Soci 10: American Society (2016 spring)

University of California, San Diego
Spring 2015-16
MWF 9:00–9:50, HSS 1330

Lane Kenworthy
Office hours: W 11:15–1:15, SSB 472

This course explores key issues in contemporary America and how social scientists, journalists, opinion writers, and policy makers approach them. We’ll examine arguments and evidence on 11 issues. Since this is an election year, we’ll focus on issues that are of key concern to voters. Four are high on the list of many Republicans: the size of government, immigration, family, and American military power. Four are high on the list of many Democrats: income inequality, climate change, health, and marijuana legalization. Two others are among the top concerns of all voters: economic prosperity and democracy. Our final issue will be the 2016 election itself.


Assigned materials are to be read or viewed before class.

March 28 (M)

March 30 (W)
Reading: Lane Kenworthy, “America Is Exceptional … and Ordinary,” The Good Society.

April 1 (F)
Reading: Lane Kenworthy, “How Do We Know?,” The Good Society.

April 4 (M)
The size of government
Reading: N. Gregory Mankiw, “I Can Afford Higher Taxes, But They’ll Make Me Work Less,” New York Times, 2010.

April 6 (W)
The size of government
Reading: Lane Kenworthy, “Is Big Government Bad for the Economy?,” The Good Society.

April 8 (F)
The size of government
Reading: Lane Kenworthy, “Public Insurance and the Least Well-Off,” The Good Society. Skip the “Is universalism better for the poor than targeting?” section.

April 11 (M)
Reading: Julia Preston, “The Truth About Mexican-Americans,” New York Review of Books, 2015.

April 13 (W)
Reading: Reihan Salam, “Republicans Need a New Approach to Immigration,” National Review, 2016.

April 15 (F): no class

April 18 (M)
Marijuana legalization
Video: Eugene Jarecki, The House I Live In, 2011, 110 minutes ($3-4).

April 20 (W)
Marijuana legalization
Reading: Lane Kenworthy, “Marijuana Legalization,” The Good Society.

April 22 (F)
Reading: Elizabeth Marquardt, David Blankenhorn, Robert I. Lerman, Linda Malone-Colón, and W. Bradford Wilcox, “The President’s Marriage Agenda for the Forgotten Sixty Percent,” The State of Our Unions, National Marriage Project and Institute for American Values, 2012.

April 25 (M)
Reading: Lane Kenworthy, “Families,” The Good Society.

Essay 1 due: Wednesday, April 27, in class

April 27 (W)
Income inequality
Reading: Lane Kenworthy, “Income Inequality,” The Good Society.

April 29 (F)
Income inequality
Video: Robert Reich and Jacob Kornbluth, Inequality for All, 2013, 91 minutes ($3-4).

May 2 (M)
Income inequality
Reading: Lane Kenworthy, “Is Income Inequality Harmful?,” The Good Society.

May 4 (W)
Economic prosperity
Readings: Robert Gordon, “Goodbye, Golden Age of Growth” and “Jobs Are Under Attack, But Not by Robots,” BloombergView, 2016.

May 6 (F)
Economic prosperity
Reading: Lane Kenworthy, “Shared Prosperity,” The Good Society.

May 9 (M)
Reading 1: Anne Case and Angus Deaton, “Rising Morbidity and Mortality in Midlife among White Non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st Century,” PNAS, 2015.
Reading 2: Andrew Cherlin, “Why Are White Death Rates Rising?,” New York Times, 2016.

May 11 (W)
Reading 1: Lane Kenworthy, “Is Economic Insecurity to Blame for the Increase in Deaths among Middle-Aged Whites?,” Consider the Evidence, 2015.
Reading 2: Daniel J. McGraw, “How Big Pharma Gave America Its Heroin Problem,” Pacific Standard, 2015.
Reading 3: Editorial Board, “A Strong Response to the Opiod Scourge,” New York Times, 2016.

May 13 (F): no class

May 16 (M)
Climate change
Video: Al Gore and David Guggenheim, An Inconvenient Truth, 2006, 96 minutes ($3).

May 18 (W)
Climate change
Lane Kenworthy, “Climate Stability,” The Good Society.

May 20 (F)
Video: Alex Gibney, Park Avenue: Money, Power, and the American Dream, 2012, 54 minutes (free).

May 23 (M)
Reading: Ezra Klein, “Our Corrupt Politics: It’s Not All Money,” New York Review of Books, 2012.

