“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
February 15, 2014
The Volokh Conspiracy’s Nicholas Rosenkranz links to the “particularly lively” Intelligence Squared debate this week in New York City: “Resolved: Snowden Was Justified.” Arguing for the motion were Daniel Ellsberg, the guy who delivered the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and other media outlets in 1971; and Ben Wizner, legal adviser to Edward Snowden and attorney for the ACLU. Arguing against the motion were Andrew C. McCarthy, the guy who prosecuted the Blind Sheikh; and Ambassador R. James Woolsey, former director of the CIA and chairman of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
February 12, 2014
A New York audience devoted nearly two hours yesterday evening to a riveting Intelligence Squared debate about Edward Snowden and the surveillance regime that his disclosures revealed.
The motion up for debate was "Snowden Was Justified." Arguing for the motion were Daniel Ellsberg, of Pentagon Papers fame, and Ben Wizner, Edward Snowden's legal advisor and the director of the ACLU's Speech, Privacy & Technology Project. They debated Andrew C. McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor, and Ambassador R. James Woolsey, a former CIA director. A pre-debate vote revealed the audience's feelings on the whistleblower to be evenly split, with 29 percent for the motion, 29 percent against, and 42 percent undecided.
Unsurprisingly, Ben and Daniel won, decisively. In a fascinating back-and-forth, they demonstrated why we're all better off after Snowden, in a world with a window into a once-secret regime that everyone – including all three branches of government – is now debating out in the open.
February 06, 2014
In December, I predicted that “doc shock” was going to be a major problem for the U.S. health-care overhaul, as people found out that the narrow networks insurers use to keep premiums low often don’t cover the top-notch doctors you’d like to see if you get really sick.
I reiterated this in my recent Intelligence Squared debate: However much good, sound policy sense narrow networks might make, they are political poison. Regulators and politicians are going to find it very hard to withstand the appeals of constituents who have been restricted to the bargain basement of our nation’s health-care system. I simply don't think they’ll be able to stand it for very long. This is basically what happened to the managed-care revolution that held down cost growth in the mid-1990s -- people in those plans complained bitterly, in their capacity as both voters and employees. A combination of legal and market pressure forced insurers to open up their networks and approve more treatments. And then costs started rising again. As people begin using their Obamacare policies and start running into restrictions, the same sort of pressure will begin to mount.
January 21, 2014
Last Wednesday, Scott Gottlieb and I debated Jonathan Chait and Douglas Kamerow at an Intelligence Squared event on this proposition: “Resolved: Obamacare Is Now Beyond Rescue.” I was feeling a little trepid, for three reasons: First, I’ve never done any formal debate; second, the resolution gave the “for” side a built-in handicap, as the “against” side just had to prove that Obamacare might not be completely beyond rescue; and third, we were debating on the Upper West Side. Now, I grew up on the Upper West Side and love it dearly. But for this particular resolution, it’s about the unfriendliest territory this side of Pyongyang.
January 18, 2014
In a debate hosted by Intelligence Squared on Jan. 15, competitors argued on both sides of whether the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” is so irreparably damaged that its successful implementation is beyond rescue. After the debate, aside from the sketchy numbers released by the Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS) this week, one question still lingered: does Obamacare have to be “popular” in order for it to survive, or can it evolve over time?
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.
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.”
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 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.
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.
February 11, 2012
Sorry, Uncle Sam, but you’ve been benched in the fight against obesity. That’s according to the Intelligence Squared debate earlier this week, where more voters were swayed to believe that weight control is a personal decision—leaving little room for government intervention.
February 08, 2012
Last night, Intelligence Squared U.S. continued its spring 2012 season with a sold-out debate and a victory against the motion “Obesity is the Government’s Business.” In the final tally, John Stossel and Paul Campos won the Oxford style debate by convincing 16% of the audience to change their minds and oppose the motion. Overall 55% of audience members agreed that government should be involved in public health initiatives to combat obesity.
February 08, 2012
America is fat, but Americans disagree about what this means. Either the country’s obesity rates—one third of all adults are obese—are a dangerous health crisis, or they show that the nation is healthier and wealthier than ever. Either the government must act immediately to curb our waistlines, or we must act to curb our bloated government. These were the questions debated in NYU’s Skirball Center last night at the Slate/Intelligence Squared live debate, in which four health and policy experts argued the motion that “Obesity is the government’s business.”
