Soci 124: The Good Society (2023)

University of California-San Diego
Winter 2022-23
Tu Th 2:00-3:20, Pepper Canyon 120

Lane Kenworthy
Office hours:, M 11:00-1:00 and by appointment
Tel: 858-860-6124

Teaching Assistant: Panayiotis Sofocleous
Office hours:, W 10:00-12:00 and by appointment

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This course examines the history and performance of key policies and institutions in the United States and other rich democratic countries, with an emphasis on the following questions:

  • In thinking about what a “good society” would consist of, philosophers, social scientists, policy makers, and ordinary citizens point to liberty, democracy, prosperity, economic security, opportunity, community, safety, health, and happiness, among others. How can we decide which of these, if any, to prioritize?
  • What evidence should we use in judging whether one society is better than another?
  • How much progress have humans made? On which outcomes?
  • What are the causes of progress?
  • Is material advance (economic growth) a means to the good society, an end in itself, both, neither?
  • Have people’s beliefs and preferences gotten better over time? If so, why?
  • What institutions and policies are most 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? For instance, can policies and institutions reduce poverty only by restricting liberty?
  • Are there grounds for thinking that institutions or policies not yet tried would do better than the best ones currently in existence?

Class will be mainly lecture. Attendance is mandatory.

Once each week you’ll write a short comment on the questions, evidence, and conclusions covered in class, and you’ll write responses to the comments of two other students.

As a group, you’ll explore a radical proposal: weakening the power of big business. You will examine evidence and reasoning for and against this proposal. You’ll deliberate collectively. You’ll prepare a two-page group document on a proposal that the United States enact a policy mandating that any for-profit firm with a US market share of more than 40%, or that’s one among two or three or four that have a combined market share of more than 80%, be broken up.

You also will write a short paper on what you think is missing or wrong in the instructor’s vision of the good society.


Day 1: Tuesday, Jan 10

Day 2: Thursday, Jan 12

Day 3: Tuesday, Jan 17

Day 4: Thursday, Jan 19
Social democratic capitalism

Day 5: Tuesday, Jan 24
Social democratic America

Day 6: Thursday, Jan 26
Deliberative advisory assembly discussion #1

Day 7: Tuesday, Jan 31
How to get there

Day 8: Thursday, Feb 2
Labor unions

Day 9: Tuesday, Feb 7
Why not a universal basic income?

Day 10: Thursday, Feb 9
Deliberative advisory assembly discussion #2

Day 11: Tuesday, Feb 14
Should we scale back globalization, or increase it?

Day 12: Thursday, Feb 16
Should income and wealth equality be a priority?

Day 13: Tuesday, Feb 21
Will government steering boost economic growth?

Day 14: Thursday, Feb 23
Deliberative advisory assembly discussion #3

Day 15: Tuesday, Feb 28
Does capitalist finance do more harm than good?

Day 16: Thursday, March 2
Would more public ownership be better?

Day 17: Tuesday, March 7
Do we want economic democracy?

Day 18: Thursday, March 9 (no class)
Does a capitalist economy permit truly democratic politics?

Day 19: Tuesday, March 14
Deliberative advisory assembly discussion #4

Day 20: Thursday, March 16
Can community flourish in modern capitalism?

Thursday, March 23, 11:59pm
Deliberative advisory assembly project document due

Thursday, March 23, 11:59pm
Paper due


Here’s what you should get from this course:

  • Substantive knowledge. The course aims to improve your understanding of the topics we cover.
  • Approaching issues scientifically (this is often called “critical thinking”). This means examining evidence and reasoning from that evidence rather than relying solely on theory, ethical beliefs, or anecdotes. Social science often is similar to detective work, with the social scientist more like Sherlock Holmes than like a chemist in a lab. Seldom is the story simple, and rarely do we have the exact evidence we would need in order to be strongly confident about our conclusion. So we use various types of data, and we may deploy a mixture of analytical methods. We ask: “What would we expect to observe if a particular hypothesis were true? Is that what we in fact observe? If so or if not, what does that tell us about the answer to our question?” Then we piece together a conclusion from multiple imperfect and incomplete bits of evidence. For each reading, video, or podcast, focus on the question(s) being posed, the answer(s) given, the key pieces of evidence, and the way the author reasons in reaching a conclusion.
  • Working in groups. A good bit of life — in a job, in a family, and in other contexts — involves working with other people to accomplish a goal. The deliberative advisory assembly project in this course aims to improve your group-work comfort and skill.
  • Good argument. The course is designed to improve your ability to develop and convey 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.
  • Written communication. Good writing usually comes from two things. The first is clear thinking. But writing isn’t just a way to express what you’re thinking; it’s a way to clarify your thinking. Don’t wait until you have it all figured out before beginning to write. Start writing; doing so will help you develop your thoughts. The second key is extensive editing. Write a draft. Then edit it. Then edit it again. And again. (For a helpful guide to good writing, see this.) If you struggle with writing, you’re like virtually everyone else. The course aims to help you improve, by practicing.
  • Concision. Information and opinion are plentiful these days, so brevity is a valuable skill. The writing assignments for the course are short, so you’ll need to focus on the information and argument that is most relevant or useful.
  • 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.


