Sunday, December 7, 2014

LD Jan/Feb 2015 - Just Governments & Living Wages - Introduction

Resolved: Just governments ought to require that employers pay a living wage


I guess it's time to debate just government, a staple of LD debate, as one coach recently proclaimed to me.  But requiring employers to pay a living that practical?  My first thought was, suppose we increase the pay of all working citizens to some mandated minimum which meets the standard defined by "living wage".  It seems logical to think, the cost of goods and services would soon increase to compensate for the fact people are receiving higher wages and so we are back to square one since the level of income needed to maintain our lifestyles will ratchet up due to the increased costs.  Either prices increase or employment falls but either way, the economy will right itself like a ship in the waves. But does it really work like that? If so, the pragmatic debate is lost before it even begins.

living wage
Let's start at the end. What is a "living wage" and how is it different from something like the U.S. minimum wage? No problem, wikipedia can be a starting point for research because everyone should know, wikipedia provides citations, like this one leading to the New York Times.

Gertner (2006):
Workers in some of Baltimore's homeless shelters and soup kitchens had noticed something new and troubling about many of the visitors coming in for meals and shelter: they happened to have full-time jobs. In response, local religious leaders successfully persuaded the City Council to raise the base pay for city contract workers to $6.10 an hour from $4.25, the federal minimum at the time. The Baltimore campaign was ostensibly about money. But to those who thought about it more deeply, it was about the force of particular moral propositions: first, that work should be rewarded, and second, that no one who works full time should have to live in poverty.

Okay, so now we can begin to formulate a standard that a "living wage" should elevate the recipient above the poverty level and we also can see, in the U.S., the federal minimum wage law may not provide sufficient compensation. Adams and Neumark gives us more background.

Adams & Neumark (2005):
The number of cities, counties, and school districts with living wage ordinances across the United States has swelled to nearly 100. Living wage laws have three central features. First, they impose a wage floor that is higher—and often much higher—than traditional federal and state minimum wages. Second, living wage levels are often explicitly pegged to the wage level needed for a family with one full-time, year-round worker to reach the federal poverty line. Typical living wage levels as of December 2002 (when our sample period ends) were $8.17 (Los Angeles), $9.05 (Detroit), and $10.25 (Boston). Third, coverage by living wage ordinances is highly restricted. Frequently, cities impose wage floors only on companies under contract (generally including non-profits) with the city. Other cities also impose the wage floor on companies receiving business assistance from the city, in almost every case in addition to coverage of city contractors. Finally, a much smaller number of cities also require that municipal employees receive a legislated living wage. Previous estimates have found that living wage laws increase the wages of low-wage workers. On the flip side, however, there are negative employment effects on workers at the low end of the skill distribution.

While we have no specific definition for living wage, we can see the requirement varies from place to place and there are a number of ways the requirement is applied. But never fear, I found a good definition of living wage.

Roosevelt (1912):
We stand for a living wage. Wages are subnormal if they fail to provide a living for those who devote their time and energy to industrial occupations. The monetary equivalent of a living wage varies according to local conditions, but must include enough to secure the elements of a normal standard of living--a standard high enough to make morality possible, to provide for education and recreation, to care for immature members of the family, to maintain the family during periods of sickness, and to permit of reasonable saving for old age.

Check the source on this, you may be surprised to learn the debate over living wage is not new and at least in the U.S. has been part of the political landscape for some time.

This term is simple. An employer is any person or organization that employs people (Oxford Dictionary). The same source lets us know that "to employ" means to give work to someone and to pay them for it. There was probably no need to define the word and there is practically no chance anyone would dispute its meaning.  Its only purpose in the resolution is establish a mechanism by which the government can provide its citizens a living wage. But we should be clear, the government itself is also an employer and so it too would be required to provide a living wage to its employees.  This distinction is necessary so the debate does not require people to receive a living wage just by virtue of the the fact they reside within the jurisdiction of the government.  The debate is limited to individuals who are employed by an employer under the jurisdiction of the government.

to require
In the context of this resolution, "to require" means to compel as means to achieving a purpose or establishing an essential condition. I suppose a dictionary definition is suitable if necessary for clarification.  In this resolution it is a government which establishes the requirement and we assume, in order to have any force, it must be empowered by law.

I defer to all of my previous discussions of this powerful word which means so much more than "should".  In the past (just look at this LD topic, for example) I have provided links to Ralph Wedgewood's paper, "The Meaning of 'Ought'".  I think philosopher David Hume would require, when faced with the word "ought", to provide a reasonable explanation of how statements which describe how things are lead us to a normative statement about the way things ought to be. I believe and often advocate that debaters should be able to debate in a purely theoretical universe in which things happen as they "ought to" but humans are grounded in physical reality which requires one to build a very sturdy bridge between what "is" and what "ought" to be. For many, that bridge is rooted in the concepts of morality since it is not too difficult for most judges to conceptualize a universe in which things behave according to basic human standards of right and wrong. Otherwise, it is necessary to make the link between what is and what ought to be with real-world harms or benefits.

