Have you ever heard a negative team policy team come up in their first constructive speech and argue that “The affirmative has a couple of burdens. First, to prove that they are inherent, second to prove that they are significant, third to show that their plan solves the problem, and fourth to show that their plan doesn’t cause more disadvantages than advantages”? Or perhaps you’re a debater who does this yourself or a judge who believes that debaters must do this in round?
This was me during my first two years of debate. And I was always confused about why my strategies were never coherent even when I was right about a specific issue. One day, a qualified debater and debate coach asked me why. He asked me why I believed in what I believed. That day, my eyes were opened. I had always been taught WHAT to believe in and not WHY to believe in it.
Regardless of which side of the aisle you are on the issue of using stock issues as a burden, it has become common on homeschool debate to turn the “stock issues” — the four categories of arguments: topicality, inherency, significance, and solvency — into a default weighing mechanism and burden without any support nor warrants for why that should be the case. Many judges swear by this decision and even go as far as voting against teams that refuse to abide by the implied and self-created “stock issue burden.”
Unfortunately, the above position is not only wrong but harmful to education in debate rounds. If you disagree with this stance — I urge you, don’t click off this page just yet. Together, we can and should create a better future and environment for current and future high school debaters. I was once in your position and I too was very skeptical of those who told me I might have it wrong. But bear with me, because I believe that knowing WHY you believe instead of WHAT you believe is more important than anything else. Thus, my one goal in this article is to switch your opinion on stock issues being an implicit weighing mechanism and burden in team policy rounds or to provide you with warrants for the former if you are of the same opinion as me.
There are three reasons why stock issues should not be used in team policy rounds as a weighing mechanism or burden. (1) Stock issues are meant to categorize arguments, not to create a burden, (2) stock issues are a 100% “all or nothing” scenario, and because of that (3) stock issues technically equal net benefits which is what the true implicit and default weighing mechanism of any team policy round is. But before we get to any of those three reasons, let’s first clarify what I mean by “stock issues.”
Crash Course: What Are Stock Issues?
If you’re reading this article, you probably already know what stock issues are, so I shall not belabor this point. In case you’d like a refresher, I’d recommend reading our very own Harrison Durland’s blog article on why stock issues are a framework for life as well as his revisited ideas about stock issues.
Overall, there are four stock issues — topicality (is the mandated action on topic?), inherency (is there a problem?), significance (how much of a benefit is solving this problem?), and solvency (does the plan solve the mentioned problem?).
Many new debaters are often confused about why disadvantages don’t fall under their own stock issues. It’s a good question as to why they don’t because they actually do. Disadvantages are of the category of significance just as advantages are. The stock issue of significance asks the question “Is there a reason to pass this policy?” To answer yes to that question, affirmatives present advantages. On the same note, negatives provide disadvantages to answer no to that question.
Reason #1: Stock Issues Are For Categorizing Arguments
A common misconception about stock issues in the homeschooling world is that they are some kind of “debate rule” that everyone must abide by overall. In retrospect, it’s just one way in which you can organize arguments on a personal level.
I want to be very clear here: stock issues are a means of categorizing arguments.
Stock issues were never meant to be a means as to what qualified as a good policy (more on that in reason #2), but rather as a way of categorizing, organizing, and thinking about arguments. Researching a negative brief? Awesome! Use stock issues to think about the various ways you can attack the case (perhaps finding inherency arguments to why we don’t need yet another solution, maybe carding a solvency response to why the plan won’t work or a significance argument of why there are too many disadvantages to the policy). Constructing a 1AC? Epic! In order to have the best case possible, you’ll need to make sure you cover all the most common questions right off the bad — which will require understanding the background of the questions the stock issues ask you.
These are a few of the cases where using stock issues is helpful. But that’s as far as their usefulness goes. They’re amazing for categorizing and constructing arguments, but not so good for weighing them. Why? Well, I’m glad you asked! That brings us to reason #2.
Reason #2: Stock Issues Are “All or Nothing”
Stock issues fail as a weighing mechanism or goal in the round. Why? Because stock issues are an “all or nothing” scenario which makes debating absolutely impossible.
