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Head Start Good
Head Start Fails
We’ve had some very good resolutions so far in 2016. This one is not good.
There are a few problems that you need to be aware of as you prepare for your debates.
First, pitting public infrastructure spending against means-tested welfare programs is a very artificial debate.
What do I mean by an “artificial debate”?
I mean there aren’t any articles that debate out the question; there isn’t scholarship or punditry on this question. Contrast this, for example, with a debate you may have seen when preparing for your carbon tax debates – Should climate change be reduced through tradable permits or a carbon tax? That is a question there is a lot of literature about. There isn’t comparative literature of this nature on April resolution.
Second, the primary purpose of neither public infrastructure spending nor (at least most) means-tested welfare programs is to alleviate inequality. The purpose of public infrastructure spending is to improve infrastructure. The purpose of (most) means-tested welfare is to provide financial support for the very poor.
Now it is possible that either program can lead to some decline in income inequality. Construction jobs pay more than Wal Mart jobs. If people are able to access welfare they will have more money and the gap between them and the wealthy people will decline a bit. For example, if you currently do not receive financial assistance to purchase food and then you do, the money you relative to Bill Gates’ will still improve, but obviously there is no real reduction in inequality. More significantly, if people take advantage of job training, which is a means-tested welfare program, they might earn more in the future and inequality may decline.
Beyond this, of course, is the question of whether or not means-tested welfare counts as “income.” If it does not, it is basically impossible for means-tested welfare to do it, at least directly (maybe more means-tested welfare (at least certain parts of it) would improve the chances of someone making more money later in life).
Third, it’s not clear what the purpose of, “To alleviate income inequality in the United States” is in the resolution. It obviously means that the teams need to argue whether or not the respective approaches reduce income inequality (which, as explained, will be difficult), but does it mean that is the only thing that matters?
There are obviously all sorts of advantages and disadvantages to both public infrastructure spending and means-tested welfare programs (including all of the different programs).
All of these seem relevant to the question.
For example, you may ask this question: To get a better math grade, I should prioritize spending time with a tutor over spending time studying on my own. Both of these approaches may net you a better grade, but the approaches also have their own advantages and disadvantages. For example, spending more time with the tutor may cost you more money. And maybe your tutor is annoying. But if you spend time on your own, you might end up spending more time playing video games that are bad for your eyes. All of these advantages and disadvantages are relevant to the tutoring question.
This issue is compounded by the fact that either portion of this resolution could be a resolution unto itself. In fact, the infrastructure portion was an entire policy debate topic. Increased spending on public infrastructure might make it more difficult for terrorists to attack, strengthen the civil aviation industry, and make US cities more resilient to climate change.
The means-tested welfare portion was a substantial chunk of the 2009 poverty policy debate topic. Increased welfare spending could strengthen nutrition, reduce homelessness, and even improve education.
Fourth, as with every “prioritize” resolution (I don’t know why the committee likes the word “prioritize” so much), it doesn’t require either side to take a very strong stance in favor of one or the other. Of course, this just re-emphasize the problems the problem created by the lack of literature that addresses the comparative question – not only is there no comparative literature, but there is no literature that says that one should be prioritized over the other.
There may be other problems with this resolution, but these are the major ones. I highlight them not to simply criticize the resolution but to point out that thee are important limitations that you need to think through in order to make the best of this topic.
I will now define some of the key terms in the resolution.
Terms in the Resolution
Alleviate. According to dictionary.com, “alleviate” means to “lessen, mitigate.” Another definition says, “to make easier to endure.”
This term just makes the resolution a bit more odd. I supposed means-tested welfare makes inequality “easier to endure.” And so does a job.
Of course, both approaches also “lessen” or “mitigate it,” depending on what “income” means.
Income. Dictionary.com defines “income” as “money received on a regular basis, for work or through investments.” The Business Dictionary offers a similar definition: “1.The flow of cash or cash-equivalents received from work (wage or salary), capital (interest or profit), or land (rent).”
If a person gets a job in construction, they will have more income, but obviously if they get more means-tested welfare they will not have more income. Welfare is not income, at least according to these definitions – it is not cash receive from work, capital, or land.
So, means-tested welfare is not going to lessen income inequality, but it could “mitigate it.”
This “mitigate” definition seems important for the Con.
Inequality. Inequality simply means unequal or uneven. In this context, it suggests “an unfair situation in which some people have more rights or better opportunities than other people” (Dictionary.com).