just governments
I guess we can entertain several definitions of "just" in this context and I suppose many will link it to traditional definitions of justice such as giving each his due, and indeed, there is no reason such values cannot be used in traditional LD cases.  In this context, however, I think when one sees the specific terminology, "just government", just is derived from the word justified. The Oxford dictionary defines just as "based on or behaving according to what is morally right and fair" and gives the example of a "just society" or a "just cause", Merriam Webster says "being what is called for by accepted standards of right and wrong". This definition of the word is thus very similar to the common definitions of "moral".  However, claiming a government (or corporation) is moral has its own complications since moral agency is usually attributable to beings possessing free-will and capable of rational choice. Nevertheless, the actions and decisions of governments can be guided by standards established by moral beings. It was Thomas Jefferson who said "man is not made for the State but the State for man, and it derives its just powers from the consent of the governed".  While this resolution is not specific to the U.S. we can to look to the founding fathers for understanding about the role of the just governments. James Madison, for example, supported the idea that governments should only serve to preserve our natural rights when he wrote, " This being the end of government, that alone is a just government, which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own". (Madison 1792).

Off We Go

So, I think I have laid a bit of a foundation for the Aff and Neg positions and we should be able to find enough evidence to build reasonable approaches to both sides of the resolution.  While I do believe there could be more interesting debates for just government, this one will allow us to learn more about the practical effects of wages on society and business while allowing us to also explore ways to discuss hypothetical worlds of what is and what ought to be.

The Affirmative position will be posted very soon.


Adams, S., Neumark, D. (2005) The Effects of Living Wage Laws: Evidence from failed and derailed living wage campaigns, Working Paper 11342, National Bureau of Economic Research. Accessed 12/4/2014.

Gertner, J. (2006), What Is a Living Wage?, New York Times Magazine. accessed 12/4/2014

Madison, J. (1792), Property, 29 Mar. 1792 Papers 14:266--68, A collection of essays retrieved 12/3/2014:

Roosevelt, T. (1912), Address by Theodore Roosevelt before the Convention of the National Progressive Party in Chicago, August 1912, Archived by the U.S. Social Security Administration. Accessed 12/5/2014

Wedgewood, R. (2011) The Meaning of 'Ought',  Oxford Studies in Metaethics, ed. Russ Shafer-Landau, vol. 1 (2006), 127-160. Accessed 12/2/2015.

PF Jan 2015 - U.N. Peacekeepers Offensive Power - Intro

Resolved: United Nations peacekeepers should have the power to engage in offensive operations

Let him who desires peace prepare for war.-Vegetius

My center is giving way, my right is in retreat; situation excellent. I shall attack.-Ferdinand Foch

There is no avoiding war; it can only be postponed to the advantage of others.-Niccolò Machiavelli
Quotations source:


Is it just me or is this resolution an oxymoron reminiscent of the time in the mid-1980s the U.S. government decided to name the MX intercontinental ballistic missile (an offensive weapon with 10 warheads) the "Peacekeeper". I guess by definition, once a peacekeeper becomes a war-maker the peacekeeper ceases to exist unless somehow it is possible to engage in an offensive of peace.  Oh wait, perhaps it is possible -

Merriam Webster Dictionary
peace offensive
a campaign designed to serve the interests of a nation by the expression of wishes to end a war or of intentions to resolve conflicts peacefully and thus cause hostile or unfriendly nations to relax their efforts or become less vigilant

United Nations peacekeepers
Obviously, the United Nations peacekeepers are a group organized and managed by the United Nations (I hope there is no need to "define" United Nations.  Their own website defines their mission: "United Nations Peacekeeping helps countries torn by conflict create the conditions for lasting peace. We are comprised of civilian, police and military personnel."  U.N. peacekeeping began in 1948, as a multi-national group of military observers whose mission was to monitor the "Armistice Agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbors". Typically, this is the role of the United Nations peacekeepers.  Following a period of war, unrest, revolt, or conflict, the United Nations may agree to send a "force" of military personnel to maintain a negotiated or mandated truce or peace agreement.  As observers or monitors they will report any attempted violations of the agreement between conflicting parties and do what they can to aid and protect innocent people caught in between and generally serve as a deterrent to aggression or violation of the peace agreement. Historically, U.N. peacekeepers are lightly-armed with defensive weapons and have depended on the aid of other regional or international powers to protect them in case conflict erupted beyond the ability of the peacekeeping force to maintain their own safety.  As a result, "More than 3,220 UN peacekeepers from some 120 countries have died while serving under the UN flag.".

So, while the original mission of U.N. peacekeepers has been considered to monitor peace the role has expanded to included limited offensive operations in recent years which I will discuss shortly.

