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RFD for Gold Standard Debate

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10/5/2015 3:22:39 AM
Posted: 2 years ago
This is an RFD for the debate between harrytruman and Stefanwaal given here:

There's a good deal to cover, so I'm just going to launch into this.

To start, the major problem with this debate is that Pro's case is unclear to the very end of it, and gets modified as we go. We start off with just a generalized "let's move from fiat currency to the gold standard" case, but Pro's responses to Con's opening arguments indicate that he wants to also remove the control of central banks, since he's stating that the problems that Con cites with the gold standard won't be problems following implementation. Later, Pro clarifies again that his case would implement over some unknown period of time and would only encompass 10% of all money to start.

As far as I'm concerned, I have two choices when I view this. I can immediately vote Pro down on the basis that he's actively modifying his case as the debate goes along, basically viewing it as an issue of abuse that pervades the whole debate. It's Pro's burden to present a cohesive case, and when he's presenting a moving target that Con cannot possibly nail down, he's certainly harming the debate.

The second choice is for me to hold Pro to his opening case and ignore subsequent efforts to alter his case. In this case, I'm simply requiring that he follow the basic rules of the site without applying any sort of infraction for the apparent abuse.

I choose to do the latter, partly because I don't want the debate to end on this level alone, and partly because Con doesn't present any abuse arguments for me to pick him up on.

Still, it's important for me to address this first, because it's these discrepancies that the debate becomes side-tracked. Pro's correct that issues of the central bank being off-topic, but it becomes the focus of the debate because Pro modified his case to incorporate it. Perhaps that wasn't Pro's intention " perhaps what he was attempting to produce an argument regarding the uniqueness of the various harms Con presents, addressing alternate causality " but that's really unclear. I'll get to the potency of that argument as a uniqueness response later, but it's not hard to see how the debate could shift focus when Pro's response to so many of Con's points is a blanket "but the central bank did it!"

Alright, now that we've got that out of the way, I'm going to go through the major arguments.

Pro's Arguments:

Pro starts off the debate with a number of assertions. He doesn't support many of these throughout the debate, providing a single source that doesn't do much to bolster his argument. Instead, Pro relies on statements, backed up with minimal information that can't be confirmed.

He starts off with inflation, mentioning how important it is that inflation not occur, and then stating that a gold standard prevents both inflation and deflation. Honestly, this would have been far more convincing if Pro had provided a logical means to support this assertion, but even over the course of five rounds it's unclear how the gold standard prevents deflation. Both sides agree it generally reduces inflation, though Con argues that it incurs other issues, particularly with regards to rapid increases and decreases in the price of gold and its effect on available currency (I'll get to that shortly).

It's not clear from the outset, however, that inflation is bad. Pro does eventually clarify why inflation is harmful, but I'll get to that when I get to the appropriate round.

The rest of Pro's opening round ends up doing him more harm than good. He talks about the importance of mining gold, which invites a number of harms that aren't discussed quite as completely as they could have been. It might have been mentioned, for example, that there are 3 countries that are currently producing gold at much higher levels than the U.S., and that they would therefore have significant control over not only the price of gold, but over the supply of gold that the U.S. controls, and thus have control over our currency. Mining gold takes time " no matter how quickly the mines go up, the effect of these other nations on our currency will matter in the short term. Pro eventually argues that the U.S. has plenty of untapped sources of gold and silver, but that just begs the question of why they aren't currently being mined, something Con could have exploited.

However, Con does provide one important response, which is that the cost of mining is excessively large, to the point that efforts to substantially increase our stores of gold would practically bankrupt the country. Unfortunately, this response comes late, appearing for the first time in the final round, where I can only ignore it (since new arguments in the final round are inherently unfair to the other side). Still, Con does make clear that the amount of mining we'd have to do in order to prevent massive deflation is insanely high, and Pro never gives me a good reason to believe a) that that much gold exists in the U.S., b) that there's likely to be an increased drive to mine gold following the implementation of the gold standard, and c) that the amount of gold can be mined at a sufficient level and rate to address the problems. So all Pro manages to do by presenting the mining issue is invite concerns about his proposal, since it doesn't produce any benefit to his case.

The "decentralization and politics" point seems contingent on the idea that the federal reserve disappears upon implementation of the gold standard. Pro asserts a shift of power within the monetary system to some unknwon "invisible hand (The Wealth of Nations), but a) how that shift occurs is unclear, b) what that invisible hand would actually do with that control is unknown, and c) how a self-managing monetary system is beneficial is entirely asserted. It sounds good in theory, but this seems predicated on the view that libertarianism is good, despite the fact that Pro never argues that that's the case.

