Fiscal Responsibility and Occupy Wall Street – The Proper Outlook

Imagine there is a nail sitting upright on the floor. You step on it, and your foot gets punctured. The result is a lot of pain, and possibly an infection. I want to take a second to ask who should be blamed for this situation. Do we blame the nail? Obviously not, as the nail’s purpose is to exist and be a nail. It did not actively seek to cause your foot pain. It was just being a nail. It is your responsibility not to step on the nail.

The problem with Occupy Wall Street is that it takes the wrong approach to viewing Wall Street. Wall Street should not be viewed as an active entity with volition. That perspective divests the individual and the consumer of all responsibility. Instead, Wall Street, and its turning gears, should be viewed as just that, turning gears. Wall Street is a machine that operates on the profit motive, with people working to make profits. It is inevitable that these people will do what it takes to make money and gain power. It is our responsibility as consumers, citizens, and political participants to be wise in the decisions we make.

Take a look at predatory lending for example. For those of you who don’t know, the practice is fairly straightforward. I, as the banker, will give you a loan for a home that you obviously cannot afford, knowing that you will default. Once you default, I will take the home (which is worth the amount of the loan) and whatever money you have managed to pay thus far. Therefore, I will make money in the end. This is one operation of the machine that is Wall Street. Now, the Occupy Wall Street folks will tell you that this is an unscrupulous practice which needs to be regulated and stopped by the government. I do not share the same view. My argument is that you, the consumer, should not try and buy the $750,000 dollar that they obviously will never be able to pay off. Instead, settle for a rent to own 2 bedroom. The same can be said about car loans. Do not try to purchase the $70,000 BMW. Buy a used Civic instead that you can pay off in 2 years time.

A good number of Americans live under the fallacy that having a college degree makes you deserving of having a career which pays at least $80,000 per year. I’m sorry, but if your GPA was 2.7, and your chief extracurricular activity was smoking marijuana, you have no right to expect a luxurious life. Youth in this country exist in a bubble of excess spending and poor financial management. If you already have student loans to pay off, what are you doing maxing out your credit cards, ruining your history, and accumulating debt? It is not difficult to get a job, nor is it difficult to make enough money to live a decent life. This is especially true if you live in places like Cleveland, Baltimore, Atlanta, or any of the plain states. The only thing is that the first job you get may not be the dream multi-million dollar executive salary position you want. And, because you watched too many romantic comedies, you thought it was alright to get married and have a child by the age of 23. You really think you can support a family on your $35k per year entry level job?

Hard work is rewarded in this country and in this economy. The problem is that it is not rewarded instantly, and it is not rewarded simply. You have to be good at politiking, and you need initiative. You need to be experienced, talented, and highly qualified to land the top level executive positions. Chances are, however, you’re not going to get to that point until at least your late thirties. If you need to get a job busing tables, then that’s what you have to do. It is nothing to be ashamed of. The reality is that a full time minimum wage worker makes roughly $1000 per month. Go from minimum wage to $10 per hour, and you make $1600 per month. Just five more dollars per hour, and that becomes $2400, which is enough to live comfortably if you live within your means. Blue collar vocational positions also pay very well. A mechanic at a Lexus dealership can make upwards of $25 per hour.

The problem is not Wall Street. They are just doing their jobs, and they are doing them very well. The problem is that American society breeds a culture of false entitlement and frivolity. Students spend their time partying instead of building their resumes, getting experience, and getting good grades which will allow them to have successful futures. I’m not saying that all enjoyment should cease in lieu of hard work and industriousness. Rather, it is more appropriate to lead a balanced life. There is a time for play, and there is a time for work. Unfortunately, for too many, work time turns into play time, and then all time turns into play time. Companies will always hire people who work harder and have more impressive resumes over people who do not. This is just a fact.

