pay more than they currently do to cover the costs of government spending. Both sides agree that government is running deficits that need to be paid for and that entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare need reform before they spiral government down into much more debt in the coming decades. The side arguing for the motion suggests the best way to raise revenues is to “broaden the base” of the tax system, to cut out of control government spending, and to cut tax rates so that wealthy individuals will invest more into the economy and boost employment which will in turn boost individual income and generate more in overall taxes. The side arguing against the motion suggests that it is a necessity to raise taxes on the rich because of the current deficits government is running and because a more progressive approach in the tax system is the fair thing to do and will ultimately benefit the growth of the economy. They also argue for closing tax loopholes which have prevented the rich from paying their fair share. Both sides feature economists that throw out a lot of statistics supporting each of their arguments, but the moderator John Donvan tries to get beyond the numbers to the core ideas behind each side.

3. Don’t Give Us Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses

The topic of immigration has become a lightning rod for pundits on both sides of the political spectrum. This debate hosted by Intelligence Squared pits two sides in a nuanced argument pro and con over whether or not America is, or should be the place for the world’s “Tired”, “Poor” and “Huddled Masses”, as immortalized by poet Emma Lazarus at the Statue of Liberty. Arguing for stronger immigration Policy, Kris Kobach and Tom Tancredo work to dispel the nostalgia surrounding America’s melting-pot roots, arguing that open immigration in the modern world is unsustainable in a welfare state. No stranger to border issues, San Antonio mayor Julian Castro is joined by Tamar Jacoby to argue for effective enforcement that is at the same time consistent with core American values.

4. Obesity is the Government’s Business

Obesity has become an epidemic in the United States, but what is the best way of dealing with it. In this Intelligence Squared debate the two sides argue over what role the government should play in confronting this health crisis. The side arguing for the motion that obesity is the government’s business, feels that it is time for the government to step up their efforts in educating the public about the causes of obesity and giving the public more opportunities for exercise and health eating. The side arguing against the motion comes from a more libertarian stance that feels the government is not good at accomplishing much and that when it comes to fighting obesity the data isn’t there in regards to the programs that it has currently put forth. It’s a fun debate over the role of government when it comes to this important issue we are facing.

5. Abolish the Minimum Wage

At some point in anyone’s life, the minimum wage is all there is to live on, so how has this 75 year experiment worked out for the American economy? For this debate hosted by Intelligence Squared, James Bernstein is joined by Karen Kornbluh to argue for the moral merits of upholding the minimum wage, stating that it serves as a necessary safety net to ensure that lesser-skilled workers are treated fairly. On the opposite end of the table, Russell Roberts and James Dorn argue that a set wage slows job growth by rendering employees artificially more expensive; this in turn makes it harder for them to find work, and needlessly interferes with an individual’s personal bargaining freedom.

6. For a Better Future, Live in a Red State

In this lively debate hosted by Intelligence Squared, two sides argue for and against the claim that the future in America may be brighter if one lives in a more conservative-leaning “Red” state. Arguing for this motion, popular radio host Hugh Hewitt and the Wall Street Journal’s Stephen Moore note migration patterns have favored more affordable red states in recent years, leading many to wider job opportunities coupled with a lower cost of living, and clear sense of traditional values. On the other side, former California Governor Gray Davis is joined by centrist pundit Michael Lind, to argue that Blue states are generally more innovative, feature higher quality education and offer a better healthcare infrastructure. Regardless of who’s side you prefer, the debate offers an interesting snapshot of the changing interstate dynamics at play in an America that is getting more polarized across ideological lines.

7. It’s Time to End the War on Terror

Is the term “War on Terror” an outdated description that has outlived the current state of play in the global effort to curb terrorist activity? For this Intelligence Squared debate, Security expert Peter Bergen is joined by former Obama-administration expert Juliette Kayyem to argue that while terrorism is still very much a threat, the nature of that threat has changed in the decade since September 11th. With Al Qaeda on its last legs, the “War on Terror” calls back to another era, where the American-led fight to abolish Osama Bin Laden’s terror network has given way to a more sporadic, less focused enemy. On the flip-side, Micahel Hayden and Richard Falkenrath argue that the legal tools made available when a country is in a declared state of war allows for lawful execution of operations that would otherwise be considered illegal.

8. Income Inequality Impairs the American Dream of Upward Mobility

Listen to a stimulating debate over income inequality in America and whether or not it hinders the mobility of lower or middle income households to be upwardly mobile economically. Both sides agree income inequality is increasing and that upward mobility is not as good as it should be, especially among the poor. But they disagree as to whether income inequality is the cause of this lack of upward mobility. The side against the motion argues that the data is not there to support that upward mobility is declining in America. They feel that the ever-increasing wealth of the top 1% creates incentives and opportunities for the lower and middle classes to rise up the economic ladder. The side arguing for the motion says it is too soon to tell whether future generations are declining in economic mobility since the increasing income gap has only been on the rise since the late 1970s. They plead that common sense shows us a declining middle class and a working poor that is finding it harder and harder to move up the economic ladder as they struggle to make ends meet. They argue that higher taxation of the super rich can be funneled into innovative programs such as education to bring back the thriving middle class in America. It is a well argued debate from both sides with interesting results at the end from the audience that votes on the motion.

