March/April Lincoln-Douglas Bonus Topic Analysis | Champion Briefs
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March 1, 2018

March/April Lincoln-Douglas Bonus Topic Analysis

By Adam Tomasi

Resolved: The United States ought to provide a universal basic income.

Fast Facts

· Thomas More, in his 1516 classic Utopia, argued that a universal basic income could be a solution to theft.[1]

· In 1969, President Richard Nixon was planning to propose an unconditional, guaranteed income for all poor families in the US, but backpedaled after reading a briefing from an advisor, Martin Anderson. The briefing used a questionable reading of British history to argue that cash relief for the poor would induce idleness. His revised Family Assistance Plan (conditional on registering with the Department of Labor) subsequently failed in Congress.[2]

· Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. argued for a universal basic income in his 1967 book Where Do We Go From Here? This position was an integral part of his larger campaign for economic justice.[3]

· In the 1960s and 1970s, there were experiments with a negative income tax in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Denver, Iowa, North Carolina, Indiana, Seattle, and Denver. A negative income tax functionally provides a guaranteed basic income to poor families.[4]

· From 1974 to 1979, the city of Dauphin, Manitoba, Canada, experimented with a universal and unconditional basic income. The program eliminated poverty for all residents in that five years.[5]

· Switzerland rejected a universal basic income in a referendum on June 5th, 2016.[6]

· Finland began a basic income experiment on January 1st, 2017, which will continue until the end of this year. Two-thousand unemployed people were randomly selected for the trial, where they’ll receive a monthly check, tax free, equivalent to $670.[7]

· On November 13th, 2017. GiveDirectly, a charity, started funding a UBI in Kenya. It’s considered the largest UBI experiment in history.[8]

Wording Analysis

The resolution has no qualifiers, meaning that the affirmative could, in theory, claim that the United States ought to provide a temporary basic income for a national experiment, or that the US ought to provide a basic income “at such-and-such a level.” The affirmative could even, following libertarian supporters of the UBI, argue that it should be funded by eliminating the rest of the welfare state. Of course, there is considerable debate over whether that would be desirable.[9] Still, the affirmative should probably have to explain whether the basic income would supplement or replace the current system of public assistance in the US.

Notice that the resolution, in saying “basic income,” does not even add “universal,” let alone “unconditional” or “adequate.” Don Arthur argues that those are three key features of UBI proposals.[10] However, the Basic Income Earth Network does attempt to define the shorter phrase “basic income,” and clarifies that it is “a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means-test or work requirement.”[11] They explain how the basic income is periodic, paid in cash, on an individual basis, to all people (universal), without means testing (unconditional). How to define an adequate income level is subject to debate, and the affirmative may have considerable leeway in specifying what that is.

The Roosevelt Institute, in a macroeconomic study of the UBI, examined what they considered to be three proposals “for the introduction of a universal basic income in the United States.” Those three proposals were (1) “A “child allowance” of $250/month per child under 16,” (2) “A “base” income of $500/month for all adults,” or (3) “A “basic” income of $1000/month for all adults.”[12] The affirmative could argue that a child allowance or “base” income still meets the criteria for being a topical affirmative, given that this study analyzed those proposals under the assumption that they would constitute a UBI. Still, since the study defined a “basic” income as $1000 a month for all adults, that is arguably what the affirmative should defend.

A universal basic income is also distinct from proposals for a “guaranteed annual income” or “negative income tax,” both of which tend to be limited to poor individuals and families. As Arthur describes it, “Both guaranteed income and NIT schemes restrict payments to those with low incomes while a UBI is paid to everyone.”[13]

Affirmative Arguments

There are at least three excellent affirmative strategies.

1. Civic Republicanism AC—Philip Pettit argues for this position in “A Republican Right to Basic Income?” Civic republicanism is a political philosophy which imagines a community of equals who share the duty to promote the common good. An essential element is “freedom as non-domination,” or freedom from arbitrary interference. The short version is that Pettit is replying to the libertarian model of “freedom as non-interference,” arguing that it does not account for how hierarchies of unchecked power can limit the freedom of the powerless, even absent any classic forms of coercion. A universal basic income is necessary to rectify the unequal power dynamic between employer and employee, as it gives workers the freedom to quit unpleasant jobs and demand better conditions without the fear of being fired into poverty. The civic republicanism framework is also concerned with income inequality and poverty, so you could argue that a UBI solves those as well.

