Policy debate in Lincoln-Douglas (LD) uses a utilitarian framework calculus and focuses on analyzing the pros and cons of a specific policy action. These debates are heavily influenced by the policy debate event, and is often called either “LARP”, the abbreviation for live action role-playing, as LD debaters are “role-playing” as policy debaters, or “util debate.” Policy debate uses utilitarian calculus to focus on the consequences of a policy action. This debate style relies on policy research and is multi-disciplinary, often drawing heavily from international relations, political science, and economics. In addition to its educational benefits, policy positions are strategic, often leveraged against critical and philosophy positions. Policy debate is especially prevalent on the West Coast, though it is used all across the country.
Policy ACs, like other types of ACs, set up the majority of offense for the round. These ACs typically, though not always, parametrize the resolution, proposing a “plan:” a specific course of action. For example, on the topic resolved: states ought to ban their nuclear arsenals, instead of defending the resolution in general, a policy AC might defend that only India and Pakistan should eliminate their nuclear weapons. Limiting the resolution is strategic for two reasons: first of all, it limits the arguments that the negative may read, e.g. a negative argument about US or Russian nuclear arsenals now becomes irrelevant, since the affirmative is only defending the removal of nuclear arsenals by India and Pakistan. The legitimacy of the affirmative in specifying a policy proposal is debated in topicality. Secondly, limiting the resolution allows for greater depth of research, allows the debate round to focus on the major arguments from the beginning, begetting more nuance, and gives the affirmative an idea of what negative arguments will be, allowing greater “control” over how the round plays out and better pre-round preparation. This strategic utility is increased when the affirmative “breaks new,” or debuts a plan that has not been read before. This forces the negative to attempt to adapt when much of their prep and argumentation may not apply to the part of the resolution the affirmative is defending.
A policy AC must include the 5 stock issues: significance, harms, inherency, topicality, and solvency. A helpful (school appropriate) acronym to remember this is HITSS.
Significance is just the reason the judge and debaters should care about the issue --- the benefits and disadvantages of the policy proposal will intrinsically prove significance.
Harms are the problems with the status quo, i.e. what is the problem that will happen absent the plan’s enactment. For example, a common harm for a policy AC that India and Pakistan should eliminate their nuclear arsenals would be an argument that nuclear war between the two states is inevitable in the status quo absent the removal of nuclear weapons.
Inherency is the cause of the status quo. An affirmative must be “inherent,” which just means that the plan proposed by the affirmative is not already in existence. For example, an affirmative plan could be “the United States federal government ought to implement a carbon tax at $43 per ton of CO2.” Since there is currently no such policy in place, this AC is inherent. However, if the AC were to propose “Plan: the United States federal government ought to enact income taxes,” this would not be inherent since such a policy is already in existence. Absent inherency, there is no reason to vote affirmative since the policy is already in place.
There are three types of inherency - existential/gap, structural, and attitudinal.
Existential/gap inherency refers to the absence of a law that would cause the aff. As of 2021, "Resolved: The United States should provide universal basic healthcare," is inherent because there is no current policy for it.
Structural inherency refers to the existence of a law that is preventing the aff. With the healthcare example, if there was a law preventing the government from giving any kind of welfare/benefits to the people, it would prevent universal basic healthcare from being passed.
Attitudinal inherency refers to an attitude that is preventing the aff from happening. People may perceive it in a negative light, and push back so it can't happen. An example is universal basic income (UBI) which is widely disputed over its ability to solve poverty.
Affs may have a combination of these types of inherencies or all three — they aren't mutually exclusive.
Solvency is the ability of the affirmative to rectify the harms it talks about. Absent the affirmative solving for the harms, there is no reason to vote affirmative since the plan does not work. Solvency is established through a “solvency mechanism,” which is a piece of evidence that explains how the policy proposal (plan) would work and its effects. For example, a policy AC about inequality might propose a plan to raise the minimum wage. This AC would then read evidence about how raising the minimum wage would rectify inequality and lift people out of poverty.
