Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Final Essay

For the final paper, you will produce a primer, analysis, interpretive paper, or position paper that provides a clear argument with a precise and refutable thesis on a topic of your choosing. Although many of you, no doubt, will feel most comfortable producing a policy or position paper on a traditionally political or economic topic, feel free to adopt a broad understanding of the range of topics available to you. You don't necessarily need to write about economics, politics, or political philosophy in the narrowest sense. You could investigate some of the moral or cultural issues stemming from a political or economic topic; you could produce a case study (an analysis of a famous musician, company, person, film, etc., of interest to you); you could explore the various interepretations offered of a work of art, literature, fiction, or popular culture; or you could explore the history of a particular concept, notion, cultural trend, etc., that is part of our everyday life. 

In other words, there aren't many constraints for this assigment, as long as you approach your topic in an academic way. All that I ask is that you explore your topic in detail, do meticulous research and, most importantly, present a clear, refutable, significant thesis that clearly distinguishes its position from that of your sources. As long as you can construct a specific, refutable, and significant argument about your topic, whatever you choose should be fine. My only piece of advice is that, as always, it is best to avoid controversial issues, or any topic generally discussed in terms of the narrow "pro/con" framing so common in mass media discussions of policy. Examples of these topics include, but are not limited to, gun control, abortion, gay marriage, The Affordable Care Act (AKA "Obamacare"), affirmative action, drug policy/drug legalization, athletic controversies, and others. While some of you have produced papers on these topics in the past that found interesting and novel approaches to these issues, it will become even more difficult to do this in the final paper, as you must find a great deal of scholarly sources on the topic and develop a more nuanced approach that takes a wide array of academic arguments into account. Many of these hotly contested and politicized issues lack a deep field of academic research, or are difficult to approach in terms of a nuanced argument.  

Rather than trying to find a topic that seems like it would be appropriate for a stereotypical term paper, pursue something of interest to you and find a way to transform the topic into an informative, interesting, and analytically incisive essay. Use both the research skills and the conceptual and theoretical tools we have developed to make your argument more detailed and more analytically rich. Such an approach may require more work upfront, but you will find the paper easier to write as it will reflect one of your passions, and you will have had to think in advance how to approach an academic paper on the topic rather than simply falling back on well-worn and cliched approaches. In a relatively short space, your paper will need to clarify the most important aspects of an issue, consider one or several different ideas/perspectives/theoretical approaches to the topic, reveal the merits and downsides of those policies (or the perspectives you are considering on your topic), and most importantly, convincingly establish why we should lean toward a specific conclusion, interpretation, understanding, analysis, or prescription. It will be easier to do this if you have thought about your topic, why you are interested in it, and what would make for a proper academic approach to it. 

The paper should be 7-10 pages long, double spaced, in 12 point, Times New Roman font, with 1 inch margins, and it should contain 4 or more scholarly sources (journal articles, scholarly books, and other works by active scholars in the field). If you would like a chance to revise the paper, please submit a draft by Monday, April 20th at class time. The final papers are due Thursday, April 30th at 12pm. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Essay three - theoretical approaches to issues

The goal of Essay #3 is to take us one step closer to producing our final term paper by going a little bit deeper into an issue of interest to you. In the last essay, we produced an informative argument that attempted to clarify misconceptions and highlight the most important aspects of an issue. Basically, you created a framework to help an intelligent layperson first approach an issue from a specific angle. In this essay, we will focus less on explaining the broad outlines of a topic and instead provide a slightly more in-depth, less introductory account that presents one or several theoretical, critical, ideological, or ethical approaches to a particular issue. Your paper should pick both a specific theoretical approach or critical tradition and a specific issue, and it should make these as narrow and focused as possible. 

A theoretical paradigm is not the same thing as a stance. Rather, a paradigm represents a way of understanding an issue, one that informs one or several sets of underlying stances. The same stance or position can arise from very different theoretical approaches, and different stances or positions can arise from similar theoretical approaches. For example: if I were comparing different paradigms regarding the reform of Social Security, I might argue the following: "Although both parties favor reform of the system, a theoretical tension exists between the neoliberal and the social democratic understanding of what Social Security, and the welfare state more generally, are and should be. Whereas neoliberal proponents of private accounts see Social Security as akin to an individual investment, and thus have no problem with the system leading to radically different payouts to beneficiaries depending on the performance of those accounts, social democratic proponents of changing merely the financing of Social Security see the program as part of the safety net designed to provide a minimum standard of retirement income regardless of how much an individual may have paid into the system before retirement. Both sides may favor public investment in private securities, but their different approaches lead to divergent plans for implementing this reform.
Bring a rough draft of the paper to class on Friday, March 27th. The final paper will be due Wednesday, April 1st by class time. The final draft should be 4-6 pages in 12 point Times New Roman Font with 1 inch margins. Use MLA to cite your sources, and use at least 3 peer-reviewed sources. Make sure that you use parenthetical citation to indicate whenever you are using information from one of your sources, and do not cite a source in the works cited unless you refer to it in the body of the essay. 

