Stock issues

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In the formal speech competition genre known as policy debate, a widely accepted doctrine or "debate theory" divides the deliberative elements of proving the resolution affirmative into five logical issues, called the stock issues. Stock issues are sometime referred to as on-case arguments or simply on-case or case as opposed to off-case arguments.


Three issues must first be present in the affirmative case and are the building blocks of logically choosing to take any action (in policy debate or in everyday life). They ask; what are we doing now (inherency stock issue)? What could we be doing differently (solvency stock issue)? What are the results of what we are doing now versus what we could be doing (significance stock issue)? The last stock issue, topicality, is procedural and unique to debate as it concerns how germane the plan (specifically, plan text) is to the resolution (which isn't usually a restriction in contemporary, outside policy issues).


The stock issues are:

  • Significance: This answers the "why" of debate. All advantages and disadvantages to the status quo (resulting from inherency) and of the plan (resulting from solvency) are evaluated under significance. A common equivocation is to confuse "significance" with the word "significantly" that appears in many resolutions. Significance is derived from calculating between advantages and disadvantages, whereas significant policy changes are determined by how much the policy itself changed (rather than how good or bad the effects are).
  • Harms: Harms are a way of quantifying the problems or short-comings of the status quo. Since they prove the "why not" of continuing with the status quo, harms are closely related to, but not the same as, Significance.
  • Inherency: The actual situation and causes of the status quo. A case is "non-inherent" when the status quo is already implementing the plan or solving the harms. Clearly, no solution is warranted in such a case. Three common types of inherency are:
  • Structural inherency: Laws or other barriers to the implementation of the plan or causes of harms
  • Attitudinal inherency: Beliefs or attitudes which prevent the implementation of the plan or causing harms
  • Existential inherency: The harms exist and res ipsa loquitur, the status quo must not be able to solve the problem. It just is.
  • Topicality: The affirmative case must affirm the resolution, since that is the job of the affirmative in a debate round. The affirmative case often is shown to be within the bounds of the resolution as defined by appropriate definitions. When the resolution appears vague, the probable intent of the resolution is often considered and upheld. In modern usage, most paradigms and regions do not consider topicality to be a "stock issue" per se; instead, it being a procedural one brought up by the negative.
  • Solvency: The mechanics of the plan itself are defined in solvency. What does it cause and why? Here the harms are often demonstrated to be solved by the plan, or the link to new advantages are shown. Without solvency, a plan is useless. Thus, the affirmative loses a debate without solvency, no matter how well it described problems of the status quo.
  • Justification: Do the case and the plan justify the resolution? This issue usually hinges on whether the topic at hand is one that the United States Federal Government should be involved in, or if the harms would be better addressed by the states (for domestic topics) or the United Nations or some other country or non-governmental organization (for foreign topics).

While logically these issues are distinguishable, in practice they may not be addressed individually or in any particular order.