RFD – NFL National Final Round 2012

by Dave McGinnis

I’ll start with a general discussion of the round, followed by the RFD. Bear in mind of course that this RFD was only mine. There were 11 judges and the round was decided on a 7-4. Both debaters did a fine job and represented the National Forensic League well.

Below the discussion is a detailed speech-by-speech summary of the round for those who are interested.

 

General Discussion

Both positions are very stock and well-written. Both are good NFLs positions. They have a good mix of analysis and empirics. However, in the extensions, neither debater ever makes a comparison of evidence or analysis. They both make the significant mistake of treating an argument or a piece of evidence that says the opposite of another argument or piece of evidence as a refutation rather than simply a contrary point. Without any comparison, judges are left with just competing conceded points. Unless one point specifically responds to the internal warrant of its competing point, or the debaters give you a reason to prefer one piece of evidence or analysis over the competing piece, there is no way to resolve those arguments.

Also, both debaters fall victim to the “chicken/egg” argument on the criterion. The neg says that the only way we can decide what outcomes we desire is if we have autonomy, so autonomy has to come first. The aff response is that we can’t enjoy our autonomy if we don’t have societal welfare, so societal welfare has to come first. This is an unresolvable circle: you can’t conceptualize welfare without autonomy, but you can’t enjoy autonomy without welfare, so which one matters more?

 

RFD

The criterion debate is hard to resolve because of the problem mentioned above, but the neg seems to be at least marginally ahead with the analysis of the distinction between “obligations” and “benefits.” The aff never answers the argument that the state can’t be obligated to do something simply because it produces a benefit.

The aff’s argument that “voting is consequentialist” goes nowhere because (A) it’s incorrect and (B) it doesn’t really matter. The neg has definitely conceded that if the people consent via a vote to limits on economic rights, then the aff is winning the neg standard. It would not be a violation of autonomy to restrict property rights through redistribution if the people consent to this.

The aff’s argument that meets this burden is the Norton analysis read against the NC. Norton is a study that says that “people do in fact want more equal income distribution.” In a study of 15,000 Americans, 92 percent of respondents — “including the wealthiest” — said that the top quintile of income earners should control no more than 32 percent of wealth. In reality, in the US, that quintile controls 84 percent. The implication — unstated — is that this survey constitutes a “democratic vote” and renders it legitimate for the government to redistribute wealth (presumably until the top quintile controls the stated 32 percent. That would be a lot of redistribution!)

The neg “responds” to this by extending the Gallup poll from the 1N. He read this as a response to the AC Contention II. That poll says that 84 percent of respondents prefer the government to promote the overall economy rather than redistributing. He further explains that “we can’t assume consent because the aff doesn’t give a single benefit the rich would receive from it [redistribution.]”

This is problematic because the neg isn’t really answering the Norton study, he’s just extending a study with a contrary conclusion. Neither study is very good because (A) they presume that a poll or survey is the same thing as a vote, and (B) the questions asked in the survey are designed to elicit specific answers. In the Gallup survey, if you ask people, “Should the government promote the economy as a whole, or just redistribute wealth to the poor?” — of COURSE they’re going to say “help the economy as a whole.” At the same time, in the Norton analysis, if you ask people to randomly identify a percentage of wealth that they think the top fifth should control, the fact that they skew lower than reality doesn’t mean that they would consent to massive redistribution. It just means they don’t really get how profoundly wealth is concentrated in the US. Frankly, I think the aff study is a little better since it says that the majority indicate that the wealthiest quintile “should” control the smaller amount of wealth, and you could potentially read that as conceding the legitimacy of redistribution.

But none of that matters because the 2AR doesn’t extend that study, and that is the only impact to the neg standard that the aff potentially has. And, if I give the aff the argument that “voting is consequentialist,” then even that study doesn’t impact to the neg standard.

Think about that for a moment. The “voting is consequentialist” argument is not only a bad argument, but it’s terrible strategy. The aff is trying to turn the NC by saying that the majority of people want income to be equalized. This would impact to the neg standard of autonomy because the neg conceded in cross-examination that limits on autonomy are justified if the people concede to them through the democratic process. But by arguing that “voting is consequentialist,” the aff is potentially breaking that link.

