“From wherever you stood, the opposing side offered respectable, credible views. In today's fractured culture the evening struck a blow for civility.”
- The Huffington Post
January 16, 2014
Perhaps because of the abundance of raw data available in this Age of Information, many an argument comes down to contesting the essential facts and figures that underpin a given claim. In the Intelligence Squared debate held on Jan. 15, for instance, the subject in question was whether “Obamacare is now beyond rescue” and both sides referred to the number of canceled policies resulting from health care reform — five million, some have claimed — as a significant issue that has been hotly contested over the past few months. “Many journalists have tried to figure out exactly how many policies have been canceled,” Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine stated, “And they don't have good enough records to know, but they know it's not 5 million. And they suspect — the administration suspects it's closer to one-tenth of that figure.”
January 16, 2014
Last night, Douglas Kamerow and I debated Megan McArdle and Scott Gottlieb at Intelligence Squared over the notion, “Obamacare is now beyond rescue.” Intelligence Squared picked the topic two months ago, when the website was still broken, insurers were frantic, congressional Democrats were in a full-scale panic, and it seemed genuinely possible to many people that the law would simply fail.
The arguments McArdle and Gottlieb made last night bore little resemblance to the sorts of failure predictions that were widely circulating last November. Many of their arguments simply took issue with the law’s goals; they argued that Medicaid does not make people healthier, that healthy people ought to be able to enjoy the financial benefits of being skimmed out of the insurance pool, and that politicians will reverse all the mechanisms needed to finance the law. In other words, they argued that the law was doomed for the reasons opponents had argued it was doomed in 2010, or for reasons a conservative could offer to suggest Medicare and Social Security are also doomed.
November 22, 2013
It couldn't be more black or white than this: "Spy on me, I'd rather be safe."
That was the proposition before two teams of debaters at the Intelligence Squared U.S. debate held Wednesday night in Washington, D.C. Defending the proposition were two former homeland security officials Richard Falkenrath and Stewart Baker. Opposing the motion were the ACLU's very own Senior Policy Counsel Michael German and Georgetown Law Professor David Cole.
By the end of the debate, the civil libertarians decidedly ruled the day, moving 21 percent of the audience to their side and achieving a 62 percent majority against the proposition, "Spy on me, I'd rather be safe."
There's something to take from this, even if you dismiss it as wonky fun. When pro-surveillance advocates are pitted against civil libertarians who not only argue against dragnet surveillance on principle but because it simply doesn't work, the fear wanes and people see mass surveillance for what it is: unconstitutional and un-American.
As German, a former undercover FBI agent, made clear, the idea that a balance must be struck between liberty and security is a false choice. The procedural safeguards—such as reasonable suspicion and probable cause—that govern how government agents do their jobs doesn't only protect our liberties and privacy, it makes them better investigators who better protect the public from violent threats.
April 11, 2013
Free market advocates tried to convince an audience at Washington, D.C.‘s Burke Theater last week that the minimum wage should be abolished.
James Dorn of the Cato Institute and popular economist Russ Roberts faced Jared Bernstein from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and Karen Kornbluh, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, in an Oxford-style debate facilitated by the organization Intelligence Squared.
April 04, 2013
Had a rousing and often substantive debate last night sponsored by the group Intelligence Squared. My partner was the great and eloquent Karen Kornbluh (listen to the podcast -- I really thought Karen did a great job merging morality, compassion, and the facts of the case); the opposing team was Russ Roberts and Jim Dorn. The proposition was "the minimum wage should be abolished." I'll let you guess which side Karen and I took, but the good news: the audience votes at the beginning and end of the debate and team that gets more people to switch to their side wins. We won.
March 14, 2013
Does the U.S. need a strong dollar policy?
The Kaufman Center played host to a debate on monetary policy Wednesday night. Officially the resolution under consideration was "America Doesn't Need a Strong Dollar Policy"—although what it really ended up being about was the wisdom of the gold standard.
The sponsor of the Wednesday night's debate was an outfit called Intelligence Squared U.S., which turns these things into podcasts, and public radio and television broadcasts.
November 15, 2012
Feisty exchanges in New York last night reflect a country wondering more than ever about radical drug-law change.
Legalization is in the air right now, and an unusually constructive debate was waged in Manhattan last night on whether the US should end its prohibition on all currently illegal drugs. Hosted by the Intelligence Squared foundation, to be broadcast on NPR and Channel 13, it featured what debater Nick Gillespie (editor-in-chief at Reason.com, for the motion) characterized as four sometime participants in the drug war: a soldier (Paul Butler, law professor at Georgetown University and former federal prosecutor, also for legalization); a general (Asa Hutchinson, former DEA administrator and Congressman, against); a medic (Theodore Dalrymple, former prison doctor and psychiatrist, against); and a "conscientious objector" (Gillespie himself).
