We have a behemoth of an Ask the Panel for the Jan/Feb topic. Our panel includes Adam “the morals hutt” Bistagne, Monica “the K hutt” Amestoy, Salim “the fyo hutt” Damerdji, and surprise guest panelist John “the actual hutt” Scoggin.

Topicality

Dhruv Walia asks: What should i spec? How much is necessary?

Salim

I think the only specification that’s consistent with the accurate reading of the resolution would be which “employers” and what the living wage pay is.

Some people will still spec to the US, but that can’t be right, aside from the plural “governments” issue. The resolution is about what ideal governments are logically required to do. Otherwise, having both “just” and “ought” would be redundant. I’d conjecture that anyone unfamiliar with LD would read the resolution the same way; it’s just that we’re accustomed to reading “ought” as a “moral obligation” that causes this difference. If I’m right that the resolution is about an ideal government, then a fortiori no country in the world would be topical to defend. If it’s just an idealized form of an existing government, that very much seems to stray away from the actual words in the resolution.

Adam

I think this resolution requires more specification than Salim thinks. A living wage is not a random income level, but rather is specific to the basket of goods that the average consumer buys in a municipality.

However, I also think a given institutional design of a government determines the economic effect of the living wage. Therefore, specification of what the “just government” does is probably necessary to have a solvency debate. Even though we are only describing just governments, it still seems as if a solvency debate is relevant to the question of whether the action is moral. (If anyone has questions about this point, I can justify it further in the comments.)

The question then becomes whether the aff can specify a country to define what a government does, or whether the aff can choose (via theoretical arguments) what other set of policies a just government would do. I think debaters should choose a government in the real world, preferably a developed nation or one in the G-8, rather than specifying what the just government would do.

I think this interpretation is a little controversial, so I’ll provide some justification for it.

First, even if the government is just, the world may not be just. The just governments described in the resolution do not exist in an imaginary perfect world, but rather exist within the constraints of the real world. This seems to imply that it’s preferable to discuss a real government rather than what a hypothetical “just government” would do. Given that an imperfect real world would have feedback effects from any government policy (see the politics DA or international relations DA or revolutions throughout history), then it does not make sense to have an isolated “just government” with an unchanging basket of policies.

Second, even if a government is just, that does not seem to necessarily imply what policies the government is following. This follows from the fact that there are borderline cases about whether certain actions are moral or immoral, such as whether the tax rate on middle-income individuals should be 16% or 17%. Unless you’re being unreasonable, you probably think there is no sufficient reason to believe that either of these tax rates are preferable. While obviously this argument doesn’t generalize to much larger differences in the tax rate, such as comparing a 16% tax to a 95% tax, I think the argument does generalize to describing a government as “just” even though there may be specific policies that the government engages in that are unjust. This would allow a specific country to be consistent with what a just government would do, meaning that a real world country would be textually consistent with the resolution.

Third, Since a “just government’s” policies differ based on which moral theory you choose and based on which person you ask, I’m not sure it makes sense to define “just government” as the truest definition, just as it doesn’t make sense to define ought as the truest moral theory. It makes more sense to use a general definition of “just governments” that would account for variations in policy choices. This concept seems to imply that the aff defending a particular actor is not only acceptable, but preferable to defending a unspecified actor that would prevent any educational discussion of solvency.

Monica

This honestly depends on what kind of aff you are reading. If you are advocating for the implementation of a living wage I think its best to specify the actor and what “living wage” looks like. Obviously spec is up for a lot of debate so debaters should be prepared with lots of different interpretations of what the affirmative should or should not have to spec.

John

Personally I think specifying a specific policy in a specific country with clear implementation is all that I think is really necessary. Country specification on this topic seems particularly important because of the heavily empiric based questions inherent to the resolution. I’m sure someone will think of something that you should spec that you could never think of, that’s the debate community we are a part of. People are going to demand that you do all sorts of things, that is how debate is now, you should probably just prep spec theory.

