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)


  1. How would one argue a middle-of-the road, no prioritization Con? By that I mean, what contentions would one use

    1. I don't think it's an easy argument to make because it depends on how the judge interprets "prioritize". I mean, one could ask, if you could have tax increases or spending cuts but not both, which would you choose? Then perhaps that is the priority assuming one without the other is capable of solving whatever needs solved. To argue that both are equally important, requires one to argue that tax increases alone or spending cuts alone can not solve the problems so we must do both.

      There is plenty of evidence that Americans support a "balanced" approach. Gallop and Pew polls show this so that may be a good place to start. I know public opinion may not be the best evidence, but I think it's a given Congress is not going to act against the general will of the people.


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