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RFD for Minimum Wage Debate

whiteflame
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9/7/2016 6:54:17 PM
Posted: 3 months ago
This is an RFD for the debate between NoCoolNameNate and Bob13 found here: http://www.debate.org...

Minimum wage debates are very common on this site, so going into this debate, I recognize that we're not likely to break new ground. The usual tropes of these arguments are here, though each side brings their own personal flair to their points. That's both beneficial and harmful to each side's points, and that will become clear as I go through the debate. In general, though, there's just not a lot of substance in this debate. While the usual points of unemployment, a living wage and the effects on the general economy all appear, there's scant little depth to them, with each side chiefly throwing out assertions and often little-examined sources. There's a lot of good material on this topic, and yet this debate only seems to scratch the surface, looking at the impacts on a mainly superficial level. It leaves both cases vulnerable to a deeper discussion of the issues and the evidence.

To explain, let's start by examining the opening rounds.

Con's R2:

Con starts off the stronger of the two. Establishing the difference between a federal minimum wage and other means of instituting a minimum wage is a good start, and Con explains how base wages tailored to more specific populations substantially improve the ability of individuals to meet a living wage in those areas. The argument then proceeds to focus on general economic utility, examining effects on economic activity, productivity, and businesses. Much as all of this is good, it fails to explain why a living wage specifically is good. The human element is entirely distant from this argument, and from all of Con's case for that matter. There is no analysis regarding the harms of subsisting on welfare, and it's just generally accepted that welfare is as good at providing for people as a living wage would be. The only difference is that it comes from the government instead of an employer.

That's where this case is weakest. Con's case is wholly reliant on a clear set of benefits for abolishing the minimum wage, yet those benefits are based on trade-offs that Pro makes clear on his side of the debate, i.e. they're not so clear. Con does do a good job beginning to explain why these lean in his favor, but he leaves much of the link and impact analysis vague, employing a number of citations with little analysis of their contents. The link between the minimum wage increase and household spending, for example, gets more analysis from Pro in R3 than it does from Con in any other round. Con spends scant little time on productivity as well, sacrificing an opportunity to explain what poverty-related stresses exist and why they can be debilitating. While the reduction in costs is striking, it's not particularly clear what contributes to it or what decides how large the offset is going to be. The welfare issue has a better link, but the actual effect of "need[ing] less money to spend on welfare" is completely absent " I have no idea what that reduction looks like, what the cost-savings are, and why the tax cuts are so appealing. Some of this might seem obvious, but it needs to be spelled out.

Pro's R2:

Perhaps the reason I'm seeing the trade-off issue as a problem this early is because it puts every impact on balance. As soon as Pro brings up a counter-balancing issue, I'm forced to weigh one against the other. And we start early. Pro argues that the minimum wage increases unemployment, which is a pretty predictable response. So now I have the trade-off between more unemployment and more people with a living wage. The second contention isn't really a contention, but rather a point of mitigation aimed at reducing the importance of making a living wage. This is kind of important since Con hasn't yet established that importance beyond stating that it would be good for the economy and productivity. It's a solid point to impact analysis.

That's not to say that Pro's opening round is what I'd perceive as strong. His first contention is solely based on a correlation between increased minimum wages and teenage unemployment. I'll get into how well Con's responses undercut this point later, though Pro certainly does scant little to support it in his opening round; merely providing a graph that shows that the correlation exists doesn't indicate causation, which means that causation is solely supported by an assertion that more money spent on employees = fewer employees. It doesn't help that Pro follows that up with an assertion of the opposite: that abolition of the minimum wage will lead to more jobs. I don't see any support for either of these views, and a correlative chart isn't accomplishing much for him.

Pro spends scant little time on his C2 as well, and the mitigation is perplexing. The percentages are misleading because 15% of teens may still be far fewer people than 3% of those over 25, and they don't include anyone in the early 20's. It's unclear why teens don't support a family (many do), and why they don't support themselves (again, many do). It's unclear why the need is even something that matters in this debate, since Con never argued that there is a need, just that they will spend whatever they get and that poverty is damaging somehow. And the conclusion Pro makes is just another assertion. How will adults find these higher paying jobs? Even if they do, why should those who don't manage to find these jobs (i.e. those relegated to minimum wage) worthy of a higher standard of living? Pro minimizes the size of that population, but leaves the door open for Con to capitalize on their value.

Con's R3:

Unfortunately, Con doesn't do that. The debate remains almost entirely focused on economic outcomes, so there's no debate over whether or not teenagers should get a higher wage, nor does Con offer up reasons why even a small population of adults should be valued beyond their economic contributions. Instead, we get a block of rebuttals that are all assertions and a single large quote that does damage to Con's C2, but little else.