Essay 2 due: Wednesday, May 25, in class

May 25 (W)
American military power
Reading: Lane Kenworthy, “US Military Intervention Abroad,” The Good Society.

May 27 (F)
American military power
Reading: Kenneth Pollack, “Fight or Flight: America’s Choice in the Middle East,” Foreign Affairs, 2016.

May 30 (M): no class (Memorial Day)

June 1 (W)
The 2016 election
Reading: Alec MacGillis, “Who Turned My Blue State Red?,” New York Times, 2015.

June 3 (F)
The 2016 election
Reading: Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, “Why Trump Can’t Break the GOP,” New York Times, 2016.

Final exam: Wednesday, June 8, 8:00am


This course aims to improve your understanding of America’s society, economy, and politics. Just as important, it will assist your development of some valuable general skills:

  • Understanding argument and evidence. For each class day, you will do the reading or watch the video in advance. In class you will be quizzed on the information in the reading or video. Try to understand the question(s) the author is trying to answer, the answer(s) she gives, the key pieces of evidence, and the way the author reasons from the evidence and other considerations (laws, ethical views, etc) in reaching a conclusion.
  • Dealing with complexity. The substantive issues we’ll examine are big and complicated. Social scientists have struggled to understand the nature of the problem(s), to identify the main cause(s), and to figure out the most useful solution(s). The process is often like detective work: the story is seldom simple, and rarely do we have the exact evidence we’d need in order to be strongly confident about our conclusion. So we must ask an assortment of questions, use various types of data, and think systematically.
  • Comfort with quantitative data. A generation ago there was a scarcity of numerical data. Now we have an abundance: data are everywhere. That’s a good thing, because data are key to answering important questions about American society. You will encounter lots of quantitative data in this course, often in graphical form. If you aren’t already comfortable interpreting such data and reasoning from them, by the end of the course you should be.
  • Oral communication. The discussion section for this course is designed to foster discussion about the substantive issues we’ll cover. Your discussion section grade will be based entirely on your participation. We’ll also have a good bit of discussion during regular class meetings.
  • Written communication. You will write two essays. Both are very short, so I expect the quality of writing to be very high. Good writing usually comes from relentless editing. Write a draft. Then edit it. Then edit it again. And again.
  • Independent research. The two essays you’ll write are on topics not covered in the course. You’ll need to do some outside reading, decide on your proposal or position, and assess the degree to which evidence supports it.
  • Developing a good argument. The course materials and lectures are designed to expose you to ways of developing and conveying effective argument. Keys include focusing on a specific question, formulating a clear proposal or position, making use of relevant evidence, addressing potential objections and counterarguments, and communicating simply and clearly.


The course readings and videos are available via the links in the schedule above. You’ll also need an iclicker, which you can purchase at the campus bookstore.


Course grades will be determined as follows. See below for details.

  • 15%: discussion section attendance and participation
  • 35%: quizzes (24, only your 21 highest scores count)
  • 20%: essay 1
  • 20%: essay 2
  • 10%: final exam

Each of these will be graded on a scale of 0 to 100. So your numerical course grade is calculated as: (discussion section attendance and participation grade x .15) + (quizzes average grade x .35) + (essay 1 grade x .2) + (essay 2 grade x .2) + (final exam grade x .1).

Your letter grade for the course will be determined as follows:

  • 97 and above = A+
  • 93–96 = A
  • 90–92 = A–
  • 87–89 = B+
  • 83–86 = B
  • 80–82 = B–
  • 77–79 = C+
  • 73–76 = C
  • 70–72 = C–
  • 60–69 = D
  • below 60 = F

There will be no extra-credit projects or assignments.


Lindsay DePalma
Teaching Assistant
Section A03, W 1:00–1:50, HSS 1305
Section A04, W 2:00–2:50, HSS 1305
Office hours: W 10:30–12:30, SSB 453

Yao-Tai Li
Teaching Assistant
Section A01, M 11:00–11:50, York Hall 3000A
Section A02, M 12:00–12:50, York Hall 3000A
Office hours: F 11:00–1:00, SSB 451

Attendance and participation in discussion section is required. Your discussion section grade will be based on your participation. Attendance may also affect your grade. You are allowed to miss one section meeting without penalty. If you miss more than one, your discussion section grade will be reduced. If you miss more than four, your section grade will be zero.


