Unit 1: Culture and Values
Issue: Is It Necessary to Become Less Consumerist?
Yes: Gary Gutting, from “Less, Please,” Commonweal (2013)
No: Michael Fisher, from “Review of James Livingston’s Against Thrift: Why Consumer Culture Is Good for the Economy, the Environment, and Your Soul,” Society for U.S. Intellectual History (2012)
Professor Gary Gutting, holder of the Notre Dame Endowed Chair in Philosophy, praises the modern economy for its amazing progress in production and consumer benefits but also recognizes its negative effects on our character and authentic well-being. It has led to economic insatiability and shrinking of the common good. Therefore, he favors less consumption. Michael Fisher, graduate student in American history at the University of Rochester, summarizes in this review article the thesis of James Livingston that the consumer culture is good, not bad. Although Fisher supports Livingston’s thesis, he does not agree with Livingston’s positive view of advertising. Nevertheless, he and Livingston favor more consumption.
Issue: Does Social Media Have Largely Positive Impacts on Its Users?
Yes: Karen Hua, from “Where Millennials Make Friends and Mobilize for Change,” Forbes (2015)
No: Stephen Marche, from “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” The Atlantic (2014)
Karen Hua, a staff writer for Forbes, concentrates on teens and finds them using social media to make friends and deepen friendships. She counters the viewpoint that social media provides superficial contacts by observing “that today’s teenagers are forming deep, personal connections and relationships online.” Stephen Marche, a journalist who is on the staff of The Atlantic, recognizes the amazing benefits of social media but reports on stories and studies which find that Facebook and other social media can isolate us from people we know to people we meet online. Thus, social media that are designed to increase our communication with our family and friends can actually make us lonelier.
Unit 2: Sex Roles, Gender, and the Family
Issue: Is the American Family in Trouble?
Yes: Lynn D. Wardle, from “The American Family: An Endangered and Disappearing Species,” CNS News (2015)
No: Jonah Goldberg, from “Why Family Matters, and Why Traditional Families Are Still Best,” Los Angeles Times (2015)
Lynn D. Wardle, the Bruce C. Hafen Professor of Law at Brigham Young University is the author or editor of numerous books and law review articles, points out that statistics suggest that marriage is disappearing in the United States. The percentage of persons married at age 18–32 has steadily dropped by generation from 65 percent of the Silent Generation (1960) to just 26 percent of the Millennial Generation (2013). He presents other statistics and observations showing the decline of the American family. Jonah Goldberg is an American conservative syndicated columnist who writes about politics and culture for National Review, where he is a senior editor. He does not dispute Wardle’s statistics but presents evidence that marriage and the family have many benefits including a broad range of economic indicators. For example, poor children with married parents have a better chance of upward mobility. Boys in particular do much better when raised in a more traditional family environment.
Issue: Can Women Have It All?
Yes: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, from “Sheryl Sandberg’s Radically Realistic ‘And’ Solution for Working Mothers,” The Atlantic (2013)
No: Anne-Marie Slaughter, from “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” The Atlantic (2012)
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, best-selling author, journalist, and a Senior Fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations’ Women and Foreign Policy program, discusses the issues in Sheryl Sandberg’s famous book, Lean In. Sandberg’s advice to career women is not to opt out but to lean in, that is, to firmly choose both career and parenting. Unfortunately, men still run the country, so the societal changes that could facilitate Lean In are missing. Full commitment to both career and family will not be easy. Anne-Marie Slaughter, the Bert G. Kerstetter ’66 University Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University and former dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, explains why Sandberg is wrong and women cannot successfully pursue career and family at the same time. They must decide which to do well and which to do adequately but not avidly.
Issue: Is Same-Sex Marriage Harmful to America?
Yes: Peter Sprigg, from “The Top Ten Harms of Same-Sex ‘Marriage,’” Family Research Council (2013)
No: Jay Michaelson, from “Joe Biden Takes a Marriage Equality Victory Lap,” The Daily Beast (2015)
Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow for Policy Studies at the Family Research Council, identifies 10 negative effects of same-sex marriages. Many of these worries concern how various institutions are likely to change as a result of same-sex marriages, and how authorities are likely to change their regulations and enforcement practices. Jay Michaelson supports Joe Biden, Vice President of the United States, who applauds the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage as a form of civil rights. Evan Wolfson, founder of Freedom to Marry organization, said that Biden deserves the most credit for the legalization of same-sex marriage.
