Monday, November 26, 2012

PF 2013 Proposed January Topics

The proposed January topics for the 2012-2013 Public Forum debate season are now released for voting.  Here are the proposed topics:

Resolved: U.S. Federal Government administration of national elections is needed to protect the right to vote.

Resolved: On balance, the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission harms the election process.

I find both of these topics to be interesting and a great opportunity for students, coaches and judges to learn a great deal about the US election process.  As the last Presidential election has revealed there are significant issues which impact how election campaigns are conducted and how the process of voter selection and registration can potentially be manipulated.

The first topic is wide open and offers debaters the chance to explore how much federal control of national elections is really necessary.  Traditionally states and communities regulate the election process.  They establish the rules about who is eligible to vote, where polling places are located, what kinds of devices are used to collect the votes and so on.  The federal government ensures that national laws, mainly those enumerated in the US constitution are not violated.  However, the federal government, in response to many discrepancies and controversies arising from the Bush-Gore presidential election of 2000 passed the Help America Vote act of 2002.  This act created an independent agency to establish guidelines for the states to follow in carrying out elections.  In the most recent election between Obama and Romney, certain states citing protection from voter fraud attempted to establish potentially abusive voter registration and identification procedures which were very controversial and seen by many as an attempt to intimidate certain people from registering or voting.

This topic will explore such issues and debate the limits of federal government oversight of states in administering federal elections.  A very good topic in my opinion, but very, very broad. Perhaps it is too broad and debaters will need a tub full of evidence.  Still, I think it could be interesting for both Pro and Con.

Related info:

The second topic is another potentially great topic for Public Forum debate.  During the recent Obama-Romney campaign, we witnessed first-hand, the results of the Citizens United decision which lifted restrictions on corporate and union contributions to political campaigns.  Basically the prior restrictions were seen as an infringement of first amendment free speech rights.  The decision opened the flood gates of massive spending in campaign ads and contributions to the candidate's election committees.  The history of how this decision came about and the controversy of the decision itself is very interesting and worth researching even if the topic is not selected.

I think this also would be a very good topic for Public Forum debate.  It is much more limited than the first proposed resolution but that is a good thing.  Debaters will be able to explore this topic to much greater depth and I think the debates could be a lot of fun to judge.

Related info:

Monday, November 19, 2012

PF 2012 Tax Increases Con

Click here for part one of this topic.

Con Position

As I see it, Con has several ways to negate this resolution, Resolved: The United States should prioritize tax increases over spending cuts.  I think many Con debaters will take the position that tax increases are bad and there is evidence to support the position.  One could argue tax increases stifle growth or reduce consumer spending or whatever the evidence supports.  Another position argues that spending cuts are preferable to tax increases or at a minimum, spending cuts should be prioritized over tax increases.  Finally it is possible simply to argue that tax increases and spending cuts should have equal value in achieving a deficit reduction objective.  This final position, may be a difficult debate since it is not easy to evaluate the relative advantages of each and argue they are equally effective but it is possible to argue they should be given equal consideration because both are needed in a balanced approach.

This is a lot of ground for the Con and means the Pro debater will need to cover any position described above that is chosen by the Con.  Personally, I think the prioritization argument is tough to make.  I have looked at the literature and unless you find specific evidence which states, one should be prioritized over the other, it becomes very much dependent on the debater to convince the judge a particular prioritization should be considered.


I think we can consider there are two definitions of "prioritize".  One means to put items in an order so in terms of this debate, one should do tax increases first and spending cuts second. (Or Con would say, spending cuts first, then tax increases.)  Another interpretation is to order by importance.  The resolution would then be interpreted to mean, the US should consider tax increases more important than spending cuts (Spending cuts are more important than tax increases for the Con debater seeking to prioritize.)  I really doubt any Pro debater will be arguing a sequential prioritization; i.e we should increase taxes, then we should cut spending.  It just doesn't make much sense.  More likely they will be arguing we should do both while considering tax increases as more important or we should just do tax increases and give spending cuts no importance.  I also think many Pro debaters will be taking a kind of "best of both worlds" approach so as to avoid difficulties in establishing an obvious prioritization.  They will argue the US should take a balanced approach while at that same time arguing that tax increases have obvious advantages.  It is a legitimate approach but it is weak because by creating balance then focusing of the advantages of tax increases, the Pro tries to induce the judge to prioritize when evaluating the round.  This is potentially a great way to do it, if Con lets them get away with it but the clever Con debater will make that mental leap very difficult by negatively impacting tax increases.

A Con Strategy

Con is not required to prove that spending cuts should be prioritized, only to prove that tax increases should not.  Of course, this means that Con need not advocate a "no tax increases" platform nor a permanent extension of the Bush-era tax cuts currently in place on a temporary basis.  I think a spending-cuts only approach to the resolution will be difficult and there is plenty of evidence Pro can bring to bear which will show that a "slash and burn" approach to deficit reduction will be problematic.  Even if Con does not frame their case as a spending "slash", Pro will (or should) and thus harm the perception of the Con case.  The biggest majority of spending is for national defense and entitlements, specifically the Social Security and Medicare programs and an ever increasing percentage will be seen in Health Care spending as the Affordable Care Act provisions mature in 2014 and to be sure, despite some Republican claims to the contrary, all of these programs are popular so cutting spending will be politically unpopular with the majority of citizens.  However, the balanced approach is sensible and seems to be the most viable strategy for the Con.

