It’s July, which means fireworks, the beach, and, of course, competitive debate! Granted, it may only be the middle of summer, but we here at Ethos are all springing into the next debate year’s topics. Yes, in addition to this series on Stoa TP, we are also beginning multiple other series on the resolutions for the different leagues and/or different formats. This article’s topic will be jumping right into an issue that will probably be one of the largest, most important topics in the entire league. It may be dense, but it will be very useful and informative, I can assure you.
I don’t know about you, but as soon as I think of government agricultural policy, I immediately think of farm subsidies, considering the major issue they are. Perhaps as a result, it will likely be the most common case topic in the league. Recognizing this, we wanted to make sure you have a head start on understanding this very contentious subject, from both perspectives. To do so, this article will be much more straightforward and packed than normal.
The status quo:
For over three quarters of a century—since the Great Depression—we have been subsidizing farmers. And, yes, that has included “paying farmers not to plant.”
However—thankfully for the American people (although unfortunately for any aff team), we finally got rid of that, with the 2014 Farm Bill. With that bill, we cut all kinds of subsidy payments except for crop insurance programs, which we increased, adding two new programs: Price Loss Coverage and Agricultural Risk Coverage. In very basic terms, a crop insurance subsidy is the government paying for part (>60% usually) of the premium for a private insurance company, with the farmer paying the rest.
That aside, though, the important takeaway is that we don’t pay farmers not to plant anymore; it’s only crop insurance.
Additionally, it should be understood that only a few crops (wheat, cotton, corn, soybeans, and rice) receive the vast majority (90%) of subsidies. Everything else is generally not subsidized.
So, the 2014 Farm Bill’s crop insurance programs setting the inherency, we can now get to the affirmative case that this all produces.
As of right now I can’t think of any one case topic that would be more popular than this. The reason for this is both in the case’s depth and ease of research (since so many people write about it) as well as its simplicity. In this regard, I would also project that the plain “full abolition” plan is going to be much more popular with novices, who tend to be drawn (or pushed, such as by coaches) towards simpler cases. On the other hand, the more detailed “reform/limit” case I project will be more popular with advanced debaters, who accept the tradeoff of increased complexity for a stronger case.
The affirmative side
Now, it’s finally time to look at just what the affirmatives’ arguments will be!
I’m not going to go too in-depth on everything, as I want to put as much out there as possible. So, be prepared for brevity.
The two main cases will be either a complete abolition of the subsidy programs, or an overhaul that cuts back on payments, removes programs, or something else.
The case’s main harm is going to be economic: subsidies are bad for the economy. Some points under this include:
- It wastes money, in that it spends money that would have been (perhaps better) spent somewhere else. (The technical name for this is opportunity cost)
- It discourages innovation and growth in agriculture by avoiding challenges, which ultimately lead to solutions to solve problems. In effect, it spoils the farmers.
- It encourages farmers to produce something that the market isn’t demanding, resulting in overproduction and waste.
- It creates moral hazard in that the people getting insurance don’t take great care of their crops, since they think “Oh, well it’s insured either way.”
These are some of the main examples, but there could be other points to make.
Now, the negative will say that crop insurance is really important, but that it won’t exist without subsidies. As the affirmative, you want to respond by saying
- Crop insurance can be provided through the private market through tools such as futures markets or reinsurance. Thus, there is no need to subsidize it.
- Even if it couldn’t be provided by the private market, it isn’t necessary for farmers to operate. Certainly, some farmers might go out of business, but there’s nothing wrong with that, when considering the fact that the subsidies cause greater unemployment in other sectors of the economy.
One of the next major points will likely be reinforcing everything just stated by referring to the New Zealand empirics. As covered in more detail in that article (and in great detail in other scholarly publications), New Zealand got rid of practically all of its subsidy programs in the 80’s, yet their farming system has only rebounded even stronger than it was before.
Next up for the aff is one of the more interesting aspects of this case: side-harm options! Indeed, while the main justification in this case is economic, there are also a large number of other harms you can mix and match to make the case your own. Some examples are as follows:
- Harming our trade negotiations: this is suggested by a number of critics (including this very recent and detailed one).
- Harming third world countries: some of our production is ultimately donated or dumped overseas, which arguably causes massive damage to the farmers there.
- Environmental damage: by providing subsidies we encourage more land to be farmed, which increases soil erosion and other environmental problems. This is supported here.
- Obesity: A number of critics, including this very recent study, contend that our subsidy programs encourage (and decrease the cost of) production of unhealthy foods, which induces people to eat those foods.
- Food oppression: This one is… interesting, to say the least…. This argument essentially states that the subsidy programs have (inadvertently) resulted in disproportionate harm to racial minorities, in the sense of unhealthy incentives (basically, going back to the obesity issue). All I can say: read Freeman’s numerous articles for yourself and decide.
