Resolved: The United States ought to provide a federal jobs guarantee. Cheyenne East Speech and Debate Team Head Coach Marcus Viney has some thoughts to share about this topic that you do not want to miss - we GUARANTEE it! It is time for you to get to WORK on this gratifying and timely resolution, so that you can enjoy the metaphorical WAGES of a JOB well done when you punch the clock on your debate season! Many thanks to Marcus for his time, energy, and generous spirit - this is a terrific podcast episode. Strap in for some fire content that is going to help a lot of coaches and debaters kick off their novice and/or varsity season with a big PAYDAY!
Nov-Dec LD Topic Analysis Transcript
My name is Marcus Viney, coach at Cheyenne East high school, and this is my seventh year coaching my favorite event Lincoln Douglas (don’t tell my other kids I said that). Welcome to the show! This is an overview for the 2020 November-December Lincoln Douglas topic, Resolved: The United States ought to provide a federal jobs guarantee. In this section of the episode, I’m going to talk about what the federal jobs guarantee is, a little bit about where it came from, and where you can begin your adventure in researching this topic.
Before we get into the good stuff, I think we should take a moment and collectively thank the LD gods for providing us with this glorious and bountiful topic. For all the novices out there who don’t know better, this is a perfect resolution to learn on. First of all, it’s simple; there’s only ten words and we avoided the dark twist of an “ought not.” Secondly, it’s written in the active voice with a relatively clear and straightforward actor and action. Let’s just say, mistakes were not made. And finally, the key term of the resolution “federal jobs guarantee” is easily researchable. If you open up Google right now and type these three words, you’ll discover a rich field of articles from which you can harvest endless cards. This isn’t always the case in LD, so enjoy it while it lasts.
One more note before we jump into the jobs guarantee itself. Most of the other words in the resolution I consider to be fairly unproblematic. We all have a sense for what the United States is and what it means to provide something. But one word that’s always worth reflecting on is the word “ought,” especially because it’s a word that reappears in various LD resolutions. Before building your cases, I think it’s helpful to consider three different meanings of “ought” as a form of obligation. The first “ought” is prudential or pragmatic, like when I say “you ought to visit the dentist,” or “you ought to rotate your tires.” Here I’m not saying anything more than it’s in your best interest to do so, and if you don’t, it’s not like there’s going to be a huge finger of judgment pointing at you (well, maybe from your stepdad). The second “ought” is legal or contractual, as in “you ought to slow down in the school zone” or “you ought to pay me that $15 you owe me.” Here, what we mean is that there’s some prior rule or arrangement that’s been agreed to, and that’s the source of the obligation. Finally, there’s the bigger “ought” of morality or justice. When good old Abe Lincoln said “we ought to abolish slavery” he wasn’t saying it’s in our best interest, or that there’s some legal requirement; he was saying that we have an obligation in the big sense to do so. In other words, we are bound to this course of action by the demands of Justice and Morality. As you consider the kind of arguments you want to make on this topic, you may want to consider what “ought” you’ll be bound to. Whatever you pick, get ready for some exciting clash!
Without a doubt, the most important concept in the resolution is “federal jobs guarantee.” But notice the indefinite article in front of the phrase. You thought the little tiny word “a” was just hiding there and didn’t contribute much, but in fact it does. Think of the huge difference between me saying “a doctor” versus “the Doctor.” “A” just means any among many, but the refers us to the mighty time lord himself (and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, the bad news is you’re only half nerdy for listening to an LD podcast by yourself; if you want to go full nerd after this, which you might as well, go catch up on some Doctor Who, just know it never gets better than David Tennant). The point of all of this is that the resolution is grammatically open to many versions of the federal jobs guarantee, and not necessarily to one unique proposal. This can be a double-edged sword depending on what you decide to do with this knowledge. You’re welcome.