To fully understand this, I’d like to break this into a logical syllogism of a couple of points.
First, what do I mean by an “all or nothing” scenario for stock issues? I mean that either you 100% fulfill a specific stock issue… or you don’t. While this might be possible to 100% fulfill a sock issue in some edge-case scenarios, life is quite frankly not that simple. Issues rarely have a binary state of true or false, but rather a quantum state of true, false, and both at the same time.
You will pretty much never have 100% solvency of a policy — Murphy’s law of “what can go wrong will go wrong” is there to ensure that. You will never have complete 100% of significance — given that the two parts of significance (quantitative and qualitative) are very subjective and up to the interpretation of judges. You will never be able to 100% prove that your case has inherency because it’s always possible that the next day some catastrophe happens and the government decides to pass your policy or something that tries to fix the same problem. I would even argue that you can’t 100% prove that your policy is topical in some cases, but that’s a very debatable topic that we’ll have to get to another day.
Case in point: stock issues cannot be 100% proven. You might get to 51%, you might get to 80% — you might even get to 95% or even 99% in a rare edge case situation — but you’ll never get to the fill 100% scenario.
Second, there’s no clear bright line. Because you can not prove a stock issue 100% of the way, the weighing mechanism of stock issues can NOT require that you do so. Given my first point here, this seems logical, does it not? Well if you agree that it is logical, then this is the first and final nail in the coffin for stock issues. Why? Because of the simple idea of the “bright line.” What is a bright line? A bright line is a line in the sand — a “standard” — in which we can delineate and separate an argument. Its purpose is to let us see who’s winning that argument. In the case of stock issues, if the AFF doesn’t need to prove they fulfill them 100%, then where is the bright line? It’s unclear and very confusing, making judging decisions much harder (which for our parent judges might not be that bad, but in the home school debate landscape, it’s going to scare away our first-time community judges).
Advocates of stock issue weighing mechanisms might come back and say “Well, AFF just needs to show 51% of a stock issue to win that stock issue.” But define 50%. How do you quantify 51% of qualitative significance? Or 51% of inherency? How do you even fully begin to accurately determine if the AFF solvency is 10%?
I’m not saying that any of these are impossible, I’m just saying it’s incredibly difficult and not worth the effort to figure out if AFF made it to 51% or not. It also allows NEG to be extremely lazy in debate by just saying that AFF didn’t make it to 51% so NEG automatically wins — it hurts education because warrants and impacts aren’t explained in favor of the former and it hurts fairness because the AFF is put at a significantly higher burden than the NEG is.
I will absolutely agree that in a theoretical world, stock issues would work as a weighing mechanism. But I think we need to understand that the real world is truly real and that we live in it. It would be absurd to argue otherwise, just as I would contend that it’s absurd to try to hack stock issues into a real-world weighing mechanism. Because you can’t prove with accuracy a stock issue at 51%, we need a different interpretation of the stock issues. And what do ya know it, but that brings us right to reason #3.
Reason #3: Stock Issues Boil Down to Net Benefits
Running stock issues as a weighing mechanism? Or perhaps you’re running against one? My recommendation is to turn it 😎.
What do I mean? Well, the stock issues boil down to the weighing mechanism of net benefits in reality. (Some people also refer to net benefits as a “comparative advantage case” — which does use the net benefits framework, but a comparative advantage case is a specific case structure that has a quick inherency card, the plan right off the bat, and then fully structured advantages with subpoints of the harm, solvency, and impact at the very least.) Before I explain myself further, I want to clear up an important argument: theoretically, stock issues do NOT boil down to net benefits, but looking at the real world they do boil down to net benefits.
My former debate coach — one of our very own, Coach Anthony Severin — used the Hungarian-American mathematician Von Neumann’s welfare function to put stock issues in a way that I will never forget. And I apologize in advance, but it’s a math equation known as a multiple linear regression that goes something like this:
“Woah woah woah!” your brain must be telling yourself right now, “What does that even more??” Hold on a second, because it’s quite simple! I’ll break it into three steps.
