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Do the events of 2020 show that capitalism does more harm than good, or is it the best solution for what ails us?

 Is having a stronger social net (universal healthcare, universal basic income, etc.) against American values?

It is no secret that when Americans fall, they fall hard. Medical bills bankrupt families, simple mistakes destroy futures, and poverty persists in families for generations. One way to solve this problem is to make the United States more like other countries: give everyone comprehensive health insurance, for example, or make welfare programs more robust, or provide university students with free education. Advocates say these are the only means to diminish the income inequality that comes from American-style capitalism, but critics call these solutions socialism, and claim they limit individual freedom. Which is it? Do democracies like ours have a responsibility to provide for its worst off and if doing so is socialism, might that mean that socialism is actually a good thing?


The point of this essay is to examine the controversy and connect to it key philosophical ideas. You may take any position you want, including finding some middle ground, but you must explain the opposing positions in the debate. Compare arguments and evidence for each side persuasively argue against yourself while you defend your ultimate conclusion.

The essay must conclude with a clear and definitive position. It should strive to be fair, not polemical, and can connect examples from popular culture, literature, science, or any other arena that helps clarify the controversy. It may also use evidence from political science, anthropology, psychology, history, economics, sociology, or any other discipline that asks about the human social experience. However, it is first and foremost a philosophy essay and the argument must be philosophical in character. Examples from other disciplines should complement, not eclipse the philosophical argumentation.

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The essay should be written for a general audience, not for a class or a teacher. Do not think of it as a research paper, but more like a magazine article or long-form blog post. It should be clear, thoughtful, and accessible to an average college student, not super-technical or confusingly abstract. The essay should not have extensive quotes or excessive footnotes, although it should have some quotes, at least. Classroom assignments will not be accepted without significant revision. Prospective authors are encouraged to look at previous years essays to see some winning examples.

Finally, essays will not be evaluated on what position they argue for, but on how well they argue that position. All conclusions have equal opportunity to win. IPPL is non-partisan and non-ideological.


We encourage you to find secondary sources from newspapers, magazines, and reputable websites, to bolster your position. But again, all roads must lead to philosophy. Since this is a philosophical essay, it should examine the key ideas and terms found in and around the question. Explicit connections to specific philosophers and schools of thought are welcome, although these ideas and references must be presented without using jargon or overly academic prose.

Some examples of relevant philosophical questions are: Is income inequality unjust? What is socialism? How much assistance can a government provide and still be called capitalist? How much risk is reasonable in a just society? To what extent does the free-market advantage certain races or sexes? Does democracy require a specific economic system? What responsibilities do we owe others? Can America learn from the examples of other countries? Is American unique and exceptional? Is taxation immoral? How do we balance individual freedom and community? Do we have the responsibility to help others? Is health care a right or a privilege? Is universal basic income solely a utopian idea? What are the moral limits of the free market? Is the inequality exacerbated by inheritance unjust?

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