The most beautiful thing about this approach of individual fiscal responsibility is that it is the best way to end unethical practices on Wall Street! We sometimes forget that free market forces still matter somewhat in this country. The “unscrupulous Wall Street tycoons” that the people in the park settlements are all riled up about prey upon irresponsible Americans who do not understand how to responsibly use their money. Predatory loans became fashionable because a lot of people were getting them. If Americans take the time to better understand how money works and how to use it better, then predatory economic practices will stop because there will be no market for them. If nobody bothers to get a ridiculous loan for a Maserati they can’t afford, then these loans will inevitably stop existing. The interest rates will decrease as well. As a population of consumers, it is our job to make it more profitable for the financial institutions to be ethical. It is not easy to be responsible, but it is the real way to fix this economy.

After all, the nail will always be there. You are the one who needs to watch where you step.

Resolved: In the United States, current income disparities threaten democratic ideals.

This topic is similar to the current topic in that it is fairly narrow and doesn’t allow for much significant impact. Therefore, the teams which develop the best framework and best impacts will have the biggest advantage. That’s how it should be anyway, but sometimes the amount of evidence can outweigh framework analysis in public forum. This topic doesn’t really allow for that. So, let’s begin with the first step of breaking down every topic, grammatical analysis and identifying the important terms.

Nouns: current income disparities, democratic ideals

(United States is also important, but doesn’t need to be defined. Just remember that the resolution is U.S. specific.)

Verbs: threaten

As I mentioned in the LD topic breakdown, nouns in debate are constructed differently. This means that it is inappropriate to construct a definition of “democratic ideals” based upon the separate definitions of “democratic” and “ideals.” Instead, “democratic ideals” becomes a separate ontological entity which requires its own definition. That brings us to the next step of the breakdown, defining important terms.

Current Income Disparities: I already anticipate several teams focusing on this definition as the crux of the debate. Teams will inevitably try to find statistics and evidence which demonstrate that the income gap isn’t as bad as Occupy Wall Street would have you believe, or that there is a decent dispersion of wealth, etc… DON’T DO IT!! The intent of the resolution is not for you to demonstrate that the economic situation in the U.S. isn’t that bad. Instead, the resolution is asking you whether or not the crappy economic inequality we have threatens the principles upon which our country is built. So, just accept that the income gap is huge, since 1% of the population controls 70% of the wealth, or whatever the absurd statistic is. Both sides need to admit this, or the debate will suck.

Democratic Ideals: I further anticipate a severe misunderstanding of this term. Teams will attempt to argue that certain things such as “equality” do or not fall into democratic ideals and will attempt to find odd definitions which separate the economy and governing the people. Again, DON’T DO THIS!! Democratic ideals do not necessarily entail that a country is a democracy, but rather that it is founded upon principles of equal representation, liberty, freedom, human rights, etc… We all know what democratic ideals are. Just find a legitimate source with a good sounding summary of it, and stick it in your case as the definition.

Threaten: This is probably the toughest term to define. We can accept most definitions for the previous two because we all have a general understanding of what they mean, and there is no need to distinguish the intricate nuances of them. However, in order to properly understand the resolution, we must know what it means to threaten democratic ideals. I also advise against trying to be abusive with this definition. Don’t take a position which says something like, “Since our country won’t turn into a dictatorship, democratic ideals aren’t threatened by income disparities.” The idea of the resolution is that income disparities harm equality of opportunity, freedom of political participation, freedom of speech, etc… Because of lack of wealth, many people may have a difficult time having a political presence. Therefore, I think an appropriate definition of threatening democratic ideals would be preventing their complete fulfillment or realization.

Potential Case Positions

Pro

1. Money = Power – This is a fairly obvious and straightforward position. It’s no secret that people with more money can have a larger political presence. They can run more effective campaigns and eventually get more votes, not to mention have more leverage with political interests and such. So, if the vast majority of wealth is concentrated to such a few people, then we are effectively left with an oligarchy, with only a select number of people continually inheriting political dominance (Bush family, Clinton family, Kennedy family). This system threatens democratic ideals because it harms everyone else’s right to speech, right to political participation, right to equality under the law, and effectively the right to choose their leaders as well.

2. The Institutions of Democratic Mechanics are Threatened – With money becoming more concentrated, political mechanics occur less and less in democratic ways such as through town hall meetings, open elections, debates, and actual merit based politiking. Instead, economic institutions and factors such as interests, media campaigns, and political contributions become more important because they lead to demonstrably more political success. Citizens, therefore, engage in the political process through lobbying, donating money, or not doing anything because they feel as if they cannot make a difference. This threatens democratic ideals because it damages the fundamental operational foundations of a democratic government and society.

