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The Fifth Stock Issue

posted Jan 22, 2012, 9:28 PM by Anthony Severin
If I could say that this concept is wrong, I would. But because this is theory, the word “wrong” is simply a synonym for “bad for debate.” We don't allow the affirmative to read their plan in the 1AR because that would be bad for debate. We don't allow debaters to pick up dropped arguments because that would be bad for debate. Similarly, we should believe that there are four stock issues; doing otherwise harms the quality of debate.

But before we jump into the meat of the argument, it's critical to define what a stock issue is. If you participated in the online summer camps or if I have ever spoken with you about theory, you'll probably know of my position here: stock issues are categories of arguments. They are not arguments in and of themselves, rather they are categories that, over the years, debaters have created to organize arguments. This form of organization clearly defines burdens the burdens of the affirmative and simplifies the decision-making process. That said, the stock issues are not all-encompassing. (They do not include kritiks and arguably do not include counterplans.)

This. Is. Significance.


The usual stock issue paradigm includes topicality, inherency, significance and solvency. For the purpose of this argument, I'm going to assume that we all agree on these four (drop me an email at if you disagree.) Some debaters and coaches argue that there is a fifth stock issue: disadvantages, or desirability. They claim that significance is merely referring to the magnitude of the harms, and that it would be better to add a fifth stock issue to encompass disadvantages.

This appears to result from differing views of significance. Under a four-issue paradigm, significance encompasses the magnitude of all of the plans effects-- affirmative harms, advantages, justifications, reasons to prefer, negative disadvantages, etc. Under the five-issue paradigm, significance includes only the magnitude of the affirmative's harms.

One of the most common phrases regarding stock issues is “if the affirmative loses one stock issue, the negative should win.” Although I dislike the emphasis on the existence of stock issues (again, I view them more as categories rather than things that actually make the affirmative win or lose a round), it is essentially true. If the negative wins a solvency take-out, there's no reason to risk the change. If the affirmative wins all the issues except a well-impacted topicality press, they should still lose. However, with the fifth-stock issue, this concept goes away. If the affirmative wins everything but desirability/disadvantages, ironically, their plan may still be dnesirable. If the affirmative wis their harms linking to a global nuclear holocaus, and the negative wins their disadvantages leading to a loss of a trillion dollars (thus winning the fifth stock issue), a global nuclear holocaust still outweighs a trillion dollars. Even though the negative won a stock issue, the affirmative still wins.

Dividing the “traditional” stock issue of significance doesn't achieve better organization; implicitly, they're still the same category when the judge makes a decision. The negative must prove that the magnitude by which they win the fifth stock issue is greater than the magnitude by which the affirmative won significance (for simplicity, I am ignoring the existence of solvency/probability, which must be taken into account as well).

The traditional four-issue paradigm exists for a reason; it neatly lumps all of the effects of a plan into one convenient stock issue. If the judge wants to know who won that stock issue, he/she simply has to weigh the arguments presented. A fifth issue merely makes the process more complex by dividing the effects of a plan into separate categories

There are certainly reasons why one would prefer to have a fifth issue; organization is slightly easier. Also, ultimately the stock issues will overlap, so some may argue that an overlap between significance and desirability is fine. However, any benefit from further dividing the arguments seems to be outweighed by the unnecessary abolition of the simplicity embodied in the four stock issue paradigm.