But what is a federal jobs guarantee? Let’s start with a couple of definitions. The first is a little more technical: “a permanent, federally funded, and locally administered program that supplies voluntary employment opportunities on demand for all who are ready and willing to work at a living wage” (Tcherneva 2018). That’s a mouthful. For a simpler take, consider this version: “everyone in the country will be guaranteed a job by the US government should they desire one” (Bhandari 2019). I like that. Basically if you want to work, you get a job. Most experts agree that there is one core purpose of the program: to end involuntary unemployment, the unfortunate situation where someone is ready and willing to work, but just can’t find a job. Not to be confused with voluntary unemployment where you could work but choose not to, like my pug who sits at home all day. Ending involuntary unemployment is important because of all of the well established personal, social, and economic harms of unemployment. Everyone agrees that unemployment is bad (they just disagree about how to solve it). Advocates of the jobs guarantee say that the best way to solve unemployment is for the government to play Oprah, “you get a job, you get a job, and you get a job!” But in all seriousness, to understand the jobs guarantee, it’s helpful to glance at its big competitors. One is just unemployment benefits, where the government provides temporary relief to the unemployed; here someone might receive a check, but is ultimately expected to get back into the workforce. Another is employment subsidies, where the government supports the private sector and tries to help them to keep people employed or even to hire more people; this is kind of like the opposite of a tax. But the flashiest competitor of the jobs guarantee is the Universal Basic Income, which was the 2018 March-April topic. In essence, the UBI is where the government gives everyone a certain amount of money every month with no strings attached. You can see how this is also supposed to solve the problem of poverty and unemployment. It’s not really an idea to the right or left, but forward! Even with all these options, the government guarantee still says the best way to go is to get people to work.
One last thing before jumping forward. There’s two frequent misunderstandings of the federal jobs guarantee that we should consider as we try to understand the idea. First, the jobs guarantee isn’t just a handout. Some might think that because it’s a guarantee you can just show up and the government gives you a paycheck. But this isn’t true. It is a job like any other. You apply, you get hired, you show up, you get paid. And if you don’t, you don’t get paid. It may be helpful to think of it as a job opportunity guarantee. So it’s not just something you have immediately and permanently. Like true love, it’s waiting for you, but you still have to go get it, and you could lose it, just like you could lose any job, or partner. Now, whether or not you can be permanently fired from the entire program is another question I’ll leave for the argument section of this episode. The second misunderstanding is that people often associate the idea with just infrastructure work. Like, oh, the government’s just going to make people build roads and bridges and provide jobs this way. But this isn’t accurate either. There’s not just one type of job that’s going to be offered. There’s a wide variety of jobs that might be needed, like those connected to the environment, the community, or just people. With endless problems related to climate change, towns and cities, and people young and old, there is almost an infinite amount of work that needs to be done, and the jobs guarantee is as big and as wide as our imagination can be.
Now, let’s take a step back and look at where this idea even comes from. Although it may be much older, at least in the United States, the idea of government provided jobs begins in the Great Depression. By 1933, unemployment had reached 25% and President FDR knew something needed to be done. For some perspective, the average unemployment rate in the US has been about 5% or lower since that time. I guess that’s why their depression was considered so “great.” This sparked the New Deal, something we’ve all learned about in US History. And at the heart of this deal was an alphabet soup of programs like the CWA, the CCC, and the WPA, among many others. One of these, the Civilian Conservation Corps, employed millions of men between the ages of 17 and 25 and offered them jobs in “forestry, soil erosion, fire prevention, and flood control” (Pitchfork Economics 2019). For over a decade, the U.S. government was the largest employer in the nation with these programs. Following this, the popularity of a jobs guarantee subsided, spiked back up in WW2, but slid back down until unemployment levels began to rise again in the 1970s, making a lot of people real nervous, including representatives Humphrey and Hawkins who helped pass, yup you guessed it, the Humphrey–Hawkins Full Employment Act, which tried to grant the government the power to guarantee work. But like a neglected pikachu, it never really reached its final form, which is probably why you’ve never heard about it until this episode. Talk about depressing. But the jobs guarantee has received renewed interest from likes of AOC and Bernie Sanders, especially in the time of COVID, during which the unemployment rate climbed to nearly 15%. At the time of this recording, it’s sitting at roughly 8% meaning that a lot of people around the country are hurting, which makes it more important than ever that we learn about what could be done for these people and our country.