Dhruv asks again: Is there any notable difference between a minimum wage and living wage?

Salim

It seems like a living wage is just a minimum wage that enables employees to lead a decent life.

Adam

Agree with Salim. Usually proponents who say they want a “living wage” just think that the people who only want a small increase in the minimum wage (e.g. Obama’s plan to increase to $10.00) are not asking for enough. A living wage is just a specific level of a minimum wage.

Monica

Yup thats a debate to be had. If you’re a fascist and wanna tell people that they can’t determine what the resolution means based off of their own lived experiences and wanna read topicality then I think there is a lot of room for the negative to read different definitions of living wage. I think a lot of the “topic literature” would side with Salim.

LARP

Arjun asks: What do you think is potential “plan” ground on this topic?

Monica

I think that depends on your framework and what advantages you want to go for. There are a ton of policy proposals about specific ways in which both the individual states and the federal government can implement a living wage policy. My advice would be to decide on what kind of plan you want to read and then just read through the topic literature until you find a plan you like. Thats how debaters find the best plans, trying to think of a plan and then searching for it just results in a plans a good as a high schooler can think of when then new topic comes out.

John

The plan ground on this topic is pretty straightforward. There are a number of proposed laws in the United States, such as the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013, as well as support for a $15 minimum wage. There are several other predictable policy proposals in the United States that should carve out a large portion of the plans read on this topic. Motivations for running a plan run are not always to discuss reasonable, predictable policy changes so expect debaters to get creative by venturing outside of the United States as well as having less expected definitions of a living wage that venture outside of the mainstream.

Salim

I think it makes sense to narrow down employers to just large corporations like the fast food industry. There’s a lot of lit specific to either the fast food industry or retail and that would help have more specific evi.

Adam

Defend a specific country; use solvency evidence from that country. I don’t think any narrowing or specification of which corporations the living wage applies to would be a good idea, as that just opens up the neg to read arguments about how that specification distorts market functioning on top of the normal solvency turns.

Therealdeal asks: Is there a way to generate good Util offense that isn’t based on living wage increasing econ?

John

Absolutely. I actually think with the potency of CPs for the negative on this topic any util aff worth its salt will have advantages other than econ. Having an econ debate about whether living wage is superior to a basic income law or an adjustment to EITC seems a bit daunting. Back to the question, the most obvious advantage areas are probably politics and relations advantages.

Salim

I’m going to take a guess and say there’s soft power lit that affirms. Also, it might be worth noting the difference between econ impacts and poverty impacts. Even if GDP goes up or companies do better, it adds practically no utils for the vast majority of the population. I think a rule-util aff could go hard for solving poverty and bank hard on probability first meta-weighing.

Conor asks: What do you think about a government subsidies CP? i.e. the government has an obligation to help these people directly through subsidies/welfare/food stamps as opposed to requiring the employer to take the hit

Adam

I think this type of CP is a :30 second neg position that you should read every round to increase your chances of winning. There is no strong neg disadvantage that easily outweighs the aff, so it’s key for the neg to present some kind of advantage counterplan that solves most of the aff advantages.

Monica

I think thats a cool idea. I would make sure you have some sort of DA to make it competitive.

Salim

I think this is a great idea. It’ll probably a very popular neg position. Most aff cases rely on solving for poverty, so an NC that has several link-turns and a welfare CP would be a great straight ref strat. Unless the AC has some tricks in it, that’s a very difficult 1AR for debaters who haven’t extensively frontlined the solvency debate.

Framework

Arjun and Varun Paranjpe ask: What frameworks do you think will be most strategic?

Salim

It depends ultimately. If you don’t think you’ll be well-enough prepared for the topic, you could read a more philosophical framework like Scanlon, Kant, or Virtue Ethics and try to exclude common link-turns about poverty. But I also like the rule-util aff though because I think there’s great empirics and frontlines explaining how the living wage doesn’t cost jobs. And even if a few jobs are lost, the poverty solved is almost definitely worth it.

