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NCFCA Policy Resolutions: Part One

posted May 27, 2012, 11:31 AM by Anthony Severin   [ updated May 27, 2012, 11:43 AM ]

This year's set of resolution options are easily the best set I've seen since I started debate. None of them seem to be resolutions that would totally destroy debate (which is, unfortunately, a novelty). In fact, at least two of the policy resolutions appear to have very good potential. We'll start at the bottom with option C. 

C. China Trade Policy. I know I said that there wasn't a resolution among the choices that would break policy debate, but this one could be pretty close. I was initially ecstatic to see this among the choices; I submitted this four years ago and again two years ago. However, during my senior year, I took an AP macroeconomics course that made me realize (A) how little I knew about international trade policy and (B) how monetary policy plays a significantly bigger role in international economics than I expected.

Pro: Education about economics. Most non-AP highschool economics courses are essentially purely ideological with little regard for the actual science of economics. To be clear, that's not necessarily bad-- it sets up an excellent foundation for learning economics as a science-- and it is possible that this resolution would give debaters the incentive to actually learn economics itself and go beyond soundbites from Cato and Heritage (though the opposite is also a major potential pitfall).

Con: Advanced subject. International economics and trade policy is difficult at best; the intricacies of this resolution would most likely be beyond the understanding of most younger debaters. I say this not because I look down on younger debaters, but because I've been in the place of debating trade policy before I understood economics. You need at least a three month AP economics course to understand the topics underlying this resolution. Many debaters will be unable to dedicate that amount of time, thus making it inaccessible to them. Many rounds, therefore have a strong possibly of degenerating into quotation debates, where no one really gains anything.

Con: Tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny. I originally submitted the resolution with a mind to the problems at stake; we have a $200 billion trade deficit, manufacturing jobs being offshored, and intellectual property being ignored. Surely there would be some significant policy changes we could make? In fact, there's not. Tariffs can be changed, though the change would have to be significant (as per the word “significant” in the resolution) to the point that it might be disadvantageous to make the change in the first place. Our current tariffs are at the levels they are for a reason; significantly increasing or decreasing them risks major market upheaval. Import regulations are far too detailed for NCFCA debaters to address at any meaningful level. Finally, the only forum to address IP issues is the WTO; over which the affirmative would have no fiat. 

All of that said, I have no doubt there would be a lot of potential cases: I've heard regulations on the transfer of sensitive technology mentioned, cases regarding Taiwan, specific trade disputes, etc. But, all of these cases will not address the issues that people think of whenever “China trade policy” is mentioned. These are cases that would be legitimate policy changes. But, no one should be under any illusion that these would be addressing the trade deficit, sovereign debt, or offshoring issues. Thus, most people would likely not see these cases as significant.

Con: Bias. Debaters everywhere, every year during topic selection, argue that topics will engender judge bias which will cripple debate. And every year, we seem to survive nonetheless, even with "unpopular cases." Despite the usually over-hyped nature of this issue, I do think that this will be an issue. That said, this isn't so much a "con" as this is a "would you be okay with this?" Bias affects everyone at some point; would you be okay arguing against a case that clearly panders to a conservative judging audience? Are you prepared to lose that round because the judge believes China is a modern day Nazi Germany? If this resolution is chosen, you need to be prepared for that because it's probably going to happen at some point.

Con: Not the issue. This is the biggest problem with the resolution. The root cause of most of our trade problems with China lie not in “trade policy” but in our “monetary policy.” The real issues: currency manipulation, the U.S. dollar being too strong, etc. are monetary policy-- not trade policy. Any attempt at solving the problem with trade policy could be disastrous; counteracting billions of dollars of natural market forces is difficult at best and destructive at worst. Real solutions lie within the realm of monetary policy-- not trade policy.

I encourage ya'll to look at this resolution with an eye not just to “is there a problem?” and “is the topic interesting?” but to “what cases can I run?” Sometimes, you won't be able to think of potential cases because you don't know enough about the topic. But it may also be because very few significant cases exist. Furthermore, I'd ask you to be realistic about the complexity of the topic: though you may be able to comprehend the economics behind the resolution, will most debaters be able to do so? 

I don't want it to seem like this resolution will totally break debate as we know it, but I would ask you to consider the other options more seriously. Let me know if you have questions about the resolution or the topic itself at