VBI Staff Topic Recommendations

Voting for 2019-2020 LD topics ends on August 7th. To help voters fill out their ballots we asked a panel of distinguished  VBI instructors to rank all of the potential topics and provide what their ‘ideal slate’ of topics from the list would look like.

If you have not already done so, you should log in to your NSDA account and vote by August 7th. Both students and coaches are able to cast ballots.  You can find more information on how the voting system works HERE.

Also, subscribe to Victory Briefs before August 8 for $80 off new briefs and textbooks! The Full 2019–2020 Package includes subscriptions to our Public Forum and Lincoln–Douglas briefs, plus four NEW forthcoming textbooks (three LD, one PF).

Let us know your thoughts below!


The Panel

Jacob Nails

Jacob Nails debated 4 years for Starr’s Mill High School (GA) in Lincoln Douglas debate, graduating in 2012. As a competitor, he won the Georgia state tournament, cleared at NSDA nationals, and qualified to the TOC. In college, he qualified twice to the National Debate Tournament in policy debate. Jacob has 7 years of experience coaching LD debate, including coaching debaters to top seed at the TOC, as well as Top Speaker awards at Harvard, Yale, and Bronx. He has taught at fifteen sessions of the Victory Briefs Institute.

Marshall Thompson

Marshall Thompson is a Director of Instructional Design & Curriculum at Victory Briefs. He is is currently pursuing a PhD in philosophy at Florida State University, having previously received a bachelors degree in philosophy from Wheaton College. A large portion of Marshall’s academic studies focuses on the science and practice of effective teaching. Marshall has been successful both as a debater and coach; in recent years he has coached debaters to win major national tournaments (such as the Bronx Invitational) and reach late out rounds at many others (including twice reaching finals of the TOC). Marshall is an experienced camp instructor having both taught and developed curriculum at multiple camps for years. Marshall has spent nine summers at VBI.

Kathy Wang

Kathy Wang is an assistant to the LD Director and instructor at Victory Briefs this summer. She debated in LD for Stuyvesant High School for 4 years, graduating in 2016. She now attends New York University with a double major in Computer Science and Social and Cultural Analysis. As a debater, she consistently broke at tournaments and spent most of her time mentoring younger students. She has now coached multiple debaters to outrounds and speaker awards at several bid tournaments. She also currently debates for the NYU policy debate team, breaking and attaining speaker awards regularly. Kathy has spent six summers at VBI.


Topic Ratings

Topic Jacob Marshall Kathy Average
Resolved: States ought to eliminate their nuclear arsenals. A A A A
Resolved: The United States ought to act as the employer of last resort. A A+ A- A
Resolved: Japan ought to amend Article 9 of its constitution to allow for offensive military capabilities. A+ B- A A-
Resolved: The United States ought to grant legal personhood to natural ecosystems. B+ B+ A- B+
Resolved: Predictive policing is unjust. A- A- B- B+
Resolved: The United States ought to legalize adult sex work. A B+ C B+
Resolved: A just nation ought not use offensive cyber operations to target civilian infrastructure. B- C- B C+
Resolved: In the United States, colleges and universities ought not consider standardized tests in undergraduate admissions decisions. C- B- B- C+
Resolved: The intergenerational accumulation of wealth is antithetical to democracy. D B D C-
Resolved: The United States ought to eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels. C D C C-

Resolved: States ought to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

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Jacob Nails (A): Nuclear disarmament will always be a strong topic. I recall debating and enjoying the previous iteration of this resolution in Sep-Oct 2010, and the topic remains relevant in 2020. Debaters have a natural proclivity toward discussing nuclear war scenarios, and for once those impacts will have a ring of plausibility to them. Victory Briefs has used this topic a as the camp topic twice (Loyola Marymount session, LA, 2018, and Swarthmore session, PA, 2019), and both times it felt like an exceptionally helpful topic for instructional purposes. The core topic clash on miscalculation versus deterrence is a fruitful ground for students practicing weighing and impact comparison, and the literature on the doctrine of double effect is a straightforward introduction to anyone learning about ethical arguments. There is also plenty of topic-relevant critical theory about security dilemmas and construction of other states as threats. This topic could fit in any slot, but I prefer it as the Sep-Oct topic for its utility in teaching students, particularly novices.

