This is my initial review of the scope of topics underneath Stoa’s new resolution, and some general observations I’ve had when combing through the literature. A similar post will be made concerning the NCFCA resolution.

 

First, the Topicality.

Stoa’s resolution is “Resolved: That the United States Federal Government should substantially reform its revenue generation policies.”

(taxsoftware.com)

To begin with, I noticed an interesting quirk: the use of the word ‘policies.’ I looked back over previous NCFCA resolutions, and the use of plurality when it comes to ‘reform…policies’ is not typical. Most of the time the resolution is singular. I’m not advocating topicality arguments on cases with only one reform, though that’s definitely something that some hopeless T debater will doubtless think of. I do, however, think that AJAC cases (cases that propose more than one plan) could become popular, and in some cases strategically advantageous.

More importantly, I think this resolution can offer some very intense and pleasurable topicality debates.

 

Second, the Scope.

I realize that every year complaints about the breadth of the resolution usually come to little or no fruition. However, let’s look at the scope of possible philosophies for cases.

I use the term ‘philosophies’ because it’s more than just different case topics, but sub-topics within topics. Let me prove me point.

First, we (obviously) need to determine what a ‘revenue generation policy’ is. Loosely defined, it’s a policy that generates money. What kind of policies does the federal government has that does that?

Well, there are taxes. And under this topic we have three avenues to stroll down: increase, decrease, or overhaul. And within each of those, we have plenty of doors to open:

  • Increase: Everything….
  • Decrease: Everything…
  • Overhaul: Pretty much everything. And not only are there dozens of ways to overhaul the current tax system, but each of those different proposals have multiple different tweaks that actually do cause quite a difference between them.

The Value-Added Tax system is a good example. This would fall under the category of “overhaul,” and is considered a “consumption” rather than “income” tax. Then you have 2 different kinds of consumption taxes: origin- or destination-based. And then you have 3 different ways to calculate the ‘value-added.” Already that’s what, 7 choices you have? Add in to that the multiple different kinds of exemptions as well as coordination with other tax systems ; )

At this point, you may be breathing heavy. I apologize. But you better brace yourself. Because the government also collects ‘non-tax revenue.’ Which takes me right to Wikipedia.

“Non-Tax Revenue”:

  • Aid from another level of government (intragovernmental aid) – for example, in the United States, federal grants may be considered non-tax revenue to the receiving states
  • Aid from abroad (foreign aid)
  • Tribute or indemnities paid by a weaker state to a stronger one, often as a condition of peace after suffering military defeat. The war reparations paid by the defeated Central Powers after the First World War offer a well-known example.
  • Revenue from state-owned enterprises (for example, revenue from state-owned liquor stores)
  • Revenue (including interest or profit) from investment funds (collective investment schemes), sovereign wealth funds, or endowments
  • Revenues from sales of state assets
  • Rents, concessions, and royalties collected by the state when it contracts out the right to profit from some good or service to a private corporation. An example are contracts for resource extraction (for such natural resources as minerals, timber, petroleum and natural gas, or marine resources) collected privately under license from state-owned lands
  • Fines collected and assets forfeitured as a penalty. Examples include parking fines, court costs levied on criminal offenders
  • Fees for the granting or issuance of permits or licenses. Examples include vehicle registration plate permits, vehicle registration fees, watercraft registration fees, building fees, driver’s licenses, hunting and fishing licenses, fees for professional licensing, fees for visas or passports, fees for demolition, rezoning, and land grading (which causes silt), and sometimes for increasing stormwater runoff, destroying native vegetation, and cutting-down healthy trees.
  • User fees collected in exchange for the use of many public services and facilities. Tolls charged for the use of toll roads are an example
  • Donations and voluntary contributions to the state

 

Additionally, some government agencies are, by design, required to be self-sustaining and therefore have their own revenue generation methods (USCIS is an example of this).

Note that the US Federal Government can’t really plan as a policy to be receiving aid from other actors, as in points 1 and 2, but pretty much everything else is fair game.

I plop this all down before you to say one thing: Limits.

I would personally very much enjoy watching (or judging. yay for graduating) a debate centering around a good topicality limit. I in no means support frivolous topicality; I just love a quality T debate that involves the subject matter of the resolution. There are multiple different ways you can create limits on this resolution, and I would fully support the creation of those limits in a way that befits the policies in consideration.

 

Definitions

Now, under topicality, there’s another rather touchy subject: definitions. I’ll skip resolutional definitions because every one of you should be able to acquire one sometime before qualifier season. I want to focus on topic-specific definitions.

If you read academic journals often, like certain members of the staff have a tendency to do, you’ll probably become quickly acquainted with the typical structure of a paper. One rather popular section is the “literature review” section, as I call it, that provides an overview of most of the applicable literature to the subject matter at hand. Usually within this section is a general definitional overtone that defines what exactly different terms may mean. Let me tell you, there are tons of definitions. And there are tons of different definitions for each of those terms being defined.

