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As has been noted before, impact calculus it is a fantastic tool for both aff and neg, but it is terribly underused.

I totally understand; it can certainly get complicated, especially as you get into the long list of (admittedly over complicated) factors like severity, scale, temporality, marginalization, morality, etc. And to worsen the matter, impact calculus tends to come into focus mostly during the rebuttals, at which point you want to just stick with what you know. So, for whatever reason it seems that impact calculus goes almost completely unutilized in many rounds. Regardless, I am not writing to just analyze the status quo’s inherency barriers; I’m here to improve it.

That is why I have for you a fantastic new innovation that is incredibly simple, easy to understand, not risky to try out, and can be amazingly effective. (Don’t worry; it’s not snake oil ink for your pen)

I call it an impact calculus plant, or just IC plant for short.

I know what you’re thinking: “But it doesn’t sound at all complicated like ‘topical progressive inherency,’ nor does it look exotic like ‘Kritik.’ Why would I ever want to use it?” You can complicate it however much you want for when you explain it to your clubmates, but that’s the thing: it isn’t complicated, and it isn’t just some interesting idea many people only dream of using; it’s something you can likely use every few rounds.

The Common Way of Impacting

I have observed many times that when people give a disadvantage, they tend to impact with something absolutely crucial, insightful, and memorable, like

“Impact: Their plan causes people to die, which is bad.
And now for my second disadvantage…”

Now, if you have a well-written brief, you may have a nice, quippy impact, but overall, the general idea seems to be the same for the vast majority of disadvantage impacts: you are just reiterating the disadvantage’s effects and saying “This is bad.”

Introducing the impact calculus plant!

With this, you actually do something important with the impact of your disadvantage. Here’s what it is: in your little impact blurb, you add in a little statement that says something along the lines of “To do some impact calculus, we see that this disadvantage outweighs their supposed benefits, because we simply can’t [do/allow/cause/etc. _____].” This statement is the IC plant.

(A quick note: I recommend making the disadvantage + plant in the 2NC, rather than in the 1NC)

So, let’s say the aff’s plan could cause war with China.

  • Without an IC plant: “Their plan risks war with China, and that is bad.”
  • With an IC plant: “Given the enormous consequences of war, the affirmative’s supposed advantages do not outweigh even minor increases in the risk of war, and thus we must not pass their plan.”

Then, you just continue on to the next points you have. Then, when your 1NR partner gets up, he extends the disadvantage, and repeats a similar (if not the exact same) statement.

“What does it do?”

What happens is that this becomes a formal subpoint under the disadvantage, which means that the aff team has to either respond to it or drop/accept it. The thing is, most aff teams probably won’t bother much at all with it, because they will be focusing on taking out the links, as well as addressing all of your other arguments/responses.

(Remember, a disadvantage has two basic parts: a link and an impact. The link part says “Their plan causes X,” and the impact says “X is bad.”)

Thus, they (usually) drop your impact and, by extension, your impact calculus. The impact calculus you establish practically says “If this disadvantage’s links stand, then we win. QED.” This leaves no room for 2AR redemptions, 2AR impact calculus, or a judge just arbitrarily doing the impact calculus in his head (which is what he has to do when you don’t do it for him…). If you can refute their link attacks, then boom: You win.

“Okay, so I’ll start using this for every disad I make; got it!”

Woah—hold on! I should note that there are some limits on which types of disadvantage this works with. I mean, if you want to try to argue “Money is crucial to our wellbeing, so our economic disadvantage naturally outweighs their silly ‘lives saved’ advantage,” go right ahead. (In fact, please argue that if you go against me). But, if you want to do this well, then you should note that this tends to work primarily with disadvantages that are focused on things such as morality, principle, or danger—with arguments that appeal to instinctual values and beliefs, like “We shouldn’t break our promises” or “Yeah, lives are more important than money.” Just as long as the impact calculus sounds believable, it can work.

Step-by-step guide for executing an IC plant:

  1. Give appropriate DA in 2NC. (Some examples of good DAs will be given later)
  2. At the end of the disadvantage (during the impact), tack on the short statement along the lines of: “To do some impact calculus, we can see that the harms of this disadvantage outweigh the affirmative’s supposed benefits, because we simply can’t [  impact  ]”
  3. In the 1NR, quickly extend the DA and repeat the IC.
  4. Carefully flow the 1AR’s responses to the disadvantage.

Here’s the crux moment. If they don’t respond to the IC plant (which they likely won’t, for reasons mentioned later), continue with the disadvantage (unless their responses blow your disad’s links out of the water), and follow the next steps. If they do respond to your IC plant, then the stratagem didn’t work flawlessly and you probably won’t follow the next steps exactly, but you still are in a better position (again, for reasons I will mention later). Still, if they respond, then respond right back! Assert that it does outweigh, because of XYZ.

