Advice on Debating Neolib


By Dustin Meyers-Levy

Hey y’all, I’m going to talk about what most everyone sees as the central topic kritik area—neoliberalism.  I’ll start with an exploration of the concept and then go more in-depth on its application to debate.


Neoliberalism in Latin America:


Neoliberalism as a concept is broadly defined as a policy strategy with two primary goals—maximize market efficiency and size and minimize government intervention in the economy.  In the context of the topic, this manifests itself in a variety of ways.  The most evident revolves around the Washington Consensus—a list of policy recommendations created by economist John Williamson with the intent of helping various Latin American countries recover from the 1980s economic slump.  The Consensus is commonly associated with the modern advent of neoliberalism.  Williamson’s points were (thanks Wikipedia):


  1. Fiscal policy discipline, with avoidance of large fiscal deficits relative to GDP;
  2. Redirection of public spending from subsidies (“especially indiscriminate subsidies”) toward broad-based provision of key pro-growth, pro-poor services like primary education, primary health care and infrastructure investment;
  3. Tax reform, broadening the tax base and adopting moderate marginal tax rates;
  4. Interest rates that are market determined and positive (but moderate) in real terms;
  5. Competitive exchange rates;
  6. Trade liberalization: liberalization of imports, with particular emphasis on elimination of quantitative restrictions (licensing, etc.); any trade protection to be provided by low and relatively uniform tariffs;
  7. Liberalization of inward foreign direct investment;
  8. Privatization of state enterprises;
  9. Deregulation: abolition of regulations that impede market entry or restrict competition, except for those justified on safety, environmental and consumer protection grounds, and prudential oversight of financial institutions;
  10. Legal security for property rights.


While a lot of these are more specific policies than most debates will ever discuss, it can be useful to keep these in mind when analyzing what various affirmatives do.  Let’s take the example of the Cuba embargo aff—what effect would lifting the embargo have on the Cuban market system?  If, as some affirmatives argue, lifting the embargo would force a regime change, what regime would emerge?  One possibly more friendly to a liberal market and deregulation?


Neoliberalism in Debate:


This kritik is historically popular for a reason—there are a variety of approaches one can take that are extremely hard to answer.  The most common (and in my opinion the most strategic) is a framework-centered approach.  Because the question of whether the aff is neoliberal or not and the implications of that is fundamentally a question of method/epistemology, winning the debate requires the negative to decisively win framework.  Thus, it makes sense for the negative to place extreme pressure on the affirmative on this question—if the affirmative doesn’t win this the debate becomes extremely hard.  This is true for a few reasons—

1.  the neg doesn’t have to win an alternative—just that the aff’s methodology is good or bad

2.  the neg doesn’t have to win a big extinction impact necessarily—it helps, but if the neg wins that advocating neoliberal proposals is a bad pedagogy then the judge can vote negative because it’s a debate space impact, which logically comes before any big-scale impacts

3.  it sets up a lot of “cheating” arguments for the negative to go for—some of these include:


-“neoliberalism in academia produces flawed knowledge which means the aff is a lie”—this requires more cards on this question/was kind of discussed above, but if the neg wins that neoliberalism incentivizes a certain kind of knowledge to be produced, and that the affirmative is an example of this (the link), then the aff should be held to a certain degree of skepticism, which translates into “everything they said in the 1AC was untrue” in the RFD.  This is a more persuasive way of framing the argument that partially avoids the (likely true) aff answer of “but we have specific cards and stuff prove our authors are neoliberal!”


-“we only need one link to win”—any link argument is sufficient to prove the argument above.  This isn’t an argument that can win on its own but in tandem with the above and a well-articulated pedagogy impact it’s very easy to win on the “you let another company into cuba” link


-“they can’t weigh the aff because this debate is solely a question of the desirability of the aff’s method”—similar to the first argument, but with a bit more nuance.  If method comes first, weighing the aff makes no sense—what does it mean to “weigh the fiated implications of the aff” against a methodological interrogation?  Simply asking that question gets farther than a lot of K debates because no one ever actually explains that.  Logically, method is a prior question because it’s a prerequisite to determining whether the affirmative weighs anything in the first place.


-“no perms—can’t combine two methodologies—not a coherent test of the link”—this argument gets made a lot but no one ever really knows what it means so it never goes past this.  Analogies help with this—think of swimming, where the affirmative’s method of neoliberal policymaking is the breaststroke while the negative’s method of epistemological questioning is the backstroke.  What does it mean to combine these coherently?  Any combination would be an entirely new method which is by definition not a test of the link.


The other most common approach to this K is the simple impact/impact turn route—and that usually just devolves (no pun intended) into a dedev debate, so it requires less explanation.  The strategy in this originates from the fact that most negative impact cards are incredibly rhetorically strong, while the aff’s are usually less so, so the 2NR has the potential to be much more persuasive than the 2AR.  However, this strategy is much simpler and requires less explanation, so I won’t go as in-depth.


This K will be likely read in every other round this topic—it’s worth familiarizing yourself with these arguments and how to answer them.



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