It can be argued that allowing the budget sequestration (the spending cuts) and tax increases which collectively are known as the "fiscal cliff" (the Budget Control Act of 2011) occur is a balanced approach.  It rightly, I suppose, addresses the revenue side and the expenditure side of deficit reduction without any claims of one being more important than the other.  The problem with the "fiscal cliff", why it is called a "cliff", lies in the Congressional Budget Office estimation the measures will negatively impact the economy (see: report here).  Given the current fragile state of the economic recovery, the impact will likely be realized as a recession.

Nevertheless, no serious budget control proposal will suggest we should only raise taxes, or we should only cut spending.  The experts advise, we need to do both.  So I think the Con team should do both but in a generally balanced way.  One of the easiest ways to bias the advocacy toward spending cuts, thus perhaps adding a slight prioritization toward spending cuts, is to emphasize cuts by the elimination of government wasteful spending.  Therefore the strategy I recommend is some tax increases, some cuts to entitlements and major cuts to wasteful spending.

Why The Resolution?

I guess I have addressed this question several times and once again I feel the need to discuss it relative to the Con position.  This resolution does not specify any purpose to the fiscal benefits of tax increases or spending cuts.  we assume, on the basis of current events and national attention on the present economic "crises" in the US the focus is all about deficit reduction with the aim of reducing the national debt.  It would have been very clear had the resolution stated, "To reduce our national debt, the US should prioritize tax increases....".  It does not, so other kinds of reasons are fair game on both sides of the debate.  Personally, I doubt there is any real advantage to getting squirrelly and trying to argue some other reason to raise tax rates or reduce spending.  I think, the basic arguments favoring taxes or spending cuts remain pretty much the same in any case.  My advice is play it by ear.  I don't expect anyone to come into a round and say something totally off the wall like we need to raise taxes or cut spending to pay for energy independence or to colonize the moon but you never know.  If it happens, a generic refutation can be made to put the debate back on track simply by reminding the judge the most important issue our nation faces is the budget and looming fiscal cliff and until that is addressed, everything else is a mere distraction.  Then we will hope the squirrelly case does not carry a policy-like global extinction impact or some such.  This is, after all, Public Forum debate.

Some Evidence to Get you Started

Alasina & Ardagna 2009:
For fiscal adjustments we show that spending cuts are much more effective than tax increases in stabilizing the debt and avoiding economic downturns. In fact, we uncover several episodes in which spending cuts adopted to reduce deficits have been associated with economic expansions rather than recessions.

Alasina et al 2012:
Fiscal adjustments based upon spending cuts are much less costly in terms of output losses than taxbased ones. In particular, spending-based adjustments have been associated with mild and short-lived recessions, in many cases with no recession at all. Instead, tax-based adjustments have been followed but prolonged and deep recessions. The difference is remarkable in its size and cannot be explained by different monetary policies during the two type of adjustments. In fact, we find that the mild asymmetric (and lagged) response of short-term rates cannot explain the difference between the two types of adjustments: heterogeneity in the response of monetary policy appears with a lag of one to two years, while the heterogenous response of output growth to EB and TB adjustments is immediate. We find that the heterogeneity in the effects of the two types of fiscal adjustment (tax-based and spending-based) is mainly due to the response of private investment, rather than that to consumption growth. 1 Interestingly, the responses of business and consumers’ confidence to different types of fiscal adjustment show the same asymmetry as investment and consumption: business confidence (unlike consumer confidence) picks up immediately after expenditure-based adjustments.

Butler 2012:
The only way to get the US debt under control is to curb spending. Americans are not undertaxed. As the economy recovers, we’ll pay the same proportion of our national paycheck (just over 18 percent) in taxes as we’ve done on average for the past 50 years.
Our problem is too much spending. Inflation-adjusted federal spending per household has jumped 36 percent over the past decade, to more than $30,000 a year. And spending is literally out of control. Two-thirds of it goes to programs such as Medicaid for the poor, and Medicare and Social Security for older people. These “entitlements” don’t even require annual congressional votes.

Davies 2012:
To the astonishment of most economists, President Obama keeps saying that the rich need to pay “their fair share” of taxes. Forget the fact that, by leaving “fair” undefined, any tax rate, no matter how high, can be arbitrarily deemed “unfair.” Forget the fact that, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the average American in the top 1 percent earns 20 times what the average American earns, yet pays 40 times the taxes.

The more pressing concern is that there aren’t enough rich people to tax to raise enough money to balance the budget.

Want to balance the budget on the backs of the top 1 percent? According to CBO figures, the government would need to tax them at a rate of almost 100 percent. But doing so would make the top 1 percent poor — so, next year, the government would have to tax the top 2 percent.

With the top 2 percent taxed into poverty, the year after that, politicians would need to go after the top 3 percent. Keep going down that path and, eventually, they’ll come for you.

For links to other Public Forum topics click here.

Sources Used:
Large changes in fiscal policy: taxes versus spending.
Alberto Alesina and Silvia Ardagna
August 2009, Revised: October 2009

The output effect of fiscal consolidations
Alberto Alesina, Carlo Favero and Francesco Giavazzi
August 2012

Cut spending: Americans are not undertaxed. The problem is out-of-control spending on entitlements
Christian Science Monitor
Stuart Butler 2012

Tax and Debt Realities: Two Out of Three The Most Voters Can Get
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Antony Davies, Aug 27, 2012
(associate professor of economics at Duquesne University and Mercatus Affiliated Senior Scholar at George Mason University)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

PF 2012 Tax Increases Pro

Click here for part one of this topic.