Each day in class, beginning April 4, you will take a short quiz on the reading for that day. Each quiz will have five multiple choice or true/false questions. You will answer the questions using your iclicker. There will be 24 quizzes; only your highest 21 grades will count.

Quiz grading: If you answer at least four questions, you will get 50 points (even if you have no correct answers). You get ten additional points for each correct answer. So if you answer four or more questions, your grade is 60 with one correct answer, 70 with two correct answers, 80 with three, 90 with four, 100 with five.

You must register your iclicker with TritonEd. To do that, go to, log in, choose this course, and click on “Register iclicker” in the blue menu bar. If you get a new iclicker at any point during the quarter, register it immediately.

For technical support with iclicker registration and use, contact Educational Technology Services, APM 1313, email, tel 858.534.2267.

You can take a makeup if you have to miss a quiz for any of the following three reasons: (1) holidays or special events observed by organized religions (for students who show affiliation with that particular religion), (2) absences pre-approved by the UCSD Dean of Students (or Dean’s designee), (3) extended illness (this requires a doctor’s note). If you miss a quiz for one of these reasons, contact me no later than the day of the quiz to schedule a makeup. I will need written verification of the circumstances.

You cannot take a makeup if you miss a quiz for any other reason. This includes faulty iclicker registration, forgetting to bring your iclicker to class, stolen or lost iclicker, iclicker malfunction, dead iclicker battery, needing to arrive late to class or leave class early, oversleeping, minor illness, transportation problem, family or friend’s special occasion, family problems, family illness, needing to study for another course, etc.

Here are my recommendations for how to prepare for the quizzes: (1) Take notes on the reading or video. Study those notes rather than re-reading or re-viewing the materials. (2) Evidence is important, but don’t get overly bogged down in detail — exact numbers, precise dates, and so on. (3) Don’t overthink the quiz questions. Don’t assume I’m trying to trick you. (4) It may help to study with one or more other students in the class.


You will write two short essays. The assignments:

  • Essay 1: Should our government take action to significantly reduce imports from low-wage countries such as China?
  • Essay 2: What’s the most useful thing we could do to reduce violence in America?

Due dates are listed above. An essay turned in late but within 72 hours of the deadline will be penalized 25 points (out of 100). An essay turned in more than 72 hours late, or not turned in at all, will receive a grade of zero.

Turn in a hard copy and upload your essay on TritonEd. Emailed essays won’t be accepted. To upload it on TritonEd, go to, log in, choose this course, and click on “Upload essays” in the blue menu bar. Your essay won’t be visible to other students; this is just to allow a check for plagiarism and length.

Grading will be based on the following:

  • Answer the question.
  • Refer to relevant evidence. Opinion and logic are fine but insufficient.
  • Address potential objections to your position.
  • Write clearly.
  • Use proper grammar and punctuation. (Use of first person — “I” or “me” — and of contractions is fine.) Adhere to the following length, formatting, and citation instructions. Length: Each essay should be 1,500 words (excluding footnotes), plus or minus no more than 100 words. Formatting: The essays must be typed single-space on 8½-by-11 paper with 1-inch margins on top and bottom and 2-inch margins on each side. Use 11-point or 12-point font size. Sources and citations: Consult at least five sources of your choosing. Use footnotes (not a reference list or bibliography) to give credit to anyone from whom you borrow evidence or argument. The footnotes aren’t included in the word count. I’m not picky about the formatting of the footnotes, but be sure to include the author(s), title, and year; don’t simply list an internet address.

If you need help with writing, consider seeking assistance from the UC San Diego Writing Center.

Don’t plagiarize. If you aren’t sure what constitutes plagiarism and how to avoid it, see the UC San Diego Library’s guide to preventing plagiarism.


The final exam will cover all of the course material. The date and time of the exam are listed above.


Students are encouraged to share intellectual views and discuss freely the principles and applications of course materials. However, graded work must be the product of independent effort unless otherwise instructed. Students are expected to adhere to UC San Diego policy on academic integrity.


Students who need special accommodation or services should contact the Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD), University Center 202, email, tel 858.534.4382. You must register and request that the OSD send me official notification of your accommodation needs as soon as possible. Please meet with me to discuss accommodations and how the course requirements and activities may impact your ability to fully participate.


Information here, other than the grade and attendance policy, may be subject to change with advance notice, as deemed appropriate by the instructor.