Topicality is whether the affirmative is affirming the resolution. See Topicality.
Advantages are a different method of structuring the offense in a policy AC. On the national circuit, this is the more common structure. This type of AC contains all 5 stock issues, but is organized slightly differently; instead of having 5 delineated portions, the first argument is often an inherency argument, followed by 1-3 advantages, concluding with solvency. The advantages derive their name, intuitively, from what the benefits, or advantages, of enacting the policy proposed by the affirmative would be. These are also the harms outlined above. An advantage is the same thing as a contention for traditional debate, but instead of providing a contention for the resolution as a broad principle, they stem from the specific policy proposed by the affirmative. An advantage can be thought of as telling the story of the affirmative: is happening in the status quo, which causes to happen, which is bad because of . A more concrete example on the topic, resolved: states ought to eliminate their nuclear arsenals, might say: war between the US and Russia is coming now, war escalates to go nuclear, which is bad because nuclear war causes extinction. Then, the solvency would say, but eliminating nuclear arsenals solves because there are no nuclear weapons to launch anymore.
Unlike in philosophical or traditional affirmatives where there is a wide variety of framework, in policy debate there are only two main framing mechanisms, both of which are forms of utilitarianism. These framing mechanisms typically operate under a role of the ballot such as comparative worlds.
These policy ACs use a utilitarian framing mechanism to evaluate the consequences of the plan. These ACs typically justify “big-stick” extinction-level impacts with high magnitude such as nuclear war between the US and Russia, climate change, or weaponized AI.
These policy ACs focus on structural violence that is going on right now. Common examples include affirmatives that focus on gender violence, racism, or inequality, and say to focus on the ongoing oppression as opposed to improbable extinction level events. These affirmatives are similar to, and often draw from, critical literature, but endorse using the government and policy actions.
An important part of policy debate is the notion of “fiat.” This is different from the frameworks outlined above and is instead a constitutive notion of debate. Fiat means “let it be done” in Latin, and is used in debate to mean imagining a world in which the plan the affirmative proposes is enacted. For example, using the carbon tax example from above (Plan: The United States federal government ought to enact a carbon tax at $43/ton of CO2), such a policy has not passed in the status quo (inherency) due to a variety of factors, one of which is political will. To avoid the negative winning every time because the affirmative’s policy proposal would not be enacted in real life, fiat suspends that disbelief to allow us to debate the merits of a policy action, as opposed to whether Republicans would support it or not.
Similar to a policy AC, a policy 1NC introduces all of the negative’s offense into the round. The 1NC must contain 2 functions: offense for the negative, and answers to the affirmative.
Offense for the negative comes in the form of “off case” positions. In a traditional debate, the 1NC has contentions that explain why the resolution as a broader principle is bad. However, when debating a policy AC, this offense becomes specific reasons why the affirmative’s policy is bad. These can be very similar, e.g. on a topic about a US federal jobs guarantee, a traditional contention that says a federal jobs guarantee is bad for the economy will be nearly identical to a policy argument about the economic impacts of a jobs guarantee. In policy debate, however, these are called “off case” because they are arguments that are not directly responsive to the affirmative’s argumentation. Off case arguments come in the form of disadvantages or counterplans.
Answering the Affirmative
In addition to off case positions, the 1NC also answers the affirmative case. There are a variety of ways to do this.
Impact defense is one of the most intuitive ways to answer an advantage: it just says that the affirmative’s impact will either not happen, or is irrelevant. For example, a common affirmative argument is to say that disease impacts are existential. Impact defense would say that disease does not cause extinction for a, b, c reasons. Impact defense is extremely common and can be strategic when hitting an argument that you don’t have prep on, but often does not have high strategic value for two reasons. Firstly, impact defense is very generic; for example, an advantage about something causing a US-Russia war which then goes nuclear has a specific warrant about what triggers the war, escalation, etc., --- a generic card that says “diplomacy checks” might apply and have some value, but the affirmative will likely be able to leverage the specificity of their warrants against the generic card. Secondly, impact defense reduces the impact from 100% (extinction) to 99.9%. A 2A/NR on “disease doesn’t kill like . . . everybody. . . just millions!” isn’t exactly scintillating stuff.
