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. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Essay 1: Locating Compelling Questions, Significant Ideas, and Convincing Textual Evidence

College writing is demanding. Before you even begin, you must formulate a narrowly defined and specific question, problem, or research agenda. You then must gather sources and research, and carefully mine these sources for choice quotations that clearly and succinctly support your points. Finally, in a few short pages, you must employ these resources to provide a specific, narrow, and refutable claim that responds to the dilemmas you have raised. 

Because this is a daunting task, we will start out by exploring the manner in which others have done this. This will lessen the burden of defining a question to write about, it will eliminate the need for extensive research, and it will minimize the original thinking you need to provide to formulate a claim. You will still, however, need to produce a claim or thesis--one that indicates why the problem you have uncovered is interesting and significant, and what the implications of the answer provided are. 

For this first essay, you will compose a short (2-3) page paper focused primarily on locating a central idea, tension, or problem in a text we have read and explaining its significance. What role does it play in responding to, clarifying, or even complicating the issues raised by the author? Doing this should not and will not require you to do significant research. We will focus on research beginning with the next paper. For now, we will simply practice developing a claim and using textual evidence to prove it. For this essay, you can write about almost anything that has something of a connection to our readings or to our class discussions. Here’s some general topics you might consider writing about:

1. Compare and contrast the ideas of two different theorists we have read, and develop a thesis that shows how they arrive at different conclusions regarding a similar topic or question. Focus on defining the boundaries of the debate as narrowly as possible, and indicating how subtle differences in assumptions, tone, focus, and approach lead to larger and more significant differences in outcomes. Don’t worry about explaining everything about their ideas. This isn’t a report, but rather a paper focused on developing your own argument that explores the implications of a debate between other thinkers. An easy way to approach this paper would be to pick a quote from each writer and focus your paper entirely on showing the important differences that develop from the ideas each writer expresses in those quotes.

2. Apply some of the ideas we have been discussing to current events. Pick an idea or two from a writer or two and attempt to explain what these show about a contemporary debate in current affairs. What would Hobbes say about the way we finance pharmaceutical research, for example. What would Mandeville think of restrictions on immigration? These are just a few examples of what you could write about. You could also combine this with option 1 and write about differences in how classical theorists might explain contemporary events. Again, your focus here will be on defining exactly how each author understands these issues, and the implications of these differences for their conclusions.

3. Pick a provocative quote from one writer we have read and explain why it is significant for his argument. Does it reveal something essential that we otherwise would easily overlook? If you had a strong reaction to something one of the writers we read claimed, try to formulate in a more formal, analytic language what that is and then explain the nature of your reaction. What larger implications does this quote present?

Whatever option you pick, or whether or not you pick one of the above options, try to avoid falling into the twin dangers of offering a book report or a harsh polemic. Avoid opinionated language like “I think,” “I believe,” “is wrong,” “is right,” “is good,” “is bad,” “contradicts him/herself,” etc. Also avoid summarizing or listing a series of facts without connecting them back to your thesis or explaining why they are important. The easiest way to do this is to present a clear thesis that empathetically approaches your subject matter without becoming either overly deferential toward it or totally hostile to it.

I’ll primarily be looking for three things: a clearly defined and argumentative thesis; formal, analytic language; and a detailed analysis of the thesis and its implications using specific textual evidence from your sources. For citations, use MLA style (a works cited list with in-text citations). Bring a rough draft of ~2 pages for 1/30 and 2/6. The final is due 2/13 by 12pm.

For more information on MLA, see here.

Basic summary of MLA: It consists of a Works Cited list starting on the top of a separate page at the end of the paper, which contains all the various sources you refer to in the body of the paper AND ONLY those sources that you refer to directly--don't include works that you have read but do not quote from, paraphrase, or cite as evidence. To cite paraphrases, just place the author's last name and the page number at the end of the sentence in parentheses, with the period outside the parentheses [example (Freud 8)]. For quotes, just add in quotation marks around the direct quotation and place the citation again in parentheses at the end of the sentence. If you refer to the author in the sentence and are not referencing a specific page, then you do not need an in-text citation beyond the mention of the name.

