Topic Analysis: April 2014 Public Forum topic

The April 2014 Public Forum topic is

Resolved: Prioritizing economic development over environmental protection is in the best interest of the people of India.

Really, this debate topic is not that new. Almost yearly the National Speech and Debate Association rolls out a Public Forum topic that pits the environment vs. the economy. If you have peers or friends that have prepped on the oil moratorium topic or climate change topics, pick their brains on arguments. This debate will come down to classic impact analysis and framework debates that center around the conflicting values of environmental protection and economic development.

What is different? We are debating about India, a country that is unfamiliar to many of you. Knowing where India is on a map does not mean you know about India. Your first task in researching this month’s topic is to get to know India, as well as focus in on India’s current environmental and economic concerns. A great place to start is the CIA World Factbook page on India. All the quotes and statistics I will use in this post come from this source. All definitions are from Merriam-Webster Online dictionary.

So let’s take a look at what this topic is asking of us:

Prioritize: to organize (things) so that the most important thing is done or dealt with first

This is a great definition – to organize – because it illustrates that we are not asking a zero sum, either/or question. No arguments or impacts should include the logic that if you prioritize one policy area, the other will not be dealt with. The resolution asks what is most important. The resolution asks “when in conflict…” for attention, funding, etc, which topic should be dealt with first.

This presents us with a chicken or egg type question – which is more important, the environment or the economy? Is the environment a necessary foundation to a good economy? Is economic growth necessary to protect the environment? Every round will bump into this fundamental question – so have a good answer on both sides. This is a value question, a qualitative question, and not a quantitative question that you can boil down to numbers. The best cases and debates on April’s topic will clearly articulate the values at stake. I’ll be posting later this month on how to make these classic value comparisons in your impact analysis and framework in greater detail.

Economic development: Background that you should know is both what type of government and what type of economy India have. ” India is developing into an open-market economy, yet traces of its past autarkic policies remain” (CIA). While open market, there are still many state run industries and government regulations on the economy.

“India’s economic growth began slowing in 2011 because of a slowdown in government spending and a decline in investment, caused by investor pessimism about the government’s commitment to further economic reforms and about the global situation.” Knowing the background of India’s economic policy as well as how the rest of the world trades with/treats India is important.

The Economist and The Heritage Foundation provide some good background too.

You should also think about issues that intersect with economic concerns:

“India has many long-term challenges that it has yet to fully address, including poverty, corruption, violence and discrimination against women and girls, an inefficient power generation and distribution system, ineffective enforcement of intellectual property rights, decades-long civil litigation dockets, inadequate transport and agricultural infrastructure, limited non-agricultural employment opportunities, inadequate availability of quality basic and higher education, and accommodating rural-to-urban migration.” (CIA)

India’s government is a federal republic, which means on paper it looks a lot like the US – executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Here is an interesting article by TIME on the government and economy, as well as an articles from the World Bank.

Environmental protection: Environmental concerns can range from combating climate change and promoting renewable energy to basic service provision such as potable drinking water and sanitation. The environment in India also intersects with the economy in a big way – slightly more than half of the work force is in agriculture, which is heavily dependent on environmental protection and good practices (CIA). You can also think about India’s energy independence, especially because reliance on crude oil has “exacerbated the government’s fuel subsidy expenditures, contributing to high fiscal and current account deficits.” (CIA). Look for ways the environment and the economy overlap for the strongest arguments.

India has signed on to the Kyoto Protocol and is one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters in the world. This means environmental policy is (and should be) a priority for the government.

“India, the fifth largest emitter of GHG (greenhouse gases) in the world in 2008 and the fourth largest emitter of CO2 as recently as in 2011, is said to adopt an innovative market-based scheme for promoting energy efficiency, covering eight sectors responsible for 54% of its energy consumption” (International Center on Climate Governance).

Best Interest: Best interest always means that you have to rank the interest of the resolution’s subject in your framework and throughout your case (in impact analysis). This is completely vague and open. You MUST define what these interests are and why what you select is the “best” interest. Measuring best interest will be determined by your philosophy of impacts – are you looking to utilitarian ethics? deontological, or moral interests? ethical relativism?

Here you should look to broader trends and concerns in Indian society, like the following:

“Despite pressing problems such as significant overpopulation, environmental degradation, extensive poverty, and widespread corruption, economic growth following the launch of economic reforms in 1991 and a massive youthful population are driving India’s emergence as a regional and global power” (CIA).

people of India: To me, this is the most intriguing part of the resolution. Rather than the “best interest of India” it is the PEOPLE of India.

First and foremost, this means you should get a grasp on what the people of India are like. The demographics of the population can provide many ways to assess best interest as well as means to prioritize the environment or the economy. Age (majority young or old? working age?), urban or rural (can affect relationship to economy and environment), majority Hindu (religious beliefs could be another way of prioritizing policy), etc.

“People of India” can shape both your analysis and the type of evidence you prefer. While scholarly research and analysis is preferable to popular blogs and opinion pieces, providing evidence that includes the voice of the Indian people could make a big difference in how much you address this piece of the resolution. Strong cases will support their claims by linking it to the actual people of India – whether through polls, demographic analysis, or popular media.

The Indian government is not the Indian people, but they do represent them. Please remember the difference.

Best of luck as you start research!

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