Unit 3: Stratification and Inequality
Issue: Is Increasing Economic Inequality a Serious Problem?
Yes: Joseph E. Stiglitz, from “Slow Growth and Inequality Are Political Choices. We Can Choose Otherwise,” Washington Monthly (2014)
No: Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield, from “Understanding Poverty in the United States: Surprising Facts about America’s Poor,” The Heritage Foundation (2011)
Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz, professor of Economics at Columbia University, points out the vast and growing inequality in America and argues that it results from exploitation of workers and the way capitalism works. It has many negative impacts and must be reduced. It has extensive negative impacts on many institutional areas such as health care. He suggests ways to fix these problems that the corporations will fight. Robert Rector is a senior research fellow in the Domestic Policy Studies Department, and Rachel Sheffield is a research assistant in the Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation. They argue that inequality is not so bad because the poor are rather well-off when we look at all the facts. The living conditions of the poor have improved for decades. Most of the poor have consumer items that were significant purchases for the middle class a few decades ago. They establish their thesis on countless facts such as “82 percent of poor adults reported never being hungry at any time in the prior year due to lack of money for food.”
Issue: Has America Made Substantial Progress in the Rights of Blacks?
Yes: Noah C. Rothman, from “The ‘Conversation about Race’ That Isn’t a Conversation: Twenty Years of Talk about Race Obscures This Country’s Remarkable Progress,” Commentary (2015)
No: Jared Bernstein, from “What Racial Injustice Looks Like in America’s Economy,” The Washington Post (2016)
Noah C. Rothman, an associate editor of HotAir.com, does not deny that strong racial prejudice still exists among Whites, but he also shows many of the ways that behavior and institutions have become less discriminatory. Jared Bernstein, a former chief economist to Vice President Biden, is a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and author of the new book “The Reconnection Agenda: Reuniting Growth and Prosperity.” Bernstein documents some of the systemic racial injustices embedded in the economy including that the Black unemployment rate has been twice that of the White rate even at the same education levels.
Issue: Has Gender Equality Come a Long Way?
Yes: Ronald Brownstein, from “Poll: American Men Embracing Gender Equality,” National Journal (2015)
No: Leisa Peterson, from “Who Am I to Be Financially Feminist? (A Guide for Female Entrepreneurs),” Huffington Post (2015)
Ronald Brownstein, Atlantic Media’s editorial director for strategic partnerships, reports on surprising findings of a recent poll that details major changes in gender attitudes of males and income, racial and ethnic groups. “The survey suggests that men from all rungs on the economic and social ladder were open to the partnership of equals.’ ” Leisa Peterson, money mindfulness expert and founder, TheWealthClinic, points out the many ways that she and other women today are discriminated against. She uses statistics and comparative studies to prove her thesis that women are worse off in several ways.
Unit 4: Political Economy and Institutions
Issue: Is Government Dominated by Big Business?
Yes: G. William Domhoff, from “Is the Corporate Elite Fractured, or Is There Continuing Corporate Dominance? Two Contrasting Views,” Class, Race and Corporate Power (2015)
No: Mark S. Mizruchi, from “The Fracturing of the American Corporate Elite,” Harvard University Press (2013)
Political sociologist G. William Domhoff presents two theories about who rules America. One is that the corporate elite is fractured and no longer stay united enough to rule America. The second is that the corporate elite is united enough to rule America. He argues for the second view. Mark S. Mizruchi, a professor of sociology at Michigan University, argues the first view that the corporate elite is fractured to the point that it does not rule America but uses its influence for the specific interests of individual corporations. This contributes to declining effectiveness of the American polity.
Issue: Does Capitalism Have Serious Defects?
Yes: Jerry Z. Muller, from “Capitalism and Inequality,” Foreign Affairs (2013)
No: Chris Berg, from “Why Capitalism Is Awesome,” Cato Policy Report (2013)
Jerry Z. Muller, professor of history at the Catholic University of America and author of The Mind and the Market: Capitalism in Western Thought, reports on how capitalism inevitably increases inequality because competition results in winners and losers. It is productive, but it also increases commodification which erodes cultural values. It is a force for both good and bad. Chris Berg, a research fellow with the Institute of Public Affairs in Melbourne, Australia, and author of In Defence of Freedom of Speech, provides an enthusiastic defense of capitalism because it stimulates millions of innovations that improve millions of items that benefit us.
