Soci 124: The Good Society


University of California, San Diego
Spring 2017-18
W 12:00-2:50, SSB 101

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 nations.


Readings are to be done before class.

Some of the readings are available via the course TritonEd page. There are three books you’ll need to purchase from the UC San Diego bookstore or another bookseller:

  • Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, Viking, 2018
  • 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
  • Anu Partanen, The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life, HarperCollins, 2016

April 4
Course introduction

  • Lane Kenworthy, Social Democratic Capitalism, book manuscript, ch. 5. Access via the course TritonEd page.

April 11
How things improve

  • Pinker, Enlightenment Now, chs. 1, 3-13.
  • Lane Kenworthy, “How Do We Know?,” The Good Society. LINK

April 18

  • Pinker, Enlightenment Now, chs. 14-23.

April 25
America’s successful past

  • Hacker and Pierson, American Amnesia, Introduction and chs. 1-5.

May 2
What went wrong?

  • Hacker and Pierson, American Amnesia, chs. 6-10.

May 9
Social democratic capitalism 1

  • Lane Kenworthy, Social Democratic Capitalism, chs. 1-2. Access via the course TritonEd page.

May 16
Social democratic capitalism 2

  • Partanen, The Nordic Theory of Everything, chs. 1-3, 5, 9.

May 23

  • Lane Kenworthy, Social Democratic Capitalism, ch. 6. Access via the course TritonEd page.

May 30

  • Lane Kenworthy, Social Democratic Capitalism, chs. 3-4. Access via the course TritonEd page.

June 6
Can it happen here?

  • Lane Kenworthy, Social Democratic Capitalism, book manuscript, ch. 7. Access via the course TritonEd page.
  • Hacker and Pierson, American Amnesia, Conclusion.

Final exam: Wednesday, June 13, 11:30-2:30.


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

  • 25%: in-class participation
  • 25%: essay 1
  • 25%: essay 2
  • 25%: final exam

Each of these will be graded on a scale of 0 to 100. So your numerical course grade is calculated as: (in-class discussion x .25) + (essay 1 grade x .25) + (essay 2 grade x .25) + (final exam x .25).

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.


To be announced


Participation in class discussion is required. Your participation grade will be based on your participation. There are lots of ways to do this: ask questions, comment, critique, explain, think out loud.

Attendance may also affect your grade. Beginning April 11, you’re allowed to miss one class day without penalty. If you miss two, your discussion grade will be reduced by 20 points. If you miss three or more, your participation grade will be zero. Attending class means being there for the full class.

The following won’t count as missed days: (1) holidays or special events observed by organized religions (for students who show affiliation with that particular religion), (2) absences pre-approved by the UC San Diego Dean of Students (or Dean’s designee), (3) extended illness (this requires a doctor’s note). Let me know if you miss a day for one of these three reasons. I’ll need written verification of the circumstances.


You will write two short essays. For each, pick one of the goals of a good society addressed in the course readings and propose a change in America’s policies or institutions that would increase the degree to which we achieve it. (Don’t use the same goal for both essays.)

Grading will be based on the following:

  • State the goal, current impediment(s), and your proposed solution.
  • 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), and 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 include the author(s), title, and year rather than simply listing an internet address.

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

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.

Upload your essay on TritonEd. Go to, log in, choose this course, and click on “Upload essays” in the left-side menu bar. Emailed or hard copy essays won’t be accepted.

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.