If they don’t respond, however, continue with these steps:

  1. 2NR: Respond to what they did argue against the DA (which is necessarily links, if they didn’t attack the impact).
  2. Emphasize that they dropped the impact calculus.
  3. Demonstrate how if the links stand, a negative ballot logically follows, since they conceded that the disadvantage, if it stands, outweighs their purported benefits.
  4. Declare this to be a voting issue.
  5. Conceal the smug look on your face as you finish the disadvantage.

A generic type + specific example

Generically, this works with a number of “Breaks Promises” DAs.

A great generic DA in Stoa deals with the Most Favored Nation (MFN) clause in WTO agreements. There is one case in particular that violates this clause, and so in the 2NC I give the DA “Breaks MFN laws.” At the end of it, I impact by generically saying “To do some quick IC, we see that this plan’s supposed economic benefits do not outweigh this disadvantage, because we can’t enact a plan that would break the principles we promised to uphold.”
The teams all end up ignoring the impact calculus I give, only seeking to undermine the links for the DA. When I refute their link arguments, I point out that they accepted the impact calculus, and demonstrate why this logically equates to a negative ballot.
Perhaps the best part of it all is that the impact of this disadvantage is actually not that simple. I was rather worried that the aff might try to outweigh the impact, and indeed, a good aff may occasionally do this (Though I might point out, this worked perfectly according to plan against a 22-2 team).

Despite this possibility, the stratagem is still effective for the following reasons:

  1. Little cost; fantastic potential reward
    The little statement I use (“to do some impact calculus…”) usually takes less than 20 seconds. If the aff does respond to it, they have to spend at least an equal amount of time on it (they will probably have to spend more time than you did, and in a speech where their time is short); when the aff doesn’t, then those 20 seconds can win you the round.
  2. Overloading => Unlikely to respond
    By doing the plant in the 2NC (as opposed to the 1NC or 2NR), it is not very likely that they will respond, since the 1AR will likely be overloaded from your other arguments. This induces them to focus on what they perceive to be the weakest point, which usually is the link, and also pay less attention to something (the plant) that didn’t seem to be very important at the time.
  3. Can save time
    If you give the plant in the 2NC, it usually takes around 15–20 seconds. Especially when the impact intuitively seems serious/believable, you don’t have to spend that much time to just establish the calculus as a reasonable, formal point. Thus, if they don’t respond to this formal point, then they have dropped the issue, which means that the point should be accepted regardless of whether the reasoning is excessively detailed or logically necessary.
    Now imagine if you don’t give the plant, but just opt to give impact calculus in the 2NR. First of all (as mentioned in the next point), that allows the affirmative give responses which you can’t address. But second, it requires that you make the point very convincing so that the aff’s responses won’t be enough. However, this forces you to spend a significantly larger amount of time on why the impact calculus is the case. No longer can you just give a 15 second statement on why it makes intuitive sense; you may now have to spend over 45 seconds doing impact calculus + preemptions, now in a speech for which you are tight on time and should be wrapping up the issues!
  4. Guarantees ability to counter-respond
    If one were to wait until the 2NR to do the impact calculus (rather than do it in the 2NC/1NR), the aff can just respond however it wants in the 2AR, because it is their first chance to respond to the argument, and thus any such new responses are legitimate (although the judge still may not buy bad responses). In my experience, what commonly happens with 2NC DAs is that the 1AR responds by trying to take out the link rather than outweighing. If you get up in the 2NR and refute their link arguments, the 2AR will get up and say “We still think the impact won’t happen because XYZ, but even if you think it will happen, here’s why we outweigh,” and then begin their own impact calculus.
    By planting the IC in the 2NC/1NR, it requires them to give all of their first-responses, at which point you can respond to them. They can respond to your second-responses in their 2AR, but they can’t make new first-responses, which means that if you shut down their arguments in your 2NR, you should win.

All in all, the main reason I love + utilize the plant is because it can allow me to eliminate uncertainty in the round: if the other team drops the IC and they make weak link attacks, it’s usually a cut-and-dry win. It leaves no room for being outspoken, or for weak but superficially decent responses in the 2AR.

One word of warning for negs (and advice for affs)

Negatives, you do need to exercise some caution in making sure that your links won’t get turned. This stratagem can backfire if you get successfully link turned.

Imagine you are neg and the case in question claims economic benefits. Say you want to attack the case by link turning the economic benefits and also running a “Civil rights harmed” DA + plant. If you say that “Civil rights outweighs economics,” and the aff link-turns your civil rights DA, they don’t even have to make good responses to your economic turn, because you already said that civil rights outweighs economic advantages.

A few extra notes worth mentioning.