The assertions aren't great. Con's 1A is basically just a counter assertion to Pro's argument that money will be spent to hire more people. Both assertions come without warrants or evidence, so they cancel each other out, i.e. I have no idea what companies will do with the extra money they keep in wages. Con's 1B starts to get at the question of why a living wage matters, but fails to do more than his R2 managed, instead just reiterating the welfare point. Con's 1C talks about weight, but he hasn't really assessed the weight of his own contentions, let alone compared them to increased unemployment, so this is functionless. Con does tack on a "correlation does not imply causation" point and asserts that the housing crash may be responsible for increased unemployment, but it's yet another bare assertion. At least Pro has some warrants for his point, even if they're weak.

The quote is really the meat of this round, though it would have been nice to summarize the major points rather than quoting it wholesale. Clearly, the crowd that is affected by minimum wage increases would be substantially more diverse than Pro's arguments would have me believe, and at the very least, it's clear that there are single adults supporting themselves and adults with families who could use the extra money. It's still missing any analysis of what that money actually does, i.e. what the actual need is that this money would address, but it does shove back on the mitigation of the link story.
whiteflame
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9/7/2016 6:55:20 PM
Posted: 3 months ago
Pro's R3:

Pro spends most of his R3 quoting his opponent, which means there's little substance here. Pro argues that competition between businesses will lead them to provide higher wages in some areas in order to hire workers. The argument that competition itself sets a pseudo minimum wage is a good one, but Pro doesn't do anything with it, merely making the assertion and moving on. The same goes for the welfare point, where Pro just argues that welfare should be abolished anyway, which is neither here nor there. Welfare's existence as a whole is not a part of this debate, so I treat welfare's existence as a given. Much of the rest of this is either cross-applications of the arguments made in R2 or dismissing arguments with little to no explanation. Merely pointing out the lack of evidence in Con's arguments calls attention to the lack of evidence in both cases, and Pro leaves almost the entirety of Con's statistics untouched, despite the fact that they clearly call into question his own.

Pro does put down a solid response on the household spending source Con provided, looking into the link further and finding that the reason for increased spending had more to do with higher prices, which are caused by a higher minimum wage, than they are to the higher earnings themselves. Pro does himself a disservice by stopping after a brief statement that this is harmful. Talk about the broader effects on the economy of higher prices. Talk about inflation. There were a lot of opportunities here to build a stronger case, and Pro just doesn't do it.

Lastly, Pro doesn't accomplish much on the correlation vs. causation argument. Stating that the timing coincided is literally just pointing to the correlation, and yet Pro asserts that this is causative. I'm buying that the housing crash doesn't coincide with these changes, but you could have done at least a little more to explain how and why the minimum wage has led to surges in unemployment. Give me some evidence that shows the link between the two, don't just assert that it exists.

Con's R4:

Not much new gets added here beyond another set of assertions and little explained evidence that accomplishes little in return. Most of what he manages is just shutting down assertions, though this often leads me to question his own. Con argues that competition won't solve because even with a minimum wage, many workers are living in poverty, which I buy, though it doesn't tell me much about what wages would go down to in the absence of a minimum wage, so I don't really know what the difference looks like.

Con argues that even if employment rose, it wouldn't necessarily generate more money for the economy, though this invites questions as to how we know that paying workers more, assuming that it would increase unemployment, would bolster the economy.

Con does refer back to his incentive structure for hiring from the first round, which is a good point, but probably could have been better explained both there and here to push back on this unemployment argument.

Con dismisses several assertions without much reasoning. While these arguments are certainly weak for the fact that they are assertions, Con really should have done more than just throw out a link and state that they are assertions. If I was buying that we should just abolish welfare, this point could have been deadly to Con's case. Similarly, if you're going to argue that money will always be funneled to CEO salaries, do more than point out that those salaries are big. That doesn't accomplish anything, nor does re-iterating and providing evidence for the argument that welfare often goes to workers. Pro never argued against that, and frankly, it does nothing for your argument.

Probably the weakest response in this round is the one that occurs on higher prices. It's unclear how the difference between federal and state minimum wages affects this point, and the assertion that "many businesses would not raise prices in order to stay competitive" doesn't hold up with Con's own source. He does mitigate somewhat by arguing that workers earning higher wages could afford these increased prices, but there's no analysis showing the comparative increases. What makes this more concerning is that it's a tacit concession: even with increased wages, people will basically be able to afford the same things they can afford now because prices will increase. Pro never jumps on this, but Con, you have to be careful of these kinds of arguments. I think there was an opportunity here to explain that, if 100% of the costs of a higher minimum wage are going to increased prices, then there's no reason to believe that unemployment also results from it. That really could have cut the legs out from under Pro's unemployment arguments, which are where he hedges his bets throughout this debate.

