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.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

PF Mar 2015 - Free Community College Tuition - Pro Position

Resolved: In the United States, students should be guaranteed two years of free tuition to a community or technical college.

Pro Position

If Pro were to approach this resolution with the idea the USFG should provide free tuition for community college students, without specifics, the Pro may have a difficult time unless the benefit outweighs the cost. Consider that 12.8 million pay on average, $3300 per year (src: AACC Fact Sheet 2014); the total cost would be about $42.24 billion per year. Who will guarantee this amount and from where will the money come? Further, it is reasonable to assume if someone should guarantee free tuition, the number of people taking advantage of the opportunity would increase greatly.  Perhaps the resolution should have specified "qualified" students and then we could argue about what constitutes "qualified".  Nevertheless, when considering the fact there should be a guarantee of free tuition, there is nothing which requires the federal government take the bruden.  The guarantee can be provided by the states, local authorities, or businesses. Also, we must consider that the cost of post-secondary education is considered well-worth the expense when we look at the long term benefits.  The evidence you find will show, that adults with degrees typically earn more than their high-school-only counter-parts and they are more likely to survive down-turns in the economy when companies begin laying-off workers.  A sustained, higher income results in more taxes being paid over the long haul.  Even in the face of some Con evidence which shows the advantages of college education are not as great as before, no one (other than the Con debater, perhaps) is saying, "No! Higher education is not worth it!" Finally, and this may be a nitpick, I would like to point out the resolution does NOT specify ALL students. So the lack of specificity can work to the advantage of Pro since it is logical to assume qualifications go without saying.  For example, most people (judges) will agree the student should at least complete the program in good academic standing otherwise, the tuition is not covered.  Some businesses, for example, will reimburse their employees for additional college course-work with stipulations they attain a minimum grade-point average, the courses will benefit the career choice and the employee completes the full term of the course.

Government Help

Most people are immediately suspicious when they hear something like, "Hi. I'm from the government and I'm here to help." It's at that point many people will put their hands on their wallets.  However, free tuition for students can be and is being proposed in some locales within the U.S.

Kelchen (2014):
Several states have explored the possibility of so-called “free community college” programs, which would cover the cost of tuition and fees for recent high school graduates who meet certain other eligibility criteria. Tennessee was the first state to pass such a plan, making first-time, full-time students who file the FAFSA and complete eight hours of community service each semester eligible for two years of tuition and fee waivers. Legislators in Mississippi, Oregon, and Texas have proposed similar plans, although none of those have been adopted at this time. The most recent plan for free community college comes from the city of Chicago, where Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that the city would cover up to three years of tuition and fees for eligible graduates of the Chicago Public Schools. In order to be eligible, students must have a 3.0 high school grade-point average, not require remediation in math or English, and file the FAFSA. (It appears that part-time students will be eligible for the program, unlike in the state proposals.) The district estimates that about 3,000 students would qualify for the program out of the roughly 20,000 students who graduate each year.

Each of the proposals are based on varying qualifications and have different funding models and links in the article provide more details. Here, we are hanging our case on the lack of specificity in the resolution as we observe that not all students are college-ready and the resolution does not force us to claim ALL students nor does it expect us to look to some kind of LD-like moral obligation or value of distributive justice.  Pro is standing on the ground there are good students who deserve to go to college and they can't due to financial constraints.  In a first-world nation like the U.S. they should be guaranteed that opportunity.

The article takes an even-handed approach to the issue.  However, when we consider the long-term impact both sides of this debate must recognize we do not know what we do not know.  By this I mean future impacts can only be predictions since we are not currently guaranteeing students free tuition and other nations may not provide a good model since their entire economic structure is often based on a welfare-state philosophy.

Kelchen (2014):
Some students from middle-income families will get additional financial aid as a result of the program. But the concept of “free college” could even benefit Pell recipients who are unlikely to see any additional financial aid under the program. Research has shown that making students aware of their financial aid eligibility results in increased college attendance rates, and similar effects could result due to the programs' publicity. For those reasons, it is important that the Chicago and Tennessee programs be rigorously evaluated to see who benefits, and for what groups of students the program passes a cost-effectiveness test.

And finally, Kelchen does remind us that adults can also be students and the advantages of "free" tuition programs can be even greater for them.

Kelchen (2014):
It is also important to consider extending the programs to returning adult students, who typically do not qualify for these programs. The median age of community college students is approximately 23, and a program that provides assistance to these students (most of whom have exceptional financial need) could prove to be very beneficial. Finally, it is important to publicize these programs (and their conditions) widely so students and their families know that community college can be an affordable, high-quality educational option.