Public infrastructure. “Public infrastructure” is really broad, including “hat is owned by the public or is for public use. It is generally distinguishable from private or generic infrastructure in terms of policy, financing, purpose.” (Dictionary.com)
William Fox, a professor of Economics at the University of Texas, and Tim Smith, a senior economist at the Kansas City Federal Reserve, explained in 1990:
Explains in more detail that, “Public infrastructure is defined as the physical capital investments – for example, roads, water and sewage systems, electric power plants, telecommunication facilities, railroads, and airports – traditionally provided by the public sector to private households and businesses.” (Public Infrastructure Policy and Economic Development)
So, obviously this is quite broad.
Means-tested welfare. The simplest way to start this discussion is with a defunition –
Robert Rector, Senior Research Fellow, Heritage Foundation, May 22, 2015, Examining the Means-Tested Welfare State, http://www.heritage.org/research/testimony/2012/05/examining-the-means-tested-welfare-state DOA: 3-14-15 DOA: 3-14-16
The governmental safety net has three basic components: 1) Social Security and Medicare for the elderly; 2) unemployment insurance and worker’s compensation; and 3) anti-poverty or means-tested welfare programs. My testimony will deal with the means-tested welfare system, which could also be called comprehensive assistance to the poor.
The means-tested welfare system consists of 79 federal programs providing cash, food, housing, medical care, social services, training, and targeted education aid to poor and low-income Americans. Means-tested welfare programs differ from general government programs in two ways. First, they provide aid exclusively to persons (or communities) with low incomes; second, individuals do not need to earn eligibility for benefits through prior fiscal contributions. Means-tested welfare therefore does not include Social Security, Medicare, Unemployment Insurance, or worker’s compensation.
So, there are a lot of programs – 79. This is a topic unto itself.
I don’t think that any of these programs provide any income, though programs such as training and targeted education could result in increased incomes and reductions in inequality in the long-term.
Con teams may want to defend these specific programs, and Robert Rector continues to highlight a few specific ones:
About half of means-tested spending is for medical care. Roughly 40 percent goes to cash, food, and housing aid. The remaining 10 to 12 percent goes to what might be called “enabling” programs, programs that are intended to help poor individuals become more self-sufficient. These programs include child development, job training, targeted federal education aid, and a few other minor functions.
So although only 10-12% of means tested welfare goes to programs that are enabling (and hence likely to reduce income inequality in the long-term), these are the ones that you’ll likely want to defend. The other programs do not “lessen” income inequality, though they may “mitigate” its impacts.
Prioritize. You debated this in November, so I assume you are prepared to debate it again. “Prioritize” simply means to say that one thing is more important than another, not that one is irrelevant. So, Pro teams don’t have to argue we shouldn’t spending money only welfare, only that we should prioritize spending that money on infrastructure.
Con teams can simply argue that we should not prioritize spending money public infrastructure spending and that we should spend money equally on both. For example, they might argue that if we spent money on job training and public infrastructure that people would be trained and then they could get jobs contributing to public infrastructure.
Since the burden to prove the resolution true is the Pro’s burden, I think they will have trouble proving that public infrastructure spending should be prioritized because spending on public infrastructure and spending on means-tested welfare do not conflict, as we could spend money on both.
On the refuges topic, there was an intuitive (I thought it was wrong, but that is beside the point, inherent tension between accepting more refugees and protecting the national interest, but there is no tension between infrastructure spending and means-tested welfare, so there is no inherent reason why one would have to be prioritized.
Since Pro teams have to win this, however, they may want to define “prioritize” to mean one thing comes before the other. So, for example, Pro teams may wish to say that it is important to get people jobs immediately by spending money on public infrastructure. They could try to argue that funds are limited and that since there are greater benefits to infrastructure spending (they would need to win those arguments) that public infrastructure spending should be prioritized. They might also argue that public infrastructure spending more appropriately benefits certain disadvantaged groups. Regardless, the Pro has to have an argument as to why the spending should be prioritized.
Increased. “Increase” means to make greater. That is not controversial. I highlight this definition only to point out that neither side has to argue for a cut in the other side’s program.
Spending. “Spending” simply refers to money. What is important to point out here is that neither side can argue for reforms in the programs – just more spending.
With this discussion of the some of the limits of the resolution as well of the terms, I will next turn to Pro and Con arguments