As you can see, once again it is best to focus on an aspect of an issue, and a paradigm or paradigms related thereto, that are as specific as possible. You are free to explore the implication of one theoretical approach, or you can compare and contrast many approaches. We have several examples of theoretical paradigms so far from our reading: Marxism, the cynical philosophy of Mandeville, the moral sense theory of Hutcheson that opposed it, and Smith's adaptation of his teacher's thinking into his own moral and economic thought. You could also, for example, adopt an Austrian approach to monetary policy, or you could compare that with the Keynesian approach--the only requirement is that the paradigm you adopt be an academic one. You could explore how modern philosophers in the tradition of Smith and Hutcheson approach a moral issue, or you could contrast the modern and the original approaches. You could also, for example, examine the Marxist take on the recent financial crisis. If you compare different perspectives, they need not be from radically different ideological camps. It would be perfectly acceptable to demonstrate how the same ideology can also lead to different policy prescriptions as a result of subtler differences.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Lead blogger for this week is...

No one! You may write about what you wish.

Let me suggest some possible food for blogger thought for those who may not know what to write about.

If you are not following the situation in Greece, it is something that you might consider paying attention to.

Syriza, a left-wing party, has just taken power. There is a sizable Marxist influence on their brand of politics, which has led to perhaps the only self-proclaimed Marxist finance minister in Europe, possibly the world. Yanis Varoufakis is, however, a very thoughtful and unorthodox Marxist, someone whose worldview fits very nicely in the eclectic mix of ideas we've been trying to create in the class.

Here's a couple of articles about him and Syriza to take a look at.
(This one is about a late professor of mine from graduate school)

Also, here's a link about a program recently funded at UA whose purpose is to reunite political philosophy and economics, much in the spirit of this course as well:

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Essay 2

Our eventual goal in the class is to produce a term paper that offers a detailed analysis--and it need not be of something that is narrowly economic or political--of a particular topic of interest to you. In preparation for this, our next paper will aim at producing an analytical summary of a particular policy, issue, or topic. For this assignment, I want you to design an argumentative paper that explains and informs a general reader about your particular policy/issue. Do not list disjointed pieces of information about the subject, but rather make an informative argument about what people often misunderstand about your issue, how it is possible to clear up those misperceptions, and what is most important to know about your issue in order to understand it most accurately. In other words, you want to explore the argumentative potential of informational modes of discourse, rather than just list facts.
Do not feel that you are stuck with whatever topic you choose for the final term paper, however. In fact, I want us to use this assignment as an opportunity for teaching each other about various possible topics and the different approaches to them. Feel free to be creative and take risks: the ideal topic is one that interests you without being overly sensationalistic or controversial and that you can explore in a detailed, complex way. 
We will briefly share our findings with the class through short, informal, 5-10 minute presentations. Please prepare a small handout that distills your findings and then present it to the class. Hopefully, this will serve as a kind of "topics fair" that allows the class to explore a wide variety of different subjects that might be of interest to them as we lead up to the final paper.


For this paper, I ask that you include at least two academic sources (books or scholarly journal articles). You can use other sources--readings from earlier in the semester, substantive newspapers or periodicals found using the library database--but you must use at least two examples of academic writing. Do not cite encyclopedias (whether online or not), informational websites (, for example), or other websites found using standard web searches. You can read these for background information, but don't cite them as sources. The paper should be in the neighborhood of 3-4 pages, double spaced, in 12 point Times New Roman Font, with one inch margins all around.
Finally, remember that the more specific you can be, the better. Medicare is a better topic than health insurance in general; the Medicare Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) is a better topic than Medicare in general; and a comparison of two specific cost-reduction schemes associated with IPAB is a better topic than IPAB in general.
Bring a rough draft (at least 2 pages) to class for peer editing this Friday, February 20. Bring a clean draft to class Friday, February 27th. The paper is due Monday, March 2, and we will start our informal presentations on this day.