 

Marshall Thompson (A): This is very similar to the Sep/Oct topic my senior year ( Resolved: States ought not possess nuclear weapons.). It was a great topic and I hope it is Sep/Oct again. There are really solid philosophical affirmatives (focusing on deontology and democracy), but which are not so simple as to be boring. Unfortunately, there are not any philosophical negatives, but there are fun statistical debates about the effectiveness of deterrence and the nature of weighing arguments about nuclear weapons which are almost as fun to debate.

I also think this topic is very accessible to novices (for states that don’t use the standardized novice topic) and so is a particularly good choice for Sep/Oct.

 

Kathy Wang (A): This is a pretty cool topic – the ground is delineated quite well and there’s a super timely and relevant debate about what the political climate is like in the nuclear age. The debate is generally fresh in that there’s a lot of different aspects of nuclear arsenals that can be talked about (e.g. waste, specific countries, int’l agreements, etc.) but still an unshakable core debate regarding things like deterrence. There’s interesting critical and philosophical ground, especially in the context of what the effect of something as game-changing as the introduction of nuclear power is. For the most part, this topic has a little something for everyone – the only negative I see is that it’s slightly more difficult to find critical negative ground outside of Orientalism. But all in all, the topic is quite good with a lot of potential for both clash and creativity. It seems like the perfect kind of topic to get people back into the swing of things with the upcoming year since it’s a very core debate centered around an issue that current politics can influence but not undermine entirely. We’ve debated this twice at VBI now, and both times it’s been a topic that’s been interesting to all levels of debate and led to a lot of good debates. There’s a reason that discussions of nuclear power and weapons consistently return, both in LD and other formats of debate – it results in good debates, and this topic is no different.

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Resolved: The United States ought to act as the employer of last resort.

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Jacob Nails (A): Employer of Last Resort is very reminiscent of Living Wage (Jan-Feb ’15) and UBI (Mar-Apr ’18), two strong topics that were well-liked by students. Resolutions centering on ameliorating domestic poverty tend to offer a solid mix of statistical and moral arguments, and I expect Employer of Last Resort will be no different. The topic has a wealth of literature (though one will have better luck finding it by searching the term ‘job guarantee’ than the topic’s choice of ‘employer of last resort’) and seems simple enough for novices to grasp. In my ideal list of topics, I put this one in for Mar-Apr, but I think it could fit well in any topic slot.

 

Marshall Thompson (A+):  This is my favorite topic on the list. I really liked the living wage and UBI topics and think that this one has a similar literature base. However, it has the awesome addition of focusing more on the nature of work which I find a particularly interesting question. There are interesting economics questions, interesting philosophical questions, there are plausible topical plans (where the US adopts various specific employer of last resort policies) which don’t violate Nebel T, etc.

 

Kathy Wang (A-): I’m actually quite a fan of this topic – there’s a surprisingly substantial amount of literature in both directions, and it seems like the core of the topic is a very obvious econ debate attempting to solve issues of unemployment. Stock debates will definitely be clear-cut and plentiful on this resolution. The only thing stopping this resolution from getting a great A rating for me is that there isn’t a ton of room for flexibility on the topic in terms of making super creative affs and such without having to bend the topic too much – I presume it’ll be possible to do plans through things like the Green New Deal, but it seems like on a cursory glance affs besides that will be hard to find literature for which might cause stale debates. A lot of I think I’d personally prefer it if the resolution was worded in a way that encompassed more countries than just the United States – there seems to be a lot of interesting literature on what an ELR would mean to developing countries, for instance, that is excluded with this particular wording. I think it’d be a good topic in any slot, but the existence of such a fundamental center of controversy on this topic and the similarity to things like living wage makes it pretty well suited for things like state tournaments in March and April. It can be easily articulated to parent judges after the term of art is defined for more traditional state tournaments or qualifiers, and there’s still a decent amount of things like counterplan ground for more progressive state tournaments like TFA. Overall, this is a pretty solid topic that’ll produce pretty clash-heavy debates, and I wouldn’t complain if it’s chosen.