January 18, 2012
On February 7, Intelligence Squared U.S. (IQ2US) will take on one of America’s biggest problems when they host the debate: “Obesity Is the Government’s Business.” Obesity costs our health care system nearly $150 billion a year and is a major risk factor for expensive, chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Should the government intervene, or is this a matter of individual rights and personal responsibility?
November 23, 2011
At a debate last night hosted by Intelligence Squared US, syndicated columnist Deroy Murdock argued that "we want the TSA and others to recognize that the current threat to passengers and airliners comes almost exclusively from one source..." Countered former Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff: "The problem with using racial and religious profiling is it takes you down a road to looking at people who you don't need to look at and avoiding looking at people that you should look at..."
November 03, 2011
[T]wo teams squared off last month to debate the question of whether Congress should pass President Obama’s jobs plan – piecemeal, if necessary. The debate, held under the auspices of Intelligence Squared US, pitted Moody’s Analytics economist Mark Zandi and Princeton University policy wonk Cecilia Rouse against Richard Epstein, an NYU law professor, and Dan Mitchell of the Cato Institute, with the latter duo arguing that what’s needed for the economy to rebound and ultimately create new jobs is structural reform, not what Mitchell called “faux stimulus.”
October 27, 2011
There was really no point to any further debate, but I went to the debate, anyway. It was part of the Intelligence Squared U.S. Debate Series at New York University's Skirball Center on Tuesday night. The topic: "Congress Should Pass Obama's Jobs Plan--Piece By Piece." It was fun watching four wonkish brainiacs flagellate each other over a $447 billion stimulus plan that was pretty much dead on arrival weeks ago.
October 25, 2011
Earlier this week, President Obama, ardent lover of three-word mantras, introduced a new slogan for his American Jobs Act: "We can't wait!" The president exhorted Congress to act on the jobs creation plan he introduced in September. The audience at last night's Slate/Intelligence Squared U.S. live debate at NYU's Skirball Center vehemently agreed with the president: After the conclusion of the debate, 69 percent voted for the motion "Congress should pass Obama's jobs bill—piece by piece"; 22 percent voted against the motion; and 9 percent were undecided.
October 25, 2011
Last night NYU’s Skirball Center saw an overwhelming victory for the Intelligence Squared U.S. debate, “Congress Should Pass Obama’s Jobs Plan – Piece By Piece.” According to the final votes, Cecilia Rouse and Mark Zandi won the debate by convincing 24% of the audience to change their minds to support the motion, thus winning the Oxford style debate. They argued Obama’s jobs plan is a necessary step toward avoiding another recession and stimulus legislation will stem an economic downturn.
October 05, 2011
Last night's Intelligence Squared U.S. debate series took a look at America's health care entitlement programs and examined their impact on future generations.
September 23, 2011
How you can watch - and participate in - the live Slate/Intelligence Squared debate October 4 at NYU.
June 08, 2011
With world governments still reeling from the WikiLeaks fallout, acclaimed debate series Intelligence Squared US turned its attention to the balance between national security and freedom of the press. After watching the heated debate, IQ2US’s live, sold-out audience came down in favor of the Dershowitz/Sanger team, deciding against the motion that “Freedom of the press does not extend to state secrets”.
May 04, 2011
There was a good crowd at New York University Tuesday evening for the Intelligence Squared debate. These are full-dress formal disputations on topics of public interest, held roughly once a month through the season, very professionally organized and broadcast on Bloomberg TV and NPR. Tuesday’s topic was “Don’t give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses,” the reference being to Emma Lazarus’s poem on the Statue of Liberty.
May 03, 2011
With the first anniversary of Arizona’s illegal immigrant law just behind us, last night’s debate at Intelligence Squared US, “Don’t give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses”, was a rousing, heated exchange on the nation’s hottest issue. According to live audience voting, the Kobach/Tancredo team made the more convincing argument by moving the most audience votes to their side at the end of the evening although the Castro/Jacoby team carried 52% of the final vote.