Friday, March 6, 2015

LD Mar/Apr 2015 - Food Security - Neg Position

Resolved: Just governments ought to ensure food security for their citizens.

Neg Position

Where we debate, it is the end of the season. The state tournament kicks off this weekend, and I have been buried in work.  Because I do not want to post this any later and because the Neg position seems ridiculously difficult, I want to lay out a few ideas early just so no one thinks I was "borrowing" ideas from cases I will be judging.  On face, this topic seems impossible for the Neg. Who in their right mind would vote against food?  No one of course, and even though we are not debating whether or not food is good and people should have food if it is available, it can easily turn into a strawman argument in which Aff claims, "my opponent is basically saying people have no right to eat!"  It is much like the critiques of "terror talk" which expose the rhetoric of some which is, if you do not support my war on terror, you are soft on terror. This is a ridiculous jump to erroneous conclusions. To make matters worse, there is a huge push on the web and in the literature to support the UDHR principles which proclaim the "right" to food security.  Indeed, in the post-enlightenment, post-modern world there seems to be an emerging consensus among modern, first-world nations that everything that does not harm others is a "right".  Perhaps this is acceptable for nations at the pinnacle of development; at the top of the so-called Maslow's pyramid; seeking self-actualization. Perhaps, we are witnessing a form of diplomatic strawman, or "if you don't do this, you must be soft on..." rhetoric when treaties and international recognition are contingent upon acceptance of UDHR or UN mandated principles for fairness, justice and equity. I am not smart enough to say whether this is happening for sure and whether it is good or bad but I can make observations from my limited corner of the world.  For this resolution, I think Neg needs to change its point of view.  Do not look at this resolution for the point of view of a pinnacle nation. Let's try to analyze, what ought a nation do when it has limited resources, enemies at the gate, and factions vying for power. What exactly are the duties of a just nation?

Legitimacy in Negativity

Let's start this analysis with a conceptual understanding of negative and positive rights.  In a nut-shell, a negative right infers a restriction on action.  In order to uphold the right I ought do nothing which infringes the right.  Conversely a positive right infers an action must be taken. In order to uphold the right I ought to do something. If one has a right to property the right is a claim upon others (society, government) to keep their hands off the property. If one has a right to education the right is a claim upon others (society, government) to provide the education or the opportunity to have the education. Property is a negative right, education is a positive right.  In the same way we must understand that food security or the right to adequate food is a positive right which is a claim upon others to provide.  In this case, the other is the government as specified in the resolution.

Machan (2001):
Natural rights—or, as they have been un-euphoniously dubbed, “negative rights”—pertain to freedom from the uninvited interventions of others. Respect for negative rights requires merely that we abstain from pushing one another around. Positive rights, by contrast, require that we be provided with goods or services at the expense of other persons, which can only be accomplished by systematic coercion. This idea is also known as the doctrine of entitlements; that is, some people are said to be entitled to that which is earned by other people.“Positive rights” trump freedom. According to this doctrine, human beings by nature owe, as a matter of enforceable obligation, part or even all of their lives to other persons. Generosity and charity thus cannot be left to individual conscience. If people have such positive rights, no one can be justified in refusing service to others; one may be conscripted to serve regardless of one’s own choices and goals. If positive rights are valid, then negative rights cannot be, for the two are mutually contradictory. So the question is: which concept is the more plausible in the context of human nature, of how the issue of rights arose, and of the requirements of surviving and flourishing in a human community?

To secure rights, agents are employed and it is here we begin to recognize one of the key problems in securing positive rights. Kolstad's paper is specific to the duties of corporations but I quote him here because he does a fine job of explaining the concepts.

Kolstad (2007):
Negative duties are unconditional duties. [Henry] Shue points out that negative duties “are, and must be, universal”, i.e. they apply to everyone. If someone did not have a negative duty not to deprive someone of a human right, that right would not be secured. In other words, not to directly violate the human rights of someone, is a duty that everyone has to observe. Moreover, negative duties are duties not dependent on the duties observed by others. This follows from the fact that the human rights perspective is a deontological ethical theory, according to which agents must respect certain absolute standards. The conduct of others is not a valid excuse for not respecting the rights of others, so even if others violate someone’s rights, you have a duty not to. For instance, even if there are other agents torturing an individual, this does not make it permissible for you to do so. A direct violation of the human rights of others is wrong in and of itself, even if others are doing the same thing.[pg. 3]

If individuals have a right to food security, an agent must secure the right.  In this resolution we assign the moral duty to the state in which the individual lives.  However, what if the state is unwilling or unable to secure the right? Under the specifications of the Affirmative world of the resolution we may claim the state is unjustified but that ought not nullify the individual's claim to food security.  Therefore another agent must assume the duty to secure the right and so Kolstad explains the concept of moral division of labor.