Monica

Agreed with Salim. I think there’s sooooo much aff sided util/ policy topic literature that its very advantageous to read. But there is also a lot of room on this topic for some postcolonism frameworks.

Adam

I think the best frameworks will either be very “deontological” in that they only require a violation or proof of a certain condition, or those that allow debater to rush to the topic (e.g. short util framework), thus front-loading negs on the solvency and comparison debate that I expect many rounds to devolve to.

John

The most obvious framework that suits the aff will be a Rawlsian framework. Only 3% of workers over the age of 25 make minimum wage, so the focus on those individuals certainly seems to be a question of how we treat the least well off. Economists are extremely interested in minimum wage policy and as a consequence they compose a large portion of the topic literature. The most natural framework for economic arguments is utilitarianism, and some form of consequentialist framework is generally assumed in policy recommendations made by economists. I remember taking a class called “Law and Economics” in College. The professor talked about the emerging field and prominent members of the field such as RA Posner for about 30 minutes before pausing as if he had forgotten something. He collected his thoughts and said, “Obviously this class will deal with the morality of certain policies. For this class we will roughly follow the tenets of utilitarianism.” That was the last discussion of philosophy that occurred in the class. In terms of negative framework you will see many restrictive deontological frameworks as well as political philosophy that supports libertarianism.

Anonymous asks: panel, how the **** do i affirm without util and beat CPs at the same time?

Adam

I think this question is really asking, “do I have to win the solvency debate to win the AC?” and I think the answer is mostly yes. There may be some more fringe ethical theories, such as the “polls” framework, that don’t require solvency debates, but this trades off with having a less defensible ethical framework. I think a Kantian AC that just uses the framework to defend the existence of imperfect duties but then jumps into the solvency debate would be a good strategy. These types of AC’s would still allow a debater to beat CP’s, as the CP may not be consistent with the imperfect duty.

Salim

lol anon. You should just do the prep. Given the topic lit, beating back link-turns to poverty shouldn’t be that hard. Even the studies that lean towards the right only justify a minuscule percentage of jobs lost. I read one recently that was something like one thousandth of a percent reduction.

If you’re worried certain LARP schools will be better prepped than you, just remember this: you can do it too. It solves all abuse.

This gets even easier if the AC gives itself support from theory and T interpretations. At early tournaments like CPS, there might be benefits to education and predictability for the aff to limit the scope of possible counter-plans the neg can read. Maybe a counter-solvency advocate is actually reasonable here.

Additionally, you can give yourself an easier task by only defending a ten dollar minimum wage instead of a fifteen dollar wage. That sharply reduces neg disads since there’s so much support for a ten dollar, federal minimum wage.

Kritiks

What kritikal and counter-advocacy ground does this topic lend to the negative?

Monica

a little cap, a little the gift, def some biopower. A race neg would be awesome because a lot of white liberalism thinks it can solve for the issues of capitalism and race by ignoring the underlying root causes.

Adam

Not much. I’ll let my co-panelists answer this question. I personally think this topic is focused on the economics of the minimum wage, and the neg should debate it as such.

Salim

I imagine there will be an Ableism K about aff debaters ignoring the problem of subminimum wages; it’s really awful stuff and a link of omission actually seems harmful. There’s also the obvious Cap K.

John

Given recent trends in the debate community I would certainly expect to hear about racism both related to wage floors, the economy in general, and the debate community. It seems prudent to anticipate these types of positions being run on pretty much any topic. There are certainly are both affirmative and negative positions that deal with this topic. An increase in minimum wage could help certain members of the black community, but at the same time the existence of employment discrimination might make a benefit program more desirable. The cap K is certainly going to make a strong appearance on the negative as well. The affirmative of the topic seems pretty clearly to be an example of working inside the capitalist system to achieve socialist ideals, which is certainly criticized by a number of Marxist authors.