If you’re wondering, the U.S. isn’t the only place that’s flirted with a jobs guarantee. I know, I know, the resolution says “In the United States” which means there’s going to be some super strongly worded observations out there that absolutely forbid and outlaw any examples that reside outside this limited geographical location and threaten severe consequences for those opponents who disobey. Nevertheless, it may come in handy to know that there are at least three other countries with programs that we should at least be allowed to read about (and maybe cut some cards just in case). The first is Argentina. In 2002, in response to an economic crisis, the government implemented a program, Plan Jefes, that put people to work when the unemployment rate reached 25-30%. Community groups decided what kind of projects they would have, and some of the worst effects of the crisis were averted. Now, depending on what source you find, you’ll read about how the program was a huge success or not so much. Another example comes from India, called the National Rural Employment Guarantee. In 2005, the plan was implemented to offer 100 days of guaranteed work per year to unskilled workers across the country. Again some sources hail it as a huge success, while others accuse it of mismanagement and corruption. It’s going to be up to you to discover the real truth. There’s also pseudo-examples in Europe, but nothing approaching the full federal jobs guarantee at the heart of our resolution. But you can go research on your own. Although these sound like fringe examples, if you become the little expert on one of them in round, you may find yourself mightily rewarded in front of the right judge.
Before you get on to the much more exciting portion of the episode where you get to hear about arguments, I’ll leave you with a few helpful places to do some more research on this topic. The first may sound silly, but it’s actually an article that helped me quite a bit. It’s from the Huffington Post and it’s called “What Is A Federal Jobs Guarantee?” If you’re just starting out, this is a perfect read. It provides a basic overview of the federal jobs guarantee, but also works through the major pros and cons of the proposal with more links than a hundred-foot chain. Pay special attention to articles from Levy Economics Institute and Economic Policy Institute. The second source is something called “Frequently Asked Questions about the Job Guarantee” by Pavlina Tcherneva, a name you definitely want to become familiar with on this topic. This page has 50 awesome questions about the proposal that Tcherneva answers with evidence and citations. Be careful lest you get a ton of ideas for cross-examination questions. And finally, when you have the time and if you have the NSDA resource package, check out three National final rounds that relate to this topic. They may sound like they won’t help, but they’re packed with a ton of philosophical arguments that you could use in your cases. In 2012, the resolution was: A government has the obligation to lessen the economic gap between its rich and poor citizens. In 2008, it was: Limiting economic inequality ought to be a more important social goal than maximizing economic freedom. And in 1999, it was: Capitalism is superior to socialism as a means of achieving economic justice. And don’t get so high and mighty about how old these are; you may just be super impressed.
On to the argument section of this episode where we will, first, talk about some ideas for framework on both sides, and then some potential affirmative and negative arguments you can use to win some trophies, and more importantly some judges’ hearts. If you skipped the overview to get here, you missed at least 2.5 decent jokes, oh, and some pretty important info about the topic. Just own up and rewind. Or not, free country.
Let’s begin with some framework arguments on the affirmative. If you’re not familiar, I’m using the word “framework” to cover the philosophical portion of your case where you present a value and a criterion. It’s the beating heart of your argument and determines the kind of contentions you’ll want to use. But before we look at some specific ideas, let’s review two important categories of framing.
The first is deontological and the second is consequentialist. When I see a new resolution, my mind always goes to these categories first. A deontological frame of argument says that an action is right or wrong in principle, no matter what, whereas a consequentialist frame insists that, no, an action is right or wrong based on the consequences it produces, not the intent. Let’s consider a totally normal example: that time the empire gave Grand Moff Tarkin the Death Star. We can evaluate whether this action was right or wrong from a deontological or consequentialist perspective. If you don’t know the example, replace it with some soldiers giving their general a big cannon, like a really, really big and round cannon--you know what, how do you not know what Star Wars is? Seriously just go watch all of it right now, it’s worth it. You can pause; my podcast spirit stays frozen in time. Noooow that we’re back, consider 4 different positions on Death-Star gift-giving. The first, a deontological affirmative, might say it was good to give Tarkin the Death Star in principle; I mean it’s always nice and kind to give gifts in itself right? Yeeeah. Now a consequentialist affirmative will agree about it being right, but for a different reason. Yes, it was good to give him the Death Star, but it’s because of the consequences it will produce; he’s totally going to be able to expand the empire and restore order to the chaotic and rebellious galaxy. You see, one says the action is right because of the intent or rule followed, while the other says the action is right because of what will happen as a result. Now let’s see how we can make the same framing split but on the negative side. A deontological argument would say, no, it’s super wrong in itself to give something like a Death Star to Tarkin; weapons of mass destruction are bad in principle, and so too is just handing one over especially to a maniac. Of course, a consequentialist will concur but focus instead on the horrific consequences of giving the gift. Just think of the massive pain that materialized, or de-materialized I guess, after Alderaan was destroyed. "I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced." Notice again it’s a debate between what makes something right or wrong: the rule followed, or the consequences that occur. What do you think? (For more on this specific topic, considering reading the intriguing yet controversial piece: The Destruction of Alderaan Was Completely Justified).