Kolstad (2007)
However, what happens if the primary duty-bearers default on their obligations, failing to address the tasks assigned to them? For instance, if the state is the primary duty-bearer in providing human rights protection, what happens if the state does not fulfil this obligation, due to a lack of resources or inclination? If other agents than the primary duty-bearer fail to assume or address these obligations, rights are in effect null and void. So a scheme of duty assignment based on a division of moral labour, has to include an assignment of secondary or back-up duties, which specify duties in the event the primary duty-bearer defaults, in order to fully secure human rights. In other words, an ordinal arrangement of successive duty-bearers, designating secondary, tertiary duty-bearers and so on, is required for rights to be guaranteed. [pg. 2-3]

Thus in this contention, I establish the principle that rights of individuals are secured by agents. While negative rights require agents to refrain from actions, positive rights require agents to take actions which are inherently coercive and require a hierarchical duty structure. Further I unlock two doors through which positive rights such as food security may be claimed false rights, either because they violate negative rights or because they can not be universally secured.

I Ought Therefore I Can

The general principle, "ought implies can" can be seen in the writings of Immanuel Kant, most famously in his treatise "Critique of Pure Reason" in which he states, "The action to which the "ought" applies must indeed be possible under natural conditions". And so we come face-to-face with an oft debated principle of moral theory.  I can introduce the idea with the age-old drowning-child dilemma.  As a general principle we can claim one has a moral obligation to rescue a drowning child in a lake. But what if I am alone, see a drowning child but I am unable to swim and so am incapable of fulfilling my assumed moral obligation. Does that make me immoral?  Applying this same principle to the claim a government ought to ensure food security for its citizens, what if the government was incapable of executing its duty? Often, governments may be rendered incapable due to circumstances beyond their control, such as lack of money or resource, natural disaster or preoccupation with war.  None of these conditions implies the government has no will to carry out the obligation it is incapable. In the case of the drowning child, while there may be a moral obligation to rescue, for me it can not be a moral obligation because I am incapable. For the citizens in need there may be a moral obligation to ensure food security but for the government incapable, there can be no moral obligation.  Of course Aff will dispute this claim.  Indeed, Kant argues the natural conditions under which ought become possible plays no part in determining the "will" but only the outcome.

Kant (1781):
These conditions, however, do not play any part in determining the will itself, but only in determining the effect and its consequences in the [field of] appearance. No matter how many natural grounds or how many sensuous impulses may impel me to will, they can never give rise to the 'ought', but only to a willing which, while very far from being necessary, is always conditioned; and the 'ought' pronounced by reason confronts such willing with a limit and an end

For Kant reason (or rationality) gives rise to the "will" but as I interpret it, Kant claims reason must display a measurable outcome.

The Rhetoric of Food Security

A compelling argument can be made the push for food security is manipulated, either intentionally or necessarily to support the global economic network which produces and delivers food around the world.

Guerrero (2010):
The history of rise and fall of the postwar international food order and the emergence of a globalized food regime illustrates to us key insights about food and food security if seen through the lens of discourse. Firstly, the extension of the neoliberal logic of capitalist ‘treadmill of production’ to the domain of food and agriculture reveals the power of food in defining the contours of international relations (Phillips 2006). Dialectically, while globalization drastically modified the way we produce, eat and consume, food in itself is a powerful element that can define the political sustainability of a global economic order. We have seen how changes in agriculture are always backed by “development speak” or the supposed desire of the powerful nations and actors to eradicate poverty and hunger in poorer nations. Legitimacy of any order is always under fire and close scrutiny. The handling of the food dimension of the international order is a precarious but vital task because its deterioration may well generate powerful dissent and riots. 

While the claim to a right to food security may be legitimate, because of the overwhelming power of transnational corporations and the hegemony of dominate Western economies, the moral culpability should be assigned to actors other than the states who's citizens are most at risk.

Guerrero (2010):
contrary to globalization theorists who herald a retreat, the rationality of the state – of neither refusing to accept permanent hunger nor fully assigning the task of food security to the world market – still factors in the negotiations of the world order. The corporate regime, as institutionalized in the WTO, is incomplete and contradictory – precisely because the world order is authored by competing and unequal nations (McMichael 2000). We must evaluate the global food order as having specific statist interests such that of the Cold War strategy of the US in the postwar era and their large shares in funding the Bretton Woods institutions. It is countered by pursuits of other equally legitimate entities, such as EU’s attempt to maintain a share in grain surplus markets or the developing nations’ struggle to pin down hunger riots. It is a continuing push and pull of forces most especially when it intersects with other state values and obligations such as military security, human rights and social welfare. Thus, a global consensus on the best approach towards food security that enforces the ideal of fairness and level playing field in reality is almost impossible; 

We can add more ground to the argument the forces which shape the global economy may have a self-serving interest in promoting food security as a universal human right. If I am the world's primary supplier of building products, I benefit if I can persuade the world the right to housing is a fundamental human right, and if I am the leading supplier of food, ... well you get the idea.