Butler kicked off with a passionate plea to end America's mass incarceration, in which he used to collaborate. Noting that "No country has ever found a way to stop people using drugs," he drew attention to the grotesque racial disparities in drug-law enforcement in a country where black people use drugs no more than white people, but are far likelier to be imprisoned for it. Doubting that Hutchinson would call the cops if he caught his own daughter using cocaine, Butler concluded that "What is good enough for our children and friends is also good enough for African Americans." Hutchinson admitted that many changes are needed in the way US drug laws are enforced, but said that this doesn't mean the drug laws themselves should disappear. Stating that a $2.5 trillion total drug-war expenditure has helped to halve illegal drug use in the last 30 years, he argued, "The idea that prohibition isn't working may appeal to the popular culture, but does not pass muster on closer examination."
Gillespie made the libertarian case for "pharmacological freedom": granting adults the right to decide what they put into their own bodies. "If we don't have the right to change our minds [by using drugs]," he asked, "then what rights do we really have that are worth a damn?" A drug user who no longer boozes ("because I'm a bad drinker: I tried and tried, but..."), he raised laughs with his sense of the ludicrous—at one point imagining "fair-trade methamphetamine." But he predicted that full legalization would change little, except to jail fewer people, give us "a couple more options" in our bathroom cabinets, and "Monday mornings would be a lot easier to face." Dalrymple responded by focusing on the harm drugs can do—noting the huge addiction and overdose toll of opioid painkillers in the US, "all created perfectly legally." Citing examples like buprenorphine use in France, he argued that making drugs legal increases their availability, and that "Supply can produce a large and disastrous demand." He conceded Butler and Gillespie's point that most people who take drugs don't become addicted, adding, "but then 99% of drunk drivers get home perfectly safely—I know, because I've done it myself."
Audience votes were recorded before and after the debate, with a swing towards legalization seeing Butler and Gillespie declared the winners. But it felt more like a beginning than an end. With marijuana now legal in Colorado and Washington, America's drug-legalization debate is going to expand both in geography and scope. It will rarely remain this civil.
October 25, 2012
“The rich are taxed enough,” argued Columbia Business School Dean Glenn Hubbard.
The man who The New York Times called Mitt Romney’s “go-to economist” and who is considered a leading candidate to be treasury secretary in a Republican administration made his case at a debate in New York.
“Raising tax rates on the rich is both counter-productive and unnecessary to fund the government we want,” said Hubbard.
While steering clear of specifics, Hubbard told the audience at the Intelligence Squared Debate that “higher tax rates won’t necessarily produce enhancements in revenue.”
“We can and should achieve fairness and growth without taxing the rich more than they are today,” he said.
Hubbard’s somewhat dry tone was balanced by the passion of one of his debate opponents, former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich. Speaking against the motion “the rich are taxed enough,” Reich argued called the idea “absurd.”
“The rich have done extraordinarily well but the rest haven’t,” said Reich to audience applause. “The percentage of total U.S. income of the top 1 percent has doubled in the past 30 years. Given where we are now, we shouldn’t even have this debate.”
Hubbard opposed raising tax rates for the rich but added, “We need a progressive tax system.”
“The wealthy should pay a disproportionate share of taxes,” he said.
Hubbard and his debate team colleague, Arthur Laffer, spoke out for tax reform that would lower rates but also broaden the tax base.
“We need to think about growth and fairness. Tax rates should not rise,” said Hubbard.
The United States already has one of the most progressive tax systems in the world, he argued. Comparing the U.S. economy to a tall building, Hubbard said the “lower floors are flooded” while the people in the penthouse are doing well -but “the elevator is broken.”
If the tax base were broadened with lower rates and tax reform, opportunity would be expanded and “we would get more revenues” to pay for the government,” he said.
September 13, 2012
Super-political action committees sound patriotic, as defined by David Keating, president of the Center for Competitive Politics: “It’s Americans getting together and pooling their money to talk to other Americans.”
Trevor Potter, president of the Campaign Legal Center, takes a darker view that super-PACs could hurt the country by corrupting the elected officials who benefit from their election spending.
July 02, 2012
After an Oxford-style debate Sunday night, environmental attorneys Deborah Goldberg and Katherine Hudson convinced 15 percent of the audience here to change their minds about hydraulic fracturing.
July 04, 2012
A recent debate from Intelligence Squared U.S. examined the growing American shale gas boom and brought experts together to discuss the pros and cons of fracking.
October 27, 2008
Tonight in New York City, I'll be participating in a gun control debate hosted by Intelligence Squared, in partnership with National Public Radio.
October 27, 2008
Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske thinks having more guns in the community doesn't deter crime, and he plans to argue that Tuesday night in a New York City debate.
