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November/December 2023 LD Topic Roundtable
Victory Briefs presents a topic roundtable, where we solicit coaches and members of the debate community to provide input on which topic they believe should be selected to debate for the upcoming topic slot.
This entry covers the three potential topics for the 2023 November/December topic slot.
Voting is now open! To vote: log in to your NSDA account, click the “Topic Voting” red bar on the left, and click the blue “Vote” button in the “2023 November/December LD Ballot” row. Voting closes on 9/30/2023.
The potential topics for the 2023 November/December topic slot are as follows:
Resolved: States ought to prohibit resource extraction within the Arctic Circle.
Resolved: The United States ought to prohibit the extraction of fossil fuels from federal public lands and waters.
Resolved: The United States federal government ought to implement a Social Wealth Fund.
We have invited 7 coaches to provide their reasoning for which topic ought to be selected.
Amadea Datel – Social Wealth Fund
Of the three November/December options, the social wealth fund topic emerges as a clear favorite for several reasons. For those unfamiliar, social wealth funds attempt to turn market logic towards public rather than private gain via various mechanisms revolving around one central idea that strikes a balance between aff innovation and neg ground. The aff ground includes interesting arguments about democratizing decision-making and shifting wealth away from private shareholders with incentives to externalize costs onto others. Meanwhile, the neg ground ventures beyond the “government spending bad” debate—scholars and commentators have critiqued such funds from both the right and the left, with the former leveraging their usual criticisms of government-administered social programs and the latter arguing that the proposal reinvests in an unsustainable and exploitative financial sector.
In contrast, the fossil fuels and Arctic Circle topics suffer from serious shortcomings. The fossil fuels topic would have the U.S. ban fossil fuels on public lands—as opposed to banning them across the board—which makes the resolution significantly worse because the aff cannot draw on any principled reasons to prohibit fossil fuels on public but not private lands, and since a mere fraction of fossil fuel extraction occurs on public lands, that part of the topic only serves to reduce aff solvency. It's also unclear whether the aff can solve at all if the government could circumvent the prohibition by simply selling off public lands to private enterprises for fossil fuel extraction.
I’m ranking the Arctic Circle as my last choice—below fossil fuels—because it seems difficult to negate due to the word “prohibit” requiring an absolute ban. It will be near-impossible to argue that states should never extract resources from the area given that the neg could always carve out an exception to a complete ban or advocate for regulations that preserve our abilities to extract a limited amount of valuable resources that support a green transition. Moreover, I don't love that this resolution includes a generic bare plural, which will encourage people to write untopical affs that violate Nebel T, a debate I’d rather avoid.
Eva Lamberson – Social Wealth Fund
After much serious pondering, I’ve concluded that I think the best NovDec topic choice is: The United States federal government ought to implement a Social Wealth Fund.
I will admit that I don’t particularly love any of these topics, nor do I have a strong distaste for any of them — I think they would all likely generate good debates, particularly on straightforward questions of policy and material consequences. While I do think a lot of the choice for these topics comes down to personal preference, I also think that SWF is just straight up more debatable than the other topics (but maybe I’m biased?)
The Arctic topic — I mean, for one, it’s a bit too close to the PF topic for my liking. More substantively, though, I think the wording is just a bit too vague and the topic would likely create a lot of T debates in terms of who is acting and what exactly the action even is. (TL;DR: As Lawrence said, too many annoying questions about fiat.)
I think having debates about proper climate policy is probably good, but that the fossil fuel extraction topic is not the best way to go about that — this is easily my least favorite topic out of the three. I don’t think it’s particularly well worded and makes some strange and unnecessary distinctions. I also don’t think being negative on this topic would be very fun, given it seems that fossil fuel extraction is, uh… bad, which means that a lot of negative positions will probably be very tiny/cheaty/dare I say a little obnoxious for everyone involved.
That leaves us with the Social Wealth Fund, which I think is the best worded and, most importantly, most balanced topic. I think that, even given that these are all very policy oriented topics, that this one gives the most room for philosophical and critical perspectives while also being a relatively easy topic to interpret. It’s also probably the most balanced topic side wise, given that there are plenty of critiques of SWFs (a lot from the left, even!)
Ultimately, I think if you have strong feelings about any of these topics, you should follow your hearts because none of them are all that bad. But if you don’t have strong feelings, follow my heart and vote Social Wealth Fund today!
Elmer Yang – Arctic Circle
I am overall a big fan of the NovDec topic slate. All three have some semblance of actors, stable topic mechanisms, and clear and concise controversies. That said, I strongly believe "Resolved: States ought to prohibit resource extraction within the Arctic Circle." is the best out of all three because I think it creates a good intersection of unique areas of controversies while still effectively balancing Aff flexibility with Negative options.