The Pro Strategy

As was clear in my introduction to the December topic analysis, this topic can potentially be a hard-sell to citizen judges.  There is simply no doubt that people do not like having their taxes raised.  Most folks like to have nice things from the government like well maintained roads and bridges, a well-equipped and obedient military, clean air and environment, a good public health system, etc.  But often, there is a tendency to forget, nice things cost money.  (Of course we will look at the Con side of this debate a little later!)  Maintaining our nice government-augmented life-styles while not providing sufficient revenue to cover the expenses, results in deficits which force government borrowing, driving up debt.  I think there can be little doubt, that is what this month's resolution is targeting; the national debt which is currently over sixteen trillion dollars.  There is one way to pay down debt.  Get more money.  The US federal government gets more money for debt payment by either raising taxes (or any number of actions which effectively raise taxes) or by reducing expenditures or both.  The Pro position must argue that tax increases should be prioritized over spending cuts and so expand that to assume, tax increases should be prioritized over spending cuts as a mechanism for reducing the debt.

Priority Problems

Even if Pro is capable of making an excellent case that tax increases are the greatest things since sliced bread, apple pie and texting; Pro can still lose if they fail to convince the judge the tax increases should be prioritized.  By this, I mean, a certain level of tax increases will be effective in paying down the debt and if one can make the case government can raise the taxes and the judge is convinced it is absolutely a good thing with minimal backlash from the majority of the tax paying citizens, one must remember Con could potentially be making the same arguments about spending cuts.  So, unless Pro can give the judge a convincing argument that tax increases are somehow preferred over spending cuts, the case could be lost.  For this reason, without having seen the cases run, I anticipate there will be problems over the word "prioritize".  Therefore, Pro will need to establish a compelling argument that taxes are preferable over spending cuts as a mechanism for reducing debt and therefore should be prioritized.

The most obvious ways Pro will establish priority is through a comparative advantages framework.  Pro will expose the advantages of both taxes and spending cuts and show how the advantages of taxes outweigh the advantages of spending cuts or Pro may expose the disadvantages of spending cuts and show how these are more harmful than the harms of tax increases.  It could be tricky, because again, Con will be doing the same thing and so we have potential for clash over conflicting evidence and different economic theories.  I just hope it doesn't get ugly.

Believe it or not, it is a well known persuasive technique to expose the downside of one's advocacy.  In this case, it means admitting that tax increases do have the potential for problems but those problems are offset or outweighed by the advantages or they are outweighed by the disadvantages of the opponent's position.  While it may sound as though you are conceding the weaknesses of your advocacy, you at the same time are demonstrating a full understanding of the issues to the judge which increases the strength of your arguments when you make claims your position is the better or the lessor of two evils, as the case may be.  You are basically telling the judge, "yes, we have thoroughly examined this issue and we see the weaknesses, but our research has convinced us the benefits are far greater than the disadvantages".

How To Increase Taxes

As I have said in the second part of this analysis (here) citizens pay taxes as a percentage (a rate) of some purchased commodity or personal income or on the value of personal property (though this is usually a state or local tax).  Generally speaking, the federal government's major sources of tax revenue include personal income tax, payroll tax (paid by employers), corporate taxes, and to a much smaller extent excise and other forms of taxes (see:  Obviously, increasing the tax rate on any of those forms of taxes constitutes a tax increase and thus satisfies the resolution...well kinda.  If we are engaged in this debate to argue the best way to reduce the national debt, then care must be used.  For example, excise taxes (the "hidden" tax on things like gasoline, alcohol and cigarettes) are usually allocated to specific funds, not debt reduction and they are a small percentage of the total money taken-in by the federal government.  A huge amount of money is received through payroll taxes but a big portion of those taxes are allocated to social security, medicare and unemployment benefits. So the only tax that can reasonably be expected to have a significant impact on national debt is the federal income tax so no doubt, many Pro teams will be focused on increasing the federal income tax rates because the advantages which must offset spending cuts are in that category of taxes and the way that tax is increased is to increase the percentage folks must pay.  Currently the federal income tax rates are dependent on different income levels and whether or not the tax payer is married or single, so once again, raising the tax rate in any of the so-called tax brackets also meets the intent of the resolution.
Click here is a breakdown of the 2012 tax brackets .

Resolution Mayhem

While it seems the intent of the resolution is to narrow the clash to actions which are aimed toward reducing the national debt, the resolution clearly does not explicitly say so.  This does open the possibility of alternative Pro's (and I know other coaches are going to hate me for saying this) such as tax increases versus spending cuts to finance national infrastructure projects, or to stimulate job creation, or pay for health care or any of a myriad of initiatives which completely explodes the debate grounds.  Any of these could be legitimate reasons to prioritize tax increases over spending cuts and it could be argued they are topical.  This creates resolution mayhem since it is impossible for teams to be able argue against an arbitrary number of possibilities.  So having thrown that out there for those debaters who like to be clever, let's keep the focus on directly reducing the debt or at least the deficit.

