Selling Topics

There is a bit of a scandal going on right now about the NFL “selling” the rights to pick the public forum topic. You can wade into it here, and see a response from the NFL here.

At least for me trying to take a position on this is hard because after reading all of this I still don’t really know what is going on (mainly because there is no agreement as to what exactly happened). But I will say a few things.

1. In theory, selling the topic seems like an ok idea to me. 150k? That is a lot of cash that could probably do some good. The obvious questions are who decides where the money goes etc. It should be fairly obvious that I should get to decide where any topic sale revenues are spent, but odds are likely that due to “politics” the NFL would get to decide. I have long thought the NFL spent a bit too much money on promotional elements and not enough reinvesting into debate, and I worry a similar thing would occur with their new cash cow.

2. The topic process as it works now in both HS and college debate is I think pretty dumb. They say a camel is a horse made by committee, and these topics clearly reflect that. I think there should be some sort of like Enders game system where we just pick a really smart debate person and have them craft the topic for a year all by themselves so there doesn’t have to be any compromising or dumbing down. Then next year pick a new person. So the idea that letting outsiders “buy” the topic somehow destroys our awesome topic process doesn’t really hold a lot of weight with me. Democracy doesn’t work people.

3. I don’t want to get into a whole policy vs public forum thing here, but it does seem to me that the very purpose of public forum is to engage the public at large in a way that policy can’t (and shouldn’t). And getting the NFL corporate sponsorship seems like a big part of why pofo came about, giving debate a more marketable face.

10 thoughts on “Selling Topics

  1. Anonymous

    How about some combination of one and two? "Sell" the possibility of having your topic chosen for the debate topic, then have an expert tweak the topic, but keep it around the same advantage areas, disads, etc.

  2. Sid

    just make the public forum topic decided the same way as the policy topi. policy topic works fine, and its based on votes isn't it? Also what real benefit would you actually get from buying a topic? I highly doubt anyone really has that much of an advantage by buying off a topic, so probably not really worth the money

  3. Sara Sanchez

    Scott, I agreed with most of what you said in your original post, but this more recent update on the issue raises new concerns for me. In essence, it appears the Arthur N. Rupe Foundation has sponsored both the topic and some of the more timely research on the topic. It also appears that there has been an effort to keep the identity of the topic sponsor secret which would have made a pretty meaningful conflict of interest impossible to determine absent this most recent update. This additional information, and the attempt to keep it secret, troubles me a lot.

  4. Pingback: Topic Sponsorship Brouhaha Update — PFDebate Blog

  5. bietz

    ok. my initial post was facetious. But i was looking at some of the stuff Rupe Foundation published or sponsored with CATO… there at least needs to be discussion about the types of organizations we are allowing to "provide research" to our kids.

  6. bietz

    this is from

    It is not easy to find much infor ma tion about the Arthur N. Rupe
    Foun da tion. Art Rupe appears to have made his money in the record
    ing and oil & gas indus tries. It should also be noted that in addi
    tion to selecting the the public unions topic for April, they also
    provided a grant to the Cato Institute for a spe cial issue of the
    Cato Jour nal:

    Dorn in 2010,
    James A. Dorn. [Vice Pres i dent for Aca d e mic Affairs, Cato Insti
    tute. Edi tor of the Cato Jour nal]. “Editor’s Note.” Cato Jour nal.
    30(1). Win ter 2010. Accessed March
    12, 2010.

    This spe cial issue of the Cato Jour nal was made pos si ble by a
    gen er ous grant from the Arthur N. Rupe Foun da tion. The ques tion
    posed in this issue — Are Unions Good for America? — has both nor ma
    tive and pos i tive aspects.

    Here is that pdf:

    This special issue of the Cato Journal was made possible by a generous
    grant from the Arthur N. Rupe Foundation. The question posed in
    this issue—Are Unions Good for America?—has both normative and positive
    aspects. Normatively, if one takes freedom as a fundamental principle,
    then compulsory unionism cannot be justified in a free society; it
    violates the rights of both workers and employers. Under current U.S.
    labor law, workers are often compelled to join unions and employers are
    compelled to negotiate “in good faith.” Public sector unions are even
    more onerous than private sector unions; they limit consumer choices and
    impose heavy tax burdens.