Step 1: Replace the “y” with a true or false statement on which team wins the round (where a positive number means true and a negative number means false).
Step 2: Replace the Greek Beta character (the weird-looking “β”) with your solvency and the variable “x” with your advantages.
Step 3: Repeat step 2 for all the advantages and add them to each other. Also, repeat step 2 on the NEG DAs (where the “solvency” is just the “link”) BUT subtract them from this equation instead of adding them.
Let’s take an example with two advantages and one disadvantage. We get the following equation: Vote = Solvency * Advantage1 + Solvency * Advantage2 MINUS link*DA1.
Inherency works in the same way as solvency. To keep things small and simple, let’s consider a new example with only a single advantage and a single disadvantage: Vote =Inh * Solv * Adv1 – link*DA1.
And just to clarify, in the examples above, inherency and solvency are both percentages — where the maximum possible value could be 100%. The “Adv1,” “Adv2,” and “DA1” are set at whole numbers depending on their importance and their impacts. Now that being said, I’m not going to stand here and ask you to do this math in your head or on paper when judging or debating a team policy round. It would be very difficult to figure out the exact numbers and percentages. Instead, I argue that this is the best way to think about debate.
And think about it for just a second. What does everything I just said above boil down to? Well, the chances of all your advantages happening versus the chances of all the negative disadvantages happening. Its advantages versus disadvantages, which is the very framework of net benefits. In general, net benefits are the most common sense burden out there. Not only is it directly related to the resolution (the word “should” in policy resolution indicates that only advantageous policies should be passed), but we use it daily when making choices. Should I buy an iPhone or an Android? Depends on the advantages/disadvantages the iPhone has over the Android. Should I fly to Texas or North Carolina? Depends on the advantages/disadvantages of either state which could include decisions like how many friends and the quality of them you have in each one as well as the economic conditions and historical sights.
Conclusion: Net Benefits is the Default Weighing Mech
Case in point, the stock issues lead to net benefits and net benefits are the burden that should be used in rounds, not stock issues. Stock issues fail as a burden and weighing mechanism in team policy rounds because they were meant to categorize arguments, they’re “all or nothing,” and they boil down to net benefits anyways.
I should make my position very clear: I am not against using stock issues for categorizing arguments or helping you construct NEG and AFF briefs. What I am against, is it being used as a burden in rounds.
If you disagree with my above stances, I just ask one thing: ask yourself WHY you believe in your position instead of WHAT position you believe in. And when you figure out the three most persuasive arguments you have for your position, leave a comment below so that everyone else who agrees with you can see it. We can also have an interesting and fun debate below!
If you agree with my position, then feel free to leave a comment anyways and let me and everyone else know if this article helped you out and what the three most persuasive arguments you use to advocate for your position are.
At the end of the day, I like to say that debate has no rules. ALL theory is up to interpretation — both the stock issue theory and the net benefit theory I presented above. But that’s the beauty of debate. There is no one “right” position and when we disagree, we can take it out in the debate round and the most persuasive argument wins.
Feel free to put this out on social media under the tag #DeleteStockIssues by the way!
Justin is a three-year alumnus of NCFCA and a junior at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell, hoping to receive degrees in computer science and electrical engineering. In his senior year, he went from never competing in an outround to averaging semis or quarters at every national open, including a 4th place at nationals, as well as averaging finals at regional tournaments. His philosophy in debate is that there are no rules. Providing one is ethical, the most persuasive argument flies. At the end of the day, Justin argues you should honor God & have fun! Debate is not all about winning, it’s about the skills you foster.
You can learn more about Justin by reading his bio, and you can book coaching with him over here.
I agree with most of what you said. I’ve usually seen stock issues as a way to analyze net benefits. But I was wondering, how would you attack a case that doesn’t really do anything using net benefits?
So you beat all of their advantages but don’t have any disadvantages. In a stock issues round you would win on solvency. But in a net benefits round, it’s tied and a good affirmative will win back just a little bit of their advantages and claim a win because there is no reason to vote against them. How would you win that using net benefits?
