DEBATING ECONOMICS

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- By Boakye Nyamekye Isaac (BNI)

Debates can get interesting for many especially when challenged with issues that seek a class of specific and technical knowledge. So often when people encounter  Justice System motions they are tempted to believe law students can never flunk such motions/debates.

Economics is one of such areas and over my four year competitive debate history, I have encountered many motions of this nature and I’ve also seen many wonderful speakers struggle when dealing with such motions. A classic example was the opposition member in GTDC 2014 in a debate on whether taxation was theft, a slight understanding of how tax works could have spared him of the shaft.

So the first mistake people often make in economic debates is , “though it is not for experts, speakers  must still have an understanding of the various terminologies and processes”. A number of which I’ll list in the next section.

BNI (right), Champion, Hogwarts Robin Round 2017

A second mistake most speakers commit in economic debates is economic motions re not really about economics and so teams are very likely to lose when all their arguments are centred around economics, so arguments such as competition and profit hardly win. This will also be explained further in subsequent sections.

A third fault in most economic debates is a failure to prove whether ends/goods outlined are legitimate in the first place, so for example it could be legitimate for Russia to increase working hours to increase productivity and profit but even with the same results such a policy is likely to be viewed in the USA or Canada with a lot of cynicism since it has a very good history of worker freedoms and more favourable conditions as compared to Russia or China.

Fourthly is the failure to argue out well the practicality or feasibility of the adoption of a particular economic system in a sphere. So even though capitalism has worked in many Western countries it is still simplistic to claim that African states or North Korea for example should adopt such a system given that the framework of that country might not be suited for that.

Mistake number five is failure to argue successes or failure rates and proving why that is especially significant in the scheme of that debate. The next point however weakens this premise in most instances. What most people fail to realize is that economics is not an exact science. So for every example of free trade successes there are many counter examples of failures; same for protectionist economies.  Hence a major key in economic debates is to argue which model provides the best fall back plan for people since all economic models can collapse.

The final error in most instances is the failure to effectively argue out alternatives. In a debated where a team has done a great job of proving the need for their economic  model, it may not be just  enough to argue that it is bad without providing useful alternatives that can be considered.

MISTAKE NUMBER ONE; KNOW YOUR TERMINOLOGIES

You don’t need to know how to calculate inflation or understand how much spectacular influence and activity led to the stock market crush of 2008. If there is any knowledge that is not basic, the chances are it will be explained in the info-slide or the judges are also as blank as you are on that so that it comes to just a good knowledge of

  1. The definitions
  2. How they work
  3. Examples of places where they have been tested or practiced.

Another key thing about terminologies is the interaction between various terms or systems. Examples;

  • Impact minimum wage has on employment
  • Balance of payments on foreign exchange
  • Tariffs on investment ad imports
  • Taxes on industrialization and job creation etc

With this in mind, below is a list of economic terms no one should miss.

  1. Balance of Payments, inflation, labour force, money, monopoly, standard of living, law of supply and demand, GDP, GNP, Exchange rates, recession , Investment, competition, capitalism, boom, bonds, laissez fair, Protectionist, minimum wage, micro and macroeconomics, progressive taxes, distribution, cost of living, consumption, consumer goods and services etc.

NB: These are just a few and the word basic is relative depending on which debate room one finds himself in.

 

MISTAKE NUMBER TWO

What do i mean when I say most economic motions are not about economics? Simple reason.

Economic policy is usually an offshoot of national policy. Hence it is difficult to disentangle economic policy from national direction. That is to say that a very nationalist country cannot be seen as an effective free trader in most instances because free trade in itself comes within a certain framework.; A framework that encourages better and personal freedoms, private sector initiative etc. This framework will struggle to fit in a nationalist country that closes itself to foreign markets in most instances, limits private initiative and limits personal freedoms. That is why the more liberal China becomes economically,, the more it opens up itself to the world and is forced to remove certain limitations albeit certain limitations remain. Hence when faced with economic systems, the smarter and more persuasive approach is to argue politics and governance and the framework that exists to push that policy.

An example is the Hogwarts 2016 final with the motion on nationalizing resources with no private sector collaboration. From OO the chunk of our case focused on efficiency of private enterprises and how profit is better on our side. Little time was spent arguing resource conflicts that happen when various ethnic groups in Africa lay claim over resources and how privatization might be one way to lessen the problem. Government in that debate spent time proving that even if there is less profit and less efficiency, in the wake of imperialism and viewing the approval given to countries like Zimbabwe that have nationalized their lands etc, this is a legitimate thing to do. Also, they just had to mention popular examples of private sector failures that tackle our case on the profiting ability of the private enterprise. Government won.

Similar examples can be used in debates of automation although it’s easy to prove why machines may be more efficient, if the opposing teams just prove why human welfare should be the goal of all governments and that automation means humans lose  jobs and the magnitude and backlash that is created  they are more likely to be viewed as persuasive.