2. Util AC—this aff would argue that a universal basic income is necessary to reduce poverty, which has an ongoing, systemic impact, and income inequality, which has a litany of harms and may even heighten the risks of war and economic crisis. Ideally, you’d want a contention about the economy so that you can start the debate about the economy disad early. The only drawback is that you can no longer claim there’s no impact to economic decline (that it doesn’t cause war, that the economy will always bounce back, etc.). However, you’ve already begun your uniqueness push (the economy is ailing in the status quo, which flips the uniqueness of the DA) and your offense (a UBI would help the economy). And, since beating this DA will require a lot of cards, you might as well start that debate in the AC so that you save your time in the 1AR. The additional reason this aff is strategic is that the internal links—solving poverty and income inequality—are forms of offense under negative frameworks as well (ex. you could argue that poverty and income inequality undermine freedom).

3. Capitalism AC—The thesis of the aff is that a universal basic income will be the catalyst for broader social transformations that enable a post-work, communist future. This position is argued for by critical theorists like Srnicek and Williams, who subscribe to the philosophy of accelerationism (accelerating the processes of capitalism to bring about its end; this theory is vehemently critiqued by Benjamin Noys, who is skeptical of its radical potential). Phillipe van Parijs is notable for describing the universal basic income as “the capitalist road to communism,” arguing that by divorcing work from its commodity status, it becomes likelier that we will de-commodify everything else in our lives. Peter Frase discusses van Parijs’ ideas at length in his 2016 book Four Futures, which explores how societies may react to the inevitable crises of automation and climate change. The framework for this aff would be simply that capitalism is an unethical system that ought to be transformed entirely, not merely reformed or regulated. This case is strategic because a basic income, were it implemented, would absolutely change a lot about our society. Whether those changes will result in luxury communism is another story, and the aff may want to argue that the UBI still makes a solid challenge to capitalism even if it doesn’t achieve full acceleration.

Negative Arguments

There are at least four excellent negative strategies.

1. Economy Disad—the thesis of this disad is that a universal basic income would collapse the US economy. There are three roads to this impact, and you should read all three in tandem for maximum effect (also because I think you can afford to devote substantial time to this argument, since the other negative arguments aren’t as strong). The first is tax hikes (UBI may require taxes to go up substantially), the second is inflation (the price of goods may spike because of basic income), the third is job growth and productivity (the UBI would encourage lots of people to drop out of the labor force). To make this disad effective, you would need to read evidence describing how any of these three scenarios would seriously shrink the economy. The best affirmative response is to argue that a universal basic income would be an economic stimulus (because it will increase consumer spending and reduce income inequality), so you’ll also want to argue why the harms outweigh the benefits.

2. Counterplans—there are tons of counterplans the neg can read which may cut into the aff’s offense. The first would be a universal base income, instead of a basic income. This would entail every adult receiving a monthly check from the government that isn’t enough to cover all necessities, but still a great help. The second would be a universal child allowance, which would arguably reduce poverty and stimulate the economy as well. The Roosevelt study described above looked at both proposals in addition to a universal basic income. Other counterplans may include a federal jobs guarantee, or a federally mandated living wage, or reforms that strengthen Social Security, food stamps, and Medicaid. None of these counterplans can aspire to solve as much as the aff, but the goal is to solve enough of the aff’s harms to plausibly claim that any disadvantages to the aff would outweigh.

3. Civic Republicanism NC—this position is argued for by Jerry Waltman, in “Civic Republicanism, The Basic Income Guarantee, and the Living Wage.” He argues that a living wage would be preferable to the UBI because UBI would breed dependency on the arbitrary whims of the government. Waltman also believes that UBI would discourage work, which is detrimental to any political community inspired by civic republican thinking. The framework is described in the Aff section, and negatives should certainly cut cards from this Waltman article in case you’re debating someone reading the civic republicanism aff.

4. Neoliberalism Kritik—this kritik would argue that a UBI does not go far enough to change capitalist social relations, and may even cement them against inevitable crises like automation and the contradictions of overproduction and underconsumption. Daniel Zamora, in “The Case Against a Universal Basic Income,” argues that a UBI is a safety valve for capitalism, as do other sources which argue the same from an affirmative perspective (that capitalism needs saving, and UBI is the solution). The alternative would be to reject neoliberal, free-market ideology, and your alternative could potentially capture the affirmative. For example, Alyssa Battistoni argues in “The False Promise of Universal Basic Income” argues that the ideology by which UBI is implemented (ex. the neoliberal views of Milton Friedman and Silicon Valley versus democratic socialism) matters more than the policy itself, because what that policy looks like will change radically based on ideology (for example, whether it’s funded by replacing the welfare state). The aff can theoretically contest whether the neg has the right to read this PIK (plan-inclusive kritik), but it’s certainly supported by the literature. The aff can even clarify some extra details (ex. “The United States ought to provide a basic income without replacing the welfare state”) to avoid the best negative links.


Affirmative Evidence

Aaron Major. “Affording Utopia: The Economic Viability of “A Capitalist Road to Communism”.” Basic Income Studies, vol. 11, issue 2, 2016.