Resolution Magnitudes

Because the resolution does not explicitly say we should clash over debt reduction and we assume that is the intent, we are subject to lots of various interpretations which affect how the judge evaluates the round.  For an obvious example, let us assume we advocate a tax increase for the upper tax brackets as proposed by President Obama during his re-election campaign.  Some evidence may indicate the increase will have little effect on the national deficit if spending remains at current levels.  Or even if spending is reduced, the national debt may not be reduced at all, it will just grow at a smaller rate.  Does that constitute a legitimate Pro stance?  Even when Pro advocates sweeping tax increases there are no guidelines as to how much the debt must go down and over what period of time before the judge can be convinced the increase constitutes a legitimate prioritization over spending cuts.

K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid)

Because there are so many ways to complicate this debate, I urge you to KISS.  There is really little to be gained trying to obfuscate the intention of the resolution at the risk of totally confusing the judge.  While winning is always better than losing, it is better to win decisively rather than by default and that is done by presenting a nice, clean, powerful case easily understood by the citizen judge.

Here We Go...

McKinney 2011:
"Yet, in the face of all of these facts, fiscal conservatives righteously believe and have gone so far as to pledge that they will not increase taxes. These pledgers are violating their constitutional responsibilities and are ignorant, or worse, as to the impact their folly is having on the economy. They fail to see that their actions are raising interest rates and making matters worse for the very people, small business owners, they purport to be supporting. An increase in debt interest of even 50 basis points (a half of 1 percent) translates into $150 billion more in interest payments on the federal debt, further increasing the deficit and debt."

Diamond 2012:
"According to our analysis of current tax rates and their elasticity, the revenue-maximizing top federal marginal income tax rate would be in or near the range of 50%-70% (taking into account that individuals face additional taxes from Medicare and state and local taxes). Thus we conclude that raising the top tax rate is very likely to result in revenue increases at least until we reach the 50% rate that held during the first Reagan administration, and possibly until the 70% rate of the 1970s. To reduce tax avoidance opportunities, tax rates on capital gains and dividends should increase along with the basic rate. Closing loopholes and stepping up enforcement would further limit tax avoidance and evasion.
But will raising top tax rates significantly lower economic growth? In the postwar U.S., higher top tax rates tend to go with higher economic growth—not lower. Indeed, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of Economic Analysis, GDP annual growth per capita (to adjust for population growth) averaged 1.68% between 1980 and 2010 when top tax rates were relatively low, while growth averaged 2.23% between 1950 and 1980 when top tax rates were at or above 70%."

Isenbergh 2011:
My immediate purpose here, though, is simply to assert that there is no fix for our situation, despite the win-win siren song crooned by self described supply-side economists, without higher taxes. Taxes far lower than public expenditure may anesthetize us a bit longer, but the hangover will be fierce.
The most urgent step is to raise taxes. This is so, by the way, even if social democrats like Paul Krugman are right that the economy needs immediate massive stimulus. If taxes are raised, Congress can offset the near-term effect with spending. I can hear readers objecting: What difference does it make? Isn’t that just a zero-sum game in which fiscal drag from increased taxes and stimulus from additional spending cancel each other out? No. Stimulus spending can be temporary. Tax cuts are forever. If today’s tax rates are extended across the board—even one year beyond their scheduled expiration—the scorched-earth supply-siders, having tasted blood, will never let them go. The Obama administration’s surrender to them late last year did not make them more tractable, but more rabid. The looming debt ceiling crisis has accorded the administration, through no merit of its own, one more chance to show some spine. Let this one slip away, and we are on the road to Greece.

Stone 2012:
The smart approach to addressing the "fiscal cliff"—the tax and spending changes scheduled to occur at year-end that would cut budget deficits sharply over time, but likely throw the economy into recession next year—is to replace it with a more fiscally and economically appropriate package. Specifically, we should let all the Bush-era tax cuts expire, scrap the automatic spending cuts ("sequestration"), and replace them with a balanced package that raises revenue and cuts spending over the long term while providing more deficit-financed stimulus over the next year or so to boost the weak recovery.

Matthews 2012:
"The above shows how big each policy is as a share of the total impact of the cliff. Some policies are more important on the budget side than the GDP side. Letting the high-income Bush tax cuts lapse, for example, generates $42 billion in 2013 but hardly hurts GDP at all. By contrast, the defense cuts amount to $24 billion but hurts growth by 0.4 percent — quadruple the high-income cuts’ impact.

The report also drives home how much the cliff is a tax phenomenon. The sequester makes up less than 13 percent of the total deficit reduction the cliff accomplishes. The other 87 percent, except for the expiration of the unemployment insurance extension, is all tax increases: income, estate and capital gains increases from not renewing the Bush-era tax cuts, payroll tax increases from letting those cuts expire, and expiring stimulus tax credits."

For the Con position click here.

For links to other Public Forum topics click here.

Links for General Information:

Links to Evidence Quoted Above:
The case for raising taxes to balance the U.S. budget, The Bay State Banner
Dr. Fred McKinney, 2011
Dr. Fred McKinney is president and CEO of the Greater New England Minority Supplier Development Council

April 23, 2012, 7:14 p.m. ET
Diamond and Saez: High Tax Rates Won't Slow Growth , We're not close to the top of the Laffer Curve. Raising tax rates is part of a sensible deficit reduction strategy.
Mr. Diamond is professor emeritus at MIT and a Nobel laureate in economics. Mr. Saez is a professor of economics at UC Berkeley and a John Bates Clark medalist

Joseph Isenbergh
July 2011
(Professor, University of Chicago Law School)

Chad Stone, October 2012,
To Avoid Fiscal Cliff, Let Bush Tax Cuts Expire, US News & World Report

CBO: Letting upper-income tax cuts expire would barely hurt economy
The Washington Post
Posted by Dylan Matthews on November 8, 2012

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Everyday Debate Update

Hello Debaters, Coaches and Associates

It has been a little while since I have updated but be assured Everyday Debate is not retired, resting or slacking.  We are in our tournament season and things are busy.  Working with a group of debaters and giving them the attention they deserve presents some challenges.  Additionally, I am researching the Public Forum "Tax Increases" topic since I want to be careful to bring you the most accurate and best quality information and analysis I can.

