Permutation (policy debate)

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In policy debate (although sometimes used in Lincoln-Douglas debate, especially on the national circuit), a permutation is an argument made by the 2AC to test the competition of a counterplan or kritik testing the comparative desirability of the plan and all or part of the counterplan or kritik against the counterplan or kritik by itself. Most permutations are tests rather than advocacies and thus do not change the fiat of the affirmative plan in the world where the negative does not advocate the counterplan or the kritik.

The easiest way to describe the function of a permutation perm is in the context of counterplan theory. A counterplan functions to test the opportunity cost of a plan. The negative proposes a counterplan that is competitive with the affirmative's plan. For example, if the Aff plan is to grant amnesty to all illegal immigrants within the US, a counterplan could be to declare all illegal immigrants felons. The neg would argue that their counterplan, made impossible by the aff's plan, will garner more benefits than plan. A perm is a way to test whether or not the counterplan and plan are mutually exclusive. An example of a perm would be this: Aff plan is to send a mission to the moon. Counterplan is to invest in renewable energy. The Aff can run a perm, i.e., claim that sending a mission to the moon does not make it impossible to invest in renewable energy. The perm demonstrates that the counterplan is not an opportunity cost to plan, and therefore does not garner any benefits for neg.

The same is basically true for perms in Kritiks. A kritik "is generally a type of argument that challenges a certain mindset, assumption, or discursive element that exists within the advocacy of the opposing team" (Kritik). A simple example of Kritik is that capitalism is bad (to put it simply). The team running the K will argue that the nature of capitalism is bad, and has horrible implications for society. Part of the K is an alternative. If you kritik capitalism, a simple alternative might be to endorse Marxism, or "reject, and rethink" (meaning, vote the other team down, and have a good long think about how to replace capitalism). A permutation, again, is a way of showing a lack of competition between the opposing sides of the debate. The side having the K run on them could, in our example, say "we need to do our plan, but capitalism is also bad. Vote for our plan, but while you're at it, rethink capitalism."

Running a Perm[edit]

Answer Competitiveness Standards[edit]

The neg will most likely give a few reasons why they think their counterplan is mutually exclusive to plan. Examples of these standards include: 1.Mutual Exclusivity (it is actually impossible to do both) 2. Net Beneficial (using the moon mission and energy example, neg could argue that the US spending the combined amount of money it would cost to do both will incur huge negative impacts. Hence, the perm is bad, and neg will also argue that counterplan is more important.) 3. Philosophically Competitive (the philosophical underpinnings of the two advocacies are in opposition) 4. Textually Competitive (the text of plan and counterplan do not work together)

To run a perm, the affirmative team has to defeat the competitiveness standards first, to show that the perm is even possible (see basic information at the top of the page).

Answering a Perm[edit]

To answer a perm, the negative must defend their competitiveness standards. The negative team might also run a disadvantage on the perm, claiming that doing both the plan and the counter-plan would result in a negative result.

Type of Perms[edit]

Normal - Do the plan, and some or all of the counterplan

Intrinsic - Do the plan, part or all of the counterplan, and something else

Severance - Do part of the plan and part or all of the counterplan

Time Frame - Do the plan, and do the counterplan later (or vice versa)

Of course, these categories aren't mutually exclusive. Theoretically, a perm could do some of the plan (severance), something else (intrinsicness), and the counterplan later (time frame).

Negative Perms[edit]

Recently, the negative has begun to make permutation arguments in response to certain affirmative arguments. These include.

Performance Perms - Used when the affirmative makes some use of performance in their 1AC; the negative attempts to argue they can subsume some or all of the performance and win the round on other grounds. Essentially, they argue that the judge can endorse the performance and still vote negative. Usually run as part of a strategy containing a counter-advocacy to the affirmative, in the form of a counterplan, kritik, or even negative performance.

Topicality Perms - When debating a counter interpretation in a Topicality debate, the negative argues that their interpretation and the affirmatives counter-interpretation can both be true, and that when they are the affirmative remains untopical. This tactic only works if the negative can win that the judge should prefer the most limiting interpretation of the resolution ( otherwise the affirmative definition by itself would be "net beneficial" to the perm by allowing more cases). Part of a broader theory known as "competing interpretations" that seeks to apply certain aspects of counterplan debate to topicality.


  • Dartmouth Debate Workshop (2008). [1] Lecture on Negative Strategy
  • Dartmouth Debate Workshop (2008). [2] Lecture on Counterplan Competition
  • Dartmouth Debate Workshop (2008). [3] Lecture on Counterplan PICS and Agents