Shrinking Big Government

A powerful argument can be made that government could provide free college tuition and actually pay less than it is today.  And...the benefit is, the federal government could spend less while providing free tuition to all public schools, not just two-year community colleges and tech schools.

Covert (2014):
Tuition at public colleges came to $62.6 billion in 2012, according to the latest government data. That’s less than what the government already spends to subsidize the cost of college through grants, tax breaks, and work-study funds, which comes to about $69 billion. It spends another $107.4 billion on student loans. That means that with the money it already spends to make college affordable, the government could instead subsidize public college tuition, thereby making it free for all students. This would not just mean anyone could attend a higher education institution without worrying about cost, but it could incentivize private ones to reduce their costs in order to compete with the free option.

The Shifting Burden

Any adult or student observer of college costs will agree that cost of a college education is sky-rocketing.  One may reasonably ask, why is the cost of tuition increasing dramatically year-after-year, well beyond the rate of inflation?  Does it really need to be so high? Many are suspicious and critical of the costs and school boards and over-sight committees assigned to justify the costs often point to drops in state funding which is offset by increases in tuition costs.

GAO (2014):
From fiscal years 2003 through 2012, state funding for all public colleges decreased, while tuition rose. Specifically, state funding decreased by 12 percent overall while median tuition rose 55 percent across all public colleges. The decline in state funding for public colleges may have been due in part to the impact of the recent recession on state budgets. Colleges began receiving less of their total funding from states and increasingly relied on tuition revenue during this period. Tuition revenue for public colleges increased from 17 percent to 25 percent, surpassing state funding by fiscal year 2012.

Amazingly, experts interviewed by the GAO described how states will resolve budgeting priorities but cutting subsidies to higher-education knowing full well the burden of the cost will shift to the public.

GAO (2014):
State funding declines may be attributable, in part, to prevailing economic conditions and competing state budget priorities. Likewise, 19 of 25 experts and organizations we interviewed cited the 2007 to 2009 recession as a factor that directed trends in state funding. Several of these experts and organizations described public higher education as the “balance wheel of state economies,” where states reduce higher education funding during constrained economic times, in part because public colleges can use tuition as an additional funding stream unlike other program areas that do not have alternative sources of revenue.

Sadly, the state government policies are short-sighted and self-serving.  As students and parents go more and more into debt to pay for college education, there is less to spend on other goods and services which feed-back into the economy.

PTA (2014):
[Washington State Senator, Barabara] Bailey said the newly graduated often delay major life decisions such as buying a home and starting a family while struggling to pay off student loans. On average, she said, students graduate from college with about $24,000 in debt. Both she and Braun said the state's economy would benefit from having smaller financial burdens on young, educated residents, and both said the state's universities would get more money from state government to offset the decrease in tuition revenues.

But, let's not shift all the blame on states.  We can also argue the educational institutions must take their share of the burden and do what they can to reduce expenses.  Perhaps many of you are aware, for example that University Presidents (yes, I know not necessarily two-year institutions - but hey - let's poison the well a little, just to make a point) often take enormous seven-figure salaries and perhaps administrative costs are disproportionately large.

Shaw (2011):
the North Carolina constitution says that a UNC education should “as far as practicable, be extended to the people of the State free of expense.” With UNC schools’ undergraduate tuition and fees ranging from $3,829 to  $6,874, it’s not free now. But it is low in comparison to other public institutions. Many opponents of increases argue that raising tuition beyond the 6.5 percent would violate the “as free as practicable” standard. Most of these opponents assume that the only way to keep tuition low is to increase the subsidy from the state (currently $12,868 per student, according to the Board of Governors). But there’s another way to keep tuition “as free as practicable.” That is for the university to live within its means, just as individual North Carolinians are doing in these stringent economic times. That means applying techniques such as: Budget your expenditures. Cut them when necessary. Use your additional 6.5 percent of tuition (if that’s what you get) to make up for legislative cuts.

Needless to Say

Do I really need to provide cards explaining the benefits of higher-education?  I think you will have no problem finding that information on your own.  I think it is important to establish the fact that post-secondary education is enormously beneficial to individuals as compared to one's future prospect as simply a high-school graduate.  Even in a world where the value of the degree has fallen and overall student debt has increased, the value of the degree, even the Associates degree, is without question, a benefit over the long term. A major part of what I have tried to convey in this position is an acknowledgement there are real-world issues.  Governments do have other spending priorities, not everyone will be good "college material", etc.  But there must be recognition of the fact, that education pays benefits and those benefits will pay-back into economy. We just need to avoid crippling our up-and-coming generation with enormous education debt.


Covert, B. (2014); How The Government Could Make Public College Free For All Students; Thinkprogress; accessed 2/20/2015.