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Resolved: Japan ought to amend Article 9 of its constitution to allow for offensive military capabilities.

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Jacob Nails (A+):  Article 9 is an excellent topic and receives my top ranking. This topic was already my tentative favorite upon initial release of the topic list, but I had some reservations due to my own unfamiliarity with the topic literature. Victory Briefs used this as their camp topic for the Loyola Marymount session this summer, and now having experienced three weeks of research and debates on the topic I can confirm that the topic is as good as it seemed, if not better. Lincoln-Douglas often has global topics, but with vague wordings like “A just nation ought…” or “States ought…” leading debaters to interpolate a United States perspective into the topic anyway. I much appreciate the motivation behind asking debaters to take a break from United States politics for two months and consider the controversies of foreign countries. And as for controversies in foreign countries, there are few larger than amendment of Article 9. What might sound at first glance like legal minutia is actually the single most timely, significant, and hotly contested issue in Japanese politics. Debaters will find no shortage of literature on the matter (yes, tons of it is in English), from a plethora of angles. International relations scholars discuss the geopolitical ramifications of deterring vs potentially provoking neighbors like China and North Korea. Constitutional scholars discuss the ramifications for rule of law. Political philosophy will cover the tension between a nation’s duty to provide for its own self-defense and the virtues of pacifism. I would prefer this topic for Jan-Feb as that tends to be the most-debated topic slot for most students. It could also fit in Sep-Oct or Nov-Dec.

 

Marshall Thompson (B-): I have now worked on this topic for three weeks at VBI. I think it’s a really interesting topic and has a lot of potential for high level debate. However, it is a DIFFICULT topic. I personally found it difficult, especially at first, to find core aff or neg literature. I also think that the way national circuit debate currently goes, this topic will not be debated well. Rather than debaters actually researching principles of constitutional design and the fundamental rights of states, instead debaters will attempt to engage in dubious scenario planning trying to predict how China and North Korea will respond to Japanese amendment. These debates strike me as rather silly and not particularly interesting. If this topic were debated correctly, I think it would be an amazing topic. But I have so little confidence in how the topic will be debated that I would probably rather it not get chosen.

If this topic is chosen, I think I would want it to be chosen for Jan/Feb because it could actually turn into a really good topic by TOC.

 

Kathy Wang (A): I loved this topic while we worked on it at VBI this summer. There’s plentiful ground on both sides and it makes for fantastic debates – there’s discussions ranging from things like North Korean threats to constitutional legitimacy which have made for incredibly educational debates all around. There’s a little bit of something for everyone – the settler colonialism literature is awesome, the philosophical debates about offensive militaries are great, the policy scenarios are interesting, and there’s still a core LD-style debate for the traditional circuits. I also think there’s something incredibly understated about having an international actor that isn’t just “states.” Seeing debates through the perspective of Japan was super enriching at camp, especially because it forced a lot of thinking outside the box and debates outside of what we usually do. That change in pace and perspective made those debates really fresh – plus, I think that mitigates possible TOC burnout since there’s a lot of creative interpretations of how Article 9 can be amended, and what sorts of offensive military capabilities are possible. It’s a super cool and interesting topic for an extended amount of time like for the Jan/Feb topic.

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Resolved: The United States ought to grant legal personhood to natural ecosystems.

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Jacob Nails ( B+): Legal personhood for natural ecosystems sounds like a wonky concept, but there is some literature behind it. Attempts by local governments in India to treat the Ganges River as a legal person have sparked national controversy, for instance. The topic is slightly on the fringe side, but it’s certainly a better version of an environmental topic than the fossil fuel subsidies option.