But again, it doesn’t matter because the Norton study isn’t extended. The very last thing out of the aff’s mouth seems like it might be a reference to the study, but he says nothing substantive about it and he doesn’t denote Norton by name.

Even if I give the aff the criterion, I still negate because the aff never answers the Forbes evidence that was read as a turn to the AC in the 1N. This evidence is a study that says that inequality correlates with better outcomes. The aff concedes this in the 2AR. He sort-of extends Sandel and the UNY study, but he only very briefly extends the terminal implications of those — there is no discussion of the internal warrants of any of it.

The aff’s big mistake in the round, and certainly in the 2AR, is getting caught up in this criterial analysis that says that “democracy produces the best benefits.” Given a criterion of “democracy,” only one of the aff contentions has any impact, and that’s Contention III. The syllogism of the case goes like this:

Premise One: The government has an obligation to maximize benefits. (This is the value.)

Premise Two: Democracy produces the best benefits (this is the criterion.)

Premise Three: Would presumably be “reducing income inequality promotes democracy.” Only the third affirmative contention makes this point. The first two contentions skip over the criterion entirely and impact directly to the value. They say nothing about democracy; rather, they specify particular benefits of lessening income gaps. Contention I says that reducing economic gaps improves social cohesion. Contention II says it leads to economic growth.

Where this comes back on the aff is in the 2AR where he spends almost a minute extending the “democracy = benefits” stuff. This can have no impact in the round because he has never gone for Contention III.

The aff could have won by either doing a better job in the 2AR of winning the consequentialism debate and then focusing on some consequentialist argument from the AC, or by conceding the criterion and then going hard for the Norton evidence off the NC. He did neither of those things, largely because of all the time spent on the democracy-benefits link.

 

DETAILED ANALYSIS OF THE ROUND

The AC

The AC framework was a broad utility standard — governments must “always weigh consequences” and “promote positive impacts.” The value is “societal welfare” and the criterion “promoting democracy.” The analysis under democracy criterion argues that promoting democracy “gets the most benefits,” with a long list of reasons why this is the case: governments accountable to the public are less likely to deprive people of human rights, they have more prosperity over the long term (asserted in the card), the electoral process reduces the likelihood of riots, crises, assassinations, etc., democracies don’t go to war with each other (asserted in the card), and democracies uphold national interests.

Contention I says that economic gaps inhibit social cohesion. There is a study that says that the government’s lessening of income inequality directly reduces instability and authoritarianism, and reduces humanitarian emergencies.

Contention II says that economic gaps harm the economy.

Stiglitz evidence in II says that inequality “is the flipside of strenghtening” and “doesn’t use some of our most valuable assets in the best way possible.”

There’s a Byrd card describing (briefly) a study in which countries with more equal income distribution have longer growth periods. The card throws out some numbers about per capita GDP.

Contention III says that inequality undermines democratic political processes. Rich people participate in democracy and the government pays more attention to them. Solt evidence says people are more likely to vote in countries with the least “observed income inequality.”

 

The 1N

The value is justice with a criterion of autonomy.

The justifications for the criterion paraphrase Kant and argue that rights are the basis of welfare because freedom “allows us to desire rights or life.”

There’s a two-prong overview asserting that because the “aff is upholding a specific action for the government to enact” the aff must (1) show “the point at which inequality is extreme enough to justify action” and (2) show the point at which the action is no longer obligated.

Then there’s analysis of what justifies a government action — he argues that “to claim a government obligation is serious” and “can’t be just because of positive consequences.” He offers the example of hygiene: “Hygiene is healthy and important, but there’s no obligation for the government to enforce hygiene.”

The only contention says that affirming violates autonomy. The argument, from Nozick, is the old saw about taxation being a form of enslavement by “taking” some number of hours of work from the taxed person.

1N answers to aff case

A/T util – “this ignores the foundation of government obligations. If the government is obligated to do everything that promotes the best consequences 1) it’s an infinite burden an d2) it doesn’t respect human worth. Also governments judge what is due based on duties, not “what is good.”

A/T societal welfare – “justice contextualizes what societal welfare means and what obligations a government has; the aff framework provides a nebulous idea of what governments have the obligation to do; neg and aff could both win debate because we could both uphold random government obligations; we need to look at what defines government obligations in the first place.”

And, societal welfare “minimizes self-worth; the government has to treat each individual as an individual unit with value; if they just count up benefits, it devalues individual autonomy and worth.”

