About 70 students and community members, including UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ and professors, came together to watch Cal Berkeley Democrats and the Berkeley Conservative Society debate taxation, healthcare and minimum wages Wednesday evening.
The debate, meant to revitalize civil discourse and encourage respectful discussion on campus, was facilitated by Cal Berkeley Democrats, Berkeley Conservative Society, the LEAD Center, the Center on Civility and Democratic Engagement, the political science department and the Goldman School of Public Policy. Wednesday was the marker of the event’s second year of running.
Each debate team consisted of two students from each organization — president of Cal Berkeley Democrats Varsha Sarveshwar and club member Clay Halbert represented the democratic side, and president of Berkeley Conservative Society Celine Bookin and club member Jacob Chabot argued in opposition.
“In a different time, at a different place, this debate would be unremarkable,” Christ said in her opening remarks. “Yet events and incidents across our country over the course of the last two years have left many to fear for the future of reason, discourse, and debate.”
The debate declared no winner and was primarily an opportunity for debaters and audience members alike to learn and grow from each other.
The first debate topic was taxation and wealth distribution. While Bookin argued that “free enterprise is the single most important catalyst for uplifting the global poor,” and that lower taxation will lead to economic growth and a better environment for employment, Halbert noted that U.S. “inequality has only grown.” Halbert proposed implementing higher taxes to redistribute wealth so “everyone has a shot in the game.”
“I think that these (topics) are critically important in the future of politics,” audience member and campus senior Kate Simonds said. “I really respected the Berkeley Conservative Society for coming out because I think there should be more conservative voices on campus.”
On the topic of healthcare, Bookin and Chabot argued for further privatization to increase autonomy, drive down prices and increase quality of care. Sarveshwar argued for a single-payer federal healthcare system and hoped to “dispel the notion that the government is inefficient.” The democratic representatives described America’s already privatized system as “failing all Americans.”
The final debate topic of the evening concerned minimum wage. Bookin noted that entry level jobs were never meant to be living wage jobs, and that raising minimum wage too drastically at the federal level would result in employment cuts and consumer product price increases.
Halbert suggested a permanent gradual increase of federal minimum wage over time. Sarveshwar also expressed concern about low minimum wage restriction that could move the burden of supporting low income families from corporations onto the government.
“I think it was a victory for free speech,” Bookin said. “I look forward to further facilitating civil discourse and working with the Cal Dems and other organizations.”