But I digress. The point here is that when deciding what to do with the federal jobs guarantee, you can use a deontological or consequentialist framing for your arguments. In very general terms, on the affirmative, a deontological case will say that providing a federal jobs guarantee is good in principle, maybe because there’s a right to work or some duty of the state to help its citizens. Now a consequentialist case would instead say that providing the guarantee would be good because of the consequences that would follow, like ending the pain of unemployment or boosting the economy. The same is going to be true on the negative. Perhaps a deontological negative will say that the government providing jobs is wrong in principle because it violates free market ideals, while a consequentialist negative will say it’s wrong because it’s going to blow up the private sector... like a poor innocent planet. I think you get the idea. Let’s talk about some specific ideas you could use for framing on both sides.
First, on the affirmative with a deontological flavor of framing is John Rawls Veil of Ignorance. Whether you know about this idea or not, it’s super important to understand, because some day, if you’re not using it, it may be used against you. To get into this idea, put your imagination hat on, and transport yourself way back in time before you were born, like when you were just a twinkle in your great, great, great grandmother’s eye. There you are, an empty possible person, just floating around in a non-material zone, waiting to be born but having no race, gender, or preference of Hot Pocket. Truly, you are not you yet. Now imagine you get to see when and where you might be born after a cosmic dice roll. Maybe it’s 500 BC in Ancient Greece, 1860 in the American South, or preferably sometime in the 90s but like anywhere. Knowing that you could be born into any person in any family, what would you choose? Would you risk being born into a place where you might end up super poor or oppressed? Or would you more likely want to pick a place and time where no matter who you were born as, you have a decent chance at a good life? Rawls says this is the true test for whether something is good and fair: that from behind a veil of ignorance about who you are, or who you will become, a rational person will choose it as their potential home. The veil of ignorance is important because it’s all too easy for us, behind certain lenses of privilege, to think everything is just fine (I mean, a kitty being worshipped and cared for in Ancient Egypt probably thinks the arrangement is awesome, but only because it doesn’t know about the plight of all the kittens left outside, hungry and open to predators). Applying it to our topic, the question is, whether behind the veil of ignorance, someone would think it’s good to be born into a country where you could just end up unemployed and impoverished your whole life. Is this really a risk you’d want to take as a non-material pre-self? Or, would it be more rational to be born into a society that has a job safety net, so that no matter who you are, you could have a job guaranteed if you’re willing to work. I think you get the idea. Why should a society be structured such that anyone could fall all the way down and have no way back up? Notice this is a deontological framework because it’s about what’s right in principle or in view of what is Just and Fair behind the veil. In fact, these would make pretty good values: Justice with a criterion of the veil of ignorance.
Now what about a consequentialist take on the affirmative. How about another cool one: enter structural violence. Like before, the same goes here, whether you know about this idea or not, you gotta feel comfortable with it, to work with it (or against it). To help clarify what’s going on with structural violence, imagine for a moment someone taking a sledgehammer to a big rock and smashing it into smaller pieces (yeah like a tiny innocent planet again). This here is an example of a type violence we are familiar with: force used aggressively against an object to harm or break it in real time. But now, imagine a river calming flowing down a valley, but for like millions of years, slowly churning and eroding the rock surrounding it year after year, until one day tourists in Hawaiian shirts line up for selfies in front of the spectacle, also known as the Grand Canyon. Here rock was also, in a sense, harmed and broken, just a lot more slowly. Instead of a quick violent outburst, the environmental conditions wore it down over time. This is what’s happening with “structural violence” in society, but with people, not rocks. Yes, people get punched, kicked, and shot in society, through physical violence, but they also get worn down by the environmental or more accurately structural features of society itself. Unemployment hurts, and it hurts especially bad over time, and it gets even worse when society isn’t really made for you in the first place, kind of like when you have to wear shoes that don’t fit. So, an affirmative on this topic might argue that we need to provide a jobs guarantee to minimize structural violence. This is a consequentialist frame because it’s focused on the harms people face and what we can do to change them and improve their quality of life, which by the way, might make a good value.
