The Society convened on March 29 for the eleventh debate of the semester and the final Merrick debate to examine the question Resolved: The rich are entitled to their wealth.
Mr. Alex Henderson spoke on the affirmation. Mr. Stephano Medina spoke on the negation.
Mr. Henderson began by arguing that we live in a profoundly inter-dependent world and do best in a society that prioritizes individual autonomy, which he defined as the right to choose your own profession and the right to succeed in it as best you can. To affirm means to believe in taxation based on long-term economic prosperity, that men are entitled to keep what they legally earn, and that no one has a right to set a limit on an individual’s success. He argued that securing the right of an individual to the fruits of his labor is the single greatest contribution for rich and poor alike to use as a shield against the political class. He added that a man’s financial well-being should not be determined by a third party’s arbitrary decision about what is and is not necessary. Ultimately, he concluded that in affirming this resolution we’re affirming objectivity, freedom from coercion, and the industry to succeed. Mr. Medina countered that the affirmation hasn’t offered us a choice even though this is a statement we know to be intuitively not true. He argued that the debate comes down to one question: are the rich different or the same? Either they are different and have a different set of rules, or they are the same and must be held to the same moral obligations as everyone else. He argued that the key word in this resolution is “entitled” and discussed the Labor Theory of Value, which states that you are entitled to the sweat of your labor. The primary effect of a capitalistic economy is a surplus of products and value, meaning that according to the Labor Theory, there is an excess that no one is entitled to yet there will always be a class that finds themselves at the benefit. He negated the idea that hard work would bring wealth, arguing that if that was so, Marines would make more than $30,000 a year. Ultimately, he argued the rich cannot have everything; they cannot have 92% of the wealth and 43% of the country. He concluded that we should side with the negation because we are one, united country.
Speaking on the negation, Mr. Spagnuolo presented the idea that we are not entitled to anything in this world. We don’t actually have a right to a happy life; we just hope for it because no one is inherently deserving and nothing in this world is a given. Ms. Wood countered that creating this dichotomy and drawing this line is wrong if we truly want the united whole. Mr. Askonas argued that there exists a prior question: Are you entitled to live in the United States? The answer is yes because we’ve created this system that benefits us. But this country is divided with the bottom 30% stuck in a cycle of poverty and the top 5% that keeps gaining more and more wealth. We must protect our society. On the affirmation, Mr. Whitfield looked to Communist Russia, arguing, “Socialism subsidizes failure, inefficiency, and the fall of a nation.” He concluded that social justice is out-dated and the free market is the best way of distributing assets. Mr. Donovan asked the Society to think about how it applies to our own lives, questioning the notion that people can truly pull themselves up by their bootstraps. He argued that perhaps some are “more equal than others,” having been born into wealth, and that those who succeed have a duty to “pay it back.” Chancellor Iacono countered that we’ve all gotten here in different ways and “to sit on the negation is to betray the American Dream.” Mr. Stromeyer argued that society rewards where and to whom you were born, skill, willingness to seek wealth, chance, and hard work; but it doesn’t reward these equally and we only have control over two. On the affirmation Mr. Dulik argued against “disincentivizing excellence,” warning, “Don’t criminalize success.” Mr. Manchester added that we need incentive structures because if we tax the rich 95%, who will work? We live in a society where people have needs and wants that are satisfied by labor and the rich have to be entitled to their wealth for it to run correctly. Ms. Green countered that this debate is about what we, as human beings, are entitled to. We are owed “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” but she added that there is something we’ve forgotten: obligation. Rights are not unaccompanied by obligations, so “do not forget your obligation to your fellow man!”
Mr. Medina argued that from childhood we are taught a fundamental moral lesson: it’s not all about you. No one got rich on his own because rugged individualism does not work anymore. He refuted an earlier point about the negation betraying the American Dream by stating that the ability of one man to become a billionaire is actually the biggest threat to the American Dream. He negated the idea that we aren’t entitled to anything but argued that we changed “property” to “pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence because this country is about more than just wealth. Mr. Henderson refuted the Labor Theory of Value, arguing that to be true to human nature, the definition of value is “how much do I want it.” While he agreed that there was no supernatural entitlement and that obligations exist, the rich are equally entitled to their wealth. He argued that the “invisible hand” lifts up the whole of society even though it is driven by self-interest, not compassion. He acknowledged that we probably should raise taxes but warned against falling into the “democratic fallacy” of thinking that one idea is equally good. Our system is disinterested and is the best we can do because when we try to determine value, we fall prey to our biases. He concluded by saying that to affirm is to believe that we can make something bigger than ourselves.
The Society voted 37-6-20 to affirm the resolution.
The following outstanding speakers were awarded Merrick points:
- Mr. Henderson – 5
- Mr. Manchester – 4
- Chancellor Iacono – 3
- Ms. Green – 2
- Mr. Medina – 1
This brings the Merrick totals to:
- Ms. Green – 27
- Mr. Henderson – 27
- Chancellor Iacono – 25
- Mr. Manchester – 22
- Mr. Medina – 22
- Mr. Dulik – 8
- Mr. Spagnuolo – 5
- Mr. Petallides – 3
- Ms. Daniels – 2
- Mr. Askonas – 2
- Mr. Taft – 1
The four keynotes for the 137th Annual Richard T. Merrick Debate will be: Ms. Green, Mr. Henderson, Chancellor Iacono, and Mr. Manchester. Huzzah!
Emily R. Coccia