  • IC plants can also be done by the aff
    For example, last year I ran the “Require Police to Wear Body-mounted Cameras” case. (Now don’t you start judging me—it was a great case, except for the fact that judge biases were normally against us, and they basically decided 75% of the rounds. I will admit that I didn’t think through this aspect.)
    Naturally, I often ran into (legitimate) 10th amendment/federalism issues. I had great evidence to refute the links (although many judges preferred to ignore this, apparently imagining they were better constitutional scholars than the Congressional Research Service). However, I could have also used a plant in the 2AC, saying something like “People’s rights outweigh government ‘rights,’” and (with a bit more fleshing out), concluded with “If our plan upholds the citizens’ rights, we hold that should outweigh this supposed violation of ‘State’s rights.’”
  • This doesn’t have to just be for DA’s

You can also do IC plants with inherency and solvency points. For example, against multiple cases in Stoa I argue “Once TPP passes, their plan becomes obsolete. It’s clear that if their plan will be done already, then there is no need to reform our trade policy. We shouldn’t be enacting pointless policy.” A number of the teams just end up arguing “Well, we aren’t sure the TPP will pass. We need some strong evidence.” Then, while struggling to contain an ear-to-ear grin, I present two pieces of evidence which consider the passage a near certainty, and reiterate my impact calculus.

Other Generic Types/Examples

  • “Breaks/Contradicts own laws”

For Stoa antidumping reform cases, most strong negs know about the section 1673 argument (the stronger negs don’t use it), in which people say that the proposed policy contradicts our own US Code. Personally, I think the argument is nitpicky and procedural, but as the neg, you could try to slip an IC plant by, saying “Regardless of the supposed economic benefits, we can’t pass a plan that makes our own law contradict itself. The US Code must be coherent, or else we undermine the very foundation of our laws…” or something along those lines. I have seen many aff teams baited into just attacking the links of the disadvantage, saying all kinds of things like “It doesn’t necessarily mean we have to do X, it’s just saying we can do X…” or “We are reforming the law, so it doesn’t matter.” What they forget to address is just the simple fact that it really shouldn’t matter. The issue is so nitpicky that in the real world, it probably wouldn’t be a big deal. Additionally, the issue is bad from a fairness standpoint, because we are not supposed to be expected to legislate as if we have degrees in public policy; we aren’t supposed to know where in the US code this will be written, or what the exact wording will be, etc. Regardless of whether or not it is an issue in the real world, it is so procedural and hair-splitting that it should not be accepted in the round.

  • Violates Constitutional Intent/Principles

This is slightly different from a regular “constitution violated” DA impact in that it states while a proposed reform may not be actually ruled to violate the constitution (such as through a loophole, biased judges, or poor interpretation), it violates the principles underlying the doctrine, and should (as in “good”; not as in “likely”) be considered as a violation of the constitution. The great thing about this argument is that if you run it correctly, the affirmative is often baited into saying “Don’t worry, it won’t violate the constitution. Here’s a mountain of evidence saying that ‘certain judges won’t vote that way,’ and ‘past precedents would produce this ruling,’ etc.” However, what they would be ignoring is the core of your argument, which says “It violates the principles. While the court may not overturn the law, the fact that it violates the intent/principles of the constitution outweighs the rest of their advantages, a point which they conceded. Considering they attacked the wrong links, and that was their last chance to do so, they have no other arguments to make against this disadvantage. For all intents and purposes, it was dropped…”

  • “Decreases representation”

We recently had a parli round where the resolution was “This house should set the delegates free” (Referring to the Republican delegates at the contested convention). 80% of the opposition teams won, because they all argued “Their plan decreases representation; representation is an absolute value.” Nobody in the gov prep room (about everyone on the gov side, including us) made responses to that impact. Instead, I just tried to do a link turn, saying “We’ll be setting them free to do an alternate vote, which is more representative of our actual beliefs, which ultimately increases representation.” (If you can see how flawed that is, please just know that I was stuck with trying to explain the resolution to a room of 6 teams, almost all of whom somehow did not understand the concept of a contested convention. But I digress.)

Since we forgot to just try and challenge the IC of “representation Trumps all” (pun intended), we logically lost. Looking back, I realized I should have just prepared to outweigh the representation value… or make better (read: bias-appealing) link turns, like “Donald Trump will turn us into a dictatorship,” rather than just “Donald Trump is bad.”

In Summary

Indeed, it may lack an exotic or complicated name (feel free to use a more esoteric one, if  you’re into that kind of thing), but it makes up for this in practicality and value as a tool. On paper it might sound heavy-handed or even obvious (and thus easy to counter) but I’m telling you: it has worked perfectly for me against teams from decent to great, including one 92% (now 87%) win-rate team. Thus, I urge you: Experiment! Have fun with your new stratagem! But also be careful of those who wish to use it against you.


Harrison Durland is wrapping up his third and final year of Stoa team policy debate. He is planning to attend Ole Miss next semester to study intelligence analysis, Russian, international affairs, and possibly other things as well. Outside of debate, his academic interests include ethics, game and decision theory, and studying Russian.
When he first began competitive debate in his sophomore year, he quickly took an interest in theory and has continued that passion ever since. He places a higher emphasis on hard work (research) and honesty; he is offended by the concept of sophistry.
Ultimately, he values debate as an educational tool more than a competition, but he still loves to win.
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