Thanks for reading, Keegan. Thanks an excellent question! To answer it, I will turn us to the real world. Let’s say for instance that you family wanted to go get ice cream and the advantages you cited was that it would make you happy. Your mom, however, rebuts this by saying that you don’t actually like ice cream so your advantage is moot. At this point, the debate is at a neutral and on even ground. There’s no reason to get ice cream, but there’s also no reason not to get ice cream. There’s no downside to getting the ice cream (that was presented), so you could pull a smart one and tell your mom that it can’t hurt and move on to get ice cream.
However, this is where your mom would bring up some of the disadvantages. For instance, the amount of money you’d be wasting, the time it would take you, the gas you would be losing if you took a car, etc, etc. Notice that these aren’t as strong as a DA like “ice cream makes your stomach feel bad,” but rather their more minor DAs.
This leads me to my final conclusion: There are never cases that “don’t have DAs” but rather cases that don’t have “strong DAs” with plenty of minor DAs being available (they might not win the round on their own, but the NEG’s job is to mitigate the inherency and solvency multipliers the AFF has and drive them as low as possible). However, there are always some minor reasons why you shouldn’t pass a policy — cost being one of the most common reasons. Case in point, if an AFF has presented advantages and the NEG has only refuted the advantages without giving a reason to vote for the NEG through DAs, then there’s no reason to vote for NEG because it “can’t hurt trying, right?” If NEG presented no DAs, the answer to that question is “no, it can’t hurt trying.” However, if the NEG mentioned a DA of “well actually, we’d be wasting $2 billion, so yes it does hurt trying,” then NEG has a reason to vote for them and a reason to reject the plan.
One easy way of doing this, by the way, is making the “Cost DA” an impact to your solvency arguments. Remember that the purpose of your solvency argument is NEG is to reduce the solvency multiplier to as low as a percentage as possible so that the AFF advantage isn’t a lot. (For reference, the equation is Vote = Solv*Adv.) Let’s say that the solvency is at 100% in the 1AC, in the 1NC you want to kick that down to as close to 0% as you possibly can. Do remember that doing that would be near impossible and quite difficult, however, and so the AFF can always come back and be like “let’s try our policy anyways since there’s no reason not to.” So instead of letting that happen, run a solvency argument and explain why the AFF solvency is super weak and then make your first impact “wasted resources” and talk about the money lost the staff time wasted etc etc. You could even talk about the political capital that was wasted in the government as well (it’s a non-unique and minor DA, but hey, it’s something in your basket — and you want the most weights in your basket to help ya outweigh the AFF on the scale).
Again, thanks for reading Keegan. I hope this helped!
Thank you! That was very helpful, I’ve seen many rounds (Including a finals recently) where the negative team had great solvency but didn’t provide any disadvantages and so it made the round appear very close, when the negative should have dominated. I’ll try and use these tips in my upcoming tournaments.
I agree with you that stock issues should not be used as burdens, but I think the “what are stock issues” section is actually likely to be the most controversial. Every debater and coach I have talked to about stock issues has their own slightly different interpretation of what they mean, some of which boil down to net benefits, and some which don’t. Unless you dive deep into what a debater means by “stock issues”, this can create the illusion that everyone agrees. The way I see it, the problem isn’t that there is no brightline, it’s that there are dozens of brightlines posing under the name of stock issues. This just makes using stock issue terms as burdens more of a hindrance to communication than a help.
This was a really good article!! You really made me think
Thanks for reading, Danielle. Excellent points for sure! I agree that pinning down stock issues is probably the hardest thing to do here when discussing this topic. You’re absolutely correct in saying that many people have their own bright lines in how they look at stock issues, which is what makes the conversation very confusing.
I’ll say this though: there are three main views relating to the position of stock issues as a burden. (1) AFFs must uphold 100% of each stock issues, (2) AFFs must uphold 51% of each stock issues, and lastly (3) AFFs must uphold a percentage of stock issues. All three of these positions are either super confusing or just not fair because it doesn’t give both sides equal ground. The first one is bad because that’s too hard of a burden for AFF to uphold. That’s the same story for the third one as well, except now it’s too easy for AFF to uphold it. The second one as I mentioned in the article, is just too difficult, confusing, and subjective to determine.
