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.