This weeks podcast is an edited recording of the first Jacek Kuron debate, Values and Social Policy, which took place at Boston University on September 24, 2005 as part of a larger conference on solidarity, the first in a series of meetings organized by the Institutes for Human Sciences in Boston and Vienna over the past several years.
The debate, named for the Polish intellectual and activist, leader of the “Solidarity” movement and later Minister of Labor, gathered policy makers from North America and Europe including former Italian Prime Minister Giuliano Amato, European Commissioner Danuta Hübner, Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg, and former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu. The discussion was chaired by the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, who is also the chair of the IWM’s Academic Advisory board.
The debate was set up to provide a contrast between American and European social models, but the participants quickly rejected this dualism. “There are several Europes,” said Amato, citing vast differences between the western and northern states that have progressive taxation and generous social programs, and the eastern states that have flat taxes and fewer public welfare institutions.
Sununu rejected the notion that a single social model can optimize public good. Instead he called for a “feedback-controlled system” that can be recalibrated as needed. Sununu went on to criticize the inefficiency of many European social models, arguing that they stifle competition and encourage unemployment. Hübner defended European models with an appeal to fairness. “As Europeans, we tend to choose equity over efficiency, if we have a choice,” she said.