Wednesday, May 30, 2012

LD 2012 - Closing the Gap - part 3

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This is part 3 of a series of posts analyzing the 2012 LD national tournament resolution. It begins with part 1 here.

Are Income Gaps Good?
Until now, we have not considered that income disparities may actually be a good thing.  Of course those are NEG arguments and we have been trying to establish some understanding about how to support the Resolution.  Perhaps the best reason for claiming gaps are good is to look to the example of the economic model of the former Soviet Union. Under their form of socialistic, communism, income inequalities were very low across the vast majority of the citizens.  This resulted in very little competitiveness and it is reported to have hurt economic efficiency.  Frankly, people had very little motivation to participate and excel in the workforce since the chance for reward was slim.  Despite enormous potential and nonetheless, inspiring technological achievements, overall, the egalitarian worker model proved to be a disaster.  (at least that's what our western leaders told us)  One can always turn the point of view, and show that income disparity is a consequence of a healthy economy rather than a problem.  The argument is, a healthy, competitive, economy stimulates worker participation and a natural stratification emerges as the over-achievers or more highly motivated rise to the top.  Here are some links for further research:

The Value of Equality
Equality is certainly a popular concept in western countries and especially the U.S.  "All men are created equal..." is a foundational principle in our way of thinking and certainly a value to be defended.  Even when we acknowledge there are variations in skills, intelligence, strength, and motivation most agree there should exist equality in opportunity and freedoms and if the economic gap between rich and poor represses equality, governments have an obligation to rectify the situation.

The Value of Justice
Justice is certainly a popular Lincoln-Douglas value since the liberal definition can be applied to a vast array of resolutions.  The most common concept of justice, owing to the Greek philosophers, is giving each his due and while that may or may not be interpreted as equality, it certainly means proportionality with respect to reward and punishment.  If the working class are not receiving their just deserts or if the elite class is receiving more than they deserve, then for the sake of justice a government has an obligation to rectify the situation.

The Value of Fairness
Is fairness a value? I've not seen it used very often but the concept of fairness is well understood even if it is ambiguous and interweaves the previous two values. In many respects, fairness is the philosophical equivalent of justice in that it meets the Platonian definition of dispensing just deserts.  Evaluating fairness is much more subjective and requires one to consider whether the determination of fairness is means based or ends based. If income gaps are unfair, the government should reduce them.

The Value of Life (Quality of Life)
Life is a broad value concept and taken at face value one may question how income inequality denies life.  I think that is a tough debate.  Nevertheless there are aspects of the value that are meaningful, sufficiently narrow and applicable to the resolution.  Chief among these is the "quality of life". Granted, the quality of life is a subjective measure which various across societies but when evaluated within the context of each individual society is fairly determined.  The quality of life addresses the concept of the general well-being of the individual in terms of health, welfare, freedoms and general happiness or satisfaction. If income disparity harms the quality of life, then governments are obligated to correct the problem.

Governmental Legitimacy
Can a case be made that governments which allow economic inequality are somehow illegitimate? Perhaps if one considers the role of the so-called social contract as a sort of conceptual definition of the obligation of governments.  And so we look to the social contract as a measure (value criterion) for governmental legitimacy and determine that a government which allows economic inequality all of its apparent harms, violates the social contract and therefore must be rectified.

Why not.  Then you can pull in nice, well known philosophers like Kant and sweet philosophical concepts like deontology and double effect.  Making a case for a moral value is very doable I suppose.  I just don't want to to explore it because this past season of LD topics has "demoralized" me.

Societal Welfare
See quality of life and cross-apply social contract theories.

Good luck with this one.

Since I am talking about values let me just mention a personal rant of mine.  The categorical imperative, social contract, deontology and utilitarianism are not values.  They are standards at best so please stop trying to make them into values.

The AFF Case
Based on the foregoing analysis, it should now be possible a construct a very substantial, clean, logical case without tricks, word salad, or gimmickry.  The concept is simple. There exists a gap between the rich and poor (yes you need to prove it), the gap creates harms to individuals within a state, the state has an obligation to mitigate the harms.  Now notice something significant in the foregoing.  I have not given one second of time to determining how the state should solve the harms.  Should they redistribute wealth, tax the rich, guarantee minimal income?  I don't know.  I don't care.  If I was a policy debater I would need to answer this, but today I am a Lincoln-Douglas debater and I need only prove that the gap ought to be lessened and trust the policy makers to figure out how to do so without violating other values in the process.

