Posted by on Dec 27, 2010 in Strategy | 8 comments

I’m a true policy debater at heart. I’m applying to schools as a political science major and RealClearPolitics is to me what Gawker is to gossip queens. And I seem to have alienated all of my non-debate friends by constantly going on and on about India or the environment. So, jumping to LD was a real shock. It’s really stretched me in a lot of various ways. But whatever the struggles and pain, I can definitely say that I’m glad I did it.

One of the main reasons I did value debate was to force myself to learn about philosophy. Policy debate is mostly about picking a plan that carries out a specified goal. But how do you pick that goal in the first place? That’s where values come in. And that’s the purpose of this post: to explain why values have a place in real world policy, as well as up in the ivory towers of Lincoln-Douglas.

Why Values

1. Net benefits doesn’t automatically win

A common argument in TP (and one I’ve used myself on many occasions) goes something like this: “[value] doesn’t take everything into account, so disregard it and look at net benefits.” Therefore, all the “true” TPers always hate on values and tell people to never use them. I used to think that always made sense… until I started value debate. Then I discovered that net benefits was essentially a nice word for utilitarianism. The basic utilitarian goal is “greatest good for the great number of people”. I also discovered something else: utilitarianism doesn’t win a lot of rounds if attacked correctly. Here’s some common arguments against it:

  1. Utilitarianism = hedonism. Bentham and Mill (the founders of utilitarianism) were basically hedonists. Hedonism is bad, because [xyz].
  2. Utilitarianism destroys minority rights. Greatest good for the greatest number… but what about those who aren’t in the greatest number? What if we took all the money from a millionaire and split it evenly amongst a million people? The greatest number benefits, right? Right?
  3. Utilitarianism =/= measurable. The only way you can actually measure net benefits is in dollar terms. You can easily make the argument that life, justice, and other intrinsic values can’t be put in dollar terms. So unless both teams run purely economic disadvantages (which never happens), you’re going to have to do some weighing (see the next section).

2. Values provide focus and weighing

In LD, you (often) win if your value is the supreme value at the end of the round. Why isn’t that the case in policy? Well… it actually is. If your value is, say, natural rights (life, liberty, and property), and you prove those are more important than any other value, then the policy enacted should be one that conforms to and upholds those three rights, rather than a shotgun approach that encompasses all sorts of values. If you don’t have a value, you usually end up with an implicit value of utilitarianism/net benefits (which, as noted before, is not always a good value).

Additionally, if you’re going to do any impact calculus, you’re going to need to do some weighing of values. When we ran our coal ash case last year, we argued that sanctity of life outweighed a hurt economy, because life is the highest value. We didn’t even explicitly state it, but it was there. Same with when we ran ATCA: we put justice as our highest value and then showed that economic losses were simply not as intrinsically valuable.

3. Values are real world

Real policymakers use values. Take Jackson-Vanik: the preamble opens explaining that the purpose of JVA is “[t]o assure the continued dedication of the United States to fundamental human rights.” Most policies made were made with a value mindset.

Where to find values

This is a really good year to find values… because the LDers are all debating about governmental values. Popular values that have cropped up this year are justice (rendering to each man his due), rights (make sure you understand the difference between positive and negative rights), quality/sanctity of life, liberty/freedom (the Petro 74 card1 is amazing for this, as is anything by Thomas Jefferson), property (Bastiat is great to read on this), democracy (check Larry Diamond for more on this), and morality (definitely read Legislating Morality by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek if you go this route).

There’s also a lot of places where you can find more about values. The Foundation for Economic Education published a free sourcebook/textbook on LD about two decades ago, but a lot of it is still valid today. If you’re an NCFCA member, you can download The Source, also free of charge. And of course there are plenty of paid sourcebooks like White Book and Dominate Debate. [note: Ethos does not endorse any of the above products]

And of course, you can always talk to an LDer. Just keep your distance. Don’t be infected, like I was. ;)


1 The Petro 74 card:

Every invasion of freedom must be rejected

Sylvester Petro [professor of law, Wake Forest University], “Civil Liberty, Syndicalism, and the NLRA”, Toledo Law Review, Spring 1974 (5 U. Tol. L. Rev.)

“However, one may still insist, echoing Ernest Hemingway – “I believe in only one thing: liberty.” And it is always well to bear in mind David Hume’s observation: “It is seldom that liberty of any kind is lost all at once.” Thus, it is unacceptable to say that the invasion of one aspect of freedom is of no import because there have been invasions of so many other aspects. That road leads to chaos, tyranny, despotism, and the end of all human aspiration. Ask Solzhenitsyn. Ask Milovan Djilas. In sum, if one believes in freedom as a supreme value, and the proper ordering principle for any society aiming to maximize spiritual and material welfare, then every invasion of freedom must be emphatically identified and resisted with undying spirit.”