That should give you a couple of good framework ideas on the affirmative. Let’s move to the negative. Deonotologically speaking, we could go with something in the realm of economic liberty or freedom. As good Americans, we love doing whatever the heck we want. And this truly is the basic idea behind the more sophisticated notion of economic freedom at the heart of our country. From the founding, many scholars, politicians, and entrepreneurs have agreed that we should protect a “free market” where private individuals are allowed to mix and mingle and do business as they see fit without too much oversight or intrusion on the part of the federal government. We sure love to give that invisible hand a high five. And empirically, this free-for-all has worked out for us in numerous ways. When looking at the data, it’s pretty clear that the freer a country is economically, the better off it is in terms of wealth, equality, standard of living, etc. etc. And the inverse seems to be true as well: the more limited, restricted, and controlled a country’s economy is, the worse off the people are on all kinds of indicators; experts might have you think about North Korea or Venezuela to make this point. Of course, there’s people who’d beg to differ about all of this, but the basic idea remains. Here one could argue that a government jobs guarantee is bad because it violates basic principles of economic freedom and liberty; the government shouldn’t be picking winners or losers or interfering with the natural course of the free market. When we look at contention-level arguments later, this strategy may become clearer to you.
But what about a different way to frame the negative, say through a purely consequentialist lens? How about cost/benefit analysis? Now, some might say this is too vague to be a criterion, but defined in the right way, I think it can make a pretty powerful weapon on the topic. Consider the following definition: “the process of quantifying costs and benefits of a program, in order to have a single scale of comparison for unbiased evaluation.” The idea here is to take emotion and feeling out of the equation and focus on the impartial and objective facts about what will actually happen if we were to implement the federal jobs guarantee. We might be lured into thinking this program is the right solution to all of our problems, but what if in fact it causes other, bigger problems, or fails to achieve its purpose in the first place? What’s nice about this framing is that it can easily absorb some of the affirmative arguments and say, yeah, some of those benefits might happen, but at the end of the day this is a bad idea because the devastating costs far outweigh any minor benefits. And to come to this conclusion we need to be led by logic and facts, not stories and feelings. The key here will be to define what you mean by cost/benefit so that you can do some direct comparisons. And notice, you don’t necessarily have to sound like the terminator, like you don’t care about people (well, except for John Connor). But in fact, you can be the true speaker for the people by helping us to avoid a big mistake.
So, to recap framework ideas, a couple on the affirmative might be using the veil of ignorance to show how the jobs guarantee could uphold justice, or minimizing structural violence and personal harm by making sure anyone can have job, and on the negative, we can reject the jobs guarantee to protect liberty and the free market, or we can shoot down it's advantages by comparing them to the much bigger costs and disadvantages. Of course, there are plenty of other ways to frame your cases if none of these get you excited.
But now, it’s finally time for what you have all been waiting for: contention-level arguments on the topic. Now, the following list of ideas is certainly not exhaustive of all arguments out there, but it should give you some nice ideas for thinking about what you can argue on both sides, and where you may want to look for more research. For both the affirmative and negative, we’ll look at three big categories of arguments along with some sprinkles of evidence. Hmmm, sounds delicious. Like in an LD round, let’s begin with the Affirmative. For my on-the-podcast roadmap, we’ll be looking through three big argument categories: recessions, vulnerable groups, and social benefits. Following that, we’ll go to the negative.