With all that in mind, that’s exactly why in the second argument in Reason #2,I argue that there is no clear bright lines. There are many bright lines that people have subjectively set, yes, but they aren’t clear nor are they good. (I didn’t mention every single bad interp of stock issues though, but my main argument there is that there is no good interp of stock issues as a burden.)
But here’s where things get interesting. I would argue that even through we have three main views of stock issues as a burden, all of them boil down to two camps which you’re either in or your not: “You need to prove 100% of the stock issues, or you don’t.” Notice the wording of that statement? I worded it that way in order to allow every single debater and judge to fall on one side or the other. Either you believe that you need to prove 100% of each stock issue or you don’t believe that (and perhaps you believe you only need 51% or less or that you don’t even need to “prove” stock issues at all). Just to be clear one more time: it doesn’t matter what beliefs you hold about stock issues, ALL debaters fall on one side of the issue or the other due to the way I worded the statement.
Now, If you believe in the 100% camp, then tough lucking judging rounds or debating them. But if you believe in the non-100% camp, then that SHOULD always logically boil down to net benefits — even if the judge or debater doesn’t think that (the reason being is that any number that isn’t 100% is hard to determine and so you lean on the advantage vs disad debate in the round, implicitly using the equations I mentioned in the article.) Will everyone agree that this IS the way it should be done and IS the way it boils down? No, and I don’t expect them to. But is it the way that it SHOULD be done? Absolutely, and it’s my hope and the goal of this article to ensure that home school parent judges see and understand this as well as debaters who will be able to effectively understand these arguments and then boil them down for community judges who are new to debate.
Again, great points Danielle, glad you enjoyed the article!
This take is interesting but, in my opinion, flawed on the notion of what the stock issues are. I believe Harrison Durland, linked in your article, would agree with me.
One pitfall is “significance,” of which there are two commonly-equivocated senses. Advantages and disadvantages must be significant, and relatively weighing the significance follows the Von Neumann equation well. However, the stock issue Significance is more nuanced, and indeed advantages and disadvantages do not properly fall under the stock issue. Due perhaps to this confusing interplay, Freely and Steinberg, in the 12th edition of the acclaimed “Argumentation and Debate: Critical Thinking for Reasoned Decision Making,” call the stock issue “Harm.” All stock issues ask whether there is good reason to pass the affirmative plan. Significance/Harm asks, to borrow the phrasing of Freely and Steinberg, “Does a compelling problem exist in the status quo?” Inherency deals more generally than Significance/Harm with the status quo. As Durland would put it, Inherency handles the nature of the status quo, asking, “Does the current situation not already resemble the desired outcome or is it not progressing towards the desired outcome?” After we establish a significant harm in a situation that will not self-remedy but is open to remedy—often termed by debate theorists as the “pre-fiat” stock issues—we shift our gaze to the (“post-fiat”) world of the affirmative. We don’t tend to dedicate a stock issue to the “nature” of that world in general—though Durland makes a case for such in his “revisitation” of the stock issues—though “prima facie” argumentation very much is concerned with that niche. But we do look hard at how specifically the plan changes the status quo, which is what Solvency is all about. You’ve defined an issue that’s both significant enough to merit attention and needs attention to go away—can you solve these problems you’ve posed? Are the negative effects (read: disadvantages) significant enough that they outweigh the positive effects? Again, all Solvency. Topicality, sometimes called a super-stock issue (or similar), stands somewhat separate as a stock issue that evaluates whether the plan properly follows the resolution for purposes of overall education and fairness in the debate round.
I agree that one can categorize arguments by stock issue, but this grouping shouldn’t deter a judge from viewing the round through a stock issue lens. Your arguments against that mindset appear contradictory. You imply that stock issues are fulfilled either 100% or 0%—”all or nothing”—then quickly temper that outlook and admit they can be fulfilled partially. Then you assert that, indeed, “in the real world” judging by stock issues boils down to determining whether the proposition is net beneficial—seemingly the opposite of “all or nothing.”