Finally, I want you to know, I am planning an overhaul of the entire site.  I will likely be adapting a different template, rearranging the various elements on the site, changing the color scheme, and other features to make Everyday Debate easier on the eyes, and hopefully the first place you go to begin your debate topic research.

So stay tuned in.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

PF 2012 Tax Increases Topic - Background Info

This is part 2 of a series on the December 2012 Public Forum debate topic. For part 1 click here.

Purpose of this Article

I want to write this article to lay down some foundations upon which to build the Pro and Con advocacy for the December 2012 PF resolution calling for prioritization of tax increases over spending cuts.  Generally speaking I think most people (myself included) have a somewhat superficial knowledge of how taxes and spending are combined in the US budget. This topic, as seems to be the trend in PF Debate, is broad.  There are literally dozens of different kinds of taxes people must pay in the US.  Further, while we may have a basic understanding that government spends money, we may not fully comprehend the breadth of spending and the implications reductions in the amount of government spending have upon the economy or the general good of the citizens.  Finally, and it may be too early to make this claim, I see big problems in the Pro burden with respect to WHY proponents should advocate tax increases over spending cuts other than it allows us to keep spending on things we like.  So, in order to allow the most fair debate possible, it is necessary to first understand the issues behind the resolution.

A Crude Economic Model

Most people, even high school students, will understand that spending requires income and the same is true for governments.  If I want to buy a cup of coffee, I need to hand over a dollar (or several dollars if I go to Starbucks).  If I want to buy a house, I may not have $200,000 in my savings account, so I need to borrow the short-fall and if I do, I will need to pay it back with interest.  In the case of the house, if we assume the house costs $200,000 and I have $50,000, I am still $150,000 short so if I decide to buy the house, there will be a deficit of $150,000 which I must borrow which then puts me $150,000 in debt.  Assuming, I have a steady income and I am able to make my payments, my initial debt will steadily decrease over time.  If my income should increase either because I get another job or I reduce spending on other things, I may choose to pay more on my debt to reduce it more quickly.

Now, let's say I am the lender and someone wants to borrow $150,000 from me to buy a house.  I will assess the risks of loaning the money.  I will consider the value of the home to be purchased and consider whether that value will increase or decrease over time.  I will look at the ability of the borrower to pay back by insuring her income or potential to increase income is sufficient to make the payments, and since I want to make money on this transaction, I will charge an interest rate proportional to the risk.  For most borrowers, the risk is measured, among other things, by the borrower's credit rating which is a measure of their ability to meet their financial obligations.

Finally, if the borrower somehow is unable to make the full payments required to pay back the loan, the borrower's debt will increase because the interest on the loan begins to accrue, meaning it starts to accumulate.  When this happens, the borrower can do several things.  1.) The borrower could borrow more money to make the payments on the loan but this adds additional debt which will need to be paid off.  2.) The borrower could try to obtain additional income to make the payments.  3.) The borrower may cut other expenses, perhaps buy less food, eliminate going to the movies, in order to have more money in which to pay off the loan.  4.) The borrower may declare bankruptcy.

Extending the model to the government, it works in fundamentally the same way.  The government has expenses, like payrolls, the day-to-day cost of sustaining the military around the world, health care, etc.  Those expenses are met by revenues (income) which mostly comes from taxes.  When the amount of expenses is greater than the amount of revenue, the government borrows money to make up the short-fall.  Usually, the government borrows by selling securities and bonds which it promises to pay back with interest.  These days, many of those securities are being purchased by foreign entities, hence we hear things like "China is financing our debt".  The government's credit rating, is a measure of how reliable or trust-worthy is the promise to pay back those loans.  Very recently, the government credit rating was reduced which makes bond and securities holders nervous and less likely to want to buy more for fear the government may default (fail to payback) on the loans.

Some Clarifying Definitions

Defined by Merriam Webster as an excess of expenditure over revenue.  In other words when bills are $5000 per month but the available income is only $3000 per month, there is a deficit of $2000.

Deficit Spending
The amount by which a government, company, or individual's spending exceeds its income over a particular period of time. also called deficit or called budget deficit. opposite of budget surplus.

National Debt
Total outstanding borrowings of a central government comprising of internal (owing to national creditors) and external (owing to foreign creditors) debt incurred in financing its expenditure. National debt is divided generally into three categories: (1) Floating debt, short term borrowings such as treasury bills, various ways-and-means advances, and borrowings from the central bank. (2) Funded debt, short-term debt converted into long-term debt. (3) Unfunded debt, national savings certificates, savings bonds, premium bonds, and securities repayable in foreign exchange (payment of which affects the country's balance of payments). National debt plays a crucial role in a country's financial system as government securities (being a secure vehicle for investment) form an important part of the reserves of its financial institutions.

