In mid-2017, I wrote an article describing what the stock issues are and why they are useful. I still recommend that article for a basic introduction into the stock issues, but since then, I have updated my views on the framework. This article presents a newer and deeper version of the stock issues—or at least, an alternative to traditional stock issues theory. Here, I will show the differences between the two approaches, provide a diagram for the framework, introduce a “new” stock issue, and demonstrate how the same reasoning for advantages can also apply to disadvantages.
Before I get too far into this: I won’t claim that I am the definitive authority on this topic. However, having spent a lot of time mulling over this, I would argue this interpretation is better (i.e. more logical and helpful) than those that include disadvantages as part of solvency or significance and those that don’t combine significance and harms. As always, if you want to provide input, feel free to leave a comment!
Problems With the Old Theory
There are multiple interpretations of the stock issues. The one I presented in my old article treats the stock issues as all the necessary criteria for a decision to be good (e.g. “it has to solve,” “it has to be the best option”). Although this can potentially be helpful as a simplified introduction, it’s somewhat awkward or even inconsistent: aside from the fact that alternatives/counterplans are just disadvantages (specifically, opportunity cost disadvantages), it seems unbalanced to consider “it must be net beneficial” (disadvantages) a single stock issue if you also have multiple stock issues just for advantages. If nothing else, I found that a different approach has more explanatory power (i.e. usefulness) and consistency, especially when it comes to disadvantages.
The New Approach
My current approach still uses a lot of the same stock issue definitions that I used in my old article, but the core focus is slightly shifted: instead of broadly describing the criteria for a “good plan,” this approach describes the necessary, logical components of a plan’s advantage or disadvantage. In other words, it breaks down the analysis of “pros” and “cons” into smaller, more-manageable pieces. For example, the general line of reasoning for advantages is as follows:
- There is a situation… (Inherency)
- Which is bad… (Significance)
- But a course of action could/would be taken… (Feasibility/Implementation)
- Which would fix the situation. (Solvency)
This is all represented by the matrix/diagram below:
Each box should be read as “[row] of the [column].” For example, gap would be read as “Nature of the current situation.” This being said, it’s important to note the distinction between nature and effect: nature generally focuses on the factual/existential description of something, with no evaluation of good/bad; effect considers both factual effects (e.g. solvency) and/or whether a supposed thing is good/bad (e.g. significance). For example, in debates about aid policy, an inherency point may be “X aid program won’t get funded,” while a significance point could be “people will die if X aid program does not get funded.” Sometimes the technical distinction between the two can get blurry, but after some experience, it’s generally clear enough for practical use. Also, “inherency” usually does not focus on why the situation is the way it is, unlike some traditional approaches; that is generally a matter for solvency (if anything). Regarding topicality, I explain in my previous article why I do not focus on it here, but it would be located in the top right cell (at least, for the majority of policy resolutions). Lastly, with people who are new to the stock issues, I prefer to use the term “gap” instead of “inherency,” mostly because “inherency” can be unfamiliar and intimidating.
The addition of feasibility/implementation
A theory nerd’s initial reaction to this may be “So… Fiat?” Indeed, this issue does partially relate to fiat power (i.e. “could this actually get passed?”)—which is mainly just a problem outside of policy debate. However, feasibility also involves questions of vagueness/details, actors, capabilities, resources/funding, etc. As mentioned in the diagram, the issue broadly asks, “what of the plan can/will actually be implemented?”
A specific application of this could be for a plan to conduct counter-terror airstrikes in a certain region: if the Affirmative’s plan tasks more planes/drones than we have available, or requests that they operate in an area where we do not yet have a sufficient airbase, the strikes just won’t happen (or at least not in the way that the Affirmative specified). The question of whether the airstrikes would be effective—assuming the plan was feasible/implemented—is a separate issue (specifically, it is solvency). Although this normally is lumped with solvency, it seems logical or useful to differentiate the two by defining feasibility/implementation as “what actions can/will be taken?” and solvency as “what will be the effects of those actions?”
Application to disadvantages
Another major benefit of this approach to the stock issues is that the reasoning/diagram can also be applied to disadvantages (with some minor alterations):
This testifies to the consistency of the framework and it also provides some more order to disadvantage theory; for example, “brink” would fall under link/disruption in the diagram.
I don’t have space to go into full detail on some of the aspects of this framework. Additionally, there are still some definitions that need to be ironed out in the future, and the terms used in the diagram (e.g. row and column headers, names of stock issues) could change. Furthermore, I recognize it may be less disruptive to simply advance this new framework as distinct from (but closely related to) traditional stock issues (especially since the new framework’s focus is no longer about criteria for a good plan). Nonetheless, I consider that this approach provides a more-fundamental understanding for why the stock issues matter, has more-consistent definitions, and is more useful. At the same time, I am totally open to other people’s perspectives; feel free to ask questions or share your thoughts in the comment section!