Discussion Post Populism, both left-wing and right-wing variants, has arguably risen in

Discussion Post

Populism, both left-wing and right-wing variants, has arguably risen in popularity over the past several years. In other words, people are increasingly likely to show concern for the degree of economic and political control held by elite individuals and groups in American society. While the left and the right may disagree over the nature of these problems and how to address them, it is clear that trust towards elites is at a low point in contemporary America.


Considering all of the above, your discussion topic for the week:

What do you think should be done to address economic inequality? In your post, you should consider much of the following:

You do not have to accept the premise that economic inequality needs to be addressed at all – perhaps the government should play no role whatsoever in addressing economic inequality. You are also welcome to argue that economic inequality should primarily be addressed by non-government action. In either case, you should explain why you think economic inequality does not need to be addressed, or why the potential solutions to the problem would be worse than the problem itself.

In addition to discussing what policies you think would be helpful in addressing inequality, you may also want to briefly discuss which policies you DO NOT think would be helpful, and why.

Another angle you might consider are the practical aspects of reducing economic inequality. Which of the various proposals for doing so has the greatest chance of actual passage into law? You might make a case for a seemingly less effective method of economic inequality reduction if you think that it stands a much greater chance of actually becoming law than other proposals.


Writing a good Discussion Post

Your post should be 6 sentences minimum. You are welcome (and encouraged) to write as much as you would like.

Your post should practice persuasive writing. Imagine you are trying to convince others to adopt your position. Try to write in a way that will win over people on the fence, or maybe even on the other side, rather than speaking in a way that pleases those who already agree with you. At a minimum, you should write in a way that does not distract from the content of what you are trying to say.

If you don’t have a strong position, that’s OK! Ultimately, you should try to pick a clear position (what should be done regarding economic inequality), even if you are on the fence. On balance, which is the best solution? Taking a clear position, even if you are unsure, will make for better writing and more interesting thinking.

Supplemental Reflection

Requires you to read, watch, or interact with the media listed below.

Once you have consumed this media, you will then write a reflection based on your experience with the material(s). This reflection will constitute one long, thoughtful paragraph (around 7-8 sentences), but does not need to be written in an overly formal fashion and should be submitted directly in the text box below. Some of the things you might consider writing about:

What did you learn from the materials this week? Did you encounter something new, or was your previous belief about something changed?

How do the different materials you encountered this week relate to one another? Think of interesting ways to draw connections between whatever you read, watched, and/or interacted with.

How do these materials relate to something that we talked about specifically in lecture this week?

Do the materials relate to your own personal life in some way? How so?

Do you agree or disagree with the materials presented? Why or why not? Did the creators miss something, or get something wrong?

Some materials will be primarily evidence-based, but others may involve reading/watching people relate their personal experiences on some political topic. Were you emotionally affected by any of the materials in the latter case?

Did any of the materials help you to gain some greater insight into what you believe or care about?

In writing your reflection, be careful to make sure your response reflects evidence of having read/watch/interacted with all the required materials! For instance, if you watched a movie and took a personality test, your response should thoughtfully discuss BOTH these materials in some way. It is entirely up to you how to divide the space in your reflection – you might devote most of your writing to a single material, and only discuss the other materials in 1 or 2 sentences. No matter what you choose, however, be sure to write in enough detail that it is clear that you are not “pretending” to have consumed the material!

Watch ONE of the following:

Film – The Big Short (YouTube (Links to an external site.); Amazon Prime (Links to an external site.); Apple TV (Links to an external site.)): A surprisingly hilarious (and unsurprisingly infuriating) look at the 2008 economic crash and its causes. Also quite educational – at several points in the movie, they will stop to explain the economics directly to the viewer. Amazing cast too – Christian Bale, Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Selena Gomez, and Marisa Tomei.

Documentary – American Factory (Netflix (Links to an external site.)): A new documentary looking at the tensions that have built between small-town America and China due to globalization and other forces. This is the first documentary produced by former President Obama’s new production company.

Documentary – Inequality for All (YouTube (Links to an external site.); Amazon Prime (Links to an external site.)): Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor and current Professor of Public Policy at Berkeley, takes the viewer through an in-depth look at the nature of economic inequality in the United States.

Documentary – Saving Capitalism (Netflix (Links to an external site.)): This documentary also features Robert Reich and covers economic inequality, but focuses much more on ideas for what can be done to improve upon our existing economic system.

Documentary – Boys State (Apple TV (Links to an external site.) (Links to an external site.)): A fascinating on-going experiment in which, once a year since 1935, hundreds of boys from throughout the state of Texas are brought together in an attempt to form their own functioning government. Interesting both from a psychological perspective (how capable of building a stable society are most of us?) and a polarization perspective (the viewer gets to see the new divides forming in the coming – your – political generation).

Read one of the following:

Short Article – Thomas Piketty, Emanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zuckman, “Economic Growth in the United States: A Tale of Two Countries,” (Links to an external site.) Washington Center for Equitable Growth, 2016: A short article summarizing some of the most important recent work in measuring inequality in the United States so that we can better understand its causes.

Short Article – Illing, Sean. “Two eminent political scientists: the problem with democracy is voters.” (Links to an external site.) Vox: This article covers a variety of reasons to believe that the voting public may ultimately be incapable of holding our political representatives accountable for what they do in office.

Sample Exemplar Assignment

The following submission would earn the full 6 points on these weekly assignments:

Chosen Materials: John Adams HBO Miniseries Episodes 1 and 2; Excerpt from “How Democratic is the Constitution?” by Dahl

Reflection: I wasn’t sure what to expect going in, but I found the Adams miniseries really interesting, and I think I might want to watch the rest of it. I didn’t know much about John Adams, and history classes can sometimes make the presidents seem boring and lifeless, but Adams had so much personality and was played so well by Paul Giamatti. One thing I found surprising was how much disagreement and animosity there was among the founding fathers, who are often presented as mostly just working together to solve problems. The argument between Jefferson and Adams was a good example of this – even though they were in the same administration, they wanted such different things, and their competing ideas related right back to what we talked about in class regarding the different plans put forth at the Constitutional convention. I think if I had been in the room during that argument, I probably would have agreed with Jefferson, as it would have been too dangerous to give the federal government too much unchecked power, especially if the president held a lot of that power.

I also thought the Dahl excerpt was really interesting, as the Constitution wasn’t presented in a critical way in my high school classes. I agree that there were a lot of problems left in the Constitution – not just the decision to not address slavery more, but the lack of guaranteed voting rights for so many groups in society, and also the design of the electoral college. That said, I disagree with Dahl that the Supreme Court was designed in an unfair way, as the law is really complicated and that justifies that area of politics being less democratic.

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