Debt vs Deficit
The deficit is the difference between the money Government takes in, called receipts, and what the Government spends, called outlays, each year. Receipts include the money the Government takes in from income, excise and social insurance taxes as well as fees and other income. Outlays include all Federal spending including social security and Medicare benefits along with all other spending ranging from medical research to interest payments on the debt. When there is a deficit, Treasury must borrow the money needed for the government to pay its bills.
We borrow the money by selling Treasury securities like T-bills, notes, Treasury Inflation-Protected securities and savings bonds to the public. Additionally, the Government Trust Funds are required by law to invest accumulated surpluses in Treasury securities. The Treasury securities issued to the public and to the Government Trust Funds (intragovernmental holdings) then become part of the total debt.

Applying the above definitions, we see that when the government spends more than it takes in, it is doing deficit spending.  The amount of that deficit accumulates day to day or month to month.  The accumulation is the national debt.  So if the deficit (the excess of expenses over revenues) is $1 trillion per year, after four years the national debt will have increased $4 trillion (4 x 1 = 4) even though the deficit remains at $1 trillion.  As of the date of this posting, the national debt has accumulated to approximately $16.2 trillion.

Budget Surplus

The amount of the deficit will vary year to year depending on the budget.  It happens at times, a particular budget, which is basically the government's annual spending plan, may cut spending to such an extent, the revenues exceed the spending.  When this happens there is a "budget surplus".  During those years when there is a budget surplus, there would by definition be no deficit but the debt would still be present.  Only when the surplus is applied to paying down the debt does the amount of the debt begin to reduce.

Debt Ceiling and Fiscal Cliff

As a way of managing the growth of the debt, Congress has enacted a "debt ceiling" which is basically an amount which caps the debt.  In other words, they say, we will allow the debt to accumulate to some limit and then we stop spending.  This was the scenario faced two years ago, during the so-called "debt ceiling" crises in which Congress refused to authorize an increase in the debt ceiling (which previously was almost always raised) without matching cuts in spending.  A last minute agreement was reached which raised the ceiling on the condition of formation of a bipartisan committee to devise a scheme to cut expenses and/or raise revenue.  To ensure, that the committee does the work intended, the compromise deal inserted a penalty which triggered automatic spending cuts and tax increases.  This penalty is what the politicians call the "fiscal cliff" and is set to take effect at the end of December 31, 2012.

Simple Not It Is

In my overview, I've tried to keep everything in simple terms and make it fairly intuitive.  On one level, the similarities between personal finances and government finances are similar.  There is a budget which figures out based on income, how much money will be spent.  When more is spent than taken-in, there is a deficit which adds to the debt. When more is taken-in than spent, there is a surplus which can be used to pay down the debt.  The truth is, for those who feel this is too superficial, it is much more complex than these simple examples.  Many details are included into the calculation of the the debt, revenues, and outlays.  There are many diverse terms which have various meanings relative to different kinds of debts, revenues, etc. and really, a few courses in government/economics would help clear up some of the complexity.  I certainly hope for the sake of this debate, however, the explanations I have placed in this article are sufficient to give you a working background suitable for meaningful debate over the December resolution.

For the Pro position, click here.

For an index of other Public Forum debate topics, click here.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The First 2012 Varsity Tournament


Tab Room Struggles
Our district just held its first varsity tournament of the season.  From an administrative point of view it had its difficulties arising in some cases from human error and others from technical issues with how we use the tabbing software.  We use a product called Speechwire to run most of the league tournaments.  Its good software which meets our needs by allowing us to schedule and tab a tournament quickly and efficiently.  It is web based which allows us to move the tabbing operation from location to location throughout the course of a tournament without any problems whatsoever, so long as we have access to the Internet.  It allows several tab rooms at different venues to instantly see results as they are posted.  We can even tab from our phones if the need arises (which it did at one tournament a few years ago).  But one problem with web-based tabbing programs is, like I said, as long as the Internet is available it works fine.  I recall one tournament in which the school I.T. manager decided to service the system and shutdown the Internet gateway, not realizing we were holding a tournament.  After a period of sheer panic in the tab room we were saved by a guy who set up his phone as a gateway tether and allowed the tournament to continue.

At this tournament, we had one brief outage that was apparently somewhere between the two school sites we were using and the Speechwire server.  Fortunately it only lasted about fifteen minutes and then things resumed normally with no loss of data.  Good thing, because nothing irritates coaches more that finding out one of their kids results were not properly entered and nothing delays a tournament more than going back and trying to correct a tabbing error which changes the entire lineup of the break rounds in a particular category.  Yeah, I know personally about such struggles.  Fortunately, that did not happen this time. We also deal with all manner of anomalous behavior within the venues, such as computers which will not connect to printers, etc.  Personally, I am a tech guy.  I work with automation systems and such problems are enormously challenging to me, but I don't have time to try to debug some school's tech problems when there is a tournament to run.  None of us do, so we generally quickly figure out work-arounds.   Besides, I.T. guys are more territorial than Kodiak bears and do not appreciate random strangers attempting to change computer configurations under their charge.