The basic rule-of-thumb for MLA is to give as much information in the Works Cited as needed so that a reader can find your source (author, title, publisher, date of publication, title of publication if the work appears in a journal or magazine or newspaper, translator, etc.); for the in-text citations, list only as much information as needed to find the source in the list at the end of the paper. The custom is to start with author's last name and page number, then add a shortened version of the title, and finally a first initial if there is still confusion.

So: (Freud 8), (Freud, Dreams 8), and (S. Freud, Dreams 8) would be how we would provide an in-text citation for the following entry in a works cited list:

Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams. Ed. and Trans. by James Strachey.
New York: Avon, 1998.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Blog post for 1.28

Hey All,

Our first lead blogger is RJ, and his post on the worth of college can be found here. 

For next week, please write your own entries in response and post them on your individual blogs by Wednesday. You can relate your post to the subject in any way you choose. The main thing to focus on is productively advancing the conversation. Carve out an an aspect of the topic that interests you. Locate a set of compelling questions or problems and start to explore them, working toward clarifying some ideas and laying the groundwork for eventually building a claim or thesis. We will discuss this topic Wednesday, so think of yourself as preparing to add a contribution that helps broaden and deepen our upcoming classroom discussions.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Blogroll: The Endless Possibilities of Blogging--And Our First Blogging Assignment

For this coming Wednesday, please post your first blog entry of about 300 words or so. It can be on any topic of your choosing, and it need have no explicit connection to the assigned readings, beyond generally demonstrating Smith's point about the innate human ability to locate an interesting kernel in seemingly dull subjects. For inspiration, feel free to explore the archives of our class blog, and the student blogs from past seminars (you can also check out the other archives of the other class blog, However, I also want to encourage you not to narrow the range of possible topics you pick. What is important in this class is not so much what you talk about as how you talk about it. As long as you are able to locate a substantive point for discussion in the topic, you can consider it as fair game for your blog post.

To this end, let me share a few different blogs and blog posts that demonstrate the range of possible topics and approaches that this very versatile genre supports. While of course you are always welcome to blog about current events in the worlds of politics, economics, and international relations, you shouldn't feel that you have to blog about these topics. If you do write about them, I ask that you avoid the hot-button issues whenever possible--abortion, gun control, affirmative action, etc.--and that you think beyond the standard political framing of such issues. So, for example, if you are writing about monetary policy, and you find that many people of your ideological persuasion oppose a certain Fed action, instead of adopting the party line, try writing about the reasons why this policy might appeal to people of your ideological persuasion. In other words: scramble the circuits of the standard talking points.

Some models:

Here is an example of a fun post on a very dry topic--typography.

This post is a smart and silly critique of the inanities of popular culture.

Here's an example of a music review of an old album of an old band from my hometown that more or less became The Shins.

Of course, best and worst lists can always be a fun way to do a blog post.

You can go with something light and silly on college life or other close-to-home topics. Hey, it may seem a bit informal, but it actually does a very nice job of closely analyzing the language in the emails, albeit in a goofy way.

And of course, you can always try to elevate the dialogue when it comes to current events.

In addition to blogs like the above, you can also check out these wonderful blogs on more traditional political/economic-y subjects.

Liberal/neoliberal blogs:

Paul Krugman

Brad DeLong

Dean Baker


Libertarian/classical liberal blogs:

Scott Sumner (there's an excellent blogroll in the right hand corner)

Tyler Cowen

Arnold Kling et al. (also has an excellent blogroll to the right)

Will Wilkinson

Bleeding heart libertarians

Cafe Hayek

Conservative/Conservative-friendly blogs:

Reihan Salam

Josh Barro

The American Conservative (My personal favorite conservative publication)

Andrew Sullivan (Actually an apostate who still has a soft spot for the old ways)

Gavin McInness (A silly blogger, but can be fun)

Marxist/Marxist-friendly/Left-leaning blogs:

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Mike Konczal

Doug Henwood

Crooked Timber

Jacobin Magazine

Corey Robin

Max Speak (another good blogroll)

Image source:

Monday, January 12, 2015

Lead blogger sign up sheet

Please choose a date you would like to serve as the lead blogger and leave it in a comment on this post. Dates will be assigned on a first come, first served basis. The dates below refer to the Friday that the blogpost and related links are due. The class will respond to your post by the following Wednesday, and students should read each others' posts by the next Friday's class.