Pro's point on Rome is somewhat mind-boggling. As Con points out, the fact that Rome survived 200 years after implementation of fiat currency at least undermines Pro's point that the Romans were undone by that decision in particular. It's a correlation vs. causation fallacy. I also have trouble seeing the corollary because, despite the presence of fiat currency in both cases, it's handled in dramatically different ways. Pro had to do more than simply assert that they're comparable on the basis that both the U.S. and Roman Empire implemented fiat currency.

Lastly, Pro decides to pre-rebut two arguments from Con. Eventually, Con does argue the first of these, but this effort really does Pro no favors. It's a waste of space to pretend you know the argument that's coming and provide a response.

The remainder of Pro's arguments basically come down to attempts to expand his case, which I've already stated I won't be including in the evaluation of the outcome of this debate.
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10/5/2015 3:23:03 AM
Posted: 2 years ago
Con's Arguments:

As you're a new debater, I'm going to focus on explaining a couple of things right off the top.

It's not at all unreasonable for you to point out that a debater, particularly one presenting facts, should use sources to bolster their arguments. It's worth noting that when someone's presenting unwarranted assertions, they can be knocked down by presenting your own assertions, and overridden by arguments that are supported.

It is a tad insulting to point to someone's posts and state that they should improve their formatting, even if it's a valid concern and it's expressed just as friendly advice. I understand why you said it, just be clear that there are a lot of different formats people use, and that there need not be widespread agreement on what constitutes a good structure.

Lastly, though this comes up later in the debate, I should be clear that citing other debates is a little problematic. We all take ideas from a lot of good debates, and I'm more than happy to give credit where credit is due, but when you're presenting an argument, it's best for you to either rephrase the points or cite from the sources rather than from a separate debate.

Onto the arguments.

Con talks about the importance of flexibility of central banks, showing why a distinct lack of flexibility can cause numerous harms. I found this argument persuasive, mainly because Pro isn't responsive to the chart Con provides which shows that inflation is inconsistent under the gold standard. I don't get a particularly strong idea of why inflation control is beneficial from the opening round, but Con does eventually get there, pointing to the importance of having a low level of inflation to prevent rampant deflation. That really bolsters the argument, providing a reason to prefer Con's arguments for inflation over Pro's arguments against.

Pro's response really only serves to support Con's argument. He talks about all 6 major recessions in U.S. history, 5 of which Con points out occurred before the gold standard was abolished. This is where the argument becomes focused on the presence of the central bank, the removal of which I'm ignoring as a new plank to Pro's plan. Now, what I mentioned earlier about testing the uniqueness of Con's claim does become somewhat important here, because Pro could be arguing that the central bank is chiefly responsible for the harm, and therefore that these recessions would have occurred without the gold standard. The problem is that this was initially a correlation-based argument that Pro asserted was causal. Either I buy that everything was correlative, in which case this point is doing no favors to anyone, or I buy that everything's causal, and therefore I'm buying Con's turn. Either way, the point's not helping Pro.

There is a later response Pro provides regarding deflation and how much it matters, but he never does anything more than assert that minimal deflation is not bad. Con provided evidence for why any deflation is bad, not just the extreme versions. Pro had to give responses that amounted to more than just assertions to the contrary with a little logic behind them.

Con then discusses the importance of stability in the financial system, providing a reason why issued currency can be terribly affected by the price of gold, which appears to be highly variable. Con just clearly mishandles the point, which is that the price of gold fluctuates, and the harm of that fluctuation is that the government has to institute massive, expensive controls in the system that would otherwise be unnecessary. It doesn't matter why gold prices fluctuate unless Pro is somehow solving for that problem, since the harm is inherent to those changes, not to the means by which they change.

The rest of the debate on Con's side focuses on the expansions of Pro's case. I think he does a pretty solid job of attacking the notion that central banks are a net negative and ends up making for a good start of that separate debate, but it's really non-topical here.


Con makes a very effective effort of showing that no economic system is perfect. Inflation and deflation are part of a balance that all economic systems attempt to strike. Pro's failure to compare the harms of each system is really what doomed his argument, since only Con really addressed the weight of each clearly in his argument, comparing the impacts effectively and giving me a solid means to evaluate each of the points against each other.

But generally, I don't need the comparison of weight. Pro's argument simply doesn't get much support, and while I'm buying that inflation is generally problematic, I can't see enough harm coming from Pro's case to counter Con's arguments, which receive better support. They're simply stronger points, especially on a debate like this where Pro carries the burden of proof. He's advocating a tremendous change to the status quo, and the reason why it should occur has to be very solid in order for his case to dominate.

Hence, I vote Con.