Most of the readings are from a digital textbook: Lane Kenworthy, The Good Society. It’s online and free. Direct links to the chapters, and to additional required readings and videos, are in Canvas.

There are separate readings for the deliberative advisory assembly project.


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

  • 10%: class attendance
  • 30%: discussion board comments and responses
  • 30%: deliberative advisory assembly project (group grade)
  • 30%: paper

Each of these will be graded on a scale of 0 to 100. So your numerical course grade is calculated as: (class attendance x .10) + (discussion board comments and responses x .30) + (deliberative advisory assembly project x .30) + (paper x .30).

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

  • 96.67 to 100 = A+
  • 93.34 to 96.66 = A
  • 90 to 93.33 = A–
  • 86.67 to 89.99 = B+
  • 83.34 to 86.66 = B
  • 80 to 83.33 = B–
  • 76.67 to 79.99 = C+
  • 73.34 to 76.66 = C
  • 70 to 73.33 = C–
  • 60 to 69.99 = D
  • below 60 = F

There will be no extra-credit projects or assignments.


No laptops, tablets, or phones in the classroom. The best available evidence suggests that college students learn more when not using electronics during class. If you want to take notes, use pen and paper. If you need an exception to this policy, please see me.

On days 3 through 20, class attendance is required. You don’t have to talk, but you must show up.

Grading for attendance:

  • 100: 17 or 18 days
  • 95: 16 days
  • 90: 15 days
  • 80: 14 days
  • 70: 13 days
  • 60: 12 days
  • 50: 11 days
  • 40: 10 days
  • 30: 9 days
  • 20: 8 days
  • 10: 7 days
  • 0: 0 to 6 days


Each week, beginning in week 2, you’ll write a short comment on the questions, evidence, and conclusions explored in class and in the course materials and post it to a discussion board on Canvas. These are due at 11:59pm on Thursdays. You will also write brief responses to the comments of two other students. These responses are due at 11:59pm on Sundays. You have to post your own comment before you’re allowed to see the comments posted by other students.

Comments should address something in the course materials, should engage with evidence, and should be written well. Here are a few examples, just to give you a feel. You don’t need to follow these examples; this is just to provide some ideas in case you aren’t sure what is expected.

  • The core conclusion in Tuesday’s lecture was interesting, but I’m not convinced, because it overlooked ….
  • In lecture Professor Kenworthy showed a graph of poverty rates over time and said the trend supports a conclusion that government social policy reduces poverty. But it seems to me that’s wrong because ….
  • In today’s reading, the author argues that women’s freedom increased because more were entering paid work. If that were true, I think we’d expect to see …, but there’s no mention of this.

If you have the Canvas app, you can post your comment and responses using your phone. But don’t write as though you’re texting or tweeting. Write real sentences and use proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

Grading for each discussion board comment and responses:

  • 100: comment and two responses submitted, excellent quality, well written, comment includes evidence
  • 95: comment and two responses submitted, very good quality, well written, comment includes evidence
  • 85: comment and two responses submitted, good quality, well written, comment includes evidence
  • 75: comment and two responses submitted but low quality or poorly written or comment doesn’t include evidence
  • 60: comment submitted but only one response
  • 50: comment submitted but no responses
  • 0: no comment submitted

There will be 9 discussion boards. Only your 8 highest grades will count.


You will, collectively, research and discuss the following proposed law for the United States: Any for-profit firm that has a US market share of more than 40%, or that’s one among two or three or four that have a combined market share of more than 80%, must be broken up into two or more smaller companies. You will prepare a two-page document stating the most important fact-based findings about the proposal, the strongest pro and con arguments, and your recommendation as to whether the proposed law should or shouldn’t be enacted.

You’ll decide how to divide up the readings, writing, editing, and any other tasks.

You will receive a group grade for this project.

