My Problems with T persons in Poverty

1. It serves no limiting function- the exact same cases are topical- its only the scope of them (how many people they effect) that changes. It seems (based on my limited knowledge) that this would require most cases to effect less people than the authors discussing them intended. Forcing the affirmative to change the scope of their cases so that they no longer reflect the real world discussion should not be done absent a compelling fairness concern for the negative.

2. No Neg ground loss- no disad hinges on affecting only 100% of poverty line vs 135%- if anything the opposite is true- the broader the scope of the plan the more likely there will be a unique link to negative topic generic disads like spending/tradeoff etc. Critiques of poverty do not hinge on strict definitions or the plan affecting only 100% exactly.

3. Not predictable- the majority of existing federal programs do not meet this strict interpretation- Stefan does an excellent job demonstrating this so I will not rehash but I think this is the most crucial point. The strength of the negatives argument relies on the idea that their definition comes from the government and is therefore imbued with a higher level of predictability/credibility. That the gov itself does not strictly follow it directly refutes this claim. More importantly a distinction must be drawn between the predictability provided by a definition and the predictability of the definition itself. In this case the negatives definition is itself highly predictable, however the affirmative cases it would allow are not very predictable given that there are few examples that meet and that for the majority of cases in order to meet they would have to radically alter the plan from that advocated by their authors.

4. On this topic affirmative ground must outweigh negative ground- there is a serious shortage of quality affirmatives, the aff must be given leeway to find viable cases. While on other topics it may have been a good idea to help the neg out by throwing some more T vicotires their way to balance the scales this is definately not one of them.  If the debate truly comes down to “our definition is from the government- most predictable/precise” vs “our definition sets a much broader limit- but is the only hope for a viable affiramtive case” then the aff should win every debate.

11 thoughts on “My Problems with T persons in Poverty

  1. Michael Antonucci

    I’m not sure when this debate went off the rails. The original violation from the Georgetown files (p. 60) is clear enough. It doesn’t state that we should limit to programs that “100% correspondence with poverty guidelines” as an eligibility criterion.

    Instead, the original violation says that we should limit the topic to programs which use a formula **based** upon the poverty guidelines. 82 program categories fall within this rubric, and it seems to be the only interpretation of “for persons in poverty” that’s even slightly predictable. Topical programs would employ the poverty guidelines in determining eligibility, but they would not have to be wedded to some fictive standard of perfect correspondence.

    I don’t know where the demented version of this violation became dominant. It’s certainly not what I wrote.

    I’m not utterly devoted to the violation. It was an early attempt to provide statutory precision because I feel that “social services” is a bit of a fail in this regard. This is a block vs. a straw person.

    re: “we have no affs” – Work harder. Many affs haven’t been cut. Also, consider the possibility of a world without the terrible, terrible states CP (or consult, which is even worse.)

  2. Scott Phillips


    This song is not about you. I have no idea what you wrote, I am referring to the argument produced at Michigan, the camp where I am currently working

  3. Michael Antonucci

    OK. I think there is a defensible variation of the bad argument that you’re debating. I was just looking at the time sequencing of arg development, so I assumed it was a stricter version of the earlier variation.

  4. David Heidt


    I’m not defending any version of the “for persons in poverty” argument, they all have major issues but can nonetheless be deployed in debates effectively, much like any T argument.

    But to characterize yours as reasonable and the Michigan one as “demented” is silly. Yours says “for is exclusive” and then your violation is essentially “but these 82 programs which are not exclusively for people in poverty are ok because debates would be better”. IF for is exclusive, and the federal poverty guidelines are an accurate measure of who is and is not in poverty, then the 100% interpretation is the only logical interpretation; programs means tested with super-percentages of the federal poverty guidelines are not exclusively targeted at people in poverty. The response that it doesn’t have to perfectly correspond to the guidelines misses the mark. Some programs are means tested to 450% of the guidelines and many are 200%. These programs include many people not in poverty, and in some cases include more people outside of the guidelines than within. But they are nonetheless allowed under the interpretation you wrote, despite that an exclusive interpretation of “for” logically precludes it.

    The reason the violation isn’t great in both cases is that for isn’t exclusive and the federal poverty guidelines aren’t an accurate measure of who is in poverty. It’s probably possible to write a better violation but it can’t start with the premise that for is exclusive, given the inherent uncertainty regarding what constitutes poverty that makes exclusive targeting impossible.

  5. Michael Antonucci

    The 100% variation allows zero defensible cases. The Georgetown version allows defensible cases. Allowing zero defensible cases is bad. In fact, I would characterize it as demented because it allows zero defensible cases. As Stefan argues, the best defenses of the 100% variation’s viability appear to revolve around a misreading.

