3 Reasons to Use Values in Policy

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.”


  1. Hmmmm… very insightful article.

    I have a more fundamental question about Values/Goals/Weighing in policy debate.

    Is an intrusion by the Affirmative or Negative team to establish what is, “most important,” in the debate round legitimate at all?
    The judges are the deciders of the round, or the policy, or the team.
    The judge’s job is to be the prepared scale of the round, with it’s own preset mindsets and values. The judge, not comparative advantage/National Security/Justice is what weighs the round. Is it not the debaters responsibility to advocate their policy as acceptable/desirable from the value mindset of the judge, not the other way around?

    In the real world, policy makers attempt to embody and craft their policies to “cater” to the values of both parties to get a vote. A good example of this is human rights, which both parties support.

    It somewhat annoys me when the opposition forgets to respond to the Criterion/Counter Criterion and the other team comes up and says, “because this hasn’t been responded to, this criterion will be the weighing mechanism for the round.” When in reality, the judge is the weighing mechanism, not the Value/Goal/Criterion that the Affirmative/Negatie thought up.

    This is a very undeveloped concept, and I would like your in put on it.

    • I think a team saying “YOU HAVE TO VOTE ON THIS” is wrong. But I think a team saying “We ask that you vote on this because xyz” is fine. Under the philosophy that the judge is the ultimate dictator, the judge is free to bring in bias and ignore certain arguments simply because he/she doesn’t like them. Additionally, if your valueset makes sense and you can defend it, the judge should want to vote for it anyway :).

      As far as the real world goes, in the real world, people vote against you because you’re a different party or because they simply disagree with you. I believe in NCFCA, it’s much better to check bias at the door.

      Again, I look back to LD. In LD, it’s not an intrusion for the competitors to argue over what should be the highest value in the round. And it’s not bad for the judge to accept it; in fact, it’s expected that the judge votes for the value that was best defended etc. I honestly don’t see why TP should be any different.

      Now, of course, its easier to win if you advocate a value that most judges accept. If you’re running JVA, for example, you could advocate a value of justice. If you’re running against JVA, you could advocate a counter-value of human rights. Both are equally favorable to a judge’s mindset (leftwingers like Rawls and rightwingers like Bastiat believed that both were essential).

      • Thank you for the very helpful reply. I still have a few questions that don’t have answers for me yet. :)

        What is the difference between a person saying, “you have to vote on this,” and somebody saying, “you should vote on this”? In both instances the judge has no say what so ever in either instances. In both scenarios, the judge is forced to use the debaters method of judging over his own. If the judge has the choice, there isn’t much point in brining up a value. If the judge doesn’t have a choice, it’s intrusive.

        LD is value debate. TP is policy debate. That is implied in the name. Yes, all policy decisions should be and are based on values, but the debate is not over what value is most important. The values have already been established in each debater and each value is “debated” by the arguments pertaining to policy being made. Because, often times, the values of both teams do not conflict, the debate is not, “this or that?” but rather, “how much?” Team policy isn’t about debating one or two values. It’s about debating all values in the context of policy making.
        In each LD round, the values aren’t the weighing mechanism for the round, they are the position of the team itself. Weighing the round on a value and supporting a value with your case are two very different things.

        One of the reasons that community judges are so preferred is that they represent a unique and diverse set of judging patterns that the debater has to cater to. As the phrase goes, “it’s not the judges fault you were ranked poorly; It’s yours”.

        Weighing mechanisms seem to provide no benefit outside of unrealistically nullifying DAs (in a nicer term, centralizing the round) and giving a team the opportunity to say, “as you can see by what we are weighing the round with, the net benefits/Justice/human rights are best upheld by the Aff/Neg,” which is really just a nice way of saying, “you have to vote for us.”

        I don’t think that any teams idea of how the round should be judged should replace the real judge of the round: the judge.

        But that is just an interesting nagging question in my mind. Perhaps you could shed some more light on the subject?

        • Sure, no problem.

          The fundamental problem with letting the judge pick the mindset is that it invites judge intervention. If the judge decides that fiscal responsibility is the most important thing and AFF’s plan spends a penny to save a million lives, the AFF will go NEG because the most important thing (fiscal responsibility) isn’t upheld. Of course, that’s a more extreme example… but it highlights the danger. The alternative: present options for the judge to weigh with.