In summary, arguing economics is not enough to win economic debates. Politics and governance systems and various other angles are crucial to winning.

 

MISTAKE NUMBER THREE

Like IR motions, economic debates have actors and agents. They are carried out by agencies to achieve a particular end/goal. In the vast number of instances, speakers assume the goal in every economic debate is profit. The second assumption is that economic policies and systems can be replicated everywhere. Speakers also assume that all people have the same economic goals. Obviously these are very dangerous assumptions that could easily lead an otherwise good team to be irrelevant in the debate.

Goals in this section can mean;

  1. The problem you want to solve
  2. The context in which this is most crucial
  3. Importance of it in context

A typical example comes to mind, that is; In  Round 7 of AO ’17, the debate was about a cashless society. OG kept running on about benefits without setting clear goals as to why we need to entirely eliminate cash. OO simply engaged that premise and hence the opening half simply became 28 minutes of this is better and that is not better. In assessing debates, judges cannot essentially evaluate arguments without linking them to corresponding goals or contexts. A smart CG in that debate became the more relevant team than the OG by setting a goal and creating a context (albeit what was easily refutable). In the end, they placed above their opening teams . In debates on allowing free trade between the US and rogue nations such as Korea DPR, one can set the goal of ;

  1. Reducing political tensions
  2. Showing how interconnected economies are less likely to pursue conflict
  3. Set contexts that need the system being proposed etc

This is obviously applicable in a number of debating areas but especially important and easily neglected in economic debates.

Finally, beyond proving the goal as legitimate, it is equally important to prove that the means is a legitimate one. For example in the PAUDC Semi-final of 2015 on taxing products or cars that emit a lot of carbon, OG  set about that model as a means of fighting climate change and safeguarding the environment. OO simply agreed with OG’s goal but disagreed with the means by proving how one must not monetize harm and hence an outright ban is a better response measure. OO qualified first.

 

MISTAKE NUMBER FOUR

This is less common because that is what most teams spend time doing especially in these parts as mechanics are argued out a lot. There’s currently an on-going debate as to whether mechanistic arguments should be given much weight in prioritization of issues. However If you do not want to be on the wrong side, it is still very much reasonable to argue out the practicality of your plan especially for the context set in the debate. This most likely when engaged sets up another clash that  keeps you as a team relevant in that debate.

In the cashless debate motion, one argument CO analysed on was technological readiness and reliability given that a cashless society was hinged very much on that. Examples of technological failure in huge organizations such as the British Airways etc I believed elevated the argument to real importance. It is bad debate practice to use worst case scenarios to counter a policy. For example it is wrong to use Nigeria to prove why free trade is bad when there are larger success stories that you can still counter to prove your case.

So argue practicality but use the right examples and elevate your analysis.

MISTAKE NUMBER FIVE

Like every system or model, unless it’s so novel, there always exists pretty good stats and examples of successes/rates. It is key to take advantage of these examples and prove their significance to your case while ignoring counter examples. The prudent thing to do is to pick up counter examples and show why the reasons which led to their failure do not exist in the context you have set your debate in. Painting out different circumstances can do a great job for your case.

What most people fail to recognize however economics is not an exact science, so for every example of free trade successes, there are many counter examples of failure. Same for protectionist economies. Hence a major key in economic debates is to argue which would provide the best fall back plan for people since all economic models are susceptible to failure. For example in a debate on a cashless society, Opposition can easily point out why there can be massive failure bad on technological shortcomings and other factors while Government can easily point to various where societies built on cash have failed through counterfeits and poor monetary policies that led to astronomical inflation in Zimbabwe for example. It is exigent therefore for a very reasonable team to argue why beyond success, when failure occurs, people can still get the best form of your system because it has a more reliable fall back plan.

In a debate about economic nationalism as against free trade, one can easily win by proving how one model provides a better fall back plan. For example, how interconnectivity of economies under free trade ensures that when a country’s system fails, other states come to their aid because of the interdependency that exists. Example is EU’s support of Greece and a myriad of other examples

Another route to a fall back plan is which model helps facilitate the recovery process  and seek out the best alternatives because ultimately countries would recover from failures. However proving a faster rate of recovery with less damage makes it easier to win. So although China recovered from the economic meltdown it suffered as a result of Mao Zedong’s economic policies, you can easily trump their example by arguing out how America recovers from financial meltdowns with less damage, unlike the case of China where they faced massive decades of famine and instability, other free trade countries have proven to recover faster post meltdowns.

Ultimately in a debate where a team has done a great job on proving the need for their model, it may not just be enough to argue that it is bad without providing useful alternatives that can be considered.

Conclusion: This is not everything you need to know about economics, the universities can provide that. Also if you think this is a lot, you can try out Monash methods of evaluating economic motions on fairness and efficiency. Maybe you can score a few points.

References;

  1. Four years debating experience
  2. Four tournaments with Prince Asamoah
  3. All my specimen (KarTel, FKunb, Ejim, Derrick, Aurelia etc)

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