 

Marshall Thompson (B+): Personhood topics are really interesting from a philosophical standpoint. Unfortunately, the topic is about the personhood of ecosystems rather than the personhood of certain non-human animals. Now, it may just be that I am less familiar with the literature, but my understanding is that the arguments for why certain animals (like dolphins or apes) are persons are quite philosophical. While most arguments for why we should grant personhood to things like rivers are more pragmatic. After all, its fairly clear that a river is NOT a person in the sense of ‘personhood’ that philosophers are normally interested in.

That said, questions about legal status are always interesting and tend to make for good debates. This topic is my second choice for November/December if predictive policing is not chosen.

 

Kathy Wang (A-): This topic is quite good! In general, I tend to like legal and domestic topics, so that’s definitely swaying my decision a bit here. I also have been quite a sucker for legal Nov/Dec topics – I think every year I debated, that slot was some kind of legal, rights-based, or criminal justice topic – which makes me inclined to think that this topic is quite good for that as well. There’s a lot of interesting controversy empirically, and the specific note of why ecosystems may get personhood or who prioritizes that leads to a lot of interesting K debate. I think this topic is quite similar to the proposed animal rights topic a few years back – both are in the general vein of giving legal standing to non-human entities, which always seems like an interesting debate to me. I wish the scope was a little larger than “ecosystems,” and that the term “ecosystems” was more accurate to the literature since a decent amount is about “environmental personhood,” but to be fair, there doesn’t seem to be a super established lexicon just yet. Either way, there’s a lot of interesting philosophical and critical literature which seems to promise creative debates, and that makes this topic quite nice.

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Resolved: Predictive policing is unjust.

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Jacob Nails (A-): Criminal justice topics have historically made for some of the best Lincoln-Douglas debate topics, and with Predictive Policing being the only criminal justice topic on the list for the upcoming year, it would be hard not to give it an endorsement. At only four words, the phrasing of the topic is elegantly simple. No other topic has been nearly so short since NSDA (then NFL) nationals ‘09 (“Resolved: Military conscription is unjust”). Of all the topics on the list, predictive policing is the literature base I have the least familiarity with, so I could see it over- or underperforming expectations, but the classic trade-off between criminal justice system efficiency and potential for civil rights violations tends to provide a reliable basis for debate. Based on the concise wording and simple topic area, I think this topic is well-suited for NSDA nationals but could also fit in the Nov-Dec or Mar-Apr topic slots.

 

Marshall Thompson (A-): I really like this topic for two reasons. First, I think it has a fairly interesting and balanced literature base. There is good ‘stats’ debate, there are interesting philosophical puzzles surrounding knowledge, fairness and criminal justice, there is interesting literature on human cognitive biases etc.. Second, it is one of those topics where philosophical theories bear on the question, but don’t clearly bear on the question one way or the other. For instance, it is not a topic on which utilitarianism obviously affirms and deontology obviously negates. Instead, it’s the sort of topic where debaters will need to spend most of their time thinking about the contentions if they want to have effective philosophy debates. Those are always my favorite topics, because it really forces debaters to try and understand ethical and political theories, rather than just getting good at a couple of arguments.

I especially like this topic for Nov/Dec because I just really like criminal justice topics during November/December. Partly its nostalgia, but also I think they tend to make really nice second topics of the year. The academic articles on the topic tend to be fairly easy to find, so it’s a nice topic for debaters who are really starting to research and write cases on their own for the first time (after they had a lot of support for their first ever topic). It also tends to transition nicely from the ‘modest novice’ topic, allowing debaters some continuity though with a lot of added nuance.