Knowing these will be important. Additionally, context will be important. For the terms used in your case and the literature, you’re going to want field experts defining the terms for you. Merriam Webster and dictionary.com are great places to start, but in a system so complex it costs taxpayers (on average) $163 billion a year, definitions from the people that work in the field will be much more precise and preferable. The best definition will fully account for the historical, social, political and linguistic background behind a term’s use in its specific context—not just be a plain jane dictionary definition. Believe it or not, sometimes the English language doesn’t understand IRS tax code.

But experts can be heady and dense. So read the definitions. Read them again. And again. And then turn them into lay-language for a judge and the other team.

Here’s a good star. Put into google the following phrase: “revenue generation policies include” filetype:pdf

Most of your results are going to be more academic, because of the PDF modifier, and except where Google is being a pain your results will finish the sentence for you. You should change that last word (include) a few times and eventually change the other words too as you start to learn what words the experts use.

 

Next, I want to deal with Counterplans.

I personally love them. And this year, a counterplan will probably be a much more attractive option. An affirmative with any sense of strategy will depict current taxes as bad and hurtful to both economies and households. How dare they! After all, taxes right now are comparatively low, provide wonderful social benefits for the poor, and play the modern Robin Hood by taxing the rich and giving to the poor!…..yeah. You see where I’m going with this.

Not even the liberal socialists who would love to see more of the third point above would agree that the current fiscal situation is sustainable given the status quo.

You have plenty of conservative bias to begin with. Flat and fair taxes have become increasingly popular as a platform for politicians. Reduction of tax rates has been a strategy for conservatives for decades and will continue to be a mainstay of their rhetoric. Again, arguing that the current tax system is fair and will solve the fiscal crisis is hardly a winning strategy.

On the flip-side, it would be very easy to attract that predisposition even with a tax increase case. It would be very easy to co-opt a tax increase with a tax offset, or to make the case that a tax increase with decreased spending would accomplish fiscal security. With a liberal base, creating taxes will be much more tolerable, as long as the effects on the poor are minimal.

Tax solutions each have their political party of support. But beyond that, implementation of tax solutions will also be a battleground for ideology. The Negative gets any Federalism (state run) sort of solution as well as any Constitutional solution. The Constitutional option is good at a time in history where pretty much everyone is upset at what the Government is and can do, which you can only limit Constitutionally.

So your Cross-Examination ends up being: “So you’re saying the Government has too many options to tax us?”
“Yes”

“And that’s really bad”

“Yes”

“And you stop it by mandating a legislative, policy change”

“Yes”
“But a long string of legislative, policy changes are what got us here, right?”
“I guess. Lots of bad choices”
“In theory those could be made again…after your plan”
“But we have FIAT!”
“Yeah, but you’re still using the same authority that got us here in the first place—Congress.”

“That’s what we have under the resolution”

“Fascinating”

 

On both sides, any political soft spot can be poked with an Affirmative case. And on either side, economists and politicians seem to agree that the current situation isn’t the best policy for the government to pursue indefinitely.

This would seem to indicate that counterplans would be a viable option, strategically and practically. I agree.

Here’s what I don’t recommend: creating a generic counterplan. If the amount of counterplans increases, I would postulate that the number of good responses to counterplans will also rise. I’m considering calling this principle “The Desirability/Defense Principle.” As the desirability of a counterplan rises, so too will the defense against the counterplan.

Creating a general counterplan that lacks a strategy tailored to the specific affirmative will probably fail to be the best solution. If you write the typical “abolish all taxes” as a counterplan, each Affirmative will be prepared with their defense against that specific counterplan. In terms of strategy, a policy (not meaning legislation in this case) becomes undesirable when the cost of your mode of attack becomes greater than your opponents cost of defense. With a broad counterplan like “abolish all taxes” it becomes necessary to create a significant link to the Affirmative case. On the other hand, the Affirmative need only show why this specific tax is a good idea. They’ll have already done that. The more generic a counterplan becomes, the harder it can be to apply it to specific cases, and the lower the cost-efficiency of the strategy.

Instead of taking a generic counterplan, prep a counterplan specific to the affirmative case it will be used against. Mutual Exclusitivity may be something you want to strive for more than just standard competitiveness via a DA. You may wish to avoid permutation arguments from an Affirmative more than you might have in previous resolutions.

But don’t worry; this shouldn’t be an unnecessary burden. Just like you can ask 45 tax professionals for an opinion and get 45 different tax liabilities as an answer (no really, this was done), you can also get plenty of different answers as to how to implement a specific Affirmative. Reference my example of the Value-Added Tax above. There are defenders of each approach. A smart aff will probably read a lot and pick the best, but there is rarely a “perfect” system. Find competing proposals, develop a good defense, and then counterplan with the superior option.

The value-added tax not only competes against itself by having multiple options to choose from, it also competes against other tax reform policies. A retail sales tax, a value-added tax, the income tax, payroll taxes, the corporate income tax; all of these are being compared and contrasted as different solutions to the same problem. Each of these options are viable counterplans for each other, in addition to being popular affirmatives.