Offensive Operations
While most of you are probably familiar with offense and defense in sports we can extend that analogy to military operations and understand that when a troop is projecting its force with intent to gain some advantage or objective it is engaged in an offense operation. When a troop "digs in" behind barriers or in safety zones in anticipation of being attacked, it is considered a defensive position.  You also should know in debate, the difference between attacking (offense) and defending (rebutting attack). A Mississippi College ROTC document describes offensive operations:
Offensive operations are chiefly designed to disrupt the enemy’s combat power—
firepower, maneuvering, protection, and leadership. You plan and execute them to:
• destroy the enemy and his will to fight
• seize terrain
• learn enemy strength and disposition
• deceive, divert, or fix the enemy.
Offensive operations suppress enemy strengths and take advantage of weaknesses.
[page 335]

should have the power
When one makes a statement which proclaims one "should have the power" to do something, there are several ways we can look at it.  First, we may consider by using the word "power" we can think of authority.  This is because the word "power" imparts a sense there must me more than a simple ability to carry out an action. We may also apply a sense of ability (strength) to do something that is directed toward a particular purpose. Perhaps the famous, former Professor of Political Science at Yale University, Robert Dahl can help us conceptualize power.

Dahl (1957):
Unfortunately, in the English language power is an awkward word, for unlike “influence” and “control” it has no convenient verb form, nor can the subject and object of the relation be supplied with noun forms without resort to barbaric neologisms. 

Then again, perhaps not, since Dahl takes over 14 pages in his paper to describe the concept of power and this is Public Forum debate where the longest speech is only four minutes.  Therefore , an appropriate dictionary definition may be sufficient.

However, the Pro side of this debate is making a claim by way of the resolution, U.N peacekeepers are lacking something they should have, namely power to engage in offensive operations.  Therefore, we must for now assume, they do indeed lack this authority, ability, influence, or "power" and there is a very compelling reason to believe such a thing should be imparted to them now. This is, in fact, the very nature of debate affirmative positions.  A problem exists in the status quo which is producing significant harm. The solutions, for some reason are not or cannot be corrected without some heretofore, ungranted, unenabled or unenacted condition and when the barrier to acting is removed immediately, the harms can be solved and other advantages may ensue.  In classic debate the negative will claim there is no reason to change the status quo, since the harms may have other causes, the affirmative proposal will lead to other harms or there may be other ways to solve the harms without affirming the resolution.

As soon as you begin researching, you will discover, the 'classic' debate positions do not apply for this resolution.  Oddly, as it turns out and depending on your point of view of current peacekeeping operations, it may be the pro  position is NOT advocating a change to the status quo and depending on how the Pro positions itself it may turn out to be the Con needs to advocate a change to the status quo.  In other words, we could interpret the words "should have the power" as saying "should continue to have the power".  As if someone says, "hey, UN peacekeepers have the power to engage in offensive operations" and Pro says, "well, yes, they SHOULD have the power to do so".

UN News (2013):
With peace efforts under way with the M23, the United Nations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is shifting its focus to other rebel groups and working with the Government to maintain the fragile gains in the eastern part of the country, the Security Council was told today. “We will go on with this fight against all armed groups,” Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the country, Martin Kobler said, referring to the UN peacekeeping force in the DRC (MONUSCO) which he heads.

So what exactly does this mean when Kobler says, "this fight against all armed groups"? As it turns out, Kobler's peacekeeping operation was given the "power", so to speak.

UN News (2013):
In March, the Security Council authorized the deployment of an intervention brigade within MONUSCO to carry out targeted offensive operations, with or without the Congolese national army, against armed groups that threaten peace in eastern DRC.

This report in Aljazeera America serves nicely to frame the impact debate.

Brooks (2013);
While the world's attention has been fixed on Syria over the past few weeks, the landscape of diplomacy quietly but radically evolved amid the dense green hills of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). A flock of attack helicopters descended there on Aug. 28, in a town north of Goma, in the eastern region of the beleaguered Central African nation. The aircraft were filled with armed United Nations peacekeepers, along with Congolese military forces. The first-ever U.N. peacekeeping force with an offensive combat mandate – tasked with "neutralizing" and disarming rebel forces in one of the world's most intractable conflicts – was in action. Within two days, the peacekeepers and army had forced rebel militias threatening Goma to withdraw from the front lines. On Thursday, a rebel group known as M23 agreed to resume peace talks with the Congolese government. Despite the military and diplomatic gains, what impact the force will have on the ground in the eastern DRC remains to be seen – the country has suffered both internal and regional strife for decades. But the impact on peacekeeping is likely to be profound.

Yes, Oxymoron

As it turns out we are looking at an oxymoron. Either that or we need to define a new category of operations for UN forces.  But more importantly we, as Public Forum debaters need to consider the advocacy shift which has occurred and Pro must realize they must now support the status quo while Con must advocate for change. This is much more subtle than demanding Pro to advocate a negative position and tends to make coaches like me think the resolutions of late may be indicative the category is perilously adrift.

The Pro position will be linked here very soon. Please check back.

Unlinked Sources:

Brooks, C. (2013), UN tests combat brigade in Democratic Republic of Congo, Aljazeera America, September 6, 2013; accessed 12/3/2014

Dahl, R.A. (1957), The Concept of Power, Behavioral Science, 2:3 (1957:July)
p.201; accessed 12/3/2104

UN News Centre (2013), DR Congo: UN peacekeeping on offensive after defeat of M23, says senior UN official, 11 September, 2013; accessed 12/3/2013