 

Kathy Wang (B-):  Some of my reservations from the sex work topic apply on this topic – there are definitely discussions of policing (and especially the term “predictive policing” before one gets used to it as a term of art) that may be pretty difficult and personal to hear, which does cloud how I view this particular topic. I think the relative clarity of “predictive policing” as a term of art mitigates (but doesn’t eliminate) a solid number of these concerns, and means that this topic ends up being quite interesting as a possibility. The actual debate in of itself has a good amount of literature and seems to be more of a question of how far a criminal justice system can go towards efficacy without compromising basic morality and justice. There are two main concerns I have: first, the empirical literature seems to make the debate very difficult for the neg – a lot of literal instantiations of predictive policing have generally failed, which makes the neg quite difficult outside of typical pragmatist arguments. Second, the lack of an actor in the resolution makes it difficult to properly pin it down to a particular debate and incentivizes debaters to talk around each other without a solid actor and action. Otherwise, the debate is cool to think about and interesting – I just worry about how it’ll play out in a fair and educational way in round.

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Resolved: The United States ought to legalize adult sex work.

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Jacob Nails (A): I am pessimistic about the likelihood of sex work winning the vote given that it’s a touchy subject, but the community will be missing out on a high-quality topic if so. The academic literature on sex work is deep and varied, including a wealth of studies on both sides. This topic would be an excellent one for learning to understand and compare statistics. It also invites questions of political philosophy regarding the legitimate role of government regulation and moral questions about what constitutes autonomy versus exploitation. I would be happy with this topic in any topic slot.

 

Marshall Thompson (B+):  There is some very interesting philosophical literature on these questions. I do worry somewhat about how broad the resolution is (does it cover strip clubs, pornography, and prostitution?) and so probably would have preferred if they had been specific (e.g. The US ought to legalize prostitution). However, it is overall a really interesting topic. There are interesting legalization/decriminalization debates (especially how each policy respectively implicates human trafficking rates), but also interesting philosophical questions surrounding what sort of things should be up for sale in the first place. After all we, rightly, do not allow people to sell their organs but do allow them to sell their physical labor. But this raises interesting questions about the senses in which one’s body is and is not for sale.

There are two areas of philosophical literature that I think it would be especially valuable for students to learn about. First is the the broader philosophical literature on coercion and consent (e.g. the literature that is not just about sexual consent). Second, is the literature on the nature and significance of sex (for instance, we all know that rape is a very significant type of moral wrong, but it is not obvious what the correct explanation of that wrongness is). If this were to be chosen, I think it would make a solid Jan/Feb topic, or a decent Nov/Dec topic (it’s a topic where I actually think a long time debating it will help, and it won’t grow particularly stale).

 

Kathy Wang (C): I think this topic has a lot of potential. The debate itself is quite deep, with a lot of nuanced and mature conversations, and the literature on it is definitely plentiful. I think this topic will produce a lot of meaningful discussion if handled correctly, but that’s the issue with the topic for me – there’s too much of a chance that it will be handled incorrectly. Had this topic been explicitly about either legalization or decriminalization (e.g. in a wording that contains “is more just than” or “ought to be valued over” or other similar phrases), I might have been more in favor of it, and the fact that this topic preserves decriminalization as neg ground bodes well. Debate has a great power to help students see both sides of an issue; conversely, it also has the power to create devil’s advocates out of students on issues that they shouldn’t always be devil’s advocates on. It seems to me that though this is a discussion with a lot of transformative potential. But at the same time, given the proximity to consent-based arguments, students who aren’t as informed on the topic prior to debates may possibly make arguments that end up being harmful to other debaters. If debaters can treat this topic with respect, it will perform fantastically – but if they look at it as just another argument to beat, some rounds may be hard to endure.

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Resolved: A just nation ought not use offensive cyber operations to target civilian infrastructure.