9. The Constitutional Right to Bear Arms Has Outlived Its Usefulness

Is the Second Amendment a historic anachronism designed during a time without police and when militias were more important to American national defense? Or does it embody American attitudes towards independence, and remain a vital means of maintaining the security of a free state? In this fierce debate hosted by Intelligence Squared, Alan Dershowitz & Sandy Levinson argue that the right to bear arms would be defined differently if written in 2015, with the basic right of self-defense superseding the specific right to carry weapons. On the opposing side, David Kopel and Eugene Volokh agree that everyone has a basic right to defend themselves, but go further by pressing that the tools necessary (aka. guns) should be explicitly safeguarded for anyone that wishes to use them.

10. Legalize Drugs

Watch this stimulating debate on the motion to legalize drugs. Since the drug war began 30 years ago it has cost the U.S. government $2.5 trillion dollars and has currently locked up over 100,000 nonviolent drug offenders in federal prison. The side arguing for the legalization of drugs points out how the drug war has primarily been waged against minorities and the poor in a disproportionate ratio to drug usage. They argue that drug use does not equal drug abuse, and that many drugs such as marijuana are less harmful to society than the current legal drugs of alcohol and prescription drugs. The side arguing against legalizing drugs points out the detrimental effects some drugs have had on communities such as meth and heroin, and how the drug war has to an extent deterred drug usage. Be sure to wait for the results of this excellent debate from Intelligence Squared U.S.

11. The GOP must Seize the Center or Die

Following the defeat of Mitt Romney in 2012, Intelligence Squared hosted this contentious debate over the future of the Republican party and how it can best win over the electorate. The side arguing for the motion points out that the country is diversifying and changing and that conservatives need to shift their current ideology more towards the center particularly on social issues which have caused fission amongst Republicans. They feel that because Republicans have been so staunchly anti-government, they have become the party of “no” which prevents government from doing much of anything and it has produced exasperation amongst the populace. The side arguing against the motion feels that if conservatives compromise their core principles of limited government and move more towards the center, they will cease to be a viable alternative to the Democrats and they will continue to lose more elections. It’s a well carried out debate featuring prominent conservative voices such as David Brooks and Laura Ingraham.

12. Containment Is Not Enough: ISIS Must Be Defeated

Watch or listen to this debate from August 2015 with the motion “Containment Is Not Enough: ISIS Must Be Defeated”. In the debate, foreign policy experts argue over what the Obama administration’s next steps should be in dealing with ISIS. The side for ISIS being defeated proposes that containing ISIS in the region poses a threat to the surrounding region and the enemies of ISIS around the World, and that this threat will only grow over time. These foreign policy experts do not advocate putting “boots on the ground” of U.S. troops, but they feel a much stronger resolution needs to be put in place to roll back and defeat ISIS. The side for containing ISIS and staying the course with the current U.S. policy, feels that containment is the best option at this time while we wait for the conflict to play out, and that ultimately the turmoil in Syria and Iraq are not our battle to win. They also cite the lack of political will for a full scale war against ISIS in the wake of two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s a good debate that helps to make sense out of a very complicated and messy situation in the Middle East and the results of the debate are quite interesting. Towards the end of the debate questions are received from the audience including questions from David Petraeus and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The debate can be watched on YouTube or downloaded on MP3 from the Intelligence Squared U.S. website.

13. Eliminate Corporate Subsidies

Watch a debate over corporate subsidies in America and whether or not they should be eliminated. In this debate both sides agree that there are some subsidies that are good and there are some subsidies that are bad (such as the unnecessary oil & gas subsidies). But overall each side has differences over whether subsidies are good in general. The side arguing against corporate subsidies says the U.S. government simply cannot afford them, and that the state of corporate welfare in American is favoring big business over small business and making it hard for the little guy. The side arguing for corporate subsidies highlights a lot of areas where subsidies can be helpful in spurring innovation with emerging technologies and lead to great economic success in the future. The results of the debate produce a big swing in opinion in the audience, but we won’t give away which way it goes.

14. Abolish the Death Penalty

Is America a culture that lives by the credo “an eye for an eye”, or is it becoming apparent that many Americans are rethinking their stance on the Death Penalty? In this passionate debate hosted by Intelligence Squared, Diane Russ Tierny and Barry Scheck argue that killing inmates on death row is an unacceptable risk to innocent lives that any modern society should abolish, going further to cite statistics demonstrating that capital punishment does not lower crime rates, and is racially skewed. On the other side, Robert Blecker and Ken Sheidegger argue that the death penalty should always be an available option for the cruelest offenders, citing rising prison incarceration costs, and basic concepts of human justice as a compelling reason for death to remain the most serious punishment legally possible.

15. Freedom of the Press Does Not Extend to State Secrets

Hear an interesting debate on the freedom of the press and whether or not they have the right under the 1st amendment to publish state secrets. Both sides agree that some state secrets need to be kept such as the identities of spies, nuclear secrets, and other secrets which might obviously endanger the United States. But they disagree as to whether the press or the government has the power to determine the release of other state secrets which may be more controversial. They also debate over new incarnations of “the press” such as the Wikileaks leak from Julian Assange. It’s an interesting and sometimes confusing debate over the freedom of the press in this new digital information age.