PF Apr ’16 – Income inequality

Yesterday’s articles:

Downward mobility is the new normal for most Americans – Quartz

Given the information in the article above, will either of the options in the resolution really do much?

And a sociologist’s take on the question:

Is There a Better Way to Think About Income Inequality – CityLab

The first two lines at the top of page 5 are worthy of quoting in a round (probably Pro). Do means-tested welfare programs accomplish this, or do they simply re-establish the safety net for the $2/day people at the very bottom? (That figure is mentioned in articles previously posted.)

Update – today’s article:

Holtz – The Panama Papers prove it – America can afford a universal basic income – The Guardian

Definitely a Con argument, and a very income-inequality focus.


NX – Supreme Court

Rarely do I read anything that makes me laugh so hard that my eyes tear up. This story did.

US university in Scalia law school acronym blunder – ASSoL – BBC News

George Mason U changes name of Scalia law school to avoid embarrassing acronyms

There has to be an extemp speech intro in this one – perhaps something about Scalia being gone but obviously not forgotten as a lead-in to a question of his replacement, or how the court balance shifts without him.

PF Apr ’16 – Income inequality

These articles have more to do with the overall economic picture of income inequality than with infrastructure or means-tested welfare programs specifically. They should give you an overview of the issue, along with some decent statistics on the matter.

As you read these, ask yourself how the information they provide fits (or doesn’t fit) with the infrastructure/welfare options of the resolution.

Porter – Reviving the Working Class Without Building Walls

2015 was a terrible year for the common working man

100 CEOs Have More Saved Up for Retirement Than 41 Percent of US Families Combined – The Atlantic

Enriching Executives at the Expense of Many

How Much Wealth and Income Does America’s 1 Percent Really Have – The Atlantic

Edsall – Is Poverty a Kind of Robbery

Rank et al – Calculate Your Economic Risk

Your chances of becoming poor may be higher than you think

Worse than the Roaring Twenties – What even Thomas Piketty underestimates about American income inequality – Salon

Kristof – America’s Stacked Deck – political and economic

Inequality Will Not Go Away On Its Own – Here’s How to Close the Gap – The Nation

Shiller – How Wage Insurance Could Ease Economic Inequality

The biggest threat to American workers is slowly starting to go away – outsourcing and China

Majority of US public school students are in poverty

Marriage Equality Grows, and So Does Class Divide

Topics – PF Apr ’16 – Income inequality – resources

First, the Dropbox links:

The Extemp Files were just updated, late last night, through Wednesday’s/yesterday’s articles. I’m also starting to get the Extemp Backfiles folder populated. I tend to put infrastructure articles in the Economic Crisis – US folder. Check the Poverty folder for means-tested programs, though some may be in both folders. I’ve also posted my Economics folder, which goes back years and covers a broader range of economic topics than do the Extemp subfolders.

Specific articles:

This is the best Pro article I’ve found; it argues that there are simply too many workers – and that the solution is a massive infrastructure program. First, the article, and then a link to the report on which it’s based (really long and detailed).

The world has too many workers – Here’s one way to fix it

GLUT: The U.S. Economy and the American Worker in the Age of Oversupply

For those taking a Con position in favor of means-tested programs: First, a good overview article with a lot of key information every Con side should have, then two on the SNAP program changes.

The End of Welfare as We Know It – The Atlantic

Thousands Could Lose Food Stamps as States Restore Pre-Recession Requirements

The controversial reason tens of thousands of people just lost their food stamps

Housing costs, and a good chart with some interesting income numbers that should benefit the Con side.

It’s getting more expensive to be poor

From the last four articles, would anything other than direct welfare programs really help those at the bottom? How would infrastructure spending benefit them?

One of the major uses of wealth (assets) is to produce income. This can be through financial investments (stocks, bonds, whatever), real estate (rental, to produce revenue, or sold for prices higher than originally paid), or other methods. To the extent that income inequality is an extension of wealth inequality, the following report is relevant.

Billionaire Bonanza – The Forbes 400 and the Rest of Us – Institute for Policy Studies

What do the numbers in this report tell us about the resolution?

Topics – PF Apr ’16 – Income inequality – thoughts

Thoughts first: I still find there to be a fundamental disconnect between the topic’s theoretical core subject matter – income inequality – and the options for narrowing that.

Keep in mind the distinctions between income and wealth; I’m pretty sure that some of the statistics that will be thrown around will be about wealth (total asset values) and not about annual income amounts/differences. Call those out when you see them.

The topic doesn’t address structural issues. From my perspective the system is rigged: When capital gains (income from not working, via returns on wealth assets) is taxed at a rate lower than income from actually working at a job, the Orwellian nature of the system (all income is created equal, but some income is more equal than others) tells me that it’s an intentional structural problem (i.e. rigged). Nothing in the resolution addresses that.

Taxes and public spending is by its very nature redistributional – money flowing from one group to another. Traditionally we think of this as targeting those as the lower end of the spectrum, though the argument can certainly be made that there are corporate welfare programs (military-industrial complex, anyone?) that make government funds flow upwards.