And, “Promoting democracy in a social contract [not sure where the social contract came from] requires people to have autonomy to enter it in the first place; violating autonomy nullifies the social contract so” — and I love this wording — “you’d have to negate before you could affirm.”

A/T Contention I

TURN – “In the aff world you would arbitrarily deprive some of property rights and provide them to another class; this leads to conflict, less social trust – prefer the neg under this framework.”

Also, the obligation to promote trust isn’t a government obligation; “if promoting trust were a true obligation then the government would be obligated to provide social seminars to teach trust.”

And, “problems with social cohesion come as a result of structural barriers to cohesion not as a result of what naturally occurs — this is confirmed by empirical study.” Cites a study that “when given a choice on how governments should address economic differences, 85 percent said they should improve the overall economy rather than distributing wealth.” The implication claimed is that since 85% want the government to do the neg, there would be more trust on the neg. This is not explained further.

A/T Contention II:

Briefly, “He doesn’t say why this is an obligation of government or why it supercedes other obligations.”

Then, TURN: Forbes of MIT study found that “changes in inequality correlate with growth; in the short and medium term, increases in income inequality have a positive relationship with economic growth.”

And, briefly, affirming decreases incentives to innovate and have social mobility, and then (bald assertion) when the government “intervenes it minimizes allocative efficiency.”

A/T Contention III:

A government obligation ends when it gives the equal opportunity to vote. And, this is structural; if the government arbitrarily prefers some, the problem is the government, not inequality, so repeal Citizens United rather than affirming.

And, in a neg world we achieve a government framework without violating autonomy (that doesn’t make sense to me, so I might have missed something while flowing.)

 

Cross-Ex

I don’t flow cross-ex and I don’t remember too much about it, but I do recall that the aff kind of got the neg on the ropes by asking him if any rights were absolute or if, rather, the government can limit rights. That put the neg in the position of explaining why redistribution for the purpose of equality isn’t a legitimate restriction on property rights, and the neg’s answer — that limits to rights have to be subject to democratic checks — seemed to play into the aff’s standards analysis.

 

The 1AR

Starts on the NC

Value:

“You need welfare before you can have justice at all because first you need security to even think about abstract philosophical notions such as justice.”

Also, “You have to prefer a consequentialist standard because if the government can’t use consequentialism it results in policy paralysis. Governments conduct votes, but a vote is a consequentialist perspective because the government looks at the outcome and passes the policy that results. If people want more income distribution then I win all his offense.”

Criterion:

“You can constrain autonomy in order to have a functioning society. He never tells you what people consent to.”

“You need the security that comes from societal welfare to have some measure of enjoyment of autonomy.” If you don’t have welfare, you can’t enjoy your autonomy.

He answers the two burdens the neg asserted for the aff by saying they are abusive (he doesn’t explain why, but he’s probably right.) He further says that there are economic gaps in the status quo, all the aff has to do is justify lessening from that point.

A/T the contention:

Reads a Norton card with a study: “people do in fact want more equal income distributions. A study of 15 thousand Americans shows that 92 percent of respondents, including the wealthiest, wanted the top quintile of income earners to control no more than 32 percent of wealth when in reality it’s 84 percent.” Claims that based on the neg concession in cross examination — that the legitimacy of limits on rights are determined by what people consent to by voting — means that this survey constitutes a reason to affirm based on the aff standard.

On the AC

Criterion:

Extends that consequentialist ethics are moral because all have equal moral worth, thus it’s legitimate to “kill one to save ten” because the larger group has “more net rights,” and claims that the aff thus meets the neg framework.

Says that “you have to have security before you can conceptualize justice.”

Extends five reasons why democracy “gives you the best consequences” — then says that you have to “look at the voting.”

Contention I:

Extends Sandel evidence, that class conflict will increase as the equality gap increases. Claims Sandel is conceded.

Then extends the study that decreasing the economic gap improves various measures of social benefit. Claims this is not refuted.

Contention II:

Claims that Stiglitz is conceded, and this means the neg is not “treating all equally” and therefore “violating his own framework standards.”

Contention III:
Briefly mentions Bartels evidence, does not specifically identify the warrants in the card.