Cameron asks: What do you think the best aff strategy will be to deal with cap Ks?

Adam

I think specific impact turns that justify why capitalism + living wage is a really good economic system will be one of the primary ways of beating this K. I also think that because the cap K can’t really turn your poverty advantage (your evidence that living wage solves should be better than evidence that living wage policies cause an increase in capitalism that therefore increase poverty), leveraging the AC against the K is a good option

Monica

Please don’t run what Adam said in front of me. Every cap K is different so its impossible to give you a single response. Obviously when responding to kritiks you can either go further left or stay right and I think you should probably make that decision based off of your abilities, your opponent and the judge. However, I personally, would want to go further left because most critical theory is neo-marxist in some way or another so there is a lot of critical ground for the affirmative to make nuanced permutations and generate offense on their alternative.  I also think there are ways to interpret the topic so that affirmatives can very easily be kritiks of capitalism. Theres all kinds of Marxist literature that says a living wage is awesome, thats the stuff Marxist were being called too radical for in the 90s. Theres even some old literature from Marx himself in which he explains in his belief in the potential for capitalism to be cool. He explains that there is a future in which we could be so efficient that we wouldn’t even need labor. For example right now we have the ability to clothes and feed everyone in the world but because of the “bourgeoisie’s” (other neo marxist authors might call this whiteness, patriarchy, colonialism etc.) prioritization of resources we live in a world in which capitalism is used to oppress the “proletariat.” Thats just a very basic intro to Marx so if you are into kritiking capitalism I would recommend a more nuanced or ideological approach to kritiking capitalism.  One interesting thing to note is the link would probably be some theoretical reason why the aff is capitalist rather than focusing on lived experiences, and that type of theoretical construction excludes the possibility for us to deconstruct and re-interpret the resolution in non colonialist way.

Salim

I like a pragmatism perm. Intellectuals like Chomsky would argue we need to empower unions so they can build the path towards a world without capitalism. Living wages would help empower a shift away from centers of capital and towards the workers.

John

If you have reason to believe that you will be debating a cap K there are a wide variety of tools you can employ in your affirmative to preempt that strategy. First, stake a claim on the role of the ballot. Generally a defense of post-fiat policymaking paradigm will benefit the aff tremendously. Secondly, take a stance on what are and are not legitimate negative strategies. There are strong theoretical warrants for the aff defending a policy being passed that raises the minimum wage and the negative defending the status quo. Start the ‘neg links too’ debate in the 1AC. Third, be creative. Even a communist government has employers and employees in certain circumstances. There is no reason that the affirmative is forced to defend a capitalist system. While wage labor is typically a hallmark of a capitalist system one could imagine a system of equal wages and some degree of choice on what products to spend that wage on. At the very least one can image a capitalist-socialist system that is very far removed from the vision of capitalism critiqued by Marxist and neo-marxist authors. It is going to be very difficult to avoid a link to an Anarchist-Communist or Anarchist-Primitivist position, but you can’t win ‘em all.

Miscellaneous

Amanda asks: What do you think people will use as a-priori’s?

Monica

🙁

John

Answering this question makes me feel unclean. Despite my reservations I will answer this question by rationalizing to myself that ‘awareness of possible a-priori’s will help debaters ward them off.’ Yeah, that’s it. The most obvious one that springs to mind for me is some definition of living wage that makes it impossible to oppose. Something that makes it seems like you would literally die if you did not earn this wage. On the negative the standard ‘no such thing as a just government’ type of arguments will likely reign supreme.

Adam

I hope people don’t run a-priori’s. Maybe something about just governments being a contradiction in terms, but this relies on winning a truth-testing paradigm in the first place.

Salim

If you define “just” as “only,” then the resolution is false if the AC is true because employers should require themselves to have a living wage too.