University News

Scholars debate solutions to U.S. economic inequality

Contributing Writer
Friday, October 19, 2012

Two thinkers with drastically different views engaged in a spirited debate Wednesday night about the proper role of government in reducing economic inequality.
The debate, hosted by the Alexander Hamilton Society, featured Glenn Loury, professor of economics, and Yaron Brook, president of the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights and a former professor at Santa Clara University.
“This may not be as intense of an exchange as the one you witnessed last night,” Loury began, referring to the second presidential debate. “The stakes are not as high, but the stakes are also not trivial.”
“Most improvements create winners and losers,” Loury continued. “Should government be in the business of compensating the losers? I’m going to incline toward an affirmative answer on that.”
Government is involved in reducing inequality not only in the name of justice and morality, but also in the interest of “pure efficiency,” Loury continued, adding that “government can promote efficiency by investing in the human development of the people lower in society. To say the government should not act that way is to take on a very heavy burden.”
Brook accepted this “heavy burden,” responding that the government’s current involvement in reducing inequality “doesn’t make it right.”
“I would like equality of basketball,” he said. “I’d like to be as good as Michael Jordan, but the only way to make me better would be to break Michael Jordan’s hands and legs.”
Continuing to use Jordan as an example of excellence, he said, “It’s never just natural endowment. It’s hard work, perseverance, incredible mental and physical effort. The only way to bring about equality is to use force against someone.”
Brook continued to ask the fundamental question of whether a government’s initiation of force is ever justified.
“In the name of justice, in the name of morality, no. It isn’t,” he said.
Brook said that though his view was radically opposed to Loury’s and to “90-plus percent of people in this area,” he felt honored to be considered a radical. Through its policies, the United States government is creating “victims in the name of equality,” he said.
In his response, Loury cited an example of inattentive parents raising a child and the need for public education to “create possibility for human development for the kid that’s at the bottom.” Brook disagreed, arguing for the privatization of education and adding that “the thing that would help that kid most is freedom.”
In the final section of the debate, Loury and Brook were invited to ask each other questions, after which audience members had an opportunity to ask their own questions. Most of the questions from the audience were directed at Brook.
Loury answered a question about affirmative action by jokingly bringing up Mitt Romney’s request for a binder of women during the previous night’s debate. He said while it would be harmful to obsess over counting race or gender, “a cognizance of race is not racism.”
Brook again countered Loury’s claim, saying that “race is the most horrific form of collectivism possible,” and that “you don’t solve racism by being a racist.”
Following the event, Terrence George ’13, president of the society’s chapter at Brown, said the debate had been a success that was both spirited and respectful. The two professors were chosen for the debate because “their viewpoints could be diametrically opposed,” George said before the debate.
Close to 100 students, faculty and supporters of Loury and Brook gathered in MacMillan Hall to hear the professors’ views.
Mai Ly ’16, who asked the debaters about affirmative action and the devaluing of individuals, said she appreciated the opportunity to hear a perspective that is “not liberal at all” in the typically liberal University environment. “I thought it’d be interesting to see that clash,” she said.
Nicha Ratana-Apiromyakij ’15 said the debate was timely and important.
“It’s just been a very heated time, and people come out and are very forward with their views,” she said.
The Alexander Hamilton Society chapter was founded on campus last year and aims to foster debate on issues of economics, foreign policy and national defense, George said. The group hosted debates focused on the latter two subjects last year, he added, so this debate was held to address the society’s third focus.



  1. Those who are so concerned about equality never seem to care about justice. It’s as though if something unjust happens to a rich or successful person, that’s OK with them because the able person can presumably handle it. If anything, they actively perpetuate such injustices; where is the money and effort to lift the less-equal up going to come from, if not from those the redistributers consider to be “more equal”? Since when does the justice or injustice of thievery depend on who the property is getting stolen from or who it’s going to? That 90% who believe in equality would shrink from the very thought of barging into their neighbor’s apartment with a gun and taking their life savings, but they have no problem with getting their neighbors together to vote to get the government to do it instead. Speaking as someone who is generally considered one of the “more able,” I must say I’m tired of being the target of people whose thirst for “social justice” never seems to take into account any actual justice.

    And no, I am not wealthy. But then, it’s not really money that the “social justice” cohort is after, is it?

  2. Love the above comment. Right on target.

  3. It is not about winners and losers. When you are too old to work anymore, you are not a “loser.” When you are badly injured in an accident or fall victim to a disease, you are not a “loser.”
    It’s about pulling together for the collective good. We will all grow old; we are all vulnerable to illness and accidents. Health care is immensely expensive, and only the wealthiest families can pay for it–as Ted Kennedy pointed out when he was diagnosed with his fatal tumor. Should only the Kennedys and the Romneys be able to afford health care? Do people want their elderly parents begging on the streets?

    Human beings are individuals, but we have always been a social species, like chimps and bees. We have always lived in societies, not just nuclear families, and we have always taken care of each other–not just in individual acts of charity but in organized ways.

    The Ayn Rand worldview is selfish, pernicious, ahistorical, and pathologically anti-social. It is an appropriate worldview for sociopaths, but sociopaths can go off and live in the woods like the Unabomber or, if they are rich, buy their own islands. They should not impose their views on the rest of us.

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