The Pro side is limited to infrastructure spending. With infrastructure spending, the money isn’t strictly going to the people building the infrastructure. Funds would need to go for material and equipment (admittedly boosting business for suppliers), and for the services of the professionals to design and supervise the projects. Is the benefit more to the individual workers, or to the construction-industrial complex? While infrastructure jobs pay better than many other employment options, would this benefit people who are unemployed or underemployed, or people already further up the ladder with the more technical skills that construction can require? Statistically speaking, boosting such people and increasing their numbers would provide an overall rise in nationwide income stats, but would it really do anything about the top vs. bottom inequality? Or is the thought that the spending (and the benefits of an improved infrastructure) would spread throughout the economy as a whole – the rising tide/all boats argument? Philosophically, the arguments about the value of employment to individuals benefit the Pro position.

The Con side would seem to have two options. The most obvious is to defend direct transfers, most likely with the argument that this gets money directly to the people who need it the most. (This position is susceptible to the ‘value of employment’ argument.) How this closes the income inequality gap isn’t clear, since such amounts aren’t usually considered income in the traditional sense. From decades of observation, means-tested programs are anti-poverty programs; the amounts they provide are supposed to cover minimally necessary expenses and not extras – thus the conservative push to restrict what certain aid can be spent on (no lobster! – really). As such, even if you provided people with an amount equal to, say, twice the poverty level, you wouldn’t be giving them enough to have any noticeable impact on the overall question of income inequality. I suppose that the resolution could be interpreted to mean giving means-tested aid to the middle class so that they do not descent into poverty, but with something like 20-25% of children in the U.S. coming from households in poverty (or very near to it) it would be really hard to defend that interpretation.

It would seem that a second Con option would there be to argue that infrastructure spending isn’t preferable to means-tested spending because neither would really change the income inequality problem; the structural problems are the real culprit and aren’t addressed by infrastructure spending or direct aid. The topic should have been worded better, to preclude this sort of option, but it wasn’t, which suggests that in your Pro rounds you should be prepared for this possibility, however small the chances of encountering it might be.

LD – Mar/Apr ’16 – Promoting democracy in Middle East

Footnote: My state has five NSDA/NFL districts, two of which didn’t want to have their tournament season run too long; those two districts had their NatQual tournament two weeks before the state championship, and as such used this topic prior to the state championship tournament. People from the other three districts were using this topic for the first time at State. I judged LD finals; both debaters were from the same region, and it was one of the ones that had had NatQuals before State. (I don’t think there was any such correlation in PF finals.)

There are still two NatQual dates left in my state, including one this weekend. For them, and anyone elsewhere still competing on this topic, I offer the most recent relevant articles.

First, the broader and more philosophical takes:

This one should be in every Aff’s toolbag.

El Amine – Are ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’ Western colonial exports – No – Here’s why

The final round at State was (oversimplified) philosophical reasons vs a realistic evaluation of the possible. (Realism won.) Two from Friedman – on Middle East realism, and on U.S. foreign policy as a question of dealing with the internal vs. external policies of other countries.

Friedman – When the Necessary Is Impossible

Friedman – Impossible Missions – internal vs external politics of foreign countries

A look around the region:

Brownlee – Why Turkey’s authoritarian descent shakes up democratic theory

Lynch – Why it’s wrong to say that the Arab uprisings failed

Grewal – How Tunisia’s military has changed during its transition to democracy

Ryan – Five years after Arab uprisings, security trumps reforms in Jordan

(After what Friedman says, dos the ‘security trumps reforms’ point valid in more than Jordan?)

What conditions are necessary for democracy? Is the ‘rule of law’ one of them?

Abrams et al – To establish the rule of law, cut off elites’ purses and power – Here’s how

Democracy creation else where; does this connect to the El Amine article?

Smith – In central Africa, citizens are using social media to build democracy – Here’s how

If western democracy is going through a legitimation crisis, as Morozov argues, who are we to think about exporting democracy?

Morozov – The state has lost control – tech firms now run western politics – The Guardian

FX/NX/LD/PF/CX – Extemp Files updates

The Extemp Files were updated really late yesterday evening (Wednesday), through yesterday. This includes the Elections and Supreme Court folders.

The Extemp Backfiles folder is gradually being populated. For the moment it has the 2012-2014 articles (though not all of the subfolders). For PF the Economic Crisis – US folder is up (since this is where I tend to file infrastructure and domestic economic inequality articles); for CX, the China folder is up.


Extemp Files instructions repost: The link takes you to a Dropbox folder; if a pop-over window saying something about setting up an account or logging in comes up, just close it.

The files are serious overkill – over 25,000 articles right now. There should be a way to copy or download individual articles when you find the ones you want in your files – try right-clicking the specific PDF file/article and selecting the ‘save link as’ option.

The four-digit numbers at the beginning of most of the file names (and the names of the sub-folders) are simply mm/yy codes so that you can tell how recent the article is at a glance.

Please don’t download the whole thing; it trips up my Dropbox limits and bad things happen that shut down access for others. If you need a full copy, let me know (see the About link for an email address) and I’ll make arrangements to get you a copy or share the folder (so that you get the updates as soon as I post them). Students who want to share the folder will need to have an OK from their coach – I don’t want to step on the toes of any coaches who prefer other methods of team research. (Several coaches already share the folder, if you’re a coach and are interested.) Specific topic subfolders can be shared as well.