Anthony Painter and Chris Thoung. “Creative citizen, creative state: the principled and pragmatic case for a Universal Basic Income.” RSA. 2015.

Arne Ruckert, Chau Hunyh, and Ronald Labonte. “Reducing health inequities: is universal basic income the way forward?” Journal of Public Health. February 2nd, 2017.

H. Luke Shaefer, et al. “A Universal Child Allowance: A Plan to Reduce Poverty and Income Instability among Children in the United States.” September 22nd, 2016.

Matt Jensen, Will Ensor, Amy Xu and Anderson Frailey. “A budget-neutral universal basic income.” AEI Economics Working Papers. May 2017.

Patricia Schulz. “Universal basic income in a feminist perspective and gender analysis.” Global Social Policy. January 31st, 2017.

Philip Alston. “Universal Basic Income as a Social Rights-Based Antidote to Growing Economic Insecurity,” Katharine G. Young (ed.), The Future of Social Rights (Cambridge University Press, Forthcoming), date written: November 29th, 2017.

Philippe Van Parijs. “The Universal Basic Income: Why Utopian Thinking Matters, and How Sociologists Can Contribute to It.” Politics & Society. May 6th, 2013.

Richard Pereira. “The Cost of Universal Basic Income: Public Savings and Programme Redundancy Exceed Cost.” Part of the Exploring the Basic Income Guarantee book series. June 20th, 2017.

Thomas Straubhaar. “On the Economics of a Universal Basic Income.” Intereconomics, vol. 52, issue 2, pp. 74-80. March 2017.

Negative Evidence

Alyssa Battistoni. “The False Promise of Universal Basic Income.” Dissent Magazine. Spring 2017.

Bernard Steigler and Ariel Kyrou. “Universal Basic Income and Contributive Income.” Multitudes, February 2016.

Dan Kopf. “The OECD says universal basic income could make poverty worse.” Quartz Magazine. June 8th, 2017.

Daniel Sage and Patrick Diamond. “Europe’s New Social Reality: The case against Universal Basic Income.” Policy Network Paper. February 2017.

Daniel Zamora. “The Case Against a Basic Income.” Jacobin Magazine. December 28th, 2017.

Francois Meunier. “Can a Basic Income Be Universal?” Esprit, January 2017.

Heiner Flassbeck. “Universal Basic Income Financing and Income Distribution — The Questions Left Unanswered by Proponents.” Intereconomics, vol. 52, issue 2, pp. 80-83, March 2017.

Hilmar Schneider. “Universal Basic Income—Empty Dreams of Paradise.” Intereconomics, vol. 52, issue 2, pp. 83-87, March 2017.

Jurgen De Wispelaere and Lindsay Stirton. “A disarmingly simple idea? Practical bottlenecks in the implementation of a universal basic income.” International Social Security Review. April 4th, 2012.

Simon Cowan. “Universal basic income: Unworkable and unaffordable.” Policy: A Journal of Public Policy and Ideas, vol. 33, issue 4 (Summer 2017-2018).

[1] Natalie Shoemaker. “The Idea of Universal Basic Income Goes Back to the 16th Century.” Big Think. 2016.

[2] Rutger Bregman. “Nixon’s Basic Income Plan.” Jacobin. May 5th, 2016.

[3] Matthew Heimer. “A Brief History of Free Money.” Fortune. June 29th, 2017.

[4] Alicia H. Munnell. “Lessons from the Income Maintenance Experiments: An Overview.” Proceedings of a Conference Held in September 1986, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and the Brookings Institution.

[5] Zi-Ann Lum. “A Canadian City Once Eliminated Poverty And Nearly Everyone Forgot About It.” Huffington Post. Last updated January 3rd, 2017.

[6] Josh Martin. “SWITZERLAND: Swiss Vote “No” on Basic Income Referendum. June 5th, 2016.

[7] Elizabeth Schulze. “One year on: Is Finland’s free money experiment working?” CNBC. January 1st, 2018.

[8] Chris Weller. “The Largest Basic Income Experiment in History Just Launched in Kenya.” Futurism. November 14th, 2017.

[9] Dylan Matthews. “What happens if you replace every social program with a universal basic income.” Vox. May 30th, 2017.

[10] Don Arthur. “Basic income: a radical idea enters the mainstream.” November 18th, 2016.

[11] Basic Income Earth Network. “About basic income.” No date.

[12] Michalis Nikiforos, Marshall Steinbaum, and Gennaro Zezza. “Modeling the Macroeconomic Effects of a Universal Basic Income.” Roosevelt Institute. August 2017.

[13] Don Arthur. “Basic income: a radical idea enters the mainstream.” November 18th, 2016.