    By attenuating freedom of contract, unions also have economic consequences.
    They artificially increase wages in unionized industries, limit
    employment opportunities, depress wages in nonunion jobs, lower rates
    of return on investment in unionized firms, and slow the growth of productivity.
    Unions politicize labor markets and have used the threat of violence
    to protect their wage premiums. In addition to using their
    monopoly power to secure higher than market wages, unions spend huge
    sums of money to maintain their power and limit competition.
    Unions oppose trade liberalization, favor higher minimum wages, seek
    legislation to make it easier to organize workers by using a card check system
    rather than secret ballot (the misnamed “Employee Free Choice
    Act”), and are major supporters of the Democratic Party.
    By giving a privileged position to unions, U.S. labor law violates the
    rule of law and freedom of contract. The Norris-LaGuardia Act of 1932
    and the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 swung the tide in favor of
    unions, outlawing “yellow-dog” contracts that would allow workers the
    freedom to choose not to join a union as a condition of employment, prohibiting
    federal judges from issuing injunctions to prevent strikes (and to
    protect private property rights), and forcing workers and employers to
    accept “exclusive representation” once a union is validated by majority

    Although unions as voluntary associations of workers would not violate
    workers’ freedom, much of U.S. labor law takes that freedom away. One
    exception is right-to-work laws, which allow workers not to join a union as
    a condition of employment. Twenty-two states have enacted such laws
    and, in doing so, have expanded workers’ choices, increased employment
    opportunities, and promoted industry.

    Industrial unions in the United States have extracted large wage premiums,
    including fringe benefits. Combined with steep taxes on capital,
    high labor costs have eroded U.S. competitiveness in union firms, such as
    steel and autos. Urban areas such as Detroit have lost thousands of jobs
    as a result.

    Prevailing wage laws and project labor agreements, which union lobbyists
    are responsible for, are designed to protect high-wage union construction
    workers from competition. Such practices are not good for

    America or for taxpayers. The idea that legislating higher wages by
    restricting competition is beneficial because higher money wages
    increase aggregate demand and increase employment—the so-called
    high-wage doctrine—is a fallacious but persistent doctrine.
    Free labor markets, complemented by free capital markets and free
    product markets, ensure that relative wage rates reflect workers’ productivity,
    consumers’ preferences, and the true opportunity costs of labor in
    alternative uses. Interferences with free-market prices prevent mutually
    beneficial exchanges and lead to nonprice rationing. In the United States,
    racial discrimination was evident in the early history of the union movement.
    Union hiring halls determined who got what jobs, and union leaders
    took account of their members’ preferences for discrimination.

    The decline of union-dominated firms and industries since the 1960s,
    and the jump in globalization since the 1980s, has taken a toll on private
    sector unions. Membership has dropped from about 31 percent of the
    workforce in 1960 to less than 10 percent today. Meanwhile, public sector
    unions have flourished, with local membership now at 46 percent,
    state membership at 35 percent, and federal membership at 33 percent.
    Public sector unions have a vested interest in expanding the size and
    scope of government. They are politically active and use their influence
    to ensure that “big government” liberals, not market liberals, are elected.

    Higher taxes are the handmaiden of public sector unions. As tax rates rise
    to pay for the high costs of public sector workers, including the massive
    unfunded future pension and health benefits promised to public employees,
    there will be a large excess burden placed on the private sector,
    which will slow economic growth.

    The contributors to this volume
    • provide an historical background to the development of U.S. labor
    • show how that law undermines the rule of law, leads to “political rent
    seeking,” and violates economic and personal freedom by legalizing
    compulsory unionism;

    • trace out the economic consequences of unions on wage rates,
    employment, investment, productivity, and growth;

    • give specific examples of how unions have caused capital and jobs to
    flee cities and have fostered discrimination;

    • explain why project labor agreements and prevailing wage laws are
    not in the public interest;

    • make a case for “a free-market union law” that would allow voluntary
    but not compulsory unionism;

    • and warn of the dangers to freedom and prosperity from union support
    of protectionism, from public sector unions (especially teachers
    unions that oppose school choice), and from the onslaught of new
    legislation that would end the secret ballot and impose binding arbitration
    under the Employee Free Choice Act.

    A return to limited government, freedom of contract, and protection
    of private property rights would be good for America. An expansion of
    union power, especially in the public sector, would not. It would further
    erode the rule of law and freedom, and have adverse effects on U.S.
    competitiveness and on private sector development.

    This special issue of the Cato Journal challenges the myth that unions
    benefit all workers and exposes the fallacy of the “high-wage doctrine.” It
    shows that the threat from public sector unions is real and that recent
    post-election concessions to unions may only be the beginning of a new
    round of political rent seeking and even more onerous labor laws.
    —J. A. Dorn

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