The Stock Issues
How do I know what arguments to make?
Any discussion of policy proposals relies on a pattern of analysis developed by the philosopher and educator, John Dewey. This analysis applies to all proposals, not just debate resolutions.
Let us assume that you are concerned parent trying to convince a town meeting that the city ought to renovate or build more playgrounds. Obviously, you would come to the meeting having made as much preparation as possible. You would have a detailed plan of action — what playgrounds to rebuild, where to buy more land, and so on.
Would this be enough to convince people? Hardly. You not only need to have a plan of action, but you need to provide a reason for adopting this plan. So you would prepare arguments beforehand: the old playgrounds are unusable, you would say. There are too many children in the city, and not enough facilities. Kids end up playing in abandoned quarries. Even where facilities exist, the grounds and equipment are in poor repair: there have been five major injuries to children in the last two years due to collapsing swing-sets.
At the same time, you would need to justify the city's taking action. Point out that no private citizen or company will underwrite the cost of repair, but that the city has thousands of dollars of funds earmarked for park improvement.
How does this apply to debate?
As you will recall, the Affirmative team speaks first in the round, since they need to justify changing the status quo. The goal of this first speech is to present a specific plan and a list of reasons for adopting it, the case.
The plan is a very detailed list of what steps the Affirmative team thinks the government should adopt. The case is a persuasive series of arguments designed to show that the plan is needed and effective.
The Affirmative must present a prima facie (PRY-muh FAY-shuh) case in the first speech if they expect to win the debate. "Prima facie" — a Latin phrase meaning, roughly, "at first glance" — means that the arguments are sufficient to persuade a reasonable person until they are refuted. If the Affirmative presents a prima facie case, they have fulfilled their burden of proof for the first speech: they have presented a reason to change the status quo. If the Affirmative fails to provide a prima facie case, the Negative can win just by pointing that out in their first speech.
What are the components of a prima facie case?
The prima facie case must answer certain of the stock issues in the 1AC speech. The stock issues are four basic varieties of argument which appear in every debate.
One way to think of stock issues is as questions to which the Affirmative must answer yes and the Negative may answer no. There are many ways of posing these questions, but here are some examples:
The first stock issue is known as harm or need. The second is called inherency (or, sometimes, uniqueness). The third issue is called solvency, and the fourth, disadvantages (or, rarely, cost). To provide a prima facie speech, the first Affirmative Constructive must provide a plan and address the harm, inherency, and solvency issues.
Notice how our playground example a few paragraphs ago fits into this system of analysis. The Harm issue is considered in the dangers to children from the current playground structure. The fact that nobody else is taking action satisfies the Inherency issue. The detailed proposal for new equipment provides the plan, and the claims that it would be a functional solution meets the Solvency requirement.
Why isn't the Disadvantages stock issue part of a prima facie case?
We assume that the Affirmative plan has a tiny amount of risk, but we trust the Affirmative enough to suspend judgement on any disadvantages until later in the debate. We expect that any bad side-effects will be brought up by the Negative team in their speeches. The Affirmative will, of course, deny that there are any major defects in their plan.
If the Affirmative had the duty to anticipate and answer all possible side-effects in their first speech, they couldn't possibly fulfill their burden of proof in eight minutes. So, in the interests of fairness, Disadvantages are excluded from prima facie consideration.
Explain the Need stock issue.
To meet the need issue, the Affirmative must prove that there is a significant amount of suffering going on due to present policy. They can take two approaches: they can prove a quantitative harm, showing that many people are affected, or they can show a qualitative harm, demonstrating that relatively few people are hurt deeply.
Consider a resolution calling for stricter federal control over pornography. One Affirmative case may choose to show that millions of people are exposed to pornography, and each exposure corrupts them slightly; the net effect is widespread, even universal, harm. This quantitative approach suggests a big, but not necessarily intense, problem.
Another case on the same topic might suggest that, for a few individuals, pornography causes criminally violent sexual behavior: it leads to rapes, assaults, and child molesting. Clearly, not all people are sexually assaulted in the course of a year — not even a large fraction of the population are so harmed. But those who are harmed are hurt greatly. This is a qualitative approach.
Remember that the need analysis is equally valid as an advantage instead of a harm. For example, the Affirmative could demonstrate that cutting pornography would cut assaults, resulting in a savings of thousands of hours of police time, and millions of dollars in court and prison costs. This quantitative advantage is just as legitimate as a quantitative harm approach. Both types of analysis demonstrate a need for the Affirmative proposal.
Inherency is the hardest of the stock issues for the beginning debater to understand. The crux of inherency is the nature of cause-and-effect: the Affirmative wants to demonstrate that there are features in the status quo which cause the problems discussed in the Need issue. Proving that this causal link exists means that the harms can't be cured except by reforming the status quo.
There are four basic types of inherency that you might meet. For demonstration purposes, we will assume that the Affirmative is proposing a plan to increase federal aid to people living in poverty.