The Arctic Circle contains several important regions including Alaska, Greenland, Russia, and northern parts of Scandinavia, and is home to several critical resources including Oil, Natural Gas, Rare Earth Minerals, and Fish [1,2]. Main Aff advantage areas will center around climate change and biodiversity in the Arctic . However, one of the main reasons why I'm much more excited about the Arctic Topic than the Public Lands one is the geopolitical component of it. The US, Russia, and China all have major energy and military implications off of Arctic resource extraction. An American general once even said "Alaska is the most strategic place on earth", showing the capacity for Military and Hard/Soft Power advantages and disadvantages . There are advantages that could talk about the danger of Russia’s Arctic oil reserves or China’s “polar silk road” to achieve leadership [5, 6]. One other core advantage area is the discussion of resource extraction disruptions on Indigenous peoples native to the Arctic Circle .
Neg Ground could equally be as diverse. DAs about the ramifications of shutting off "13% of the world's undiscovered oil and 30% of undiscovered gas" in the Arctic could open up discussions about Energy Markets . There could be discussions about energy self-dependence, particularly in the context of Alaska and Russian resources. The importance of Arctic resources in REMs for the clean energy transition could also be talked about . Energy and drilling have historically been hot-button issues in Congress which could create more poignant link discussions, particularly as the Election season gets nearer. In addition, CP ground about regulations rather than prohibitions, PICs about sectoring off particularly areas that might not disturb the environment, or ways to prohibit extraction such as through human rights regimes (like the current case Norway has brought under the European Courts). Kritiks could range from Settler Environmentalism  to postmodernist critiques of how governments choose to "manage" natural resources through technocratic means .
The Arctic Topic is excellent because it balances core discussions about Climate and Energy with natural discussions about Geopolitics that would create rich and diverse ground on both sides while still creating functional restraints on the Topic. Both of the other topics suffer from hyper-limitations ("Public Lands" and "Social Wealth Fund") and lack sufficient argument diversity to really get the benefits of either.
Jacob Nails – Social Wealth Fund
Overall, I am not enamored with any of the three topic options for November-December, and I find it to be one of the weakest selections in a while, but my recommendation is option 3: “Resolved: The United States federal government ought to implement a Social Wealth Fund.”
There has been a flurry of articles in the last six years about the establishment of a social wealth fund in the United States. Admittedly, almost all of it seems to stem from the fact that one guy (Matt Bruenig, founder of the People’s Policy Project) wrote up a detailed proposal for one, and most other sources are positive or negative responses to that. Bruenig’s vision of an SWF imagines it as basically a policy wonk’s path to democratic socialism, putting more resources under democratic control. Gainsayers include both critics of democratic socialism as well as socialists who view an SWF as the wrong mechanism. It’s not the deepest or most robust literature base ever, but for most debaters the Nov-Dec slot is also one of the shorter ones in terms of tournament schedule, so it doesn’t need to be. Optimistically, I can see this topic provoking the age-old socialism versus capitalism debate, but in a clear and tangible context that avoids definitional disputes or allegations of utopianism.
I have a lower opinion of option 2 (“Resolved: The United States ought to prohibit the extraction of fossil fuels from federal public lands and waters”). This topic has also seen a flurry of recent articles, with many Democratic presidential candidates suggesting the idea as part of their platforms in both 2016 and 2020. One wording problem that arises is that almost all of this discussion is actually centered on ending new leases to private fossil fuel companies, which I think is slightly different from what the topic’s “prohibit extraction on federal land” phrasing implies. The more glaring concern is that this literature is extremely shallow, mostly comprising news articles reporting on the fact that some politician or other proposed a leasing ban, with very little in the way of actual debate on the merits. Most supportive articles only go about as far as “climate change is bad; we should do something about it.” Why this thing in particular? As far as I can tell, the only answer is that it is the most expansive thing a president could (arguably) do without Congressional authorization, so presidential candidates like to say it to appear tough on climate. Notably, Biden himself said as much on the campaign trail but has continued to approve as many leases as the last administration while in office. I remain at a loss as to what makes federal land special outside of empty political signaling, and I find that this topic falls far short of other climate resolutions, both actual and proposed, that we’ve seen in years past (R.I.P. carbon tax).
My last place vote goes to option 1, “Resolved: States ought to prohibit resource extraction within the Arctic Circle.” To again start by nitpicking the wording, the Arctic Circle doesn’t seem like a very coherent geographic area to me for policy purposes. That’s not just the Arctic as one normally conceives of it but also slices through arbitrary portions of the United States, Canada, Russia, and others. Why can’t the 100,000 people living in the major Russian city of Murmansk extract resources? I don’t know. The biggest controversies in the area stem from territorial disputes regarding who owns what. Having all states agree not to extract resources might resolve those disputes, but only in the superficial sense that having all states agree on any resolution would solve the problem of disagreement. The topic more bypasses than addresses the real problem of how to get states to agree. The Arctic is a cool area, but Public Forum did it better with their September-October topic.