The first affirmative argument category focuses on recessions. For some clarity, a recession is basically when the economy takes a turn for the worst; business activities contract, people lose their jobs, and everyone’s hair literally starts to recede from all the stress. Recessions can be triggered by a financial crisis, an economic bubble, or even a natural disaster. They’re horrible and should be avoided when at all possible because they cause enormous pain and suffering. Now we’ve already touched on some of the impacts of unemployment: there can be physical and mental effects, in the worst cases depression and suicide, and all of this can spiral up to wider social and economic harms. But, not to worry, we have a savior: the federal jobs guarantee. As Ryan Nunn of the Hamilton Project explains, a job guarantee can serve as an “automatic stabilizer” of sorts, that can prevent active downturns from deepening and can “cushion the blow” from massive job losses. This is kind of like those safety nets that catch trapeze artists who accidentally fall during a performance; it can literally be the difference between life and death. Now you can use this argument as a general point about recession-proofing our economy across time, but you can also use it to tap into current events, like I don’t know, the GLOBAL PANDEMIC that’s happening! Consider that, according to the New York Times, over 20 million Americans last spring lost their jobs due coronavirus devastation. In April, the unemployment rate spiked to nearly 15%, a level that has not been seen since the Great Depression! To make matters worse, the flood of unemployment claims quickly overwhelmed our benefit system, and people haven’t always been able to get what they need. A true advocate of the federal jobs guarantee would say this is the perfect time to provide one. We could get tens of millions of people back to work, get them what they need, and get the economy rolling again. And if you’re really feeling this argument, you could borrow another idea from two imaginative writers, Blackwell and Hamilton, and argue that we could hire people to do things like community-based testing, monitoring, or contact tracing, all of which could help contain the virus. Sounds like a win-win to me. Or win-win-win, when you win your first round with it.
On to the next major category of argument on the affirmative, which focuses on vulnerable groups, specifically women and racial minorities. There’s no question that recessions are bad, but if there’s one upside about them, they’re like nightmares: they eventually end. A more insidious problem we face in society are structural inequalities. These are more like chronic conditions that hurt and never really go away. Consider that women and racial minorities have historically had harder times getting and keeping jobs. To focus on women for a moment professor of Political Science Stephanie Chambers explains that the impacts of unemployment statistically hit women much harder than men, and that this all made worse by persistent structural barriers like the wage gap, the undervaluing of “pink jobs,” and discriminatory practices surrounding childbirth and care. Mix this with the Covid crisis, and you have yourself a recipe for real disaster. Beyond women, racial minorities also face consistent inequalities in the workplace. Research from the Russell Sage Foundation notes, for example, that for decades “the unemployment rate for black Americans has been nearly double that of white Americans, and the Hispanic unemployment rate has fluctuated in between.” More than this, there’s a dark history of hidden practices and policies that unfairly lock minority groups out of portions of the labor market. None of this is good or fair, and the harms mentioned here are unfortunately just the beginning of the dominos line of discrimination. But once again, we’ve got a hero: the federal jobs guarantee. Think about it: if the United States guarantees a job for anyone who is ready and willing to work, we could, once and for all, smash down the barriers propping up our unjust system. Not only would this immediately alleviate the harms of unemployment for vulnerable groups, but it could have untold positive ripple effects through society at large. Maybe the moral universe does bend toward justice after all…
Now let’s consider another angle with the third and finally category of affirmative arguments: social benefits. So far we’ve been talking about the deep and dark problems with our system and how it can totally fall apart and treat people horribly. Let’s brighten it up with some of the specific constructive things the federal jobs guarantee could bring. I like to think of this as the “kill two birds with one stone” strategy of argument, although, I always thought killing birds is mean--maybe it could be “feed two birds with one hotdog bun”? And while we’re at it, make it penguins. What? It’s my example, I like it. So to begin, with this one we’re gonna look back into the past, and yes, I hereby give you permission to make an argument from history. It’s okay, LD is full of cards and arguments with info way older than what I’m about to cover. As we talked about in the overview section of this episode, the Roosevelt administration explored and tested various versions of a job guarantee. Specifically, they implemented programs designed to not only get people working, but to provide goods and services that would benefit all Americans. During this time, they expanded public infrastructure projects, including 650,000 miles of new or improved roads, and 39,000 new or repaired public schools. And this was just the beginning. Take special note here that countless people got to use this infrastructure, and the total benefit to communities, businesses, and society at large is probably unquantifiable. Heck we’re probably still benefiting in ways we don’t realize. Many historians would be willing to mark this as a proof of concept for a federal jobs guarantee. Of course, some disagree, but that’s the great thing about the past; it’s still open to interpretation. Yet if you don’t like the idea of using historical arguments, just ask our old friend Pavlina Tcherneva about what could be done in the present or future. I told ya: write. her. name. down. She’s the Queen Bee of the jobs guarantee. What does she think? Well she argues that there’s practically an infinite amount of work to be done due to the environmental challenges posed by climate change and natural disasters. As she argues, “Establishing and fortifying our nation’s infrastructure to prevent, mitigate, and withstand the impact of intensifying hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, and floods requires immediate action and a large labor force.” Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about how all the people around the country are facing a veritable storm of climate-related emergencies; this could be an important and persuasive argument to use in the next couple of months.
