Living for a Wage: An Overview of the Capitalism K by Sean Fahey

The capitalism kritik has become one of the most popular critical arguments run in both Policy and progressive LD debate. This article seeks to explore the many strategies one can employ with the Cap K that, I believe, is so strong on the Jan/Feb topic. I hold that the Cap K is the core of critical ground on the Jan/Feb topic, and is incredibly strategic due to its versatility.

The link argument for a cap K on this topic should generally center itself on the concept that the Affirmative advocacy is a system of wage labor, this definitionally constitutes capitalism. Therefore, any of their claims that they help workers or bring seemingly permanent ends to the struggle of workers are lip service to the real harms suffered. This is what Marx originally marketed (no puns intended). Alternatives to the critique can range from a simple rejection of all instances of capitalism to more nuanced alternatives. Ultimately the alt is flexible and depends on how invested you are in the alternative debate as a strategic asset. With this in mind, we’ll pursue different options for impacting capitalism.

Commodification and Deontology

A variant of the Cap K, which I find works especially well in LD, centers on the Marx’s arguments about commodification and uses modern authors like Clayton Morgareidge to support it. Clayton Morgareidge describes the position in brief:

Under capitalism, Marx writes, everything in nature and everything that human beings are and can do becomes an object: a resource for, or an obstacle, to the expansion of production, the development of technology, the growth of markets, and the circulation of money. For those who manage and live from capital, nothing has value of its own. Mountain streams, clean air, human lives — all mean nothing in themselves, but are valuable only if they can be used to turn a profit.

A critique centered on this argument would contend that the wage-labour system assigns a market value to individuals which reduces them to commodities. This violates the basic deontological tenet “Do not use rational beings merely as a means to an end” by viewing workers as just a form of tool. This serves as a way to turn deontology ACs but also generate offense. It goes beyond just deontology though; this also sets up preclusive arguments for most ethical positions given that most ethical frameworks hold that the drive to do any moral action comes out of a priori valuing of human worth, this makes the K not just unique offense for the negative but it presents a major link turn on most affirmative strategies.

Util? Easy.

While the commodification arguments are a framework preempt, the K can also square up specifically with utilitarian affirmatives. The Cap K originated in policy as a way to beat opponents on the utilitarian-based extinction debate which is rising in LD given the growing popularity of plan-style debate. I like the way John Bellamy Foster explains the ecological impacts of capitalism with major implications to extinction:

Capital’s endless pursuit of new outlets for class-based accumulation requires for its continuation the destruction of both pre-existing natural conditions and previous social relations. Class exploitation, imperialism, war, and ecological devastation are not mere unrelated accidents of history but interrelated, intrinsic features of capitalist development. There has always been the danger, moreover, that this destructive creativity would turn into what István Mészáros has called the “destructive uncontrollability” that is capital’s ultimate destiny. The destruction built into the logic of profit would then take over and predominate, undermining not only the conditions of production but also those of life itself. Today it is clear that such destructive uncontrollability has come to characterize the entire capitalist world economy, encompassing the planet as a whole.

This halts the extinction debate and allows you to hijack weighing mechanisms like Bostrom that many utilitarian debaters will attempt to hide behind and also win the timeframe debate by showing that you address the root cause.

Fiat Strategy

While the critique obviously functions post-fiat as a turn to most ethical frameworks, the Cap K goes pre-fiat if you want to set up some leverage against 1AR theory or policy-making good arguments. The commodification arguments frame Capitalism as ethically impossible, so one can argue a judge’s ethical obligations to reject Capitalism come before their judging obligations. Slajov Zizek and Glyn Daly explain this politicization of ethics:

For Zizek, a confrontation with the obscenities of abundance capitalism also requires a transformation of the ethico-political imagination. It is no longer a question of developing ethical guidelines within the existing political framework (the various institutional and corporate ‘ethical committees’) but of developing a politicization of ethics; an ethics of the Real. The starting point here is an insistence on the unconditional autonomy of the subject; of accepting that as human beings we are ultimately responsible for our actions and being-in-the-world up to and including the constructions of the capitalist system itself.

Framed correctly, this would demand that your judge has an a priori obligation to reject Capitalism before a judge’s posteriori obligation to be a fair adjudicator or a promoter of policy-making role play.

The Cap K doesn’t stop here; these are just a few options. Again, this article mainly concerns itself with the nature of Cap K impact debate and there’s much more to be explored in the alternative debate especially. I personally really like this kritik and hope that this article helps in your own experiences with this topic and Cap K’s in general.


John Bellamy,  “The Ecology of Destruction,” MONTHLY REVIEW, February 2007.

Clayton Morgareidge, Professor  Emeritus of Philosophy at Lewis & Clark College. August 22, 1998

Slavoj Zizek and Glyn Daly, “Conversations with Zizek”.  pgs. 18-19. 2004.