Jacob Palmer – Arctic Circle
I think the resolution about resource extraction in the Arctic Circle should win. This topic offers a decent balance of ground and allows us to engage some developing debates on environmental policy, geopolitical strategy, and international governance. The resolution about prohibiting the extraction of fossil fuels on federal land and water is, for the most part, encompassed by the Arctic Circle topic since the most contentious fossil fuel projects on federal land and water are in northern Alaska. In comparison, the ground on the public lands topic is much more unbalanced. For both the Arctic Circle and federal land topics, the affirmative must institute an absolute prohibition on extraction. This allows the negative to read arguments favoring regulations or gradual reductions in resource extraction, which is some incredibly strong negative ground. Topics that propose a ban or prohibition need to have arguments the affirmative can use to beat back the regulation counterplan. Otherwise, the negative will be ahead from the start of every debate. For these topics, the best answer to the regulations counterplan is that an absolute prohibition has unique legal significance for international governance that mere regulations wouldn’t be able to match. The Arctic topic allows affirmatives to defend states working together to prohibit extraction in the Arctic and create such a legal framework. However, the public lands topic limits the affirmative to just using the United States, making arguments about international governance much harder to win. The Social Wealth Fund topic is also exciting and has a nice balance of ground, but the literature seems much more limited. I wouldn’t mind the next topic being about a Social Wealth Fund. Still, I would much rather have the next topic be the Arctic Circle since it will offer students more opportunities to explore their interests and keep debates fresh and exciting through the end of December.
Lawrence Zhou – Social Wealth Fund
I think the best choice for the 2023 November/December topic is, OPTION 3 - Resolved: The United States federal government ought to implement a Social Wealth Fund.
I don’t find the other options bad per se, just less interesting or debatable than a Social Wealth Fund.
OPTION 1 (prohibiting resource extraction in the Arctic) gets at an underexplored topic area but is plagued by unclear language and runs into community misconceptions of what “fiat” is. While I don’t think the affirmative position is entirely undebatable (there are many activists who call for prohibiting resource extraction in the Arctic), the preponderance of literature does seem to suggest that the question is less going to be about whether resource extraction is permissible in general, and more about what conditions would make resource extraction permissible, especially for extraction projects that are already ongoing.
OPTION 2 (prohibiting fossil fuel extraction) strikes me as a topic difficult to debate for both sides, but not for reasons that necessarily engender high-quality debate. The negative seems obviously disadvantaged by having to defend the extraction of fossil fuels at all, but—perhaps more unintuitively—the affirmative faces two difficulties. First, I think it will be challenging to explain their case in a way that makes the distinction between federal public lands and waters and everything else a salient one. Second, I struggle to see why flat out banning fossil fuels is the right climate policy given the other sweeping policy levers that we have at our disposal and the impacts we have seen to communities who lose out on fossil fuel money. Ultimately, this seems quite similar to the subsidies topic from several years ago (LIHEAP PIC anyone?), but not in a way that seems particularly interesting or fruitful.
That leaves OPTION 3. While I think there are some concerns over just how applicable the idea of a social wealth fund—sometimes called a “citizens’ wealth fund” or “sovereign wealth fund”—would be to the US, there are at least a few working models out there of what a SWF would look like, e.g., this one from Matt Bruenig and this one from the Democracy Policy Network. While these proposals for state-owned investment funds vary in terms of their financing mechanisms and intended aims, they at least unite around a central mechanism of having a permanent, publicly owned fund. Criticisms to (and support of) this proposal come from both the left and right, ensuring a diversity of viewpoints are present in the debate. While an imperfect debate topic, I think the topic is more balanced and it gets at an area far more interesting than the other topic areas.
Lizzie Su – Arctic Circle
As debaters across the country use the rest of the September/October topic to explore the bounds of US-based generics (agent counterplans and politics disads galore!), I’d strongly recommend voting for the Arctic topic (Resolved: States ought to prohibit resource extraction within the Arctic Circle) for November/December. This defense will primarily focus on the types of negative policy generics we’ll expect to see in upcoming months, though opportunities for aff innovation, philosophical/kritikal ground, etc. are also important factors to consider.
As much as I enjoy diving into Congressional gridlock and party politics ahead of the 2024 election, we’re sure to see those rounds again while debating the January/February topic (which, like September/October, grants us three opportunities to vote for a domestic topic). Thus, we should embrace a topic with a non-US only actor while we have the chance. Debaters will be able to develop their knowledge of international relations (which includes kritiks of IR studies), the mechanisms the international community can use to “prohibit” courses of action (treaties, international courts, etc.), and the geopolitics of the Arctic Circle (a relatively unexplored topic in LD, though one Arctic aff was broken on the open borders topic last season).
While not all rounds will involve the politics disad and states counterplan, the social wealth fund topic doesn’t do any work to disincentivize these positions. Using the United States federal government as an actor, in fact, makes it easier to win that counterplans such as the fifty states and constitutional convention counterplans (to name a few) compete with the aff.
To finish off this roundtable entry, I’ll briefly discuss the other sorts of policy generics, namely process counterplans, that are sure to appear. It’s inevitable that any domestic topic will see the usual customary international law, uncooperative federalism, and consult Natives counterplans being broken. If we’re recycling backfiles either way (as debaters do), we may as well throw consult ICJ, consult NATO, and global constitutional convention into the mix. Keeping in mind that LD doesn’t have year-round topics, debaters probably ought not maintain their strategies year-round, either.