And this line of reasoning highlights where your reasoning slips. The judge is >supposed to< gauge the worth of passing the affirmative plan by the likelihood of real world effects. It is never meant to be a decision on whether the plan is—theoretically or realistically—ironclad and unable to fail. Judging relies heavily on probability. Because the vote concerns cogency—which is qualitative, not quantitative—it's true that "you can’t prove with accuracy a stock issue [is fulfilled] 51%." This supposed problem is exactly the one courts deal with every day. Juries in civil suits convict off a "preponderance of the evidence"—defined as "more likely than not." Quantitatively phrased: the burden is 51%. Criminal cases require proof "beyond a reasonable doubt," which goes well beyond 51%.
Debate judges are asked to make a qualitative decision, which isn't always easy. Make no mistake—as a mathematician, I have a strong affinity for quantifiable arguments. However, the simple reality of debate is that cogency, while understandable to a limited degree as a quantity, is foremost a quality, where "certainty" of a future effect is more 99% than 100%. Significance/Harm is the most quantifiable of the stock issues since it deals with ongoing plights that often have actual recorded data—though even here judges will have to qualitatively weigh contradictory data (often by the relative authority of the data-gatherer). This truth is the reason why good negative debaters often try to raise the affirmative standard to "beyond a reasonable doubt" or the like.
Splurge aside, I absolutely agree that debaters far too often work off stock issues without understanding why they are working off stock issues. I believe that moving from "what" to "why" is a key step in the development of any and every debater.
Thanks for reading, Joe. Apologies for my very late reply, but better late than never! You raise some very good points, however, at thing at the end of the day we actually both come to the same conclusions.
Rather than my arguments being contradictory about stock issues, I would actually say that is the reason using stock issues as a weighing mechanism is a double bind. There’s only two positions here and you’re in a pinch either way. Either you believe that you must prove/disprove stock issues 0%/100% or you believe that there is some other percentage that you must prove them too (e.g 51%). The first one we can both agree is absolutely absurd. And as I already mentioned in my article, the second one is almost equally absurd since there’s no way to measure the bright line here. How can one — especially a judge — be sure that the AFF proves each stock issue 51%?
You mentioned the “beyond the reasonable doubt” standard, but I believe making that the bright line would also be equally flawed. This is policy debate, not moot court debate. We’re not in a court room judging a defendant for a crime. The only reason we have the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard in the court is to ensure that justice is not undermined. Policy making, however, is not all about justice (though that might sometimes be the goal). Policy making is about following out the government’s duty to protect its citizens and give them the right to life, liberty, and property. Policy making is (or at least should be) about making the lives of the citizens better and that’s just another statement that boils down to net benefits.
At the end of the day, we both do agree that it is hard to quantifiably win the round — even when teams have solid studies with solid numbers backing their points, all it takes is for the other side to run qualitative arguments and it throws a wrench into the judging decision. But this is exactly my point. Reason #3 brings up math, yes, but the point is not to force judges to have to do math every single round but rather use math to derive a better weighing mechanism. And that weighing mechanism would be net benefits — with both sides bringing up advantages and disadvantages and using solvency and inherency structured arguments to place a damper on those advantages/disadvantage.
That being said, as I concluded my article with, the beauty of debate is that there are multiple ways of doing things. There are no “right” arguments or “right” theory. However, I do believe that stock issues as a weighing mechanism is super un-persuasive when it comes to talking about the warrants as to *why* NEG’s use it as a weighing mechanism. Compare that to the abundant warrants that the AFF has and I would recommend NEG’s to stay away from stock issue weighing mechs and perhaps label their push with some kind of solvency-based weighing mechanism (if a NEG can win a “beyond a reasonable doubt” weighing mech, it gives them a TON of ground) which is what they’re trying to do anyways when they mention a stock issue weighing mech.
Once again, thanks for reading!