The moment this season’s resolution was announced, most NCFCA LD debaters doubtless rushed to the nearest copy of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations in search of arguments for economic liberty. That reaction was partly warranted: the most important defenses of robust property regimes in recent history have focused on the social utility of private property and the prosperity engendered by economic freedom. That is because those defenses were formulated during the decades-long ideological show-down between the United States and the Soviet Union, the lynchpin of which was whether free markets or control economies were better suited to maintain security, peace, and stability in the aftermath of the Second World War.
But it is not clear that this season’s resolution has anything to do with that question. At least, it is not clear that it must have anything to do with it. This is because the resolution does not pit economic freedom against government control. It pits private property against community interests. And that is not the same thing. More accurately, it is not the same thing unless NEG debaters argue that centralized economic control is in the interest of the community. But practically no NEG debaters are going to make that claim, for at least two reasons: first, because they probably do not believe it; and second, because their judges probably do not believe it, either.
In fact, not only are NEG debaters within their rights to disown control economics, they are within their rights to embrace free market economics. This is because, again, the only requirement the resolution places on NEG is to defend the community’s economic interest. But it does not specify what that interest consists in, or what promotes it. If economic freedom leads to benefits for political communities, then it is a component of the community’s economic interest and is thus part of NEG’s ground.
This has important implications for AFF as well as NEG strategy. Any AFF debater who defends the individual right to property on the grounds that it leads to economic growth will have to answer the following question: If your ultimate aim is to accelerate economic growth, are you not placing primary importance on the community’s economic interest? Are you not simply taking the NEG position? The most intuitive answer is: Yes.
The moral of this story is twofold: first, NEG debaters need not defend socialism, communism, or widespread wealth redistribution. The resolution neither states nor implies any such requirement. Second, AFF debaters should not run cases grounded in the economic utility of liberty. If they do, they are at risk of inadvertently negating the resolution.
To clarify, I do not think AFF debaters should entirely eschew arguments about the economic benefits of private property. I am simply saying that they should avoid making those benefits their ultimate justification for valuing property rights. If NEG argues that private property undermines prosperity, then by all means respond with empirical evidence. But be sure to hang your hat elsewhere. (Don’t worry, there are plenty of other places for hat-hanging.)
In the meantime, you are free to scrub Marxist rhetoric from your NEG cases. You don’t need it.
Noah McKay is a debate coach and sourcebook author at Ethos Debate currently pursuing graduate studies in philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. He has coached individuals and groups in LD for five years.