1NC — Counterplans


A counterplan is an alternative plan to the affirmative’s plan that is advanced by the negative.  The most essential defining element of a counterplan is that it is competitive – the negative must prove that the counterplan is better than the affirmative plan or a combination of the plan and all or part of the counterplan.

For example, imagine that I suggest that we take a lunch break and you go to McDonald’s. Going to McDonald’s is my plan.  You suggest that we should go to Burger King (BK) instead of going to McDonald’s. You say it is better to go to BK than McDonald’s because BK has chicken fries.

If you demonstrate that it is better to go to BK because BK has chicken fries you have made it through the first hoop – you have proven that the counterplan is better than the plan.  What you have not proven, however, is that it wouldn’t be wise to go to both. As the original advocate of going to McDonald’s, I’ll suggest a permutation – combining the affirmative plan with all or part of the counterplan – to go to McDonald’s and BK.  This captures the benefit of going to BK – to get the curly fries – while still establishing that we should go to McDonald’s. The permutation proves that going to BK isn’t a reason not to go to McDonald’s – or that the counterplan isn’t a reason not to support the affirmative’s plan.

You can prove that we need to do the counterplan instead of the plan in a couple of different ways.  First, you could prove that it is net-beneficial to just do the counterplan. This can be accomplished by proving that McDonald’s is bad and the overall benefits of going to BK outweigh the problems cause by going to McDonald’s.  Second, you could prove that doing them both will result in some disadvantage that demonstrates that it is unwise to try to do them together.

To prove that it is net-beneficial just to do the counterplan, you could, for example, argue that the McDonald’s I suggest going to is in a bad neighbourhood and eating at McDonald’s therefore will increase the risk that you will be robbed or shot.  Going to BK – even if you can’t get a great McDonald’s salad there – will still be net-beneficial because the threat to your personal safety outweighs the benefits of eating a salad at MacDonald’s.

You could also prove that doing both – the permutation – is a bad idea.  For example, you could argue that if we did both we would spend too much money, leaving an inadequate amount of money to buy some ice cream. Or you could argue that if we tried to go to both in the amount of time we had available for lunch that it would increase the risks that we were going to be involved in a car crash.

The other way to prove your counterplan is competitive is to prove that it is mutually exclusive. To do this you need to prove that you can’t do both the counterplan and the plan. It is a hard thing to prove – rarely are two courses of action mutually exclusive.  But it is possible to imagine mutually exclusive courses of action. 

If you prove that a counterplan is net-beneficial by the end of the debate, you have proven that the judge should vote for it – it is, overall, a better idea than the affirmative’s idea. If, however, you prove that your counterplan is mutually exclusive, you have only established the first step – you have proven that the counterplan and the plan cannot be done at the same time.  But you have not proven that it the judge should vote for it. You’d have to prove that the overall benefits of selling a particular weapon outweigh the benefits of not selling any weapons.

Proving that a counterplan is competitive – by either proving that it is net-beneficial or mutually exclusive and then net-beneficial – is a process that occurs throughout the debate and doesn’t depend on a single argument.  When arguing that a judge should vote for a counterplan, you are arguing that overall, it is a good idea compared to the plan.

An Example Counterplan

The best way to think through the counterplan debate is to work through an example.

I our sample affirmative case, the affirmative argues that we need to protect the intellectual property of artists and authors and that by doing so we will destroy the AI industry, which will cause unemployment, racism, and climate change.

In this sample counterplan, the negative argues we should fund a universal basic income for all, solving poverty and reducing racism.  This counterplan does not claim to solve the climate change advantage, so the negative team will have to defeat that advantage without the help of a counterplan.

When presenting this counterplan, the negative team is arguing it can solve for (most of) what the affirmative solves for without restricting the AI industry, which is good. “US AI good” is a net-benefit to the counterplan.

Sample counterplan.

For more on the universal basic income debate, check out this post.


Counterplan Competition

The basics of counterplan competition have been covered in the introductory section of this chapter.  Two things are worth emphasizing. One, in order to win that a counterplan is better than the plan you have to win that it is net-beneficial to support only the counterplan as compared to the plan and a combination of all of the plan and part of the counterplan. Counterplan competition is fundamental – No judge will accept a counterplan unless the judge determines that it is competitive.

Counterplans Do Not Need to Solve

Many debater think that a counterplan has to solve the affirmative harms, or at least must attempt to solve them.  This is not true. A counterplan could fail to solve any of the affirmative harms but still be net-beneficial because the disadvantages to the affirmative case outweigh the original harms. In this instance, it would still be net-desirable for the judge to vote for the counterplan.  

In this instance, the affirmative solves most of the affirmative harms with the counterplan and then would attack the other advantage (climate change). Most negative teams would still attack the advantages in case they choose not to go for the counterplan in the 2NR.


Extending a Counterplan on the Negative

There is only one “type” of disadvantage, so it is relatively easy to make suggestions for extending disadvantages in the block. The fact that there are many types of counterplans makes this somewhat more difficult.

When you extend a counterplan on the negative, regardless as to the type of counterplan that you run, there is one primary goal that you have to keep in mind – you have to prove that the counterplan is better than the plan or a combination of the plan and any or all of the counterplan.  Every argument you make has to be made with that idea in mind.

You should start by giving an overview of the counterplan. In your overview you should establish the following:

  1. A) Specifically what the counterplan does.  Often, counterplans are read very quickly in the 1NC and it is difficult for both the judge and the opposing team to make out precisely what the counterplan does.  The affirmative may have used preparation time to figure out exactly what it does, but the judge is probably still left in the dark. Take a few seconds to explain your counterplan.
  2. B) Explain if and why the counterplan solves. If you are arguing that the counterplan solves some or all of the affirmative case harms, explain why the counterplan solves each of the harms that you are claiming it solves.
  3. C) Explain why it is net-beneficial to vote for the counterplan.  Be willing to acknowledge that the counterplan may not solve for some or all of the affirmative advantage(s), but argue that it is still net-beneficial because the counterplan avoids X or Y disadvantages that have a greater impact or chance of occurring than the harms identified in the 1AC.

After giving this overview, proceed through the line by line of the 2AC counterplan answers.  

It is very important that you keep in mind that a counterplan is just one tool in your overall strategy.  You need to win that the counterplan is net-beneficial, not that it is some inherently good idea.

To win that the counterplan is net-beneficial at the end of the debate, you’ll need to make sure you spend time covering the disadvantage that you say the counterplan avoids and make sure you devote considerable time to answering any affirmative harms that the counterplan may not be able to solve for.  You must allocate your time well to win a counterplan debate, dividing it between the counterplan flow itself, any disadvantage(s) that you wish to argue the counterplan avoids, and any defensive arguments that you’ll need to win on the case flow if your counterplan is unlikely to solve all, or some, of the affirmative case harms.