April 13, 2010

Student Politicos Debate Cause of ’08 Financial Crisis

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On Monday, Warren Hall filled with a group of the most politically diverse and staunchly opinionated students on campus as the Cornell Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians squared off in a debate titled “Financial Crisis Debate: What Went Wrong and How Do We Fix It?”

Tension and excitement reigned even before the debate began, as debaters shuffled though notes and conferred on last minute strategies. Many audience members seemed to have already picked a side, and one Democratic-leaning spectator jokingly said that he would sit only on the left half of the auditorium as a nod to the President’s State of the Union address.

The Cornell Democrats opened the debate as Max McCullough ’12 argued that blame for the crisis does not rest with one single party. He nevertheless attacked  republicans for insufficient regulation. He advocated the creation of an independent regulatory agency, a point the Democrats focused on for much of the debate.

Such an institution is necessary ple … to ensure [they] are not being screwed,” said McCullough.

Adam Woodward ’11 offered in turn the Republican ideal of a free market and criticized the government for facilitating the formation of a “culture of greed.”

“We believe it’s government regulation … that causes financial collapse,” Woodward stated.

The libertarians, for their part, mainly argued for the elimination of the Federal Reserve. Libertarian Kseniya Astakhova ’12 read aloud a serious of conflicting statements that were made by Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, and asked the audience, “How are we to trust?”

A lively discussion followed, in which participants developed positions on the role of government, regulation and human greed.  They made references to figures that ranged from Milton Friedman to Obi-Wan Kenobi and appealed to history, reason and morality.

At times, the debate turned tense.

Republican William Wagner ’13 drew both giggles and anger when he attacked the Democrats’ metaphoric likening of an unregulated economy to professional soccer, in which Manchester United –– a team which is able to spend much more on players than its rivals –– dominates because in both cases there is no one to “keep the market fair.”

“I can’t regale you people with nice sports analogies. Let’s talk about the facts,” Wagner said.

The libertarians continued to argue for the elimination of the Fed and their bluntness seemed to bewilder the audience at times.

“Are you laughing because we’re just being up front about what’s going to happen?” Astakhova asked spectators.

“Repeal the Fed, end government regulation, save our economy,” she continued.

Democrat Will Baldwin ’10 responded that “our plan doesn’t end in the bankruptcy of the United States.”

After the debaters had concluded and answered questions from the audience, the judges, who included professors from the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, the Economics department, and the Freedom and Free Societies program, retreated to the hallway and soon returned to announce the winner.

Moderator Chris Langone grad, who is the assistant coach for the Cornell speech and debate team, stated that “though the libertarians had some provocative and interesting ideas and the Democrats had a lot of facts and figures,” the Republicans were the victors.

Langone and the judges lauded the Republican team for their successful defense and “refutation of the status quo.”

After the debate, Langone noted his own erstwhile membership in each of the three political groups at different times and emphasized the importance of having productive discussions.

“It’s important that people understand that [such discussion] does change opinions,” he said. “Debating is crucially important so that people can become informed … [and] get beyond sound bytes into analysis.”

Original Author: Eliza LaJoie