November 16, 2008
A sequel to the ballyhooed debate in 2007 over the motion that "Global Warming is Not a Crisis" has been scheduled in New York City in January, this time exploring a new premise: "Major Reductions in Carbon Emissions are Not Worth the Money." Those in favor of the motion (some additions may come, organizers say) will be the "skeptical environmentalist" Bjorn Lomborg; Philip Stott, the British biogeographer who has become a prominent critic of global warming worriers; and Peter W. Huber, the Manhattan Institute scholar, lawyer and mechanical engineer who has written that energy waste is unavoidable and beneficial.
April 23, 2007
Better more domestic surveillance than another Sept. 11, 2001, type of attack on U.S. soil? That was the question in a lively, sold-out, Oxford-style debate sponsored by The Rosenkranz Foundation at the Asia Society's New York headquarters Wednesday night.
March 17, 2009
An Oxford-style debate held last night at New York's Rockefeller University featured an argument over whether Washington or Wall Street "was more to blame for the financial crisis."
March 29, 2009
It won't help anyone recoup the money lost in the housing bubble or the market crash or the recession, but there's a certain satisfaction in knowing where to put the blame.
October 18, 2009
Published Sep 25, 2009
From the magazine issue dated Oct 5, 2009
Call it the Rubber-Chicken War—the looming trade dispute between the United States (which has announced punitive tariffs on imports of Chinese tires) and China (which is threatening retaliation against American poultry exports).
May 26, 2008
Lloyd Cohen thinks people should have the right to buy or sell organs, an idea reviled by doctors. As of last Wednesday at 5:44 p.m., according to the minute-by-minute count on the Web site of the United Network for Organ Sharing, there were 75,629 people awaiting kidney transplants in the United States.
September 18, 2008
NEW YORK--The other night we attended the first-of-the-season Intelligence Squared debate. We've been going to these for a while and always find them interesting and stimulating. This week's topic was health-care policy, and one of the panelists arguing for more federal control was former Enron adviser Paul Krugman.
November 17, 2009
Just hours after a government audit lambasted the New York Fed as meek in its role in AIG’s rescue last fall, two big names in the financial world sparred over similar questions of government heft–or lack thereof–in downtown Manhattan on Monday night.
November 18, 2009
“Obama’s economic policies are working effectively.” That was the motion that Intelligence Squared US put to its New York audience Monday night for a vote. One three-man team defended the president’s policies; another denounced them. Though the “anti” team ultimately lost the vote, it made the more compelling argument...
November 18, 2009
Are Obama's economic policies actually working? Intelligence Squared posed this question to six policy experts at a debate in New York this week.
November 17, 2009
Neither his trademark Cheshire-cat smile, nor his plucky self-confidence was enough to rescue former Gov. Eliot Spitzer from losing the vote Monday night.
November 30, 2009
Whatever else they may do in office, presidents are largely judged—by the voters, if not historians—on their handling of the economy. So with unemployment edging into double digits, last week's Intelligence Squared US debate topic—"Obama's Economic Policies Are Working Effectively"—attracted the largest audience in the history of the series...
December 03, 2009
The team in favor of the proposition, America is to Blame for Mexico’s Drug War, scored an undisputed victory with 72% of the audience at the debate’s conclusion siding with them.
March 08, 2011
In the latest round in America’s premier debate series, Intelligence Squared Debates (IQ2US), Bill Ritter, the former governor of Colorado, who established the state as a leader in renewable energy joins Kassia Yanosek, co-founder of the U.S. Partnership for Renewable Energy Finance support the motion while Robert Bryce, author of “Power Hungry: The Myths of ‘Green’ Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future” and Steven Hayward, author of “Almanac of Environmental Trends” oppose it.
March 08, 2011
Can cleaner sources of energy not only power our economy but also drive a recovery from the Great Recession? That's the question confronted by policymakers across the U.S.—and by debaters in the Intelligence Squared series hosted March 8 by New York University.
December 08, 2009
Forty years ago, the United States government began a "war on drugs" whose cost so far is estimated at $1 trillion, and rising. In 2006, newly elected Mexican President Felipe Calderón began a crackdown on the drug-smuggling cartels—a "war on drugs" that really is a war, involving military troops and weapons and more than 10,000 dead so far. Americans buy drugs from the cartels and sell them guns, and Washington arguably provided the example for the Mexican government's hard-line tactics. So is America to blame for Mexico's drug war? That was the topic at last week's Intelligence Squared US debate at New York University.
January 20, 2010
The evening’s winning team argued for the motion and included Santa Monica City Council member Bobby Shriver, the Economist’s Andreas Kluth, and journalist and founder of TheWrap.com Sharon Waxman.