To recap, on the affirmative, we covered three big categories of possible arguments: one about preventing recessions, one about protecting vulnerable groups, and finally one about creating social benefits and infrastructure. Again these aren’t the only ones, and you can definitely customize and upgrade these, but also don’t forget to prepare for these from the other side when you’re on the negative.
Annnnnd, speaking of the negative, I say it’s time to look at what can be said against the federal jobs guarantee. Let’s look at three big categories on the negative that could compose the contention portion of your case. To preview, we’ll talk about economic harm, inherent problems, and better alternatives.
The first negative argument category focuses on economic harm. Back on the affirmative, we sure heard a lot about how unemployment is bad and how recessions hurt people. Here, the negative is gonna say, yup, you’re right, but implementing a federal jobs guarantee is going to make everything much worse. As Sir apple-head Isaac Newton once said, “for every action, there’s an equal opposite and reaction.” The negative agrees and says there is no place where this is more true. Policy Adviser Ryan Bhandari explains one concern: A federal jobs guarantee would “crowd out tens of millions of private sector jobs. There are currently 54 million people who earn $15 an hour or less. When they find out the federal government is offering $15 an hour plus benefits and permanent job security, many of those workers would quit their current job and join the federal workforce.” Think about that. A massive exodus, where people take the path of least resistance. Wouldn’t you take an easier job if you could? Just admit it. Many opponents of the jobs guarantee believe this could have a domino effect on the economy, by sapping productivity and cannibalizing labor from existing businesses. Remember when Earth was invaded in Infinity War and buildings were crumbling and everyone was running around screaming? Yeah, it’s like that, but the Avenger’s aren't there to save you. Another economic consequence of the jobs guarantee could be inflation. Journalist Doug Henwood explains that “the $15 an hour pay could have a substantial impact on the national wage structure.” Almost 40% of workers are paid that much or less, so to keep them around, businesses would have to increase their wages, but this, of course could cause a “wage-spiral” upstream where other workers might demand wage increases. This blows up the cost of business real quick, or perhaps more simply would just put a lot of employers out of business. The tragic but punchy impact of this argument is that, in our attempt to save people and the economy with a jobs guarantee, we actually just end up doing the opposite. Sounds like a pretty spicy negative case to me.
So what’s next? Ah yes, the second category of negative arguments: inherent problems with the jobs guarantee. Have you ever tried to convince your parents of a genius idea like letting you go camping with a bunch of your friends, and you use arguments like “it’s going to be awesome” and “we’re going to have a great time,” only to have your balloon popped by a set of devastating parent questions, like “how will you get there?,” “what will you do without a tent,” or “you realize it’s going to snow tonight right?” Yeah, this has never happened to me either. But the same kind of thing could be done with this topic: the negative idea here is just that a federal jobs guarantee may sound good on paper, but there’s a ton of problems and unanswered questions about how it would really work. I’ll cover just two prominent examples to get you started, but I bet you can find more. The first is job training. Anne Kim with the Progressive Policy institute describes this problem well: “Current job guarantee proposals… assume that anyone who wants a job also has the skills and capacity to perform it, which is unrealistic.” Even if they had the training, many Americans who would like to work face far more serious barriers, including physical disabilities, mental health concerns or other personal issues that would somehow magically need to be overcome first. It sounds great to start building bridges and schools, but do you know how to do that? Who would train you and how much would that cost? It’s just like the devastating questions about my camping trip all over again. But wait, there’s more! What about the problem of whether or not we can fire bad workers from a job guarantee? Opinion writer Noah Smith captures the concern well: “It's easy to imagine good reasons to fire someone from a government job — starting fights... engaging in criminal activities or simply refusing to work.” But didn’t we say the federal job guarantee means anyone can have a job no matter what? What happens when people realize they didn’t really have to put in a hard day’s work to get the paycheck? This seems like a pretty big issue that needs to be answered before we’d ever sign up to such a program. Even if an individual worker can get fired from one government job, are they guaranteed to have another one? If not, is it really a jobs guarantee? I tell you what, I wouldn’t really want to be on the affirmative side of cross-examination when these knives come out.