Issue: Does Government Need to Be Restrained?
Yes: Chris Edwards, from “Forget Too Big to Fail . . . The Federal Government Is Too Big to Work,” Washington Examiner (2015)
No: Richard Eskow, from “We Need a Bold Left to Challenge Government Downsizing,” OurFuture.org (2015)
Chris Edwards, editor of Cato Institute’s DownsizingGovernment.org, argues that the federal government runs badly. It is wasteful and inept. It does too much and does not have strong incentives for efficiency and effectiveness. Its problems include top-down planning and bloated bureaucracy. Cut it back. Richard Eskow, writer, a former Wall Street executive, and a radio journalist, argues that the government must not be cut back because its services are badly needed. The anti-government side does want increases to the military budget, but the domestic side generates more jobs and growth.
Issue: Was Welfare Reform the Right Approach to Poverty?
Yes: Rebecca Vallas and Melissa Boteach, from “The Top 10 Solutions to Cut Poverty and Grow the Middle Class,” Center for American Progress (2014)
No: George F. Will, from “The Harm Incurred by a Mushrooming Welfare State,” The Washington Post (2015)
Rebecca Vallas and Melissa Boteach recommend 10 steps that Congress can take to cut poverty including creating jobs, extending unemployment insurance, raise the minimum wage, increase the earned income tax credit for childless workers, support pay equity, invest in child care and early education, expand Medicaid, and reform the criminal justice system. George F. Will, an American newspaper columnist with The Washington Post and political commentator with Fox News, points out the negative results of welfare. He blasts the American government for classifying large numbers of Americans as “needy.” He gets his statistics from Nicholas Eberstadt, who documents the massive expansion of the welfare state and its erosion of recipients’ character.
Issue: Are Charter Schools Better than Public Schools?
Yes: Adam Ozimek, from “The Unappreciated Success of Charter Schools,” Forbes (2015)
No: Grace Chen, from “10 Advantages to Public Education,” Public School Review (2017)
Adam Ozimek, Forbes Business contributor and Econsult Solutions, Inc.’s Senior Analyst, cites research which says that overall charters and public schools compare relatively closely, both the 2009 and 2013 study found that charters did better for students in poverty. And the results are especially strong for Black students in poverty. In addition, the superiority of charter schools increases over time. Grace Chen, an avid education researcher and writer, puts public schools on a par with charter schools. She also presents the advantages of public schools such as lower costs, diversity, smaller class size, extracurricular opportunities, required teacher certification, and so on. She admits that some public schools are lower but they are in poor neighborhoods, and charter schools on the whole are in better environments.
Issue: Will the Fourth Industrial Revolution Bring about a Wonderful World?
Yes: Danny Crichton, from “Fear Not the Robot: Automation Will Continue to Raise Our Quality of Life,” National Review (2015)
No: Katherine Mangu-Ward, from “Will They Take Our Jobs?” Reason (2015)
Danny Crichton sees new technologies greatly increasing production and therefore consumption. Technologies will improve our lives. Digitally run robots are and will produce much faster than humans can and bring us into a wonderful world. Katherine Mangu-Ward sees technology as both good and bad. She is worried that the robots will take away many of our jobs and make most people unneeded in the labor force. What will happen? The results could pull our society apart.
Unit 5: Crime and Social Control
Issue: Are the Police in America to Be Condemned?
Yes: Nancy A. Heitzeg, from “‘Broken Windows’, Broken Lives and the Ruse of ‘Public Order’ Policing,” Truthout (2015)
No: Michelle Crouch, from “45 Things Police Officers Want You to Know,” The Readers Digest (2017)
Nancy A. Heitzeg, a professor of sociology and director of the critical studies of race/ethnicity program at St. Catherine University, presents and refutes the theory behind the “broken windows” approach to policing which is tough on crime and produces high imprisonment rates. She also presents several cases of police killing unarmed Blacks and argues that the police need to be better controlled. Michelle Crouch is a versatile writer and editor with more than 20 years of experience. She is a contributing editor at Reader’s Digest. She presents the comments of 45 police officers, which indicate how much police officers are appreciated in their communities. Her point is that notorious news stories about police shooting unarmed Blacks create a very unfair view of policemen. Generally, the public’s opinion of the police is positive.
Issue: Is American Justice Too Severe?
