Thursday, November 10, 2011

Con Strategies for the 2011 December Resolution

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I have been looking closely at some of the evidence emerging on the Pro side of the income disparities resolution and thus far I am seeing clear trends emerging.  Most notably, the hard-core evidence is mainly the qualified speculation and well-reasoned opinions of certain outspoken professors and consultants. These opinions can be broadly categorized and it may be possible to challenge these ideas with a limited number of strong, generic rebuttals which categorically refute Pro arguments by undermining their assumptions. If so, this can reduce or eliminate the need to build a Con case around any kind of framework.

What the Pro will Claim
Putting a finger on "democratic ideals" is difficult but not impossible. As already discussed in my essay on Pro Strategies for the 2011 December resolution, the tendency to break the debate into very narrow and specific democratic ideals, however they are defined, is likely but should be avoided.  To that end I discussed the possibility of a framework approach to preempt such a debate.  Hopefully, it will not be necessary.  For the most part, the claims I am seeing in evidence tend to be broad and generally described and so I think the Con approach to refutation should also be expressed in broad terms.  Certainly a compelling case can be made without the need to nitpick specifics.

These, in no particular order, are the emerging claims I believe will be filling the speeches of the Pro side:

  1. Corruption of the political process as seen in voter apathy or non-participation and campaign funding, and the tendency for only the upper socio-economic class to seek office.
  2. Loss of opportunity as measured by decreased upward mobility, loss of jobs, and loss of educational opportunities.
  3. Loss of influence in policy decisions which can be seen when laws and policies are enacted which favor the wealthy and impede the lower socio-economic classes. These are often influenced by lobbying, media campaigns and political contributions.
  4. Decline in health and welfare of the lower classes including higher mortality, poorer health-care, psychological issues, and so forth.

The "A Priori" Issue and Causation
In order to win, Pro must first and foremost show there are income disparities in the United States. Without this knowledge, there is no case.  If Pro can successfully prove there is income disparity, Pro must then prove that left unchecked or if allowed to increase, resultant harm will occur to American democratic ideals.  The causal relationship of income disparity to harm, presents a great opportunity for Con to challenge the validity of the conclusion since the uniqueness of the cause-effect relationship is very difficult to prove, in my opinion. Therefore, it follows, the first thing Con should do is try to undermine the "a priori" knowledge of income disparity, by showing there is no income disparity.  While it may be that such convincing evidence does exist it may be difficult to convince the judge the evidence is valid and certainly, Pro will be able to read lots of supporting evidence, the income disparity is real.

Con must next seek to undermine the cause-effect relationship which implies that some quality of "income disparities" will harm "democratic ideals" based on the resolution's claim of "threaten" which implies an indication of impending harm. So look at the claim this way. Let's say we are seeing an increase in income disparity and parallel to that we note an increase in voter apathy. While there may be a correlation, this is no proof of cause-effect, between the two. The correlation may be completely coincidental or there may be another cause which is driving both, the disparity and apathy. Therefore, to show a cause, Pro must prove that income disparity is the only (or perhaps primary) cause of voter apathy.  Unless this unique, one-to-one relation exists, the Con can argue there are many other reasons for voter apathy and so Pro fails to establish causality. Pro's ability to establish the link between disparity and apathy will be directly related to the quality of their evidence and their rhetorical skill. A few historical examples of low-voter turnout during times of low income disparity will go a long way toward turning Pro's link. Bear in mind, no matter which democratic ideal Pro intends to claim is harmed by income disparity, the burden to establish causality is the same and is vulnerable to attack by the Con.

So What Are Democratic Ideals?
Democratic ideals are not easy to define.  It is intuitive, I suppose, that a democratic ideal is somehow directly tied to our understanding and definition of democracy. The definition will likely be some variant of the concept of government in which ordinary people have a voice in the laws and policies which affect them.  But you may be surprised to learn that government by the people, of the people and with the people are three models of democracy and the idyllic principles of each may vary.  So, the enterprising and well-informed Con debater can exploit this knowledge in order to undermine the ethos of Pro's case but I think any debate which goes this deeply into democratic theory is likely to lose the so-called "citizen" judge. Theorists and researchers whose evidence will be cited often look to the work of Robert Dahl who enumerated six institutions which describe a democracy (or more precisely in Dahl's view, a polyarchy):

  1. Elected officials,
  2. Fair and frequent elections
  3. Right to run for office (inclusive citizenry)
  4. Freedom of expression
  5. Access to independent (non-official) information
  6. Existence of autonomous associations

(see Democracy and its Critics, Yale University Press, 1989)

But the link between these institutions and the expression of democratic ideals is not always clear.  For example, the fact that increased voter apathy may be linked to income disparity does not mean the first three of Dahl's institutions enumerated above, are undermined or harmed in any way. So what then is the democratic ideal? Is it establishment of free and fair elections or is it voter motivation?  The theorist may say elections, the Pro evidence may say motivation. So once again, the Con can attack the assumptions of the Pro case by showing how the fundamental principles of democracy are not threatened so therefore democratic ideals remain intact.

Finally, for the really adventurous, and for those NFL districts which tolerate it, one can always take the contra-Dahl point of view and essentially claim, there is no democracy in the United States. Therefore, if income disparities do threaten democratic values it can not be happening in the United States. Professor G. William Dormhoff, is an outspoken critic of Dahl who takes a completely different point of view on the structure of power in America and world in general.

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