Monday, May 28, 2012

LD 2012 Nationals Topic Analysis

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Resolved: A government has the obligation to lessen the economic gap between its rich and poor citizens.

PF had a somewhat similar topic at the beginning of the debate season (December, 2011), which addressed income disparities and
their threat to democratic ideals.  While reminiscent of that topic, this particular resolution addresses whether or not a government should actively seek to lessen, or I suppose, to minimize the gap between the rich and the poor citizens in a much broader context.  Whereas, the PF resolution dealt with one particular aspect of the question the LD resolution expands the question.  Specifically, the LD debater may claim a government has an obligation to lessen the gap because it threatens democratic ideals but there would certainly be many other kinds of arguments than can be made by the AFF in support of the resolution.  Throughout the 2011-2012 season, it seems LD debaters have been forced to struggle with questions of moral duty.  That no longer is the case in this resolution.  Good-bye doctrine of double effect, hello...hmmm maybe we should not be too quick to dismiss moral claims.

Before getting into a deeper analysis of the language and arguments in this resolution, let us first review the general issues encompassed by this resolution.  In most liberal democratic societies there exists an economic gap between the rich and poor.  This can be expressed and evidenced in many ways.  The rich get richer while the poor get poorer or ninety percent of the wealth is owned by ten percent of the people.  No matter how you say it, there is a certain imbalance.  Not only is there an imbalance between the rich and poor, but there is literally a gap.  Basically, this means not only do a minority of the rich hold the majority of wealth, but the difference is increasing which basically means the distribution of wealth is not even.  Look at this way. Think of a pyramid with the wealthiest percentage of the population near the top and poorer near the bottom.  The shape of the pyramid illustrates that near the top (the narrowest part), there are very few people but as we descend down the pyramid the number of people increases.  So if wealth is measured by how high one is on the pyramid, the gap can be illustrated if one takes the tip of the pyramid and literally severs it from the rest raising it even higher.  This is what I referred to as the decapitated pyramid in my analysis last year of the PF topic (see:  As the wealth of the few continues to rise and the number of poor continue to increase, the number who make up the middle portion of the pyramid begin to disappear. The so-called vanishing middle class.  So the question being asked, does a government have an obligation to reduce the gap?

Language of the Resolution
As "government" is the ruling authority of a society or more properly, a state. The chief responsibility of the government is to ensure the survival of the state which means it should provide for the security of the state from attack or takeover by outsiders and it should provide other levels of security for the citizens, such as economic security from unfair trade practices and the like.  Since there are many different kinds of governments arising from many different kinds of political and sociological ideologies, it becomes very difficult to detail specific duties or obligations which may be universal to governments.  For this reason, when we speak of governments, generally, we refer to "legitimate" governments (internationally recognized) which eliminates some from consideration and we usually refer to those which meet a western-centric, often pro-American form of government typically called a republic or democracy. For the most part, this eliminates most forms of government ruled by an elite class who hold office by virtue of their religious status or birth-right.  So while countries like England and Sweden are considered monarchies, the monarch's roles tend to be more ceremonial than functional.  Because there is such a variety of forms of governments the debater must somehow restrict the discussion to certain forms or abandon discussion of particular forms of government and debate the broader principles at stake.  I may be wrong, but what I would be concerned about is if a debater focused too heavily on a particular government, say the United States, then the NEG will discredit the AFF on the basis the AFF is over-limiting and fails to consider the many forms of government and NEG will claim she better upholds her value because she is more inclusive.

An obligation is a duty, commitment or responsibility which may be driven by a legal or moral principle or simply predicated on a vow or promise, such as the obligation to repay a debt.  If one were to slightly reword the resolution, would it make sense to say, "a government has a legal obligation to lessen the economic gap..."?  Perhaps in cases where such a law exists but as a general principle, it would not seem logical to hold a legal definition of the word obligation.  It does make sense to claim, a government has a moral obligation to take some action as that can be approached in a general way but as we have probably learned this past season, arguing moral concepts, while necessary, is not always easy.  Generally we can claim a country has a duty or responsibility to take some action, but we must be fully prepared to provide a justification as to why the obligation exists and in this particular case, we must avoid being overly specific with respect to which government or type of government we are referring.

The word lessen is obvious. It is a verb that means to reduce so it is an action to be taken.  While it may seem no further clarification is needed, remember that lessen is a word that can be very relative in many circumstances.  Just how much must the gap be reduced before both sides agree it was lessened?  Is it an ongoing action or a one time deal?  Hopefully you will not face any dispute over the word and its meaning so I just mention the ambiguity for the sake of awareness.

From my point of view, there is no real purpose to segmenting the remaining words in the resolution as the meaning is not effectively altered by doing so.  A government is obligated to reduce a gap.  What kind of gap? An economic gap.  What does the gap separate? The rich and poor citizens of the state.

Why Reduce the Gap?
Given the definitions in the wording of the resolution we realize, as with any debate resolution, there is a condition within the status quo which must be changed and it must be changed because some harm is arising out of the condition.  In Lincoln-Douglas debate, the harm usually results in the violation or inhibition of some fundamental value. By changing the status quo we undo the violation of that value or we may promote a another value which results in a more desirable condition. To put it simply...the economic gap between the rich and poor is a problem that governments have a responsibility to rectify. Before we can decide which value(s) are being diminished in the status quo, we must first define what specific harms arise from the economic gap between the rich and poor.

We shall discuss this in more detail, in part 2.


1 comment:

  1. does a government have an obligation to reduce the gap?

    I would say that the democratic government has an interest in reducing the gap. A capitalist economy will expect and accept the gap. A socialist government will try to redistribute the wealth, primarily with taxes or other penalties on the rich.

    But a moral obligation? No, I don't think so. I expect the next blog entry will challenge that.



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