    Allowing cases is better than allowing zero defensible cases. This makes one version meaningfully distinct.

    I apologize if my rhetoric is strong, but the assertion that this is a “dominant interpretation” is alarming, and might have motivated some hyperbole. You might dislike the logical consistency of the Georgetown variant, but it’s certainly better than a non-topic.

    “For” can mean “directed toward”, but still employ a meaningful and predictable statutory mechanism to determine that direction (ie, some version of income eligibility guidelines.) That’s an alternative T interpretation that might be better than either mentioned version; that’s probably more interesting to readers than the relative merits of two fairly restrictive interpretations.

    — re: “logical inconsistency” – This is a good and compelling argument. However, there are several legal examples of terms of exclusion that are not *absolute* terms of exclusion. If that’s a real point of contention, I suppose I could email – it’s hard to cut and paste Google Books excerpts in this format.

    — re: “for doesn’t mean that.” Prepositions usually can mean a lot of different things. They’re very adaptable and ambiguous words. Cards on request.

    — re: “the poverty threshold and guidelines are controversial.” Sure, but they still define poverty according to the USFG. I don’t think that’s inherently uncertain, however objectionable it might be. I think it’s certainly the resolution’s clearest term of art.

  6. David Heidt

    I don’t think there is such a thing as a dominant interpretation, or an impact to it if there was.

    The conclusion that there are zero defensible cases is premature and won’t reflect how many debates will actually play out, after all, “re: “we have no affs” – Work harder. Many affs haven’t been cut. Also, consider the possibility of a world without the terrible, terrible states CP”. I’m not actually going to defend that this interpretation is good for debate, but the neg can use the logic of your quote to construct a case list, I even found a fairly good solvency advocate for expanding Medicaid to cover all people under 100% of the poverty line without looking for it (eligibility for parts of it currently varies state to state). If the neg can win on stuff like “establish is to ratify” or “in is throughout”, it just as easy if not easier to sell a case list for the 100% violation.

    I don’t think we have a disagreement regarding the poverty guidelines, the neg will win they should be used in almost every debate without much difficulty, regardless of normative claims about them. But if we agree that the only people who are in poverty are those below 100% of the poverty line, then I think the interpretation of for as exclusion is very problematic for your interpretation, given that you’ve said there are 82 nonexclusive programs that meet.

    I guess your interpretation of what constitutes exclusion is different from mine. I think it’s a tough explanation for the neg to say it’s ok to not be exclusive in one instance but great to be exclusive in another. A different interpretation of “for” is much more persuasive to me. Reconstructing “for” as “directed toward” makes this argument much better.

  7. brian rubaie

    On a related note–are affs which modify the Federal Poverty Guidelines to change who is eligible to receive services topical? After writing the aff at camp I lean towards ‘yes’ for the same reasons I supported the Gas Tax last year – it’s the most common policy in the lit. Most policy-makers said the best incentive for AE was a gas tax and most say raising the guidelines is the best way to guarantee an increase in social services.

    I won’t bore everyone with all the reasons why I think it’s ok but I will state the most persuasive one – if tailored to the National Academy of Science report guidelines, the plan would increase the percentage of Americans consider ‘poor’ by 2% and make 5 million more people eligible to receive services —

    NYT, ‘6. “A Poverty Line That’s Out of Date and Out of Favor,” March 12,

    These steps are largely consistent with recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences report. The Census Bureau has been tracking alternative measures derived from the academy’s recommendations. The bureau found that if such measures had been used in 2003, the latest period for which alternative statistics are available, the poverty rate would have risen about two percentage points above the official rate of 12.5 percent. That’s not a big adjustment in percentage terms, but it would add more than five million people to the current poverty count. Fortunately for a vast majority of Americans, the exact placement of the poverty line is not a matter of everyday concern. That’s why it hasn’t been a big priority for presidents. But for some Americans living under economic stress who are not now considered poor, updating the gauge could make a tangible difference.

  8. Michael Antonucci

    The 95 NAS report wasn’t very precise, however. It didn’t specify many aspects of its formula.

    As a result, the Census Bureau often issues a sort of sidebar on the NAS, but it include a number of different extrapolated poverty thresholds. These variations tend to support the negative predictability argument.

  9. brian rubaie

    Nucc raises some really solid points.

    Before considering nuance, my central claim is that AFFs which are well grounded in the solvency literature and defend an enormous expansion of services should be considered reasonably topical.

