Image Credit: Barker Evans

Oxford Union debates Cambridge over money and happiness

On 27th January, the Oxford Union hosted a varsity debate with the Cambridge Union, with a motion titled “Money Can Buy You Happiness.” Oxford spoke for the proposition, while Cambridge spoke for the opposition. 

Louis Wilson, the current Librarian-Elect, opened the debate for the proposition with a series of snarky comments towards the Cambridge Union. He began with a poke at the hefty price of the Cambridge Union membership, arguing that “unless you have the money to afford it, you cannot indulge in the happiness they provide” (n.b. the Cambridge life student membership is £230, while the equivalent at Oxford costs £314.95).

Wilson then joked that money can buy you friendships and connections and that without cash, love can fade, as illustrated by how Union hacks’ relationships are built over money spent on coffee.

Opening the opposition, Felix Esche, Debates Officer Elect at the Cambridge Union, argued “money only allows us to avoid pain,” citing an Oxford study that after earning an income of around £50,000, happiness levels flattened. He then pointed out the diminishing return lies fundamentally in our capitalist system, which overemphasizes profit over happiness, ending with: “Money is at the expense of happiness.”

In a point of information, Hannah Edwards, Oxford Union President, joked: “If I have enough money, I would buy the Cambridge Union and burn it down – that would make me very happy.” Esche responded that he would first solve “the problem of her own Union falling down” if he had the money. 

Yassin Hachi, Secretary’s Committee, spoke next for the proposition. He began with citing an eight percent increase in rent at King’s College, one of the wealthiest Cambridge colleges, which caused relentless anxiety among students and unhappiness. He also mocked the need for the Oxford Union chamber roof repair, a case in point that money can guarantee a sense of security, especially “a roof over your head.” 

Jessica Spearman, Equalities Officer Elect at the Cambridge Union, redefined “happiness” in utilitarian terms. She opened her speech with a personal anecdote: she sought temporary happiness and validation from online purchases to relieve stress from writing her essay, but the falsified sense of happiness lasted only ten minutes. She stated that true, long-term happiness is not found in materialism or transactions but comes instead from a deeper sense of purpose, pride, and fulfilment. 

Closing the proposition, Sarp Ozdemir, Chair of the Consultative Committee, listed a typical daily routine of an Oxford student while ringing the lectern bell every time a task required money, from sleeping on a comfortable bed to drinking coffee and browsing the internet. Citing a Cambridge research that money can indeed buy happiness, he said that it was “unrealistic at worst and foolish at best” to believe happiness can be achieved without money.

Closing the debate, Nick Davis, President of the Cambridge Union, used Boris Johnson, former Prime Minister and Oxford Union President, who chose a political career over a “high-flying world” as a business executive, as an example to show that while money can provide worldly pleasures and status, it cannot satisfy non-material needs and self-interests. “Even [if] you’re egocentric, narcissistic politicians, love and charisma are two of something money cannot touch,” Davis concluded.

The motion passed, with 130 members voting in favour and 81 members voting against.

Image Credit: Barker Evans

Image Description: The Oxford Union