In the context of the Occupy Wall Street (OWST) movement, WSU panelists disagreed about the best way to provide income equality for Americans in the latest Under the Big Tent debate. More than 50 interested students crowded around four panelists discussing the movement Thursday at noon in the CUB.
Panelist Paul Mencke, a professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning, said he partly approves of the movement because while working in medical sales, he made a lot of money and needed someone to regulate him.
“As much as I want to say I’m a great person and I love giving back, when I started making money, that money started overtaking my moral and ethical obligations to society,” he said. “So I think that people making money and profit cannot outweigh being good to humanity.”
Mencke said an ongoing problem in the U.S. is the inheritance of generational wealth acquired by marginalizing the rights of others, such as Native Americans, black people and women. He said steps need to be taken to level the playing field.
However, Panelist Genevieve Briand, an instructor in the School of Economic Sciences who opposes OWST, said wealth accumulation is a good thing because it creates wealth for society as a whole by generating jobs and affordable products.
While Mencke supported government intervention to diminish disparities caused by generational wealth, Brand said a stronger commitment to free trade would give everyone equal opportunities.
Senior communication major Shaun Sheddy, a crowd member, said not everyone has the skills to manage large amounts of money, so it is not fair to give everyone wealth. Mencke said if everyone came from an equal background with the same amount of opportunities, they would have the necessary skills to manage wealth.
Briand agreed with Sheddy and said the country is lucky to have entrepreneurs like Bill Gates. While it is nice that Gates has given large amounts of his income to charity, she said the government should not force corporations to give away their money via taxes.
When taxes increase, efficiency drops and prices rise, she said. This would decrease Americans’ purchasing power.
Panelist Sina Sam, a leader of Occupy the Palouse, disagreed. The two richest people in America, Gates and Warren Buffett, have advocated for higher taxes on the nation’s top earners, she said.
“There are many
millionaires and billionaires who want to be taxed more,” she said.
Several of those who make up the 1 percent support OWST and acknowledge that they are benefiting from their status in the top percentile of the country’s earners, she said.
Panelist Ryan Thomas, a doctoral candidate in communication studies, said he likes that OWST has brought pressing issues to the public’s attention.
“Even if the Occupy movement withers and dies tomorrow – which I don’t think it will – to have brought income inequality into the spotlight is intrinsically a good thing,” he said.
After the debate, Sheddy said he did not think the forum provided an equal representation of views.
The panel was comprised of three pro-OWST people and one person opposed to the movement. Also, Briand, the only panelist opposing OWST, had a language barrier, he said. Though Sheddy was able to pose a question to the panel, he said it did not make up for the unbalanced representation.
“It doesn’t matter what my one sentence was – they had five minutes,” he said.