    *The age of the report is a relevant consideration, but the Census Bureau report is based on a relatively modern (03) interpretation. Its age hasn’t deterred its relevance to policy-makers —
    CQ Weekly, ‘9. Congressional Quarterly. “Changing Standards Of ‘Poor’” 3-21, Lexis.

    Now, if ever, good measures of poverty are important,” said Rebecca M. Blank, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who has been involved in efforts to improve the data on poverty. “And we don’t have them, so that’s an argument for why you really want to do this and do it as fast as possible.” The push for a new definition is coming not only from the think tanks and universities, but also from state and local officials who say the flow of federal funds to their regions isn’t well-aligned with their needs. “We feel like the poverty line right now is outdated and antiquated, and it doesn’t reflect what low-income families must earn to meet the basic costs of daily life,” said Tom Cochran, chief executive of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, whose members have approved a resolution calling for an update to the poverty statistics.

    *The variation/precision of the guideline is also a relevant consideration, and by definition the guideline would vary. I found the NAS recs fairly precise – include subtracted and near-cash income, account for involuntary expenditures (medicine, clothes, etc.) and adjust to family size and composition.

    *I’m unclear on the predictability arg and guess it would mean one of two things: (please tell me if I’ve missed the point, these aren’t attempts to mischaracterize your arg as a weaker assertion)

    One would be that varying guidelines would effect how many people received services. However, if the plan only reached 4 million Americans, it would still be the largest AFF on the topic outside of Health Care. I understand the initial ‘mixing burdens’ consideration but think this is irrelevant for the entitlement programs the plan would effect. Since entitlement programs are based on eligibility and not availability, raising the guidelines could only result in a large increase in services.

    The second argument might be that there are a large number of guideline proposals. However, this seems like a reason to exclude minor guideline changes, not to rid debate of a core topic AFF. If an AFF provided health care to an incredibly limited sect of the population and said ‘come on, we’re Health Care’ their reasonability claim would ring hollow. Similarly, if AFFs took an area that is questionably topical (guideline changes) and made them smaller to avoid PICs, their claim to reasonability would vanish as well.

  10. Michael Antonucci


    I agree with you on the date. 95 NAS is just the reference, not an argument; I cut a lot of real old T cards.

    NAS doesn’t provide a single measure, though. It leaves a lot of variables open to determination. It’s really a RANGE, not a LINE. The federal poverty threshold, however, is determinate. That makes it much more predictable than a definition advocated by a group of academics. There are a number of pretty credible alternate formulas, after all, even outside the NAS.

    (Note: I can find the cards on the internal variation if we disagree on this.)

    re: “core of the topic” – I don’t know what the core of the topic or literature is. The topic determines the core – the core doesn’t determine the topic.

    There are a lot of anti-poverty proposals, but not all of them are social services for PLIP. I don’t think redefining poor is topical, any more than redefining the USFG is topical. Is adding only this line redrawing aff bad? Probably not. Is there any particularly predictable way to govern that process of line drawing? I don’t think so.

    I value precision and predictability really highly in T debates, because of the inherent mutability of limits arguments. This might condition our contrasting views on this aff.

  11. brian rubaie

    Thanks Nucc, that clarifies a lot. I think it’s a good T debate for each side. My final args in favor/defense of the AFF –

    *The AFF should be responsible for what it advocates and not what it may justify. I don’t think an AFF that gives social services to 5 million would justify a different guideline AFF that only gave it to 100,000. I think a well-written affirmative counter-interpretation of ‘increase’ or ‘for’ might resolve some of these concerns.

    *The NAS proposals are indeed a range but I think their effects can be determined. The testing done by the Census Bureau creates a reasonable expectation for what would happen if the NAS guidelines became law. This may also be a bright-line for what separates it from other guideline-change proposals.

    *’Core’ is admittedly subjective but I think its an acceptable way to describe the sheer amount of literature advocating a change from think tanks, university academics and government officials.

    *I don’t think changing the standard of ‘PLIP’ is analogous to changing ‘USFG.’ Changing PLIP would justify an immediate increase in services, the object of the resolution. Redrawing USFG wouldn’t affirm the object of the resolution.

    *I think your last statement about our contrasting views is a wise observation. My method of starting research on a new topic is to take the terms in the resolution and see what proposals in the literature utilize them rather than finding a host of definitions and imagining what proposals might meet those standards.

    Despite their imprecision, I think standards like solvency advocate and reasonability incentivize good, creative research. I think the presence of literature is a reasonable floor for a CP and barrier for the AFF. Given the assortment of the negative arsenal, I think what constitutes a winning Aff is naturally determined by the presence or absence of good literature. When that exists in strong form for an Aff that meets a common-sense (again, subjective) interpretation of the topic, I find that Aff topical.

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