Overall, Con actually does more to hurt his argument this round than he does to help. Since the previous round didn't accomplish much, he's basically wholly reliant on the success of his R2 points, which don't get much reinforcement here or in the previous round. The debate becomes about unemployment and business practices, rather than about what the minimum wage actually does for society and why we should bother caring about it. Pro effectively refocuses the debate on what he wants to argue, and in the process Con's arguments nearly become lost.

Pro's R4:

There's not a lot here, either. Pro's final round is basically a summation of how he views the debate, often with some hyperbole regarding the successes of his arguments.

Pro points to teenage unemployment, which admittedly did get under-covered, though the view that the minimum wage causes unemployment is still not well supported. There's a clear correlation here, and I buy that it exists and that this is the best explanation for its existence, but that's not a causative link.

Pro argues that the population that needs to make a living wage among minimum wage users is actually small. The evidence really doesn't support this, and Pro's lack of response to Con's major source from R3 really undercuts this point. It doesn't appear to be "a very small minority," as many of the people affected are adults who presumably have to earn a living and, in many cases, care for families. Even if this wasn't true, the lack of a need to make a living wage doesn't really do much harm to Con's case. He does scant little to show that addressing a need is important, instead focusing on the broader economic benefits of earning more. Those happen regardless of who is earning more.

Focusing on stimulating the economy, both sides are really not doing a whole lot to slide the scale in their direction, but Pro is doing especially little. The argument has continuously been that the minimum wage decreases employment, which ignores the corporate tax cuts that provide some incentive to keep hiring, the general higher productivity that ensures lower hiring and turnover costs, and the increased consumption that accompanies it. Sure, that consumption may be the result of increased costs of goods, but if that's the case, then the link to more unemployment becomes more tenuous as the costs of hiring are being redirected elsewhere. Con may not have made this argument, but Pro undercut his own point by making it, at the very least inviting criticism of his link story. And so all we're left with is that more unemployment will happen solely on the basis that that is somewhere costs could come from, and that there's a chart bearing this out to some degree over a relatively short period of time.

Pro does take some time to examine increased consumer spending and how that can be a bad thing, but again, there's little support for the strength of this point. It seems to equal out to me: more people earn more, and prices increase, so those same people can afford those higher prices. Again, I feel there was a solid point to be made here, but it just never was.
whiteflame
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9/7/2016 6:55:34 PM
Posted: 3 months ago
This round just did nothing for Pro. It's a reiteration of some of the major points made in the debate with glaring holes in certain areas. To a degree, I can understand why Pro wanted to smooth over the debate and clarify where he thinks he's winning, but sometimes it's actually beneficial to examine a debate where you know you're not winning every point. And this applies to both of you: use "even if" statements. Pretend that I might actually be believing some of your opponent's points. Tell me about why your world is better than their best case scenario.

Conclusion:

Both sides dropped the ball quite a few times in this debate, and the more I look at rounds 3 and 4, the more trouble I have deciding. The impact stories are practically non-existent, there's very little comparative weighing going on here, most of the points devolve into assertions, and the substance just vanishes.

The reason I'm voting is based on R2. At least there, I'm given some substantive warrants as to what effects a minimum wage has on the economy in general and on workers and companies specifically. I'm not buying that there's a benefit to the increased financial take of consumption, mainly because that seems to be solely on the basis of increased prices, but I'm not seeing this as a clear harm either. It's a wash. The productivity point remains basically untouched throughout, as does the tax cuts point, though both of these left a lot to be desired. At least here, I'm getting some reason to believe is or can be used to produce a positive effect. Pro's argument almost entirely relies upon the unemployment argument working out, and it's just got too many holes in it by the end. I'm buying that the chart shows something, but I'm having trouble assessing its value, and the lack of causation is really damning to Pro's case. Without solid links, the economic gains of productivity just seem stronger, and with lower costs of hiring and tax incentives, the unemployment issue does seem at least partially solvable.

So, despite the fact that these points practically fell out of the debate after R2, I'm voting based chiefly on them for Con.
NoCoolNameNate
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9/8/2016 1:44:02 PM
Posted: 2 months ago
Wow, thank you for putting so much effort into voting on this debate! I feel like you put in more effort than me so I feel kind of bad, I definitely could have put more time into working on this. My next debate will be of higher quality.