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Jacob Nails (B-): This topic seems about average for a foreign policy topic, but it’s hurt by existing on the same topic slate as two much higher quality foreign policy topics (nuclear disarmament and Japan’s Article 9). The topic does have some literature behind it, and the debate over how strictly one can adhere to individual rights in wartime is a meaningful one, but this resolution nevertheless does not stand out to me. Both “offensive cyber operations” and “civilian infrastructure” are somewhat vague. Most topic literature specifies “critical infrastructure,” a term which would have been helpful to include. It’s also not clear whether the nation in question is at war. It’s not really that bad, but I can’t recommend it highly in a year where two other superior foreign policy topics seem likely to be chosen.

 

Marshall Thompson (C-):  This feels like two different topics smushed into one. First there is the question about offensive cyber operations (a somewhat interesting question). Second there is the question about if it is ever ok to target civilian infrastructure (a really interesting question). But I don’t really see any distinct ethical question about the use of offensive cyber operations against infrastructure. Like is the morality of attacking a power grid with a virus really any different than attacking a power grid with a EMP? Maybe I’m just missing something or have not read enough of the literature, but I don’t understand what this topic is trying to get at.

 

Kathy Wang (B): I really want to like this topic. I really, really do! I think the topic area is incredibly interesting to me, and the literature has been really cool – things like how the just war theory might apply to cyber warfare changes the scope of normal war or military based topics and introduces a cool difference in how we debate it. Every aspect of cyber warfare literature I’ve seen, ranging through LARP, phil, and K lit, has been fascinating and a timely debate given the acceleration of technology. The only issue I have with this topic is the wording – for one, “A just nation” immediately makes debates more difficult given the level of confusion that’s usually held regarding whether or not an ideally just nation would do whatever action the resolution entails or if doing the resolution means a nation is just. It’s a little frustrating that the topic would use that wording as opposed to “states,” despite the generality. I think this topic would be a lot better flipped in the other direction – i.e. some resolution that says that an increase in offensive cyber operations is just/moral. I also think that “civilian infrastructure” is a interesting term as well – it’s not super reflective of the literature either, but it in general makes sense. The topic is quite good, wording just could have been improved to make it a front-runner pick.

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Resolved: In the United States, colleges and universities ought not consider standardized tests in undergraduate admissions decisions.

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Jacob Nails (C-): One topic I debated, appreciated, and learned a lot from in high school was the Sep-Oct ’09 topic on exams (“Resolved: Public High school students in the United States ought not be required to pass standardized exit exams to graduate”). I would wholeheartedly support a second iteration of that topic. Unfortunately, I can’t give the present exams topic the same ringing endorsement. While the topic area is informative, controversial, and highly relevant to students, I do not believe the topic committee has given adequate consideration to the balance of ground in their choice of wording. The 2009 version did not require that the affirmative negate the value of standardized exams entirely, merely take the more modest position that they not be a graduation requirement, and I do not recall that topic being noticeably biased toward the affirmative. The new instantiation imposes the much more radical burden on the affirmative of denying that standardized exams even be considered to begin with, against which I am sure most negative debaters will be happy to seize the middle ground. To compound matters, it shifts the debate from high school exit exams (where the arguments for not imposing highly stringent requirements on simply completing high school are strong) to the matter of college entrance requirements (which are inherently more selective than graduation and less subject to the same criticisms). I worry far too much about the topic’s debatability to rank it highly.

 

Marshall Thompson (B-): I really like education topics. However, I don’t love this topic because I think it will be REALLY tough on the affirmative. Its plausible that colleges and universities should weight standardized tests less than they currently do. But the idea that they should not consider them at all. I’m honestly not sure how I would go about arguing for that.
If this topic were to be chosen, I would hope it is chosen for March/April. I think it’s a fine topic for a tournament or two, but will grow stale if it kept being debated after that point.