The software used by tab rooms is always under revision.  Customers ask for new features, tweaks, etc. and the software designer wants to constantly improve the function and utility of the product.  Change is good.  Change is welcome when it makes sense.  Nevertheless, the tab room staff usually faces a number of slow-downs due to changes in the screens or procedures which are not always as intuitive as one would like.  This introduces delays in the tournament even though our tab room administrator is usually current on the software and very capable of guiding us through the less common aspects of tournament tabbing.  To be sure, some of the issues we encountered which delayed rounds, I had never seen before.  One seemed to arise in differences between browsers, but most others in how the tournament was setup and managed by the tab room staff.  Eventually the staff prevailed and the tournament moved to completion and kids went home with awards. Now the tab room staff is that much better prepared to deal with issues and prevent a repeat of the last mistakes.  That is how we do it and run relatively good tournaments and by the middle of the season we are running them in our asleep.  Well...a least some coaches think we must be asleep...or perhaps sedated.

The Judge's Struggles
Judges are probably the most unpredictable part of any tournament.  They are often not on time.  Of course that merely means, they fail to meet the starting time requested by the tournament administrators because most of the judges have to deal with mundane, real-world issues such as finishing their jobs and arranging for child-care and feeding their families.  As a result, they arrive when they arrive and there is nothing more to say about it.  Nevertheless, perhaps many judges do not understand the pressures placed on the tournament staff to keep things moving.  Judges are told to remain in a judges lounge (if they are lucky) so they can be found when needed.  But judges have needs that require them to leave from time to time, and usually the time to wander off is minutes before a tournament staffer runs in and starts calling for judges.  Many judges have time constraints which need to be accounted in scheduling rounds and invariably, someone fails to notify the tab room staff.  The situation becomes more desperate as the tournament winds on.  Usually on the final day, judges tend to get restless and ask to leave as if they have more important things to do than sit in an over-crowded, noisy venue, eating cold rigatoni on the outside chance they may be needed for some break round which may not get underway in their life-times.  The worst case scenario occurs when some judges simply vanish, probably due to spontaneous combustion but the staff is never told the real reason.

Resolution Struggles
Finally, I would like to make a few comments about the November topics.  I had a chance to judge Public Forum Debate and Lincoln Douglas this weekend.  Mainly I was asked to fill-in for judges who were either delayed in arriving, absent doing those things judges need to do when they are not patiently waiting to be called, or simply because there were too few judges for too many sections of debate.  Regardless, I am always happy to judge as I love listening to brilliant kids do their thing.  Amazingly, I feel the resolutions proved to be debatable and that is the goal, after all.  What I mean, though, is there did not seem to be any clash over definitions or interpretations.  For example, in the Middle East foreign policy topic, I personally did not see any challenges to the meaning of "middle east", "foreign policy" and the like.  Students were adaptive and prepared to deal with the opponent's cases in the context of the round.  In Lincoln-Douglas, the same was true.  While there was the expected clash of values, there was no struggling with different interpretations of "health care" even though the meaning of "universal" may be open to debate.  In general, the LD rounds were balanced pretty evenly with Aff and Neg each winning about half the time.  In PF, there is a strange kind of dynamic I notice frequently.  Early in the tournament there seems to be an overwhelming bias for one particular side.  But late in the tournament, during break rounds, the side bias becomes even and Pro and Con are split more-or-less fifty-fifty.  PF Debate has a different kind of dynamic because teams choose their side and will tend to favor the side they feel is strongest, but by the time break rounds are being debated, both sides have very strong cases and so the results seem more evenly split.

So...we had our struggles, but the staff survived, judges survived, students survived, and the resolutions seem solid enough.  Looking forward to the next one.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

PF Dec 2012 - Tax Increases - Definitions

Resolved: The United States should prioritize tax increases over spending cuts.

Introductory Rant

Throughout the years I have seen many PF topics in which students or coaches complain about the subject.  Sometimes it is inappropriate, sometimes non-relevant, sometimes too much like LD.  Usually I keep my mouth shut and go with it.  Sorry. This time I just need to ask, coaches - what were you thinking?  My initial reaction is, "debaters...if you win the coin flip on this one, go Con!" 

To be honest, I voted for the "entitlements" topic because I suspected the tax topic evidence would be non-existent, even after the elections when all the election rhetoric dies out. A little preliminary research told me my hunches were probably correct.  So here we are, forced to deal with a seemingly lopsided debate, trying to convince an over-worked, over-taxed, citizen judge the U.S. should prioritize raising his or her taxes over cutting government spending.  So I guess I should suck it up and deal with it.  Who knows? Maybe some deep research will save the day.  Maybe.


United States
We probably don't need to formally define the term but we definitely need to agree what "United States" means in the context of the resolution.  I think the clear, prima facia interpretation is the United States Federal Government.  Therefore we could write the resolution, "The U.S. federal government should...".  In fact, I would be so bold as to assume the person or persons who drafted the text of the resolution were thinking, "U.S. federal government" and "federal income taxes".

Since this resolution is likely to be a difficult one, I think we should reserve the right to open up the definition.  While only governments have the power to tax (or raise taxes), we may be able to find some kind of advantage by defining Unites States as the "people of the United States" or the "tax paying citizens of the United States...".  At this point, I don't know if will help at all so this would be a good time to define the following word.

Tax/Tax Increase
Simply put, a tax is a compulsory payment given to the government.  Most commonly, the tax is levied as a percentage of income (money earned through working, investments, etc) or some purchase of goods or services.  A tax increase is the amount by which the taxes are increased.   So, if we assume the tax in question is the U.S. federal income tax, the only way that tax can be increased is to increase the percentage levied against incomes.  Once again, this is the prima facia meaning in the resolution: a tax increase is an increase in the rate (percentage paid) of the federal income tax.