The NEG Case
Okay. I confess I have been a little lax in helping the NEG debater approach this resolution and at the end of the day, I confess the NEG debater may actually have a very tough job.  You will be facing judges, very often they are ordinary working stiffs who may feel disenfranchised and isolated from the movers and shakers that live at the top of the economic pyramid and the judges may be predisposed with a sense of general unfairness and when AFF points out all of the harms being laid upon the lowly working stiff judges, getting up and saying, oh, that's not true, gaps are good will require a very convincing argument.

In typical, true clash form, the NEG debater may refute that gaps exist.  Of course even if you could smash your opponent with overwhelming evidence that economic gaps are fantasy, it does not change the case, that if they did exist, governments should lessen them. Perhaps NEG could acknowledge gaps but argue they are not harmful and indeed, substantial evidence can be found that the gains of the rich have been met by corresponding gains by the lower groups and so the net gap has remained fairly constant.  Certainly, there is a plethora of information showing that economic inequality is a desirable thing in the sense that it is a sort of impetus for upward mobility, innovation and competition.

Additionally, NEG may address specific harms one by one and show other causation.  AFF would be trying to establish a cause-effect relationship between income gaps and perceived harms.  In order to determine a cause-effect, there must be uniqueness between the cause and effect (I discussed this as a policy debate subject some time ago).  If the opponent can link any other causation to an effect, the uniqueness of AFFs claimed relation is broken and therefore AFF can not claim a direct cause-effect.  It is an effective strategy under certain conditions, definitely when dealing a small number of specific effects.

I must say, all of the approaches I have mentioned above are problematic.  Especially when debating at the national level and expecting your opponents to be skillful and well prepared.  I still think the above approaches must deal with an entrenched mindset among the citizen judges.

An Effective NEG Strat?
Going point-by-point against the AFF is probably not going to be an effective strategy, so here is a suggestion.  Acknowledge AFF's case.  Accept AFFs harms. You may even (cautiously) accept AFFs value and absorb all of the major premises of AFFs case except one.  Tell the judges you completely agree with all of AFFs points except one.  Government is not the actor that can solve the problem and then tell them who solves better.  The judges will love it.

I will leave it at that.  I bet you can quickly come up a with a list of potential entities that can solve the issue without depending on governments except perhaps to merely facilitate with favorable policies.

Good luck at Nationals!!


  1. If the working class are not receiving their just deserts or if the elite class is receiving more than they deserve, then for the sake of justice a government has an obligation to rectify the situation.

    Does it? Does the government have an obligation if the inequality is taking place outside the government's pervue? If the government is not dealing equally with the rich and the poor, then call it corruption, which is what it is. The government's authority extends into the business of these people? Under what part of the Constitution do you find that? Outside the US, historically, the rich owned (and in some countries, continue to do so) the government. They have no interest in supporting the poor unless it benefits them. Government of the people, for the people and by the people is a very new concept.

    I do like the idea you suggest of NEG absorbing AFF's claims but the government is not the agency of relief. The USSR is a fine example among others of a governmental attempt to manipulate an economic system and its ultimate failure. China might also be current example, if the stats I read a few years back remain, as the country grows economically, the spread of the wealth might be an interesting bit of evidence.

    Then again, China may be a better example of the AFF. Here's a nation that does control the vast majority of its wealth, and as its industry and commercial businesses continue to grow, that wealth is creating a middle class. China removed some of its restrictions on private ownership and look what's happened. Oops. That may be the argument of the NEG, like the German example I gave earlier.

    It seems the topic is popping up without reference to the NFL - I just found this link in my blog reader:

    Cato wants to reduce US government spending... wait... could we claim that a government can affect the economic gap by reducing its laws that hinder business growth? Run that and perhaps NEG could justifiably take all of AFF's claims, still keep the judges happy and win the framework debate... Value could be "Economic Growth" and the VC could be "reduce government interference in business."

    Kim, now with tomato and pepper starts planted.

  2. Ran into this quotation today:

    To date, support for small and medium businesses is one of the most important tasks of the state. from

    Interesting concept. I'm not sure what social contract this would fall under, but the concept that the state has this as a task might fall under the obligation to close the economic gap.



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