Something to be aware of is the rather popular aspect of tax reform. Plenty of people recognize the need for reform in our tax structure and our fiscal system more broadly. As such, many proposals have been offered. Fortunately for the chronic counterplan-er, many people have begun to compare proposals against each other. This is counterplan material ripe for the picking.

In previous years, it has been typically frowned upon to counterplan with your Affirmative very often. This is usually the result of a non-competitive affirmative-turned-counterplan run as a last resort. Those situations I do not support. I do, however, realize that there are plenty of affirmatives out there that have support from those proposal comparisons to be used as counterplans against opposing affirmatives. If you are already researching for your affirmative, research both defense and offense (they will be used for both positions) on your case versus other cases. You benefit doubly. Not only will you prepare yourself against counterplans, but you will also bolster your own affirmative as a counterplan option.

 

Advocacy

As a critical part of both Affirmatives and counterplans, managing the overwhelming advocacy and details can be, well, overwhelming.

Advocacy will be very important. In some cases, I’m sure that there will be multiple experts advocating the same thing. But it will be necessary to carefully comb through your advocacy articles and make sure they’re advocating the same type of reform. It would be too easy for an opposing team to point out the inconsistencies in your advocacy and then win on their superior (and hopefully consistent) advocacy if you don’t.

Doubtless, as you are searching for an Affirmative, you will come across multiple different ways to implement your proposal. If you’re trying to bolster your case, or find a case out of the specific topic, I recommend hastily constructing the Aff on the topic of your choice. For instance, there are many, many different ways to implement a Value-Added Tax. Many of those have good support. But implementing all of them would impossible and require a plan text longer than your speech time. As such, you have to choose. I recommend: choose. Then, as you continue to research your specific choice, you will find more pros and more cons to your specific policy proposal. You’ll probably come across literature that supports a different way to do your plan. In the end, you may tweak your plan each tournament and have several different options ready to go.

By the same token, Negatives will begin to research all those advocacy angles as well and may, rather than defending the status quo, s imply argue that your plan is not the correct way to go about fixing the problem. They may even argue it is not the correct way to implement a Value-Added Tax because of the advantages vs. disadvantages of another method.

As you gather all this information, you should be able to identify typical problems with the different policy avenues to take with your specific topic. You should also be identifying how different proposals circumvent different issues. As you continue to read and research you’ll probably discover the most strategic way to write your Affirmative.

This will probably take time. That’s ok. Hardly anyone’s case is perfect come practice season. It shouldn’t have to be. If you’re striving for perfection before your first tournament, you’re going to mis-prioritize your research. Adapt throughout the year so that come tournament season, you will be well acquainted with the literature on your case and how your advocacy is the superior method. Not only will this bolster your case, but it will protect you from surprise counterplans, of the sort that we talked about above.

 

Details

As I’ve pointed out a few times so far, there are multiple different ways to implement different fiscal solutions. Which system, implemented how, applied to what, coordinated with other systems, and etc. All of these add a significant amount of complexity and variables to any policy.

Here’s what I recognize as being a possible Negative strategy: demanding details. There are dozens of different advocacy articles on VATs that would recommend a slightly different tweak to allow this industry to be exempt, or to allow for this type of exception, or countless other implementation-specific details.

I do not recommend that strategy. I would be disappointed if this caught on as a typical Negative. Yes, there are many different proposals; yes, some proposals may conflict or have different experts advocating it; yes, Affs may be able to de-link certain arguments because of the specifics of their plan. BUT. A strong Negative will not require scavenging for details and attempting to trip up Affirmatives.

First, it’s simply not possible for the Affirmative. If tax complexity costs $163 billion a year, there’s no way a group of high schoolers will be able to account for each possible detail. If one were to collect each proposal and put them into a Franken-case, it would be impossible to fit the plan text into a debate round. It’s a goal that Affirmatives can’t meet.

Second, it’s not necessary. While many times experts will get into the nitty-gritty of specific methods for implementing a VAT tax, they will just as often work on the surface level. This will provide you plenty of arguments that will enable good clash without having to digress into a detail-oriented debate. You may be a detail-oriented person, but the majority of debaters will not feel the same urge as you do to clarify each and every step of their plan. It’s similar in scope to having to know just how many people at the IRS will be administering the tax, or how many reams of paper will be necessary for printing the brochures in a public awareness campaign. All of those are “important” details, but not necessary for an educated debate on the topic at-hand.

So please, don’t focus on tripping up the other team due to the details.

 

Conclusion

I hope this will have given you at least a little bit of what to expect with this resolution. Due to the sheer magnitude of the resolution, I’m hoping for a lofty goal. Go forward into the year armed with practical and compelling topicality arguments. I want to judge those. Equip yourself with real-life politically competitive counterplans, and have the policy debates that are happening in the real world. And lastly, make sure all your ducks are in a row when it comes to navigating the intricacies of the experts’ opinions.

Go Debate.

 

(thanks to Isaiah for editing and assistance)

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