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PHC | Rhetoric | The Stock Issues Model


The Stock Issues Model is a tool used to organize one's analysis of a controversy and, ultimately, to identify "clash" in a controversy. The list of potential issues that can be brought forward in a speech is limitless. You must limit yourself to a few issues. The really critical issues, where the proponents of change, and their opponents, clash.

There is a clear logic to the Stock Issues. That logic is based on a common sense approach to the manner in which change is managed in a democratic society. Think about the policy controversy you've been researching, or any with which you're familiar, for that matter. In order to change the status quo (present system) the advocate of change must persuade members of the assembly that there is a problem, and that it is a significant problem. He or she must also make persuasive arguments about the causes of the problem, and then suggest a solution, or cure, for the problem (that addresses the causes.) Finally, the advocate of change must argue that the benefits of adopting the policy change outweigh the costs of implementation.

Disagreements usually arise along these commonly occuring, standard issues--(hence the name, "stock" issues):

Problem--Is there a problem in the status quo?


How signinficant is it?
(Significance is a sub topic of the problem issue. Why? Because, if the problem isn't significant enough, there is no need for change.)
Cause--Is the present system to blame for the problem?
What is the obstacle preventing change?
Cure-- Is it workable? Does the proposed solution actually address the root cause of the problem?
Is the cure going to fix the problem, or create more problems?
Cost--Is the cure feasible? Is the plan cost effective?


Will the benefits outweigh the costs of implementing the cure?

A pure clash between the advocates of change and their opponents would be where the proponent says "yes" to each stock issue and the opponent says, "no." But how often does that happen? Normally, the one side agrees with the other that there is a problem, but they may disagree on the solution to the problem, or may think the proponents' cure is too costly. We need an example.

War with Iraq

The problem, according to the Bush administration (proponents) is that Saddam must be disarmed. He is close to having nukes and he already has weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and has used them before. He is also supporting global terrorism. The cause is, Saddam is bent on dominating some part of the world and the US stands in his way. He has shown, to a significant degree, a willingness to use WMD against his own people (Kurds), and he has been shown to have been supporting terrorists with significant amounts of money and other resources. The cure (proposed policy) is to send American troops, along with coalition forces, to remove Saddam from power and destroy his nuclear capabilities. The cost is estimated at $2 billion and several hundred American casualties. There could also be a backlash from Islamic fundamentalists around the globe.

Now, go post to the discussion thread entitled "War with Iraq" so I can be sure you understand how to apply the stock issues model.

Finally, consider that real analysis takes place below the surface. Why? Because that's where the heart of the controversy is generally found. Any bozo can talk about the obvious, "they say this and they say that. . .." blah, blah, blah. But the real clash of issues oftentimes takes place "below the surface," at the level of assumption. That is so because people always hold their most basic values and perspectives as assumptions, and sometimes those assumptions need to be brought to the surface and questioned. For example, in the controversy over capital punishment, the fundamental (underlying) issues have to do with questions like:

  • Is capital punishment "cruel and unusual" (a constitutional question)
  • Does a just society kill it's citizens in the name of justice? (a question of definition)
  • Does capital punishment deter crime (a question of cause and effect)

These "questions at stake" rest at the center of the controversy, and, many times, advocates on either side of the debate don't argue about these questions, they argue from them. In other words, answers to those questions are held as assumptions, and if one aims to analyze the controversy, attempting to go deeper than surface arguments, one has to "ferret out" those assumptions. Click on the "Stock Issues Worksheet" link below for help ferreting out the assumptions in your particular policy controversy. (You will hand in this completed worksheet as part of the A of C assignment.)

So, your most important task in this speech is to bring each side's assumptions to the surface and place them on the examining table for your audience to see.

Go to the the Basic Logic Tutorial when you're ready to learn how to identify assumptions. WARNING: This is an intensive tutorial. Don't tackle it until you're ready to devote a couple hours to homework.

The Stock Issues Worksheet.