Con

1. Free competition is a Democratic Ideal – Obviously, a democratic society encourages property rights, liberty, and open competition. Inevitably, this leads to income disparities because some people will be more successful than others, and they should be rewarded for that success. It therefore becomes sort of oxymoronic to say that open competition threatens democratic ideals, because it is the same as saying democratic ideals threaten democratic ideals.

2. In the Internet Age, Finances Become Less Relevant – Democratic ideals rest upon the idea that everyone can have their voice heard, and everyone can engage in the political process. We live in an age of blogs, facebook, and open communication. Therefore, to claim that money is a significant hindrance to democratic participation is absurd. Even those without money have avenues through which their voices can be heard. This position can be particularly powerful if you use examples of successful bloggers, independent filmmakers, etc… who have managed to have a significant political impact without lots of monies at their disposal.

These are just a few thoughts to get you started. I hope they help, and good luck 🙂

What Morally Separates Suicide From Murder?

There is a long tradition of people who contend that suicide is not morally impermissible. Yet, I am not convinced. I have a simple question which I believe demonstrates the immorality of suicide. I have not yet received an answer from anyone I have asked. So I open this discourse up to you. The question is below; please feel free to share your thoughts.

Murder is immoral because it violates somebody’s right to life. My rights only extend to the point where your rights begin. So, when I use my rights to violate yours, it is immoral/unjust.

My question is why my rights are different. Why is it morally permissible for me to use my rights to violate my own? Why does my autonomy extend beyond my right to life (if it does)?

Resolved: Individuals Have a Moral Obligation to Assist People in Need

This is a great topic! It is a throw back to the good ol’ days of LD Debate when arguments were not confined by the rigid constraints of the real world but were actually debated on metaphysical territory, as they should be. So, let’s take a look into the topic and see what questions arise and which ones we can begin formulating answers for. Keep in mind that this is not a comprehensive analysis of this topic like you would find coming from Victory Briefs. Instead, this is an overview designed to get you thinking about the issues the topic raises.

Resolved: Individuals have a moral obligation to assist people in need.

It is important to begin with a grammatical analysis of any topic to understand the parts of the sentence which are important.

Nouns: individuals, people, moral obligation

Verbs: have, assist

Adjectives: in need

As you can see, terms are defined slightly differently when it comes to debate resolutions. Moral, for example, is not an adjective which describes a type of obligation. Rather, ‘moral obligation’ is a noun, taking on a different identity of its own entirely. It is improper to delineate the two and attempt to discover how our morals lead to obligations. Instead, we should look to where our moral obligations come from on the whole. The former method of examination already presupposes that our moral obligations originate from our morals, and so we inevitably end up trying to derive sources of our morality instead of deriving sources for our moral obligations.

The second important term to examine is assist. What precisely does it mean for someone to assist someone else? Do our obligations extend as far as putting our own lives at risk to save the lives of others? How much are we obligated to sacrifice of ourselves?

The final important term is in need. Again, the two words are not separated here. Rather, they comprise an entirely new adjective which describes a type of person. So, what is a person in need? People suffering from genocide are distinct from those involved in civil war, who are distinct from impoverished people, who are distinct from orphans, etc… Granted, these categories can intersect, but is there a need to separate them? The scope and type of assistance provided to each can be radically different. What if you don’t agree with the cause of the people? Are anti-Tamil elements obligated to help Tamils in Sri Lanka?

These are the term definitions which need to be addressed. My take on the resolution essentially ignores these nuances because the implications do not change the argument. Whether a person gives their life or gives some money, the point does not change that they are obligated to give something. Also, the object of any assistance would be to create an overall positive impact, so if the self-sacrifice is absurd, the goal is not really achieved. Continually, when examining the question of someone in need, it is more proper to examine regions or populations than it is to examine specific people or nations. For example, the Middle East is in need of assistance as opposed to a solitary Palestinian being in need. This prevents the issue of supporting specific causes, and rather institutes common goals like peace and justice. Therefore, the key to avoiding squirrelly arguments and abusive definitions/counter-arguments is to universalize things. This will be more important in rebuttals than in case construction because some people will undoubtedly attempt to corner you.