Structural inherency is the strongest type of inherent barrier to establish. A structural analysis suggests that a law, or rule, or fact of life is causing the harms. For example, the Affirmative may argue that people who do not get a good education have low productivity, and thus earn low wages, and thus are condemned to poverty. The causal link of poor education to low income is based on economic facts. Similarly, the government rule that people who have given up looking for jobs are not counted as "unemployed" means that the unemployment figures underestimate the number of people in need of work; a law demonstrates structural inherency.
Gap inherency is weaker than structural inherency. The Affirmative notes that the present system has identified a problem and is taking steps against it, but those steps fall short of curing the harms. There is a gap between the solution now in existence and the harm that needs to be cured. For example, federal welfare payments are designed to relieve poverty, but the money a family receives from welfare is too little to raise it above the poverty line — a gap exists. Gap inherency is weaker than structural inherency because it shows that the status quo is already making some effort to remove the problem, as we will see when we discuss First Negative tactics.
Attitudinal inherency claims that the problems are caused by people's beliefs, feelings, or opinions. For example, racial prejudice — an attitudinal problem — prevents many blacks from getting good-paying jobs, thus causing poverty to strike at the African-American family more often than the white family. Another example is that people find it humiliating to ask for charity (an attitude), and so many poor people refuse out of pride to participate in welfare and food stamp programs, and thus suffer poverty and malnutrition (the harm). Attitudinal inherency, also, is weaker than structural inherency; the opposition will argue that the attitudes are not really strong (in 1NC), and that they will thwart the working of the plan (in 2NC). Attitudinal inherency can be effective, but you must be careful when you use it.
Finally, existential inherency argues that, since there's a problem, something must be causing it ...and leaves the question at that point. The Affirmative claims that the mere existence of a problem is enough; we don't have to worry about causes. This is a flawed analysis; existential inherency must never be used! Unless they show a true barrier, the Affirmative can't prove that the harms will not evaporate overnight — and so they will lose the debate. Existential inherency is considered a valid approach in some debate circuits, but the consensus among most high school judges is that it is not acceptable. Avoid it.
What is Solvency?
In many ways, solvency is the opposite of inherency. Again, you are trying to prove a causal relationship, but the Affirmative's goal is to show that the plan will work to solve the problems they have mentioned. Usually this means finding evidence in which an authority supports the specific proposal the Affirmatives are suggesting. The important thing for Affirmatives to remember is that the claim for solvency must specifically fix the problems described in the Harm analysis.
What are Disadvantages?
They are harmful side-effects of the Affirmative plan. They will be more fully discussed in the chapters on Second Negative Constructive and First Affirmative Rebuttal strategy.
Are there any other stock issues?
No....but you may hear about three others. They really aren't valid ones — they are holdovers from debate theory of previous decades — but a few schools are using old textbooks that still refer to them, so you should be familiar with the concepts. If you are faced with a team using this analysis, you have an excellent chance of winning; just make sure the judge knows that you know the underlying concept of the issue is flawed.
Significance deals with size and magnitude. Usually an Affirmative team arguing significance notes that their case extends to very many people. Properly, significance is a part of the Harm/Need stock issue: the Affirmative must prove that the harm they cite or the advantage they hope to derive is a significant and important one. Merely noting that large numbers of people (or many millions of dollars) are involved is not sufficient. Be careful here. A few debate teams use the word Significance when they mean Need or Harm.
Workability (sometimes called Unworkability) is usually brought up by the Negative, to claim that the Affirmative plan is not practical. Usually the Second Negative speaker will argue that the plan doesn't have Congressional backing, or that some minor details are too sketchy to function. These arguments are misapplied. If the plan is flawed so that it will not function well, the Negative argument is clearly one against solvency; if the plan is so flawed that it will worsen the situation, the relevant stock issue is disadvantages.
Often, workability arguments are just presented as a list of questions or assertions (known as presses): "How will your financing work? I don't see how the Affirmative is going to get all the money they need. And mailing out checks to everybody in poverty every month — who's going to lick all those envelopes? Until the Affirmative can answer these questions, we must conclude their plan is not workable." But questions aren't the same as arguments, and they are not persuasive. The Affirmative team cannot ignore Workability questions, but they can be handled quickly and easily...and the Affirmatives can expect to win the debate.
Finally, there is the pseudo-stock issue called Topicality. This is a very special case, because topicality is a legitimate — and often vitally important — issue in policy debate. It's so important, in fact, that we devote a whole chapter to it later on. While some debate theorists disagree, I don't think topicality should be considered a Stock Issue, however. Topicality is not an issue which must arise in every debate, while the other stock issues must be considered. Even Disadvantages are at least an implicit part of every round, even when the Negative fails to introduce formal disadvantage arguments, as part of the presumption in favor of the status quo. Topicality arguments are different; we consider that the Affirmative case and plan are operating completely within the bounds of the resolution until the Negative team begins a challenge to topicality. Thus, I think Topicality should not be considered a part of the standard Stock Issue quartet.
Introduction to Policy Debate