Jan 23: RJ

Jan 30: John

Feb 6: Matthew

Feb 13: Sydney

Feb 20:

Feb 27: Jack

March 6 (Post due before Spring break--will discuss and post responses week after break): Kat

March 20: Hana

March 27: Isaac

April 3: Daniel

April 10: Tucker

April 17: Brady

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Welcome! Here is our online course schedule.

Note: The readings for Monday and sometimes Friday are generally set, while the readings for Wednesday are “to be determined” after the first few weeks. The lead blogger for a week will choose a topic, post at least one substantive outside reading on the subject, and create an in-depth blog post by the previous Friday. From time to time I may move readings around or replace them to more closely coincide with the class’s current interests. Watch the blog for these updates.

Smith = The Essential Adam Smith
Marx = The Marx-Engels Reader

Week 1: Intro – What is “The Market” anyway?
M Jan 12: Introduction

W 14: Read Dean Baker, The End of Loser Liberalism (Chapter 1) and Matt Yglesias. Create a blog and send me the link by the end of the week.

F 16:  Read Hobbes (chapters XIII-XV – skim other chapters if you have time) and Mandeville ("An Enquiry Into the Origin of Moral Virtue"--for some helpful background, read the entry on Mandeville in the Dictionary of National Biography).

Week 2 – Precursors
M 19: MLK day. No class.

W 21: Read Hutcheson and Smith, 1-13, 22-38.  

F 23: Read this and Nancy Sommers. Read Smith, 118-123, 321-325. Make sure you are following class blog.

Week 3 – Feelings and value
M 26:  Read Hutcheson (section 5) and Smith, 65-78, 217-219.

W 28: Reading TBA. Post first response to lead blogger’s post and readings by Wednesday’s class.

F 30: Bring in rough draft of paper 1.

Week 4 – Mercantilism, morality, regulation
M Feb 2: Read Smith, 258-269, Hume and Swift.

W 4: Reading TBA.

F 6:  Bring in rough draft.  Read Ackerman, Beggs and this.

Week 5 – Marx as a reader of Smith
M 9: Read Marx, 236-250.

W 11: Reading TBA.

F 13:  Possible library day or writing workshop. Paper 1 due by class time.  

Week 6 – The Problem of Capital
M 16: Read Marx, 351-367.  

W 18: Reading TBA.

F 20:  Read Krugman, and Marx, 443-465. Bring rough draft for peer editing. 

Week 7 – Smith as Early Critic of Capital 
M 23: Read Smith, 227-248.

W 25: Reading TBA. 

F 27: Read Keynes (primarily section VI). Bring rough draft for peer editing.

Week 8: Topics fair
M March 2: Paper 2 due by class time. Short presentations.

W 4: Reading TBA. Short presentations.

F 6: Read Sumner and Hume, Short presentations.

Week 9 – Spring break
M 9: No class. Spring break. 

W 11: No class.

F 13: No class. 

Week 10 – Wealth and Poverty
M 16: Read Marx, 473-491, and Conley

W 18: Reading TBA.

F 20: No class. Instructor away at conference. Writing workshop or possible library day. 

Week 11 – Utopian and practical thinking. 
M 23:  Read Marx (piece actually by Engels), 683-694.

W 25: Reading TBA.

F 27: Frank and Salam. Bring in rough draft for peer editing. 

Week 12 – Other matters
M 30: Read Smith, 248-258.

W April 1: Reading TBA. Paper 3 due by class time.  

F 3: Easter break. No class.

Week 13 – Taking stock
M 6: Easter break.

W 8: Reading TBA.

F 10: Read Marx, 193-200, 291-293.

Week 14 – Finishing touches
M 13: Read Smith, 269-284.

W 15: Reading TBA. 

F 17: Read Marx, Burke (2.1.313 to 2.1.327) and Mailer interview. Writing workshop. 

Week 15 – Almost there
M 20: Read Smith, 290-310. Bring in rough draft. 

W 22: Reading TBA. Peer editing/workshopping.

F 24: Read Marx, 522-534. Peer editing/workshopping.

Week 16
M 27: Last day of class. No final exam.

W 29: Study day. Final paper due Thursday, April 30th at 12pm.  

F May 1: Exams.