Soci 10: American Society (2016 summer)

University of California, San Diego
Summer 2016
M–Th 9:30–10:50, Sequoyah Hall 147

Lane Kenworthy
Office hours: M W 11:15–12:15, 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 17 issues — with a focus, since this is an election year, on issues that are of key concern to voters.


Assigned materials are to be read or viewed before class.

August 1 (M)

August 2 (Tu)
Reading 1: Lane Kenworthy, “America Is Exceptional … and Ordinary,” The Good Society.
Reading 2: Ross Douthat, “Are We Unraveling?,” New York Times, 2016.
Reading 3: Simon Kuper, “Why We’re Reliving the 1970s,” Financial Times, 2015.
Reading 4: Greg Easterbrook, “When Did Optimism Become Uncool?,” New York Times, 2016.
Reading 5: Lane Kenworthy, “How Do We Know?,” The Good Society.

August 3 (W)
Economic prosperity
Reading 1: Robert Gordon, “Goodbye, Golden Age of Growth” BloombergView, 2016.
Reading 2: Lane Kenworthy, “Shared Prosperity,” The Good Society.

August 4 (Th)
The size of government
Reading 1: Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, “A Cure for Trumpism,” New York Times, 2016.
Reading 2: Lane Kenworthy, “How Much Public Insurance Do Americans Want?,” The Good Society.

August 8 (M)
International trade
Reading 1: Bernie Sanders, “Democrats Need to Wake Up,” New York Times, 2016.
Reading 2: Lane Kenworthy, “Trade,” The Good Society.

August 9 (Tu)
Reading 1: Reihan Salam, “Republicans Need a New Approach to Immigration,” National Review, 2016.
Reading 2: Mary Waters et al, “Summary,” The Integration of Immigrants into American Society, National Academies Press, 2016.

August 10 (W)
Economic security
Video: Steve James, “The Value of Work,” We the Economy, 2014, 7 minutes (free).
Reading 1: Nick Hanauer, “Confronting the Parasite Economy,” The American Prospect, 2016.
Reading 2: Alan Krueger, “The Minimum Wage: How Much Is Too Much?,” New York Times, 2015.

August 11 (Th)
Health care
Video: T.R. Reid, Sick Around the World, 2008, 53 minutes (free).
Reading: Editorial Board, “Obamacare’s Kindest Critic,” New York Times, 2016.

August 15 (M)
Income inequality
Reading 1: Joseph E. Stiglitz, “Inequality Is Not Inevitable,” New York Times, 2014.
Reading 2: Lane Kenworthy, “Income Inequality,” The Good Society.

August 16 (Tu)
Work-family-life balance
Video: California Newsreel, The Raising of America, 2015, Part 1 (“Signature Hour”), 58 minutes ($2).
Reading: Andrea Flynn, “A GOP-Style Approach to Parental Leave,” The Atlantic, 2015.

August 17 (W)
Racial justice
Reading: Pew Research Center, “King’s Dream Remains an Elusive Goal,” 2013 (read pp. 1-31).

August 18 (Th)
Marijuana legalization
Reading 1: Lane Kenworthy, “Marijuana Legalization,” The Good Society.
Reading 2: Christopher Ingraham, “Why This ‘Horrible’ Idea for How to Legalize Pot Could Be Worth Voting For,” Washington Post: Wonkblog, 2016.

Essay 1 due: Monday, August 22, in class

August 22 (M)
The cost of college
Video: Andrew Rossi, Ivory Tower, 2014, 90 minutes ($4).
Reading: Kevin Carey, “The Trouble with Hillary Clinton’s Free Tuition Plan,” New York Times, 2016.

August 23 (Tu)
Climate change
Reading: Lane Kenworthy, “Climate Stability,” The Good Society.

August 24 (W)
US military intervention abroad
Reading 1: Francis Fukuyama, “After Neoconservatism,” New York Times, 2006.
Reading 2: Nicholas Kristof, “Obama’s Worst Mistake,” New York Times, 2016.
Reading 3: Nicholas Kristof, “Do You Care More About a Dog Than a Refugee?,” New York Times, 2016.

August 25 (Th)
Reading 1: David Cole, “The Terror of Our Guns,” New York Review of Books, 2016.
Reading 2: Kim Stoffen, “To Reduce Suicides, Look at Guns,” Washington Post: Wonkblog, 2016.

August 29 (M)
Video: HBO Films and Institute of Medicine, The Weight of the Nation, Part 1: Consequences, 2012, 53 minutes (free)
Reading: Lane Kenworthy, “Weight Moderation,” The Good Society, 2015.

August 30 (Tu)
Political polarization
Reading: Lane Kenworthy, “Political Polarization,” The Good Society.

August 31 (W)
The 2016 election
Reading: Toni Monkovic, “50 Years of Electoral College Maps: How the US Turned Red and Blue,” New York Times, 2016.

Essay 2 due: Thursday, September 1, in class

September 1 (Th)
The 2016 election
Reading: Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, “Why Trump Can’t Break the GOP,” New York Times, 2016.

Final exam: Friday, September 2, 8:00-11:00am


Here’s what you should get from this course:

Approaching issues scientifically. Many of the issues we’ll look at are front-and-center in popular discussion, journalistic coverage, and political debate. This discussion would be better, and more helpful to policy makers, if it were more informed by science. Approaching an issue scientifically means, among other things, considering empirical evidence rather than relying mainly on theory or ethical beliefs, looking for data rather than anecdote(s), looking for multiple sources of evidence (“If hypothesis A were true, what else would we expect to observe?”), and thinking about whether some types of evidence are more useful, and thus should be weighted more heavily, than others.

Asking important questions. For any issue or topic, there are multiple questions we might want to answer. Many are of interest, but some are more important than others.

Understanding argument and evidence. For each class day, you will do the reading or watch the video in advance. In class you’ll 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 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.

Verbal 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 (I hope) have a good bit of discussion during regular class meetings.

Written communication. You will write two essays. Both are short, so I expect the quality of writing to be very high. Good writing usually comes from extensive editing. Write a draft. Then edit it. Then edit it again. And again.

Concision. Information and opinion are plentiful these days, so brevity is a valuable skill. The essays are short, so you’ll need to focus on the information and argument that is most relevant or useful.

Independent research. The two essays 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.

Substantive knowledge. Last, but not least, the course aims to improve your understanding of the issues we cover.


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
  • 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.


Pablo Perez-Ahumada
Teaching Assistant
Section A01, Tu Th 11:00–11:50, Sequoyah 147
Office hours: Tu Th 12:15–1:15, SSB 463

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’re allowed to miss one section meeting without penalty. If you miss two, your discussion section grade will be reduced by 5 points. If you miss three, it will be reduced by 15 points. If you miss four, it will be reduced by 25 points. If you miss more than four, your section grade will be zero.


Each day in class, beginning August 3, 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 18 quizzes; only your highest 15 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: What’s the most useful thing we could do to make housing more affordable in the US?
  • Essay 2: What’s the most useful thing we could do to increase happiness in America?

Due dates are listed above. An essay turned in late but within 48 hours of the deadline will be penalized 25 points (out of 100). An essay turned in more than 48 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.