With those issues out of the way, the only thing left is the issue of moral obligations. This is the crux of this resolution. In order to debate the topic, you must adopt and argue for an origin point for moral obligations. Essentially, the resolution is asking you where you think our moral obligations come from and whether that means we have a moral obligation to assist people in need or not. So let’s talk about some sources of our moral obligations and the implications they have for the resolution.

The Social Contract – Our moral framework as individuals comes from the social contract. There are several philosophers which address the social contract and how it operates. The two most common philosophers referenced in LD are Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. The troubling thing is that these two individuals are often mentioned synonymously though their renditions of the contract are entirely different. For Locke, individuals have claims against each other because they are morally good and seek to promote the betterment of society. So, I don’t kill somebody because I recognize that everyone should have their life protected, as should I. If this is true, this means that we indeed have a moral obligation to help others in need because we deserve to be helped when we are in need. This principle leads to the betterment of society, and so a moral obligation arises. Hobbes, on the other hand, contends that humans are self-interested evil creatures. Therefore, we sacrifice all our rights to a sovereign (government, dictator, whatever), and that sovereign decides upon a fair system of obligations and punishments that everyone abides by. The extension of this point is that the sovereign cannot institue a punishment for not being altruistic because there is no corresponding right which is surrendered to the sovereign. Therefore, no moral obligation arises.

Natural Rights – Everyone is due natural rights, so our moral system ought to be based upon doing whatever maximizes natural rights. This means that, societally speaking, we have an obligation to help other people because it promotes life, liberty, and property/pursuit of happiness. Because inidividuals comprise society, this means that these obligation falls upon the individuals. On the other hand, there is the autonomy argument on the negative side. If we force people to be altruistic, we violate their autonomy. This argument can be made, but the impact is difficult to make. So what if we violate autonomy? It isn’t absolute anyway. We don’t let people yell fire in a crowded theatre because it risks peoples’ lives. Autonomy can be limited when its exercise causes more harm than good. So why not limit it in this case to prevent harm to people and promote societal welfare and such?

Utilitarianism – In this case, our sense of morality is derived from an ethical system. So, whichever course of action promotes the greatest good for the greatest number of people is the moral option. This is easy to argue on the affirmative side. If helping people in need promotes the greatest good for the greatest number (as is entailed by the word “helping”), the we have a moral obligation to do so. On the other hand, if helping people in need is actually more harmful, then we ought not to do it. I am also not a fan of this argument at all. It ignores the actual value clash in the resolution. The resolution is not asking which side has more benefits. In fact, the resolution assumes that the affirmative has more benefits. It is asking whether or not these benefits merit making altruism an obligation. Nevertheless, it is still a defensible position; I’m just not a big fan of it.

The Categorical Imperative – In order for an action to be moral, it must meet the three maxims of Kant’s categorical imperative. This can also be run on either the affirmative or the  negative side. On the affirmative, we can argue that we could definitely will helping people in need to be a universal law, and it doesn’t treat people as a means to an end only. On the negative, we can argue that altruism can never be universally willed because of its extremes, and that it treats people as a means to the end of their own betterment (effectively claiming inferiority of their moral judgment).

Anyway, these are just a few of the basic systems of moral evaluation that can be used when arguing this resolution. What I have seen a lot of is people using Singer and Korsgaard. While these two are very intelligent and well regarded modern thinkers, they actually do not provide logical justifications for their arguments. Singer argues that one is morally obligated to help others if he/she does not have to sacrifice anything of comparable worth. Yet, he never explains why this obligation exists. He claims that one’s moral worth increases, but again, he never proves why this is the case. The same can be said for Korsgaard on the opposite side of the argument. I would admonish debaters to stay away from modern thinkers as they do not develop actually systems of moral evaluation but rather solitary arguments without much solid grounding. Instead, LD debaters should understand how moral systems operate and develop cases built around a particular moral system, as that is what the resolution is really asking of them.