GAO (2014); HIGHER EDUCATION State Funding Trends and Policies on Affordability;Report to the Chairman, Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, United States Senate; Government Accountability Office; December 2014; accessed 2021/2015.

Kelchen, R. (2014); The Costs of Free; Inside Higher Ed; October 13, 2014; accessed 2/20/15.

PTA, Washington State (2014); Braun Proposes New Plan for Higher Education Costs; Washington State PTA; The Chronicle, 2015-2-16; accessed 2/24/15.;jsessionid=uHsiM7KXXkumekJTKvbNsURd.undefined

Shaw, JS. (2011); As Free as Practicable; John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy; November 17, 2011. Accessed 2/21/2015.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

PF Mar 2015 - Free Community College Tuition - Con Position

Resolved: In the United States, students should be guaranteed two years of free tuition to a community or technical college.

Con Position

Looking at the Con for this debate, I foresee several possible ways to over-turn the Pro case. Even though young people are drilled with the idea that post-secondary education is necessary, accessibility for the poor has been limited.  The Pro thus argues that all students in the U.S. should be assured a free tuition.  A key justification is, higher education is the key to a better life through higher wages, resilience to economic decline and a broad range of opportunities.  However, there is emerging evidence the value of a college education, in terms of its ability to demand high salaries and improve opportunities is diminishing.  In my opinion, the things of most value are the things which are the most rare and thus we see employers are now favoring individuals who possess unique and uncommon skills over the commonplace, standardized skills learned in colleges. Further, I think a reasonable case can be made that the cost of providing this education to untold millions may be excessive when coupled with the idea the return on investment may not be sufficient to justify the cost.

Devaluation of the Degree

Since the turn of the 21st century, globalization, the shrinkage of the U.S. job market and the glut of college degrees in the job market has served to devalue the degree.  Think about it.  What is your degree really worth, when many of your fellow classmates are working minimum-wage jobs? If a person with your degree is making $8.00 per hour McDonald's, why do you think you should make two or three times more? Why should an employer favor you two or three times more? The fact is, someone needs to flip the burgers at McDonald's and so the lower-skilled jobs will continue to place demands upon the labor market and if everyone in the labor market has a post-secondary degree, that becomes the minimum standard for low-skilled work.  But even if you don't buy the logic of that argument consider the devaluation resulting from the economic realities of the global economy.

IP (2008):
For decades, the typical college graduate's wage rose well above inflation. But no longer. In the economic expansion that began in 2001 and now appears to be ending, the inflation-adjusted wages of the majority of U.S. workers didn't grow, even among those who went to college. The government's statistical snapshots show the typical weekly salary of a worker with a bachelor's degree, adjusted for inflation, didn't rise last year from 2006 and was 1.7% below the 2001 level. College-educated workers are more plentiful, more commoditized and more subject to the downsizings that used to be the purview of blue-collar workers only. What employers want from workers nowadays is more narrow, more abstract and less easily learned in college.

For those you prefer empirical research one such study notes the following:

Carniero & Lee (2010):
We estimate that when the proportion of college participants increases from 50% to 60% (P˜t−a,b increases from 1 to 1.5) average college wages decline by 4.3%. We interpret this as a decline in average worker quality.

It is really difficult to state this delicately.  As post-secondary education becomes more and more accessible to lower quality students, the average value of graduates entering the job market declines in proportion to the quality of the students.

Carniero & Lee (2010):
Composition plays a much smaller role in the high school sector than in the college sector. This is an interesting result which may happen for several reasons. For example, the skills that determine selection into college may be less valued in high school type occupations than in college type occupations. This is possible in a model of the labor market in which there are two or more types of skills, as opposed to a model with a single type of skill. Individuals are differentiated in terms of a college skill and select on this skill when enrolling in college, but this is a skill that is not valued in high school occupations. Alternatively, in a model where the quality of college workers declines not because of an influx of lower quality workers, but because of a potential decrease in available educational resources per capita in college (but not in high school), this is precisely what we would expect. The cohort crowding hypothesis implies that a quality decline should only be visible among college workers, and not among high school workers.
In addition, the researcher further quantifies the conclusions by noting, for example, a steady decline in average ACT and SAT scores. The impact is clear.

Carniero & Lee (2010):
We find that an increase in the proportion of high school seniors taking the SAT is significantly associated with lower math and verbal scores. This provides additional direct evidence that increases in college attainment lead to declines in the quality of college attendees.

Another interesting discussion found in the research is speculation about resource crowding arising from the fact that limited resources in post-secondary schools may be over-capacity in terms of their ability to provide quality educational advantages to students. This suggests that in order to sustain the initiative to guarantee tuition, many more schools would need to be built.

Two More Years!