          And yeah, I know that TP isn’t about what values are most important. However, you can’t weigh without values, even if it’s just implied (net benefits/utilitarianism).

          As to why weighing itself is important: the conflict is only “how much” if you accept net benefits. If the plan saves millions of dollars but kills a few people, which do you go for? Weighing through values figure it out.

          Again, if you advocate that a judge should vote based on his/her own biases, that’s fine. But you also have to support that judge voting against you because “you had more Reagan quotes” (one of the RFDs on a ballot I got once). That’s my main problem with bias :)

          • Thanks Andrew, you’ve been very helpful. :)

            I’m wondering which one is preferable: the judge deciding how the round should be weighed or the debaters deciding how the round should be weighed.

            It seems it is stuck two ways: either the weighing value is accepted by the judge (by default unless it is contested which it rarely is) and thus the debaters have commandeered the round and the judging mechanism for their own purposes, or the judge rejects the value and judges by his own paradigm (which was what I though they were supposed to do any way) and the presence of a value is not constructive.

            “How much” Justice does your plan achieve over the SQ? Both policies achieve justice in some way, which has the upper hand? Once again, there is a dead end.

            I’m not saying that judges should weigh off of their biases. I’m saying that the judge is the weighing mechanism in the round, not what one of the teams thinks is convenient for their plan. If you see that as judge bias, perhaps that kind of judge bias is preferable to the round being governed by the bias and convenience of one team.

            Supporting a Value through your plan is a great thing to do to centralize your advocacy. But it seems that intervening with the weighing of the opponents and (more importantly) the judge is not what a Value mindset should do. Using a value to nullify arguments is especially presumptuous as it assumes that your Value is the mechanism the judge will use to weigh the round while filling out the ballot.

            Again, this is more of a question that I’m having than a polemic argument.

          • haha, I feel like I’ve been more confusing than helpful 😛

            Anyway… I think the thing is that you can’t, at the end of the day, “make” a judge accept your value, Then again, you can’t “make” a judge accept _any_ of your arguments. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask them to. If that were the case, debate would be unnecessary… you could just give the resolution and ask the judge to vote.

            In addition, I feel that most judges would actually gladly accept a value. Most community judges I’ve met leave a tournament saying, “I loved both those teams… but I had no clue how to vote!” Values give the judge a way to choose. If there are two competing values, of course, a judge has to choose one. And how do you get a judge to accept it? Communication, of course!

            As far as how much: well, that’s why we have debate :). The thing is that you’d have that argument whether or not you explicitly state a value.

            I agree that a team’s convenience shouldn’t be the weighing mechanism in the round. That’s why I think it’s essential for the other team to challenge it, even by something as simple as “look at the whole picture; accept net benefits”.

            I can definitely see where you’re coming from as far as the presumptuous argument goes. However, here’s the flaw: all arguments are presumptuous. Your argument that the economy tanks if we don’t repeal JVA presumes that the judge accepts your source, accepts your argument, and believes you more than the other team.

            But yeah, this is definitely a good discussion to be having. Especially since having this discussion in a round would be incredibly messy 😛

  2. Thanks!

    I suppose that a value is a good thing to have when it embodies your case and gives you something more centralized to advocate for, but not as an excuse for exclusion of arguments.

    Also, in the real world, what one policy maker values doesn’t necessarily mean it is the only thing that will be debated. :)

    I do have another question though: how would you go about countering a value? For instance, if the Affirmative value is Justice, and you have a DA on Liberty, would you have to argue that Justice should be ignored because Liberty is more important, thus nullifying the Aff’s whole case and turning the debate into a value debate? Let’s just assume Liberty and Justice are mutually exclusive for right now.

  3. I think they key to realize is the difference between aff and neg strategies here: Aff wants to continually NARROW the scope by showing WHY greater importance/weight is in their argument. If successful, the judge needs to follow this because it is the agreed upon framework of decision that was debated. The Neg wants to continually BROADEN the scope, by showing all kinds of other factors that should be taken into consideration.

    The key mistake proponents of values in policy make is to say it’s all one or all another (i.e. justice or liberty), whereas the shrewd and wise negative will say “to the infinite degree, maybe Justice is more important than liberty. But this is a policy discussion and the degree to which Justice is established is not infinite, it’s just such and such because their plan is only such and such. So several other considerations, such as cost, timing, foreign policy implications, small movement against liberty, collectively outweigh THIS PARTICULAR application of justice.”

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