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.


  1. Where did you come up with the definition of spending cuts from? I can't find a good definition.

    1. The definition is derived from the Princeton University lexical database definition. see:

    2. It hasn't been the focus of my research so I can't be specific at this time. The key point, I was making in the definition, is it is an action that needs to be taken. If there is a particular definition you need, let me know. In the meantime, if I find anything more specific to any positions, I will post it.

      One of the key arguments, I suppose, may be whether a spending cut is simply a reduction in expenditures or an elimination of expenditures. Even if one finds a definition that satisfies the latter, it needs to be sustained in the course of the debate to the satisifaction of the judge and that may be easier said than done.

  2. Very helpful! Thank you!

  3. hmmmmmmmmm..............interesting

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  5. This article sucks dsddd

  6. Really good! Opens your eyes to this topic especially for me, because I don't know anything about politics. -.-

  7. thanks so much :)

  8. This is my debate topic and I have no clue which one goes with the resolution.Also is it saying we need to pick increasing taxes or spending cuts? Or is it saying that neither one will help the economy?

    1. Assume both are needed but affirmative says we should put more importance on the tax increases. Negative says they should either have equal priority or spending cuts should be considered more important.

  9. Where Di you get the definition of prioritize from directly? (Where did google get it from?)

    1. Several sources it appears. For example, this one from American Heritage Dictionary:


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