Some people prefer scholarly reviews of empirical data to make the point, while others are moved by impactful language which communicates to the heart and soul of many working class judges struggling to get ahead in the economy.  For this reason, I want to peek into a libertarian ideology which asks, if the government has wasted twelve years trying to educate its citizens then why should we think two more years will change anything?

Wilson (2015):
In the first half of the 20th century, a high school degree was worth more in the job market than it is today. Now, why is that? Scarcity. That’s how the market determines value. When fewer people had high school degrees they were worth more, because they were less common. In 1940, only 50% of young adults had high school degrees, and it was a valuable achievement. The government saw that initial value, and decided that it was going to mandate a high school education. Unfortunately, when something is mandated and everyone is forced to attain it, it loses it’s scarcity, and therefore, it’s value. Today, nearly 90% of young adults have a high school degree, and it’s no longer considered nearly as valuable as it once was. The same thing will happen if everyone is heavily incentivized, through Obama’s ‘free’ plan, to get a college degree. The more people that get college degrees, the less valuable each one becomes. This has already happened due to the government’s current policies that push higher education on the public.

We must consider the impact of a blank check declaration inherent in the statement students should be guaranteed free tuition.  All students are not created equal but the resolution does not make any distinctions.

Petrilli (2013):
A huge proportion of this $40 billion annual federal investment is flowing to people who simply aren’t prepared to do college-level work. And this is perverting higher education’s mission, suppressing completion rates and warping the country’s K-12 system. About two-thirds of low-income community-college students — and one-third of poor students at four-year colleges — need remedial (aka “developmental”) education, according to Complete College America, a nonprofit group. But it’s not working: Less than 10 percent of students who start in remedial education graduate from community college within three years, and just 35 percent of remedial students earn a four-year degree within six years.

Of Costs and Coercion

It goes without saying, a proposal to guarantee college tuition to students in the United States will cost money and the evidence shows that not everyone who takes advantage of the offer will benefit from the offer.  Further, the recent trends in American politics and the increasing power of radical right ideology would require a great deal of political capital to enact or would no doubt require an escalation of government coercion to pay for the program.  I have decided NOT to present evidence supporting these views because I have no doubt you will have no trouble finding that information on your own.

A Reasonable Alternative

If we can accept the fact the purpose of higher education is to equip employees with marketable qualities and if we accept that more and more higher salary preference is being given to employees possessing specialized or unique skills, perhaps it is more important to be recognized for one's competency rather than ability to complete a generalized course of academic study.

Dennis (2014):
The university defines competency-based education as allowing students to earn a college degree through demonstration of skills and knowledge in a required subject area through a series of carefully designed assessments. Students take tests, write papers and complete assignments. But rather than focus on seat time or credit hours, degrees are awarded through tangible evidence of learning. Outcomes and assessments are the bookends of competency-based learning. The US Department of Education is interested in supporting competency-based learning because 37 million Americans have some college credits but no degree.

The value of competency based approaches is it allows individuals to be recognized for innate or acquired skills without emphasis on where the skills were acquired.

Dennis (2014):
Jamie P Merisotis, president and chief executive of the Lumina Foundation, challenges the credit hour system. He writes: “Competency is a student-centred, learning-outcome-based model. Where you get the education is secondary to what you know and are able to do.” Competency-based learning saves students both time and money and creates multiple pathways to graduation. It allows for online and blended learning and for greater flexibility in mapping out a path to earning a college degree...In the United States, competency-based degrees are recognised by employers for hiring, promotion and advancement.

Wrap Up

I confess the analysis may not be rich in cards and much of that stems from the fact I am currently overwhelmed with work, in the real-world and in the debate tournament world.  Our season is about to end and we are currently wrapping up the most important part of our season which includes state qualifiers, national qualifiers and the state finals.  Nevertheless, I trust there is enough here for you to sink your teeth into and I wish you the best of luck.

Click here for the Pro Position


Carneiro, P. & Lee, S.(2010) Trends in Quality-Adjusted Skill Premia in the United States, 1960-2000; University College London, Institute for Fiscal Studies and Centre for Microdata Methods and Practice; accessed 2/20/15

Dennis, MJ. (2014); Competency-based degrees – The quiet revolution?; University World News; 14 February 2014 Issue No:307; accessed 2/20/15

IP, G (2008); The Declining Value Of Your College Degree; The Wall Street Journal;Updated July 17, 2008 11:59 p.m. ET; accessed 2/20/15

Petrilli, MJ (2013); Pell Grants Shouldn’t Pay for Remedial College; accessed 2/15/15; (Note, this article was also published on Bloomberg View here:

Wilson, J.; (2015); Three Reasons Why Obama’s Free Community College Plan Won’t Work; accessed 2/15/15 at