Since I anticipate issues for the Pro, I would, again, like to establish some broader meanings.  First, one could in principle, I suppose, argue the object of raising taxes is to increase revenue for the government and if more people paid taxes, revenues would increase.  There are, allegedly,  people who pay little or no taxes so if we make them pay, tax revenues are increased.  Also many people pay low, effective rates because, they are normally allowed certain deductions which reduce the amount of taxes owed.  By reducing or eliminating deductions, tax revenues increase.

Finally, I want to point out, that in the U.S. the tax rates are graduated by income level.  Basically this means people in lower income ranges pay a lower rate than people in higher income ranges.  At least that is how it works in theory.  The reality is, often those in the higher tax brackets have more deductions so their effective rate is more in line with those in the lower or middle brackets.  Therefore, Pro may be able to argue prioritization of tax increases targeted toward a specific tax bracket.  This is, in fact, the idea behind the popular notion of increasing taxes for the wealthy espoused by Democrats in the current election campaign.

From Google:
  1. Designate or treat (something) as more important than other things
  2. Determine the order for dealing with (a series of items or tasks) according to their relative importance.
Spending Cuts
A spending cut is a reduction in spending and would refer to the spending done by the "United States" when it purchases goods and services, pays employees, and distributes funds to other entities.  It is important to note, however, a spending cut is not simply a reduction in costs or lowering of expenses.  It is a purposeful action taken by the government to reduce the amount of spending.
I intentionally left this word for last because it is much more important that you may initially think.  Should has lots of meanings in different contexts.  Commonly, one will see a definition which defines, should as the past tense of shall and shall means, plan, intend or expect to.  What one sees in these definitions is the idea of obligation.  In other words, quite often in legal contexts, it means one has an obligation to do something because of an over-riding legal or moral mandate. Indeed, in many legal contexts, one will find should interpreted as the past tense of shall and shall is equivalent of must.
In other contexts, should carries another meaning altogether.  For example, in the world of technical specifications, quite often one sees "should" used to convey meaning of "it is recommended".  In this context, the sense of obligation is reduced or non-existent.  One should 'do something' but that does not necessarily mean there are no other options.  An IEEE (Institute of Electrical/Electronic Engineers) guideline offers a very good definition:
The word should is used to indicate that among several possibilities one is recommended as particularly suitable, without mentioning or excluding others; or that a certain course of action is preferred but not necessarily required; or that (in the negative form) a certain course of action is deprecated but not prohibited (should equals is recommended that).

In the context of this resolution, we are being asked to compare two options, tax increase and spending cuts and it is recommended that tax cuts be treated as more important that spending cuts.

Interpretation of the Resolution

Given the above definitions we can offer an initial interpretation of the resolution:
The federal government recommends that increasing the federal income tax rate is more important than actions taken to reduce spending.
Also given the above definitions, there are many variants.  The U.S. is obligated to put more value on tax increases....  the U.S. recommends increasing taxes on the wealthy as more important than actions to reducing spending... etc.
Each time I write this I keep wanting to add words to the resolution because it would increase the clarity: The U.S. should prioritize tax increases over spending cuts when...some condition occurs.  For example, when spending cuts are not possible, or not recommended, or undesirable or when cuts would weaken our defenses.  I mean, there is no reason we can't do both in the Pro and Con world, but in the Pro world something in the status quo triggers the need to give preference to one method over the other but sadly, this resolution does not give us a clue why the Pro position deviates from what would otherwise be considered a normal course of action in order to....yeah, why are we needing to increase taxes or make spending cuts?

The Reason for The Resolution

Why the resolution?  Well, besides the fact NFL told us the topic area is the budget, we can easily assume governments raise taxes in order to cover some spending and they cut spending in order to avoid raising taxes or reduce deficit spending.  I guess, it doesn't take any tremendous leaps of insight to figure out the reason for the resolution is the nation is compelled to reduce the federal deficit because of some harms arising from the current "debt crises".  It goes without saying I think, barring what some politicians call 'voodoo economics', if the plan is to reduce the deficit, the government either increases taxes, reduces spending or both.  So I summarize the status quo, for the novices or those living in a region in which television, radios and newspapers do not reach:
The government had to pay for stuff - like two wars and at the same it took it a pay cut (the US lowered taxes)  So the government borrowed money to pay for the stuff it needed.  Now the government is paying interest on the loans and needs to pay them back but it still needs to pay for other day to day stuff too.  It could increase its income (tax increase) or it could cut down on its day to day spending leaving more left over to pay off the loans or it could both increase its income while at the same time cutting back its spending and so have enough money to pay off the loans even quicker.
The fact is, tax increases are unpopular and could amount to political suicide (research "read my lips no new taxes").  On the other hand, people like government spending because they help pay for roads, schools, the poor, defense, disasters, and other popular things.  So no matter how you slice it, if the government must reduce the deficit, it must choose between two unpopular ideas; increase taxes or reduce spending.  For individuals, increasing income is rarely an option unless one can work multiple jobs, so cutting back on expenses is the normal means to reduce debt.  Most people expect the same of their government.  But, the resolution expects us to argue, no, the government should consider tax increases to be more important...
I'm just not sure right now if I am any closer to answering why?
For part 2 of this series, click here.
For other posts related to Public Forum Debate, click here.