Soci 124: The Good Society (2019)

University of California, San Diego
Spring 2018-19
W 5:00-7:50, HSS 2154

Lane Kenworthy
Office hours: W 9-11, SSB 472


What institutions and policies are conducive to liberty, democracy, prosperity, economic security, opportunity, community, health, happiness, and other desirable features of a modern society? To what extent are there tradeoffs? This course aims to answer these questions by examining the history and performance of key policies and institutions in the United States and other affluent democratic nations.


There are three required books. The first two can be purchased from the UC San Diego bookstore or another bookseller or accessed via the library. The third (Kenworthy) book is available via the course TritonEd page. The other course readings are accessible via links in the schedule below.

  • Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, Viking, 2018
  • Ronald F. Inglehart, Cultural Evolution, Cambridge University Press, 2018
  • Lane Kenworthy, Social Democratic Capitalism, Oxford University Press, 2019 (forthcoming)

You’ll also need an iclicker, which you can purchase at the campus bookstore.


All readings are to be done before class (except week 1).

Week 1
April 3

  • Lane Kenworthy, “What Is a Good Society?,” The Good Society. LINK
  • Lane Kenworthy, “How Do We Know?,” The Good Society. LINK
  • Lane Kenworthy, “Progress,” The Good Society. LINK
  • Lane Kenworthy, “America Is Exceptional … and Ordinary,” The Good Society. LINK

Week 2
April 10
Successes, part 1

  • Pinker, Enlightenment Now, chs. 1, 3-10.

Week 3
April 17
Successes, part 2

  • Pinker, Enlightenment Now, chs. 11-18.

Week 4
April 24
Successes, part 3

  • Inglehart, Cultural Evolution, Introduction and chs. 1-6.

Week 5
May 1
Successes, part 4

  • Kenworthy, Social Democratic Capitalism, chs. 2-3.

Week 6
May 8
Failure? The United States since 1979

  • Kenworthy, Social Democratic Capitalism, ch. 6.

Week 7
May 15
Solutions: social democratic America

  • Kenworthy, Social Democratic Capitalism, chs. 7-8.

Week 8
May 22
Solutions: less government, more community

  • Milton Friedman and Rose Friedman, Free to Choose, 1979, ch. 1. LINK
  • Alan Greenspan and Adrian Wooldridge, Capitalism in America, Penguin, 2018, pp. 389-417, 440-450. LINK
  • Yuval Levin, “The Real Debate,” The Weekly Standard, 2012. LINK
  • Kenworthy, Social Democratic Capitalism, ch. 4.

Book review 1 due: Tuesday, May 28, 10:00am

Week 9
May 29
Solutions: less inequality, more government

  • Joseph E. Stiglitz, “Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%,” Vanity Fair, 2011. LINK
  • Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, “Making America Great Again: The Case for the Mixed Economy,” Foreign Affairs, 2016. LINK

Week 10
June 5
Solutions: beyond capitalism?

  • Wolfgang Streeck, “How Will Capitalism End?,” New Left Review, 2014. LINK
  • Erik Olin Wright, “Reducing Income and Wealth Inequality: Real Utopian Proposals,” Contemporary Sociology, 2000. LINK
  • Joseph M. Schwartz and Bhaskar Sunkara, “Social Democracy Is Good. But Not Good Enough,” Jacobin, 2017. LINK

Book review 2 due: Friday, June 14, 10:00pm.


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 one or more readings in advance. In class you’ll be quizzed on the information in the reading(s). Focus on the question(s) being posed, the answer(s) given, 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 issues we’ll examine are big and complicated. 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 like detective work: seldom is the story 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.

Spotting the progress. Social scientists and journalists often emphasize our problems and shortfalls. That’s helpful, because it spurs us to do better and (hopefully) helps us figure out how to do so. But it can also give us the impression that things are getting worse. Sometimes that’s accurate, but in other instances it’s misleading. In fact, in many areas of life things have been improving and we could be doing better.

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. Class will include both lecture and discussion. I encourage all students to participate in the discussion.

Written communication. You will write two book reviews. I expect the quality of writing to be very high. If you struggle with writing, you’re like virtually everyone else. 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 book reviews you will write are short, so you’ll need to focus on the information and argument that is most relevant or useful.

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 clearly.

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


The best available evidence suggests that college students learn more when not using laptops, tablets, or phones during class. If you want to take notes, use pen and paper. If you need an exception to this policy, please see me.


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

  • 40%: quizzes
  • 30%: book review 1
  • 30%: book review 2

Each of these will be graded on a scale of 0 to 100. So your numerical course grade is calculated as: (quizzes x .40) + (first book review x .30) + (second book review x .30).

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

  • 96.67 and above = A+
  • 93.34–96.66 = A
  • 90–93.33 = A–
  • 86.67–89.99 = B+
  • 83.34–86.66 = B
  • 80–83.33 = B–
  • 76.67–79.99 = C+
  • 73.34–76.66 = C
  • 70–73.33 = C–
  • 60–69.99 = D
  • below 60 = F

There will be no extra-credit projects or assignments.


Each day in class, beginning on our third class meeting, you will take two short quizzes on the reading(s) for that day, one during the first 80 minutes of class and the other during the last 80 minutes. Each quiz will have five multiple choice or true/false questions. You will answer the questions using your iclicker. There will be 16 quizzes; only your highest 13 grades will count.

Quiz grading: If you answer at least four questions, you will get 50 points (even if you have no correct answers). For each correct answer, you get ten additional points. 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.

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.

Two pieces of advice for the quizzes: (1) Evidence is important, but don’t get overly bogged down in detail — exact numbers, precise dates, and so on. (2) Don’t overthink the quiz questions. Don’t assume I’m trying to trick you.


Write a critical review of a book. What is its conclusion? Are its argument and evidence convincing? Why or why not?

You will do two of these reviews. The due dates are listed in the schedule above. Choose from the following list:

  • Timothy P. Carney, Alienated America: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse, Harper, 2019
  • Milton Friedman and Rose Friedman, Free to Choose, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979
  • Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper, Simon and Schuster, 2016
  • Charles Murray, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, Crown, 2012
  • Robert D. Putnam, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, Simon and Schuster, 2015
  • Bhaskar Sunkara, The Socialist Manifesto, Basic Books, 2019
  • Ruy Teixeira, The Optimistic Leftist, St. Martin’s Press, 2017

Write each review in an essay of 1,000 words, plus or minus no more than 100.

Write clearly. And use proper grammar and punctuation (“I,” “me,” and contractions are fine). If you need help with writing, consider seeking assistance from the UC San Diego Writing and Critical Expression Hub.

Formatting: single-space, 12-point font size, 1-inch top and bottom margins and 2-inch side margins. List your word count (exclude footnotes) on the first page, along with your name and the date.

Sources and citations: You may draw on course readings and/or outside sources. 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 include the author(s), title, and year rather than just an internet address.

The due dates are listed above. A book review turned in late but within 48 hours of the deadline will be penalized 25 points (out of 100). A book review turned in more than 48 hours late, or not turned in at all, will receive a grade of zero.

Upload your book reviews on TritonEd. Go to, log in, choose this course, and click on “Upload book review” in the blue menu bar. Emailed or hard copy book reviews won’t be accepted.

Submit the book reviews in a word processing program format (Microsoft Word, Google docs, Pages, etc.). Don’t submit them as pdf documents.

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.

For some sample book reviews, see here and here.


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). 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.