 

Kathy Wang (B-): This topic’s been getting a decent amount of flack, but I genuinely don’t think it’s that bad. I’m on the fence about it as a typical, two-month topic, but I think it could be really compelling and successful as a Nats topic. It has pretty much everything that NSDA nationals looks for – relevance to debaters, traditional ground, and nothing too outlandish. I don’t like it for any more than that because it seems like the aff has too much of a hard time getting by, especially on counterplans that amend testing and such, but in a very traditional environment like Nationals, topics like this are great places to be able to grandstand on impacts and show ethos. I think a traditional environment also solves a lot of the issues with the topic – the aff can still access impacts about how success in standardized testing is inaccessible and arbitrary, but there’s not as much of a possibility for the neg to coopt those arguments, which better sets up a direct clash for the debate that was intended. All in all, it’s an interesting topic that I think has a lot of poignancy with those who are debating it. As a Nats topic, I think it’d be pretty successful – the jury’s out on whether that’d be the case elsewhere.

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Resolved: The intergenerational accumulation of wealth is antithetical to democracy.

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Jacob Nails (D): This topic has so much wasted potential. Intergenerational accumulation of wealth sounds like an intriguing topic area, but given the vague and strange choice of wording, I foresee this topic leading more so to boring interpretational debates or both sides merely talking past each other. For starters, two very different sets of arguments apply to the question of what individuals ought to do about wealth accumulation versus what governments ought to do about it, and it’s not clear which of these questions the topic is asking (or both, or neither). Without any clear agent, both sides will be left comparing whether wealth is good or bad in the most vague, abstract sense. I do not foresee this vagueness being conducive to productive values debates; it’s hard to apply political philosophy, for instance, when one can’t be sure whether one is talking about government action at all. The most similar topic that this topic calls to mind is the NSDA nationals 2012 topic, which had a more clearly specified agent of action and was not hampered by it (“Resolved: A government has the obligation to lessen the economic gap between its rich and poor citizens”). The most bizarre section of this resolution, though, is the predicate: “is antithetical to democracy.” Some topic areas seem crucially related to democracy (e.g. the excellent Sep-Oct ’13 topic on compulsory voting), and those topics naturally produce debates on democratic principles, whether the topic wording mandates it or not. But for topics like wealth accumulation, which intersect not just democracy but a litany of other issues, artificially constraining the topic to the question of its impact on democracy seems unhelpful and counterproductive. Why talk about wealth while excluding most of the relevant topic arguments? And how should “antithetical” be interpreted here? It simultaneously sounds like a nebulous threshold for the affirmative to meet and a high one.

 

Marshall Thompson (B): I’m conflicted about this one because it’s a great topic area but is horribly worded. The problem is that the resolution is not normative. It does not talk about if democracies should allow the accumulation of wealth, but if the accumulation of wealth is itself democratic. The problem, however, is its not totally clear to me how to get debaters to argue about what the nature of democracy really is. Does all framework debate just become T debates about the meaning of the word democracy? Consider, for example, Aristotle’s question of if democratic action is action that a democracy likes, or action that will preserve a democracy. A moment’s thought should make clear that those two can come apart (and indeed likely do come apart on this resolution). But then the debate is not about anything substantive, but just about how we should define democracy. I really worry that most debates on this topic will come down to merely verbal disputes about what we mean by the word democracy.

I think this topic will be best if it is chosen for nationals. My reason for thinking so, is I think at nationals we are more likely to have actual philosophical debates about the nature of democracy, and fewer merely definitional debates about what the word democracy means.

 