Yes: Eric Holder, from “Bold Steps to Reform and Strengthen American’s Criminal Justice System,” Vital Speeches of the Day (2013)
No: Rebecca R. Ruiz, from “Attorney General Orders Tougher Sentences, Rolling Back Obama Policy,” New York Times (2017)
Eric Holder, recent Attorney General, judges the current judicial system as broken and needing a major overhaul. Laws and courts put too many people in prison and for too long. Racial biases should be removed and policing practices should be improved. His reforms must also make communities safer. Rebecca R. Ruiz is a domestic correspondent covering the Justice Department in Washington. She reports on Sessions’ new policies that largely reverse Obama’s efforts to reverse the harsh sentences of previous administrations. Sessions emphasize harsh sentences because he thinks American justice is not severe enough.
Issue: Is the United States in Significant Danger of Large-scale Terrorist Attacks?
Yes: James R. Clapper, from “Statement for the Record: Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community,” US Intelligence Committee (2015)
No: Washington’s Blog, from “Just How Dangerous Is Terrorism, Really?” Washington’s Blog (2015)
James R. Clapper, director of national intelligence, gave this statement to Congress in 2015. It covers all types of terrorism from cyber terrorism to WMD and organized crime terrorism. Washington’s Blog points out that terrorists’ attacks have become practically nonexistent since 2003 (shootings by psychos are not included in these statistics). Its point is that the threat of terrorism in the United States has been greatly exaggerated.
Unit 6: The Future: Population/Environment/Society
Issue: Does Immigration Benefit the Economy?
Yes: Robert Lynch and Patrick Oakford, from “The Economic Effects of Granting Legal Status and Citizenship to Undocumented Immigrants,” Center for American Progress (2013)
No: Association for Mature American Citizens, from “The Fiscal Cost of Unlawful Immigrants and Amnesty to the U.S. Taxpayer” The Heritage Foundation (2015)
Robert Lynch, Everett E. Nuttle Professor and chair of the Department of Economics at Washington College, and Patrick Oakford, research assistant at the Center for American Progress, show that legal status and a road to citizenship for the unauthorized will bring about significant economic gains in terms of economic growth, earnings, tax revenues, and jobs, and the sooner we provide legal status and citizenship, the greater the economic benefits will be for the nation. The main reason is that the immigrants will produce and earn significantly more than they cost, and the results will ripple throughout the economy. The Association for Mature American Citizens argues that “Unlawful immigration and amnesty for current unlawful immigrants can pose large fiscal costs for U.S. taxpayers.” The benefits would include Social Security, Medicare, welfare, education, police, and other services. Each such household would receive benefits that would exceed various payments to government of $14,387.
Issue: Is Humankind Dangerously Harming the Environment?
Yes: Paul R. Ehrlich and Anne H. Ehrlich, from “Can a Collapse of Global Civilization Be Avoided?” Proceedings of the Royal Society (2013)
No: Ramez Naam, from “How Innovation Could Save the Planet,” The Futurist (2013)
Paul R. Ehrlich and Anne H. Ehrlich present a long list of environmental problems, which prove that humankind is dangerously harming the environment. They also propose changes that are needed to avoid the collapse of societies. Their analysis, however, suggests that societies will not take the necessary actions soon enough. Ramez Naam, a computer scientist, author, and former Microsoft executive, argues that innovations will deal with the serious issues of population growth, peak oil, resources depletion, climate change, and limits to growth. After reviewing some of the recent great accomplishments and some of the risks facing the planet, he shows how ideas and innovations have solved similar crises in the past and then gives reasons for being optimistic about the future.
Issue: Should America Have a Progressive International Role in the World?
Yes: Madeleine K. Albright and Stephen J. Hadley, from “America’s Role in the World,” Congressional Testimony to the Committee on Armed Services,” U.S. House of Representatives (2017)
No: Donald J. Trump Administration, from “America First Foreign Policy,” The White House (2017)
Madeleine K. Albright and Stephen J. Hadley testify that American security and prosperity at home are linked to economic and political health abroad and that America does better when other countries have the incentive and the capacity to work alongside us in tackling global challenges. This is supported by a system of international institutions and security alliances after World War II. That has greatly benefited us. Isolationism and retreat do not work; we know because we have tried them before. The Donald J. Trump Administration is committed to a foreign policy focused on American interests and American national security and that is based on Peace through strength. Defeating ISIS and other radical Islamic terror groups will be its highest priority. It will also rebuild the American military. Finally, it will make trade deals that work for all Americans.