Renowned economist visits St Edward’s

Vivienne Shao, Lower Sixth, reflects on a recent talk given by controversial entrepreneur and economist, Dr Yaron Brook, at School to pupils with an interest in economics.

On Tuesday 12th February, economics enthusiasts at St Edward’s were offered the opportunity to attend a lecture by Dr Yaron Brook on ‘Inequality, Globalisation and the Future’. We were very fortunate to have such a qualified economist with such a controversial opinion speak. It was certainly refreshing to see his take on the matter and has undoubtedly stimulated much thought and conversation beyond the classroom. His relatively extreme views also provoked many to ask questions and to challenge Brook himself – giving us the opportunity to widen our knowledge and therefore have ample understanding to develop our own opinions on the subject.

Evident from the title, his lecture was centred on the concept of inequality. Brook explains it as something inevitable in all aspects; in fact, he sees it as something positive for the economy.

He sees equality as something that is not achievable (so long as freedom exists). His analogy involved world-renowned basketball player LeBron James and how he himself could never be equally as good as James when it comes to basketball. He then asked us: “How can I beat LeBron in a game of basketball?”- to which a pupil quickly replied, ‘break his legs!’ Similarly, in an economy, according to Brook, to achieve equality, you have to break those at the top: the billionaires. He then explores the idea of a billionaire. What makes a billionaire? What do they do that the ordinary person does not? In his view, it is that they create things that improve the lives of other people; and, because of their achievements, they deserve to enjoy the benefits of being a billionaire. It’s the idea that without these people, without these billionaires at the top end of the spectrum, nobody would be able to benefit from innovation, because there is no incentive to create and put hard work and time into something when there is no reward or if that reward were taxed at an extreme rate. In fact, he sees a progressive tax as taxing people’s achievements.

Brook also delved into the subject of freedom: a notion consistently seen by any given group of people as something positive and something to strive for. However, he ended his lecture by leaving us with a haunting thought: the idea that freedom results in inequality. Equality cannot be achieved unless violence (breaking the legs) is present – which would immediately take freedom out of the equation. Real world examples of countries doing this include China during the Great Leap Forward and the genocide in Cambodia 1970. They killed the educated, the bourgeoisie, the middle classes, and the rich; movie stars, pop singers, authors, urban residents, workers for the former government and anyone who protested- 45 million unnecessary deaths in China alone, and 24% of Cambodia’s 1975 population dead- all in the name of equality.

So this all begs the question: is inequality really that bad? Why are economies taking such extreme measures towards minimising something that (in Brook’s eyes) may not even be a true economic problem? He expressed his view that inequality in itself isn’t a problem as long as everyone is able to lead a decent standard of living – a view that contrasts with what we are being taught at the moment because, according to our textbooks, reducing inequality and narrowing wage gaps are set as economic objectives. Therefore, with his controversial ideologies in mind and with our own academic research, we as pupils can come to our own conclusions as to where we stand on this topic with the help of more than just a textbook.

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