Kathy Wang (D): I’m personally not into this topic at all. I think there’s a lot of vagueness in the wording that’ll underlimit it and make a core debate really difficult to find. First, I’m uncertain as to what “intergenerational accumulation of wealth” even means – it seems like a lot of the literature puts it in the context of transfers of wealth, which the topic wording excludes. That seems to imply that it’s only about the accumulation of wealth in general, as opposed to things like wealth within families or other groups that share wealth. This already overexpands the aff – they can then spec any particular subset of people, which means that this topic can be anything from inflation to income inequality. This, intuitively, seems like a really weird set of arguments for the negative to have to cover. But even absent that, the phrase “antithetical to democracy” is incredibly confusing – is this even a moral question or debate anymore? The term “antithetical” seems to imply some kind of definitions debate, so I guess it’d be important to discuss what exactly democracy is and if the intergenerational accumulation of wealth is antithetical to that. Either way, democracy seems like a strange option to weigh the goodness or badness of the core issue in the resolution – it doesn’t seem like how being antithetical to democracy is the immediate thought over why accumulation of wealth may be bad, which seems to indicate that debaters might really have to reach in order to access the impacts they need to in order to properly affirm or negate the resolution. Also, what does the neg even mean? The intergenerational accumulation of wealth is a part of democracy? This topic is an interesting area, but I think it had to be taken in the direction of how we ought to approach or handle things such as intergenerational accumulation of wealth as opposed to what its stance is in terms of democracy.

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Resolved: The United States ought to eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels.

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Jacob Nails (C): Environmental topics are often strong candidates, but this topic is not one of them. The topic sounds intuitively obvious from most angles, so it’s difficult to imagine how it will facilitate clash on a core controversy. Even the advocates of small government who would normally oppose environmental regulations would have no objection to cutting wasteful government spending. The topic committee appears to have attempted to balance this sizable affirmative advantage by giving the affirmative the very categorical-sounding burden of defending “elimination” of fossil fuel subsidies altogether, but this wording will only even the playing field if negatives take advantage of it to pick out minuscule counter-examples that are exceptions to the affirmative’s general rule, which strike me as equally unappealing debates.

 

Marshall Thompson (D): Isn’t the answer just yes? The aff says get rid of them for either global warming or economic reasons. The negative reads an advantage counter plan and then a politics DA. Is there any other debate to be had? I’m also annoyed because eliminating subsidies for fossil fuels won’t be enough as a strategy to address global warming, so what really are the aff impacts anyway?

 

Kathy Wang (C): Finding the clash on this topic is pretty difficult for me. Normally, I’m super interested in topics involving the environment (Jan/Feb 2014 immediately comes to mind, but it was much better in specifying “developing countries” which boosted the topic to being debatable). However, successful iterations of those topics require a larger breadth or depth of ground than this topic seems to provide. A preliminary look at the literature seems to imply that this topic will end up consisting of multiple ships just passing in the night. Specifically, the number of ships is equal to the number of ways we can write the “decrease subsidies” CP. The general direction of the topic is pretty great, but I’d be much, much happier had the topic been something like a carbon tax or anything else that at least guarantees good neg arguments that don’t just lose to any aff that’s set up against econ-focused impacts. Through my preliminary research, I still haven’t found any evidence not from an obviously biased source that unequivocally says that subsidies are good independently – seems like a vast majority of the literature so far agrees that subsidies are bad, which implies that there’ll be a heavy aff bias when it actually gets debated. The concept of the topic seems very good to me, and the intended debate area is interesting – it’s more of a question of what the aff particularly does that makes a dent in climate change as a whole, and what the neg could do that maintains subsidies and actually clashes with the aff.

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Ideal Slates

Jacob Nails

September/October: States ought to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

November/December: The United States ought to legalize adult sex work.

January/February: Japan ought to amend Article 9 of its constitution to allow for offensive military capabilities.

March/April: Resolved: The United States ought to act as the employer of last resort.

Nationals: Predictive policing is unjust.

 

Marshall Thompson

September/October: States ought to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

November/December: Predictive policing is unjust.

January/February: The United States ought to act as the employer of last resort.

March/April: The United States ought to grant legal personhood to natural ecosystems.

Nationals: The intergenerational accumulation of wealth is antithetical to democracy.

 

Kathy Wang

September/October: States ought to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

November/December: The United States ought to grant legal personhood to natural ecosystems.

January/February: Japan ought to amend Article 9 of its constitution to allow for offensive military capabilities.

March/April: The United States ought to act as the employer of last resort.

Nationals: In the United States, colleges and universities ought not consider standardized tests in undergraduate admissions decisions.