Analysis: Stoa Team Policy 2014 Resolutions

Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its exploration and/or development of space beyond the Earth’s mesosphere.

The mesosphere is the highest altitude at which the atmosphere is uniform (meaning you can expect a certain balance of oxygen, nitrogen, etc). It ends a little after sixty miles high. It isn’t space proper, but it’s ten times higher than passenger jets like to fly.
Good: The use of the word mesosphere is important because it establishes a scientific delineation for topicality. Wherever the line is, affirmatives will go right up to it and stick their tongues out. A term like “space” is far too abusable; mesosphere is perfect. And because it isn’t space proper, there are a lot of other interesting options because sub-orbital missions are included in the resolution.
This case is broad and exciting. There are unlimited possibilities here, as well as lots of potential harms – not just in opportunity cost, but in issues ranging from environmental to economic to military. While unlikely to speak to strong judge bias, this is a resolution that matters. The scope and topic are almost perfect. Almost. 
Bad: The word “its” limits the resolution quite a bit. It means the US government is not just the agent of change, but also the enforcement. I wish plans like tax credits for private space tourism industry were an option. I’m sure affirmatives will find creative ways to justify this, but the resolution still feels a little bit hampered.
Final score: 4/5
Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its transportation infrastructure investment in the United States.
Good: US infrastructure is a mess right now, but there are no easy fixes. In other words, it’s easy to come up with strong arguments for both sides. The scope has some variety in that there are many ways to get around: car, plane, train, etc. You can count on affirmatives coming up with all kinds of funky transportation techniques. I’m having flashbacks of a case I ran more than ten years ago involving a maglev tunnel from Los Angeles to New York.
Bad: While the target of funding will vary, the cases will eventually blur into homogeneity. Round one: “Spend money on fixing the roads.” Round two: “Spend money on more airports.” Round three: “Spend money on Amtrak.” This resolution is simply not broad enough to sustain an entire year of interesting debate. Expect negative arguments to become more and more generic. Affirmatives, trying to buck the routine, will run increasingly hair-brained cases, with mixed results. There are no good options here.
Debaters should be able to innovate with the topic area all year long without being beaten to death with the topicality stick. This is a perfect parli resolution, but a weak team policy one. If the word “transportation” or “infrastructure” were removed, it might be broad enough. But not as written.
Final score: 2/5
Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially reform its marine natural resource policies.
Good: I’m surprised that homeschool speech and debate has gone this long without discussing this topic. Our marine resource laws are incoherent and outdated. While not as vast as space, the sea is rife with possibilities for repairing our policies or laying groundwork for new ways America interacts with the ocean (water, animals, plants, minerals, energy, etc). Judges probably know little to nothing about this topic, meaning ballots will be a bit less frustrating. Perhaps most important, this is the only resolution that doesn’t mandate increased federal spending. That means this case has the best long-term staying power: more structural variety in affirmative cases, less generic disadvantages and solvency. It’s broad without making negative prep impossible.
Bad: The human impact of marine natural resource policy is too low. There are plenty of potential harms, but this is a topic that is simply difficult to get excited about unless dolphins and deep sea mining are already your jam. In other words, while this resolution is technically great – topic area, scope, etc – it’s missing that little something-something. It’s missing billions of wasted dollars or millions dead or any of the other impacts policy debaters thrive on.
Final score: 4/5
Final Verdict: Stoa needs a good environmental policy resolution, but hasn’t quite hit gold with marine natural resources. Transportation infrastructure will be bone-dry before the first source books hit the shelves. While space development isn’t without its flaws, it’s a solid and robust resolution. And best of all: it’s in space. I mean, come on!
I pick Resolution One. 


  1. I agree with much of your comments, but the transportation topic has much more complexity. To start with, there is great history. Thomas Jefferson believed his work on transportation infrastructure one of his most important accomplishments (he helped make a local river navigable). Farmers need to get their crops to market so rivers, canals, railroads and roads have been key. The federal government has made expensive blunders through American history (subsidizing steamships, canals, railroads, and now light-rail).

    Congestion pricing is key to improving the efficient use of city freeways. Randy O’Toole’s book “Gridlock” explains how misguided federal transportation policy caused gridlock and continues to throw money in the wrong places (like bridges to nowhere).