Conteh-Morgan (2001):
The indicators of poverty and inequality reveal that the neoliberal theory of globalization is aggravating issues of food, health, personal, and other insecurities in developing nations. The adverse effects produced by the end of the "social welfare contract" between state and society sharply reduced the controlling role of government institutions and thereby produced individual and group insecurities that in turn degenerate into ethnoregional, class, and other tensions. The consequence in some states has been civil strife, state collapse, or multiple sovereignties. The new hegemonic order (with its structure and ideology) primarily benefits the interests of developed countries and the profit motive of multinationals. What is therefore needed is "responsible globalization" and "inclusion," or the political and economic will to bring into the globalization order and the new international political economy those now excluded. The new economics is causing misery even in industrialized countries where income inequality and job insecurity are increasing at a steady pace. While the developing state is increasingly being integrated into the world economy through the policies of external hegemony, it is at the same time being marginalized in terms of the benefits of globalization. The economic marginalization of the developing state may be responsible for the assertion of ethnic, religious, and other identities that produce civil strife in some countries. The nature of the global political economy and the relative power of actors that compete within it must be significant components of any judgements concerning the efficacy of any globalization processes, or distortions engendered by them. Inegalitarian economies yield inegalitarian social structures and human security dilemmas. Hegemonic interests control the globalization-related growth centric approaches that are very resistant to redistribution. Such tendency creates greater long-term inequalities and at the same time the lack of political and economic will to reduce them. The consequence is resistance in developing countries that further affect human security.

We can link these claims to "ought implies and can" and perhaps uncover a different way to delegitimize the Aff position.  It is best to review Guerrero's research which provide an interesting perspective on the historical events which shape the present call for "food security".

Coercive Morality

Finally I want to touch on the idea that even if we can not convince the judge that negative rights are superior, or perhaps positive rights are not true rights, or the resolution is incapable of addressing the ordinal succession of duty bearers. Even if we cannot assert the normative mandate of ought requires a capability to produce an empirical result, or perhaps the judge is skeptical that western nations would manufacture a global dependency on food, then perhaps we can at least look to the means by which governments carry out their duties and ask ourselves, when rights conflict, how can we resolve the debate?

Do we really want states taking coercive steps to ensure food security?

Hundie & Padmanabhan (2007):
State intervention in the Afar region, mainly since the early 1960s, has produced detrimental effects on pastoralist livelihoods. First, the state expropriated large areas of dry-season rangeland, exacerbating feed scarcity in the area. Second, the state enforced the transformation of pastoralism into sedentary farming without taking into account pastoral households’ capacities to produce crops. Development schemes initiated and financed by the state couldn’t enhance the capabilities of pastoral households to derive the full benefits of their land. Devoid of public participation in their formulation, these schemes paradoxically fostered dependency among pastoralists, which remained even after the schemes ended. Third, state intervention created a window of opportunity for some pastoralists, while others, such as women and the poor, were deprived of the benefits of the new arrangements.


February has been a challenging month. I have struggled more than any other year to balance the demands being placed in my path.  I must confess, this resolution was particularly challenging.  As I stated in the beginning, who in their right mind would vote against food even knowing the debate is not about food but rather the duties of government.  Nevertheless, the potential for tilting the debate into a struggle over logical fallacies was a high potential considering the overwhelming push in the literature to support the first-world initiative to eradicate poverty and ensure food security. Yes. It is a worthy ideal. The question is, who should be the agent for action?


Conteh-Morgan, E. (2001); GLOBALIZATION AND HUMAN SECURITY: A NEO-GRAMSCIAN PERSPECTIVE; The international Journal of Peace Studies; Autumn/Winter 2001 ISSN 1085-7494 Volume 6, Number 2; accessed 2/16/2015;

Guerrero, BJE. (2010); Politics, Globalization, and Food Crisis Discourse; Economics: The Open Access, Open-Assessment E-journal; No. 2010-22 | August 24, 2010 |; Accessed 2/15/2015.

Hundie, B.,  Padmanabhan, M (2007); The Transformation of the Commons: Coercive and Non-Coercive Ways; accessed 2/20/2015.

Kant, I. (1781); The Antimnomy of Pure reason; The Transcendental Dialect, Book II, Chapter II; accessed 2/15/15.

Kolstad, I. (2007); Human Rights and Assigned Duties: Implications for Corporations; Chr. Michelson Institute, Wp2007:7; accessed 2/18/2015;

Machan, T. (2001); The Perils of Positive Rights; Foundation for Economic Freedom; April 1, 2001; accessed 2/18/2015.


  1. THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. So could you say that Locke's social contract was supportive of negative rights? Since it talks about natural rights, then trying to in make a positive right required for a governments to be just would be in violation of the social contract. Maybe?

    1. Yes, negative rights are in line with Locke's version of the social contract. Of course, the people can still consent to positive rights (which requires, for example, payment of taxes) but these vary culture to culture and so are not universally obligatory.

  3. When will the affirmative be posted for this topic?

  4. Can you post the aff. Soon please?


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