Required materials:

  • Kenworthy, Lane. “Introduction to Deliberative Advisory Assemblies.”
  • Atkinson, Robert D. 2021. “The Myth of Local Labor Market Monopsony.” Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.
  • Atkinson, Robert D. and Filipe Lage de Sousa. 2021. “No, Monopoly Has Not Grown.” Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.
  • Atkinson, Robert D. and Michael Lind. 2018. Big Is Beautiful: Debunking the Myth of Small Business. MIT Press.
  • Casselman, Ben. 2016. “AT&T’s Merger Could Be a Bad Sign for the Economy.” FiveThirtyEight, October 25.
  • Cowen, Tyler. 2020. Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero. Picador.
  • Furman, Jason. 2016. “Beyond Antitrust: The Role of Competition Policy in Promoting Inclusive Growth.”
  • Gallup. “Big Business.”
  • Groundwork Collaborative. 2022. “The Real Inflation Problem: Corporate Profiteering.” March.
  • Jarsulic, Marc, Ethan Gurwitz, Kate Bahn, and Andy Green. 2016. “Reviving Antitrust: Why Our Economy Needs a Progressive Competition Policy.” Center for American Progress. June.
  • Khan, Lina. 2016. “New Tools to Promote Competition.” Democracy Journal, Fall.
  • Krugman, Paul. 2013. “Profits without Production.” New York Times, June 20.
  • Leonhardt, David. 2019. “Big Business Is Overcharging You $5,000 a Year.” New York Times, November 10.
  • Lynn, Barry C. and Phillip Longman. 2010. “Who Broke America’s Jobs Machine?” Washington Monthly, March 30.
  • Micklethwait, John and Adrian Woolridge. 2003. The Company: A Short History of a Revolutionary Idea. Modern Library.
  • Nutting, Rex. 2017. “America’s Most Successful Companies Are Killing the Economy.” MarketWatch, June 17.
  • Open Markets Institute. 2022. “Monopoly by the Numbers.”
  • Quiggin, John. 2022. “Would We Be Better Off Without Corporations?” Crooked Timber, July 5.
  • Reich, Robert B. 2019. “Does America Have a Monopoly Problem?” Testimony to the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy, and Consumer Rights, Senate Judiciary Committee, March 5.
  • Reich, Robert B. 2021. “We Need to Talk About the Real Reason Behind US Inflation.” The Guardian, November 11.
  • Sanchez Cumming, Carmen. 2022. “A Primer on Monopsony Power: Its Causes, Consequences, and Implications for U.S. Workers and Economic Growth.” Washington Center for Equitable Growth, July 27.
  • Smarsh, Sarah. 2022. “What Growing Up on a Small Farm Taught Me About Humility.” New York Times, December 21.
  • Stiglitz, Joseph. 2017. “America Has a Monopoly Problem — and It’s Huge.” The Nation, October 23.
  • Thompson, Derek. 2016. “America’s Monopoly Problem: How Big Business Jammed the Wheels of Innovation.” The Atlantic, October.
  • Wu, Tim. 2018. The Curse of Bigness. Columbia Global Reports.

Additional optional materials: deliberative advisory assemblies

  • Farrell, David. 2019. “Deliberative Democracy in Ireland.” Podcast. Europe’s New Political Economy, Episode 2, November 15. (30 minutes; scroll down the page to find episode 2)
  • Healthy Democracy. “Citizens Initiative Review: Informing Voters Through Citizen-Centered Deliberative Democracy.” (2 pages)
  • Bächtiger, Andre, John S. Dryzek, Jane Mansbridge, and Mark Warren, eds. 2018. Oxford Handbook of Deliberative Democracy. Oxford University Press.
  • Dryzek, John S. et al. 2019. “The Crisis of Democracy and the Science of Deliberation.” Science 363, 1144-1146.
  • The Economist. 2020. “Citizen Assemblies Are Increasingly Popular. Do They Work?” September 19.
  • Gastil, John, Erik Olin Wright, et al. 2019. Legislature by Lot: Transformative Designs for Deliberative Governance. Verso.
  • Landemore, Hélène. 2020. Open Democracy: Reinventing Popular Rule for the Twenty-First Century. Princeton University Press.

Additional optional materials: big business

  • Galbraith, John Kenneth. 1967. The New Industrial State. Houghton Mifflin.
  • Chandler, Alfred. 1977. The Visible Hand. Harvard University Press.


What’s missing from or wrong with the portrait of the good society in the “Life in the Good Society” reading?

Grading will be based on the following:

  • Answer the question.
  • Refer to relevant evidence.
  • Address potential objections. What would a critic say are the weak points in your case? How do you respond?
  • 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.
  • Write clearly. Use proper grammar and punctuation (“I,” “me,” and contractions are fine).
  • Length: No more than 1,000 words (excluding charts, tables, and footnotes). List your word count on the first page, along with your name and the date. If you include charts and/or tables, put them at the end and don’t include them in the word count. Formatting: single-space, 12-point font size, 1-inch top and bottom margins and 2-inch side margins.

You should draw on the course materials. You can also use outside sources if you wish, but that isn’t required.

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

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

Upload your paper on the Canvas course page.

Submit the paper in a word processing program format (Google docs, Microsoft Word, Pages, etc.). Don’t submit it as a pdf document.

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

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.


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.