Robert Reich and Stephen Moore clash over taxes and inequality at campus free speech event

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Robert Reich and Stephen Moore — economists representing opposite sides of the political spectrum — spoke about money in politics, inequality and taxes Tuesday evening in the first of a series of speaker events at UC Berkeley to feature divergent views.

The event was organized to demonstrate the campus’s interest in holding meaningful debates with people who hold different viewpoints, including conservative points of view, according to Goldman School of Public Policy assistant professor Dan Lindheim, who helped organize the event at the request of Chancellor Carol Christ as part of her commitment to a “free speech year.”

“People were upset at how the idea of free speech was being portrayed with the issues around Milo (Yiannopoulos) and Ann Coulter,” Lindheim said. “We wanted to provide a venue for serious discussion about serious issues, not just caricatures of people on either side.”

Reich, a campus professor at the Goldman School of Public Policy and former U.S. secretary of labor, and Moore, a distinguished visiting fellow for the conservative think tank Project for Economic Growth at The Heritage Foundation, are no strangers to each other, having sparred on networks such as CNN on numerous occasions over the past decades.

“Steve and I have debated on television for years, and Steve, I have enjoyed debating you,” Reich said during the event. “I think you’re wrong most of the time, but I enjoy debating with you.”

The two began the discussion by agreeing that money in politics is a problem in the United States, but each argued for a different root cause of the issue. Reich focused on campaign finance and the “revolving door” between Congress and lobbying firms, whereas Moore talked about how the size of the federal budget incentivizes special interests to spend on campaigns.

The conversation then turned to income inequality, where Moore and Reich found little common ground. Reich said stagnating wages for the middle class leave it worse off now than it was 40 years ago.

Moore disagreed, and said wages for middle-class workers have only stagnated over about the last 15 years, and that the middle class is “clearly” not worse off now when taking into consideration access to new technology and other tools.

“Do you really believe these workers 40 years ago had it better than those today?” Moore asked the audience.

“Yes!” the audience replied resoundingly.

Disagreement became the theme of the evening. Moore expressed support for President Donald Trump’s proposed tariff on Chinese imports, adding that it is needed in order to send a message to China that the United States will no longer accept the “stealing” of its technology, whereas Reich said such a tariff will only lead China to bypass the United States and engage in trade with the rest of the world.

ASUC president Zaynab AbdulQadir-Morris said she thought the event was a good start to a series of dialogues that will represent different viewpoints — something she said is lacking on campus currently.

“It is the university’s obligation to challenge students and their ideas,” AbdulQadir-Morris said.

Contact Luke Kopetsky at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @LukeKopetsky.