 

The 2N

Starts on the NC:

Extends Observation 2 (framework analysis) that “the resolution isn’t a question of what the government should do, but what obligations the government has.” Discusses the distinction between pointing out benefits and proving obligations. “Just because an action has positive consequences doesn’t mean a government is obligated to do it. Obligations require a framework of justice.”

Extends the argument that in order to desire welfare you first have to have freedom so you can formulate desire.

A/T “policy paralysis”:

“That’s not true. If governments don’t first consider what obligations they have in terms of autonomy, then they are free to do whatever they want without respecting their people.” [There’s no way this argument is going to end up mattering, but it’s interesting to note that this response doesn’t really make sense. Pointing out that the aff framework leaves the government free to act doesn’t deny that the neg framework would paralyze them. If anything it supports the aff claim.]

A/T “Voting is consequentialist”:

“A voting system is a measure of consent, a process of the government to determine whether autonomy is respected. That’s not consequentialist. It’s clearly under my framework.” [Note: Neg is obviously right on this point, but again it won’t matter. Since the neg has conceded that a limit on a right is justified by democratic consent, if the aff wins the Norton turn he will win the neg case, regardless of whether voting is conceptually deontological or teleological.]

A/T the framework argument:

The fact that we sacrifice certain kinds of autonomy doesn’t mean the government isn’t obligated to respect autonomy generally.

 

A/T the Norton analysis on the contention level:

“I provide in my last speech a Gallup poll that said that 84 percent would prefer measures to promote overall economic growth without redistribution. My analysis said you can’t assume consent to this policy. My opponent doesn’t give a single benefit that the rich would receive from it [redistribution]. Every measure of autonomy shows that we’re violating it.”

Then transitions to the AC by pointing out that he’ll be winning the consequentialist position as well.

On the AC:

A/T standards:

Extends that “counting up rights” to “provide as many as possible” disrespects the “nature of the rights in the first place,” denying individual worth.

Points out he’s already answered the voting argument on the NC.

Points out that for the social contract or democracy to “ever work, autonomy must be respected.”

Re-asserts the claim that the aff framework is a “nebulous idea of rights claims. Both of us could win the round under his framework.”

On the contentions:

Extends the turn to Contention I: “When we arbitrarily deprive one group of resources, we increase cultural and social class conflict.”

Also extends that “there is no obligation to promote social trust.” Extends the “social seminars” argument as conceded.

Extends the Forbes study: growth is improved when economic freedom and inequality exist. Says this is an answer to the UNY study extended out of the AC.

Extends that the problems described in the AC are structural problems, ie. we need to “repeal Citizens United” to solve Contention III (democracy) rather than violate autonomy through redistribution.

 

2AR

 

Starts out on the value/criterion:

“There are two competing systems of ethics. Prefer consequentialism because 1) we need the security that societal welfare offers before we can conceptualize justice. Without benefits, we can’t exist ie. in the state of nature.” And 2) we have “equal worth in a democracy.” Talks about how “voting processes are consequentialist in nature” because voting “looks at the outcome” (of the vote) and that this is “inherently consequentialist in nature.”

Then says the first reason you vote affirmative is the “benefits of democracy.” Extends the five arguments from Jones that explain why democracy produces the best outcomes, concluding that “this justifies the value criterion because it’s [democracy] the best method by which a government can implement consequences.”

Then the “second key voter” is “the social impacts of lessening the gap.” He extends the Sandel. First says “Sandel goes unrefuted” then continues “He [the neg] tries to attack the internal warrant by talking about conflict, but the internal warrant [in Sandel]” shows that lessening the economic gap leads to “heightened degrees of civic engagement” and this “takes out his argument.” [Worth noting here, this extension of Sandel as a response to the neg’s 1N turn is new in the 2AR. Also, note the rhetoric: “Sandel goes unrefuted. He answers the internal warrant by saying…” Typically if someone answers the internal warrant of an argument I conclude that the argument is not “unrefuted.”]

Then extends the impact of the UNY study: “improves literacy rates, public health and quality of life for our society.” Claims that the negative dropped this.

Then says “the second and final key voter and biggest impact are the economic benefits.” Then claims that the aff has ignored Stiglitz evidence in the Contention II. “He’s ignoring the equality of opportunity — ignoring access to his own framework standard — evidence that people want more egalitarian income distribution.”

 

End of Round