On that note, let’s cut to the third category of negative arguments: better alternatives. Okay, okay, some of you out there might be squinting your skeptical eyes already knowing I’m not about to present some counter-plan ideas up in here. I promise, I’m not intentionally trying to distort our beloved LD here. I agree with you, counter-plans are disruptive, if not downright bad, for our format, but I must say, I think it’s okay in general to say we should be able to negate an idea by at least pointing out the fact that there’s other, better things we could be doing. Just think about a situation where one part in the engine of your car breaks down and your debating with your mom about what to do. Of course, you argue that you just need to go ahead and buy a new car. The old one’s a goner. What is she most likely going to say? No, that’s nuts, just go get the part fixed. Something similar is going on with federal jobs guarantee. The affirmative argues we’ve got a problem in society, so we need to buy a brand new shiny program to fix it. I think it might be irresponsible not to point out that, wait a minute, what if we just patched or repaired that problem instead? Here’s a couple of examples. Writer Matt Bruenig asks us to compare the job guarantee “a more conventional alternative: unemployment benefits.” Recall back to the overview, this is the original band aid for the problem of unemployment. Essentially, we just cut a check to someone who needs it until they can get back on their feet. What does this not do that a federal jobs guarantee does? Wouldn’t it be a lot easier and cheaper, and less risky? Sure, there’s been some bumps with this program recently during Covid, but couldn’t we reform or upgrade the system? How about another possibility. What about employer subsidies? According to the Economist, “A more realistic route… would be to… subsidize… [private sector] jobs to the degree necessary to keep them profitable for employers… [and] unlike a jobs guarantee… [employment subsidies] don’t risk the colossal waste of resources that is likely to come from a huge expansion of the government payroll.” Put more simply, why can’t the government just lift up private businesses instead of competing with them? Seems like a viable alternative to me. Now, I don’t necessarily recommend running this negative strategy by itself, but it seems like it might work best as a side dish if you know what I mean.
So to recap on the negative. We talked about economic harms, and the devastation the jobs guarantee could cause; inherent problems, and how the proposal doesn’t seem to have answers about how people will be trained or whether they can even be fired; and, better alternatives; why not just repair the car instead of buying a new one?
Now you may be wondering, wait a minute, you didn’t talk about the answers to all of these arguments. Well, good wonderings on your part, but I have some good answers. First, I think this episode is already longer than Lyle wanted, sorry Lyle! Love you buddy. (Love you too, Marcus.) Second, I think it’s super good for you to try and figure out how you would want to answer these arguments on your own, and most importantly from the perspective of the case you will ultimately build. Finally, I will actually leave you with a little bit of advice on how to go about answers on this topic. Now a lot of debaters think giving rebuttals is like boxing where you just keep punching each other and claiming each other are wrong. I don’t think that model works well on this topic, or in general really. The better approach I think is more like Jiu Jitsu, defined aptly as the subtle art of folding clothing while people are still in them. What I mean here is that sometimes it’s better to turn arguments and use the momentum of your opponent against them. For example, instead of arguing that structural inequalities don’t exist or that women aren’t really facing problems in the economy, you may instead want to say, actually, judge, if you’re worried about women, you should vote for the negative, because the federal jobs guarantee is going to cause even more harm for them in the long-run. See what I mean? Or maybe when the negative talks about the lack of skills problem, instead of saying “you’re wrong everyone can build a bridge it's easy!” You say “I’m glad you bring that up, the fact that under the jobs guarantee we will have to provide a bunch of training is a good thing because it will leave people with lifelong skills that will transfer to other jobs and generate benefits for society for years to come.” See if you can’t try some of your own LD Jiu Jitsu. I can’t wait to see and judge some excellent rounds.
Thanks for guaranteeing me some of your time. I wish you all the best on your November/December adventure.
Cited Sources and Helpful Links
“What Is A Federal Jobs Guarantee?”
“Frequently Asked Questions About the Job Guarantee”
“Does the future of work include a Federal Jobs Guarantee?”
“Labor Market Considerations for a National Job Guarantee.”
“How Bad Is Unemployment?”
“Structural Barriers Prevent Women from Achieving Workplace Equity.”
“A Path to Ending Poverty by Way of Ending Unemployment: A Federal Job Guarantee.”
“Will We Face Depression-Era Job Losses? Let’s Not Find Out.”
“The Job Guarantee: Design, Jobs, and Implementation.” http://www.levyinstitute.org/pubs/wp_902.pdf