The Ath living wage debate: economic radicalism at the Claremont Colleges Debate Union

On Sept. 12 Audrey Strevey PO ’25 and Yui Kurosawa CM ’26 debated at the CMC Athenaeum. Courtesy: Maya Kurkhill

Claremont McKenna College’s (CMC) Athenaeum was established with the intent of housing lively debates. The Sept. 12 discussion between Audrey Strevey PO ’25 and Yui Kurosawa CM ’26 kindled this spirit of discourse, centering around the following proposition: The United States should establish a guaranteed living wage. 

Strevey won the national Social Justice Championship on oceans policy earlier this year. Kurosawa is one of the top public performers for the Claremont Colleges Debate Union (CCDU), participating in panel discussions and various types of debates. The debate was moderated by Cameron Quijada SC ’25. 

On the side of the proposition, Strevey presented a fast-paced case for a guaranteed living wage. The living wage in Los Angeles is $80,000 a year, which is more than half of what an average American makes. To combat the cost-of-living crisis, Strevey proposed a guaranteed living wage of $70,000 to all Americans, funded by taxing the rich and redistributing wealth.

She emphasized the ineffectiveness of social programs, claiming that 40 percent of Americans eligible for welfare don’t receive it. Strevey believes that Americans can reimagine what it means to work, enhancing the strength of labor unions, providing more options for work and revaluing those who have deemed unworthy due to their lack of “productivity.”

On the opposition, Kurosawa’s argument focused on the ineffectiveness of the above proposal to people who it would be designed to help.

“A guaranteed living wage doesn’t make people rich,” Kurosawa said. “It makes people think that they’re rich.”

Kurosawa said that improving existing inadequate social programs is more sensible than Strevey’s living wage proposal. 

“Difficult logistics and [flawed] social programs [are] not justification[s] to spend $18 trillion a year to give $70,000 to every single person in the US,” Kurosawa said. “Let’s strive to improve those [social programs]. That’s more publicly accountable than [putting] $18 trillion into the US economy.” 

According to Kurosawa, billionaires and people living under the poverty line should not get the same amount of money because need varies significantly. Strevey pushed back on this point, arguing that a guaranteed living wage would benefit unions, give workers more choices and reduce healthcare costs.

Attendee Ashley Fliegel PZ ’26 agreed with Strevey’s arguments. 

“It surprised me that [Kurosawa] focused on the financial feasibility of the [proposition’s] proposals rather than other factors,” Fliegel said.

Kurosawa said that Strevey’s proposal would cause heavy inflation, which would raise prices and increase national and generational debt. 

“[The proposal] creates the illusion of a solution because now you don’t have people who are absolutely destitute, you don’t have people with empty paychecks, but what you do have are [higher] prices … things are going to be significantly more expensive.”

“[The proposal] creates the illusion of a solution because now you don’t have people who are absolutely destitute, you don’t have people with empty paychecks, but what you do have are [higher] prices … things are going to be significantly more expensive,” Kurosawa said.

Halfway through the debate, the audience was permitted to ask the debaters questions. When asked how she planned on reducing poverty through welfare programs, Kurosawa addressed the economic system as a whole.

“If the alternative is to create a socialist government in which we give $70,000 to every single person in the United States while creating absolutely crazy inflation and generational debt, I think … a welfare state is much better,” Kurosawa said.

Strevey clarified that her proposal is a negative income tax which involves wealth redistribution. 

“The way a negative income tax works is that you take money away in different stages based on the level of income that people have,” Strevey said. “And then everyone gets given back $70,000. So if you’re making more than $70,000, you’re probably going to be in about the same situation as you were before.”

Kurosawa retorted that we shouldn’t further contribute to America’s burgeoning $31.4 trillion debt by spending even more money.

At the end of the debate, the majority of the audience voted for the proposition; however, the debaters left in good spirits with one another. Strevey discussed how debate has had a positive influence throughout her life.

“What I enjoy the most about debate is being able to take on different perspectives and having to discover a way that I think is ethical to argue for policies that I never thought of before,” Strevey said.

Kurosawa described debate as reaching beyond just the issue discussed in a given session, looking towards its applications to everyday life.

“Debate is more of a strategy game than a content game,” Kurosawa said. “Debate humanizes the other side … when they’re arguing diametrically opposed to your beliefs, you engage in the debate knowing they’re also people with compassion and rational beliefs and critical thinking.”

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