Link defense explains that the advantage’s warrants are incorrect. A typical advantage relies on a link chain that says . Link defense would say that and/or and/or is incorrect or wrong. For example, if the AFF proposes a plan that the United States federal government should implement a jobs guarantee with an advantage saying that the economy is doing badly now, but the plan helps the economy, link defense would say that the plan does not help the economy.
Solvency is the ability of the affirmative to rectify the harms it talks about. A solvency deficit is a part of the affirmative that the plan does not solve for. Winning a solvency deficit means that the affirmative does not gain any offense from case because voting aff does not change the problems they have outlined.
A turn is a highly strategic argument. A turn functions as offense, saying that the opposite of what the affirmative says is true. There are two types: impact turns and link turns.
Impact turns say that an impact the affirmative categorizes as bad is actually good. These arguments are typically counter-intuitive and more often than not, false from an objective standpoint. However, due to the technical aspect of debate and the presumption that what is true in a debate round is determined by the arguments made by the debaters in round, these arguments become viable and very strategic. There are two parts to the impact turn: defense and offense. Since the impact turn is advocating for offense against an impact, it needs to mitigate the affirmative’s characterization of the impact (defense), as well as provide reasons why the impact is good (offense). For example, climate change bad impacts are extremely common, as is the climate change good. This turn would say 1. climate change is not existential, the impacts are overblown, we are able to adapt to its effects, etc., and 2. climate change is good --- there are a variety of different arguments for this, but common ones include: CO2 is necessary for agricultural productivity, lack of food causes food wars which go nuclear, or an impending ice age is coming now, but warming now staves it off. Common impact turns include the following:
US Hegemony Bad: a common impact argument is that US hegemony upholds a stable world order, prevents conflict, and provides peace and stability. A very common impact turn says that US hegemony actually leads to conflict.
Democracy Bad: a common impact argument is that democratic systems are the only way to prevent a litany of existential threats such as climate change, pandemics, or terrorism, or relies on democratic peace theory, saying that democracies lead to less conflict. The impact turn would say that democratic systems do not actually create the structures necessary to prevent these, but instead that democracy is independently bad by fueling conflict, terrorism, or climate change.
Link turns, similar to impact turns, generate offense. However, they are made up of two parts: non-unique and the link turn. An advantage must be “unique,” just meaning that whatever they talk about is not currently happening in the status quo. For example, if the affirmative has an advantage about rescuing the economy with an impact about economic collapse being bad, they must have a “uniqueness” claim that the economy is doing well now. Thus, a “non-unique” argument would contest what’s going on in the status quo, staying with the example from above, it would say the economy is doing poorly now. Though it might seem impossible to have a debate about an objective fact --- the economy cannot be both good and bad at the same time --- these arguments can rely on different criteria for evaluating the health of the economy, e.g. are stocks a good indicator? Is investor confidence? Consumer confidence? GDP? The link turn then says that the affirmative’s link is the opposite. So, instead of the plan helping the economy, it actually hurts it. The negative’s argument becomes: the economy is doing well, but the plan hurts the economy, thus triggering the affirmative’s impact. It can be illustrated by the following diagram:
AFF: the economy is doing poorly ---> the plan helps the economy ---> strong economy is good ↗ NEG: the economy is doing well ---> the plan hurts the economy
Though the non-unique seems extraneous, it is integral to the utility of the link turn. Absent a non-unique, the link turn does not matter because it does not change the status quo. For example, if the negative does not win that the economy is doing well instead of poorly, it does not matter whether the plan hurts the economy instead of helping it because it is already doing badly.