    America’s federal highways are a valuable asset. They should generate revenue. Better management would allow revenue from high-use freeways to pay for their expansion. Giant traffic jams every morning and evening in nearly every city are just America’s version of waiting in long lines for underpriced goods in the old Soviet Union.

    Plus, local governments are blocking new services and Apps that would allow low-cost transportation services. Private transit developed in the early 1900s with Jitneys, which were outlawed by cities to protect local transit monopolies (leading to riots in Seattle, Portland and San Francisco). The Federal government could protect economic freedom to contract for transportation services, which would allow diverse private transportation services to develop.

    So… lots of fun ideas. My favorite is to allow Disneyland and Six-Flags style high-speed transit to be deployed in U.S. cities. Inexpensive, fun, and fast (and upside down travel could be optional).

  2. Awesome input Greg! Drawing funding from infrastructure to re-invest in infrastructure is a great way to spice up the resolution without leaning too hard on generous topicality interpretations. It opens up more structural plan options and makes the resolution less stale. I don’t know that it’s enough to compete with the other two, but it’s a lot better.

  3. Chris Jeub says:

    I totally agree, Travis. Go space! Here’s why I think this resolution would hold some exciting debates.

    We’ve seen NASA gutted in the past four years by the Obama administration. It’s one of his biggest criticisms that DOESN’T get talked about much. It’d be fun to see debaters tear this up. What used to be one of the proudest functions of government support has become a scaled down joke. It can be argued that even Iran is advancing faster than the US. Go affirmative. Pump federal money back into space.

    But then again, couldn’t space exploration expand faster in the private sector? Perhaps Obama’s policy of gutting NASA was a good move. Look at the awesome advances of Virgin and Amazon, both private companies that have taken a vested interest in space. I’d bet their private ventures will prove more fruitful than government mandated ones. In fact, if they had the cash cow of the federal government to compete against, they probably wouldn’t be into the space market. Go negative. Keep government out of space.

    Virgin Galactic:
    Amazon BlueOrigin:

  4. When space exploration was an NFL topic in the late 1980s I published six resource books for debaters and our guest speaker that year ran a private rocket company. He explained the dynamics of rockets and space transportation, and the high cost and compromised technology of NASA’s shuttle. Key to understand is that NASA was founded as a research and development organization. Unfortunately, NASA kept control of rocket launches and blocked competition in transport to space. But research and development is a very different task than ongoing transportation, where the focus would naturally be on lowering costs and improving reliability. The Jeff Greason TEDx talk explains this issue:

  5. Space Exploration:

    Interesting topic and one homeschool debate has never even come close to before, meaning it has a lot of new ideas to bring out.

    Maybe the resolution being specific to federal government (only) leaves the private sector options to the Negative team to run as counterplans. That creates many avenues for debate about private versus public space travel.

    Downside: This resolution, I think, will have all the “good” (i.e. real-world, reasonable, actually achievable) cases out there, debated, briefed against, and abandoned within the first couple months. Then it will be Squirrel season, and the universe will be wide open for everything. Search for extra-terrestrial life, comet mining, colonize Jupiter, beaming electrical waves back from the moon… The year could turn into a big joke after a while.

    Transportation Infrastructure:
    This, as Greg points out above, has a lot of real-world applications. The diversity is a lot wider than you might think at first.

    For one thing, human space exploration might even fit into this resolution. The Space Shuttle, after all, was a federal program that gave transportion to 8 or 9 people over long distances.

    It’s more than just highways and trains, though there are lots of cases that could be built on those. Think about border ports of entry, where cars and trucks back up for hours due to lack of infrastructure. Some cases involving naval or air bases might even be topical, since military aircraft and Navy ships transport people.

    And then, of course, there will be, as you noted, Travis, pie in the sky stuff like maglev trains and the dreaded Russia/Siberia tunnel proposal.

    Marine Resources:
    This has a lot of interesting possibilities. I fear that there are two downsides that might discourage (unfairly, in my opinion) people from voting for it. First, as you mentioned, it doesn’t seem to have, at first glace, the earth-shaking impact many want. But then again, neither does space exploration nor transportation infrastructure.

    Second, we had an environmental resolution fairly recently, so there may be some reluctance to revisit that. I don’t think there will be a lot of overlap, but there will be some.

    I never had any maglev trains, Travis, but Rob Parks and I ran our classic Seabed Mining plan in a lot of debate rounds back in 1980. Did you know the world is going to completely run out of copper by the year 2000? We had a card…