And that’s most of the main points for your side. Of course, there is always more, and you definitely will need responses for the negative side, which is the next section:
The negative side
You might be thinking you have a pretty tough side. Well I’m here to tell you… you’re somewhat right. BUT! That doesn’t mean you can’t win. In fact, although you will have to research and prepare far more than normally, you may actually have the upper hand in this issue in the end.
The primary issue to look at is market failure. This will pretty much constitute the overall theme of your stance, as without market failure, it is extremely difficult (if not impossible) to justify government intervention. Thus, under this issue, you will have two main disadvantages.
- Externalities: farming is a major cause of water pollution and soil erosion, the latter of which you argue to be an extreme problem, as this guy does. Subsidies stop this through conservation compliance.
- Economic harm: essentially, you argue that crop insurance is necessary to maintaining a steady supply-demand equilibrium. The factors of the market (namely, low profit margin, supply volatility, and supply response delay) cause there to be volatility, but this is solved through crop insurance. When the aff tries to argue that the private market will solve, you argue that it won’t, for various reasons like those mentioned in this article (which unfortunately, you can only seem to fully access through an educational institution).
Ultimately, if you can establish that there is market failure which is solved by crop insurance subsidies, it is almost a turn on the aff in that it proves without government intervention there is inefficient resource allocation.
A negative will also of course need to be prepared for the aff’s other arguments:
- New Zealand empirics: New Zealand is/was primarily livestock, which arguably faces less risk and has shorter supply response time. And we don’t subsidize our livestock.
- Third world country harm: although that can be true, we also do a lot of good with our donations. Also, many countries are simply unable to produce these commodities regardless of what we do, due to issues like political instability (e.g. Cote d’Ivoire).
- Trade negotiations: turn this by stating it actually harms our negotiations to remove our most effective bargaining leverage, and that we are “ready to decrease when they do.”
- Subsidies cause obesity/food oppression: you can argue that subsidies have only minimal effects on prices, which in themselves also only have minimal effects on consumer decisions (same article).
Overall, you are definitely going against most judge bias and common economic teachings, but the negative side can definitely put enough doubt in the judge’s mind. Considering that and how popular this case will be, putting in enough neg preparation for this case will really pay off.
Now, I just described the main two cases under this issue. However, there are a number of other, less common cases to run under this topic. Here’s a few, just to spark your creativity:
- “Make subsidy recipient information publicly available.” This is because currently, the payment information is private, and in the past, payments have gone to congressmen (same article) and even to the North American Islamic Trust, which some link to terrorism (however, the NAIT is not known to be receiving those subsidies anymore, as we got rid of the direct payment program).
- To solve the problem of obesity, we could switch subsidy support away from the current crops (corn, wheat, soy, etc.) to healthier foods like fruits and vegetables, which generally are not subsidized at all.
Again, there are plenty of plans out there; explore, and see if anything catches your attention!
I will say that this topic is going to have a lot of idea saturation (popularity) in the league, meaning that negs will likely be much more prepared. This saturation can offset some of the strength advantages this case has, since you will face tougher resistance. However, I still think this will be a very strong case choice for a multitude of reasons:
- For the most part, it appeals to judge bias.
- It’s simple, both to find evidence for and to write a plan for.
- It is rife with bad policy drivers (That is to say, there are a lot of reasons why the government would actually have made a bad policy, such as the farming interest group being politically involved in this. The general public, on the other hand, doesn’t notice the widely-disbursed harm. If that wasn’t clear, see this article for a more thorough explanation).
- It has lots of variability, in that you can customize/adapt the case to what suits you, your opponent, or your audience. This can also be used to keep your opponent on their toes.
- It has a lot of offense; that is to say, there are a lot of justifications to choose from, and some of those justifications are really strong. This lets you keep up the pressure in the 2AC with new advantages/justifications.
By any measure, I’m excited to see what everyone will do with this topic, and the debate that will follow!
Remember: this is just the first in what will be a great series on the Stoa TP resolution. I recognize that this article was very in-depth and didactic, but this was primarily because for this topic—crucial as it is—we believe it is imperative that you have a good understanding of the issue. However, the coming articles will be able to go at a more relaxed pace. So, stay tuned to Ethos’ blog for more coverage on the various issues under this resolution… such as:
- GMO labelling: a simple, slick case that has to be… one of the biggest novice traps I have seen in a long time! Indeed, you really should be on your guard when it comes to this case, for reasons I explain.
- Unorthodox-conservative, libertarian cases like legalization of hemp growing, or more extremely: legalization of (licensed) marijuana cultivation (and the subsequent selling, of course).
And much more!
If you want to make sure not to miss any of these great pieces, subscribing is a great, unobtrusive way to do so!