Semester Project Topics

To complete this assignment you are to choose one of the subjects listed below and treat it in the following manner:  Imagine yourself as either Senator Waltzenblick (who may of the party of your choosing) or as a senior aide to Senator Waltzenblick.  This topic is up for vote in the Senate and Senator Waltzenblick must convince three of her colleagues to join her and cast the deciding votes.  Your task it to write a white paper delineating the position Senator Waltzenblick should take, presenting a strong argument, grounded in justice as studied in your economic justice class from your undergraduate days at ‘dear ol’ Elon’, and defending that argument from opposing viewpoints.


Your white paper should be in one of two forms – a written document, or a presentation.  If you choose a written document you are to work alone.  If you choose a presentation you may work with (at most) one other person – or, of course, you may work alone here as well.  The presentation should be recorded in the medium of your choice (we prefer audio or video tape, but have no real objection to CD or DVD presentation).  The style of the paper/presentation is less important than the content, but a full bibliographic reference must be provided, either as a traditional bibliography in the case of a paper, or in the credits in the case of a presentation.


If none of these topics excite you, you may propose your own and we will consider adding it to the list.  As examples of student-proposed topics, look at several of the last ones on the list.


The work is due by the end of the time of the scheduled final exam for this course, 11:00am, Tuesday December 11, 2001.  You may turn it in to either one of us.


Is money speech? In 1976 the Supreme Court in Buckley v. Valeo ruled that it was constitutional to "limit political contributions to candidates for federal elective office by an individual or a group to $1,000 and by a political committee to $5,000 to any single candidate per election, with an overall annual limitation of $25,000 by an individual contributor. Last term they again addressed the issue in Federal Election Commission v. Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Committee.

In the past presidential election, John McCain made a strong showing in part because of his efforts to pass the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act. Related articles.  Those who oppose this reform argue that the first amendment guarantee of free speech precludes interference with political speech. The defense is base on a freedom claim. But as we have seen during this semester, there are several conceptions of liberty--"positive liberty" and "negative liberty". Write a paper in which you (1) explain the current state of the law, (2) list the main features of the McCain-Feingold act (and relevant alternative proposals), and (3) defend a position on this issue that explicitly uses the theoretical tools that we have provided you throughout the semester. In particular, you will want to deal with the notions of positive and negative liberty.

In recent years, various European governments have paid Jewish families to compensate them for the losses and injustices that they suffered during the Nazi era. Art galleries have returned stolen paintings to their rightful owners. Corporations have paid compensation to those who were forced into slave labor. The U.S. government has paid compensation to those Japanese who suffered internment at the beginning of World War II. In light of all of these precedents, members of the African-American community and others have recently begun to press the argument that the United States owes compensation to the ancestors of those from whom slave labor was extracted. Write a paper in which you (1) explain the underlying principles that lead to the precedents, (2) explain the factual and moral aspects of the case for reparation, and (3) present your assessment of the strength of the various sides of this issue.

Legal arguments

“The Case for Reparations” by Robert Fullinwider

Arguments against

Pro and con

In the early part of the twentieth century, poverty amongst the elderly was seen to be a serious problem.  Various policies were adopted and this problem was effectively addressed.  Today, children constitute the largest segment of the poverty population.  Child poverty in a country as wealthy as ours is surely an injustice.  In light of the various theories that we have discussed this semester, discuss this issue.  Review some of the proposals that have been put forward for dealing with this issue and discuss the political and cultural barriers to effectively dealing with this issue.  Consider, for example, proposals regarding increasing the EITC (earned income tax credit).  Cf: tax policy

The protesters in Seattle, Quebec, etc., i.e. the odd coalition of environmentalists, labor, indigenous peoples, etc, present a common front of opposition to supranational organizations such as the WTO - IMF.  What issues are they raising? What is being proposed? What vision is each side trying to advance? What issues of economic justice are in play here? 

What does this situation say about markets, government involvement, incentives, etc.?  Is this a case of corporate welfare?  Why is this a proper role for government?  Is this a case of market failure, or a case of intervention failure – clearly something has failed.  What is the justice argument in this case?

Why are we unwilling to allow the conservative model to operate in this sector?  Friedman advocates not assisting individuals based on their position, but on their situation.  Why not in the case of farmers?

Another possible market failure that needs explaining?  That is, can these shortages be explained as simply a market failure or are there some other factors in play?  What do principles of economic justice have to say about these cases and how they might be dealt with?

Some cultures view epidemiological drugs as a public good others see them as private goods. Explain and notice the basis of this difference. Also note that these are goods, which if viewed as public goods, most likely would never have come into existence. That is, goods can only be originally invented in a society in which those goods are at least initially viewed as private goods.  You might want to consider the case of Bayer.  In addition there is the case of the orphan drug – a pharmaceutical effective on a rare ailment and expensive to manufacture.  As a result, there are simply not enough people with the ailment to make production of the drug worthwhile.

What does economic justice have to say about the Government distributing its property at far less than market prices?  Is there a way to bring in justice to future generations in this kind of case?  What about the failure to have prices that reflect the real social costs (externalities or neighborhood effects), etc.

Do principles of economic justice illuminate issues of environmentalism?

Water and air are different from other natural resources in that they have no “place.”  The water flowing through the back of one farm is the same water used to generate electricity, fight fires, provide drinking and sewage water to a city and transportation to commerce.  How can we define rights of ownership (and, by implication, refusal) for a resource that must be shared.  How does the tragedy of the commons come into play here?  What are the principle issues of justice and how have we (should we?) address them?

This is one specific case of tariffs on imports.  Some have argued that this program provides support to domestic farmers but the cost to consumers is far greater than the total benefit to the farmers.  Others have argued that the support to the farmers is a necessary cost so that an important portion of our cultural heritage may be maintained and that this benefit, tough not quantifiable, is important and outweighs the consumers’ claim of excess burden.  On what principles (positions?) of justice can this program be evaluated and either defended or attacked.

A monopsony is the case where there is only one BUYER of a particular product (as opposed to a monopoly where there is only one SELLER).  What are the special considerations of economic justice that arise in these circumstances?  In the special case of the quintessential company town, a bi-lateral monopoly exists.  In this case there is only one buyer of labor (the company) and only one seller of labor (the union).  Economics can give no answers to the appropriate outcome of the bargaining – it is a question of power.  How can we view this situation through the lens of justice to arrive at an appropriate solution to what is often a violent impasse?

Look at the special difficulties that these cultures faced, especially politically and economically, after the collapse of the communistic system.  You should also consider the effect of the inclusion of these countries on the existing members of the EU.

What is involved in classifying something as a charity as compared with, for example, classifying it as a public good that it is appropriate for the central government to achieve with its tax revenues.  How does disaster aid through the United Methodist Committee on Relief differ (in terms of economic justice) from the Federal Emergence Management Administration and why might we be led to favor one approach over the other?

Beyond the basic point of the "diminishing value of marginal utility", what are the arguments (pro and con) surrounding the question of progressive taxation (income tax and others)?  What are the pros and cons of a negative income tax schema, of a “flat tax” proposal, of a “value added tax”, etc.



Hopwood v Texas

Grutter v Bollinger

There is a general moral duty of reparation.  If you have harmed someone, there is a duty to do what you can to return that person to wholeness.  After the passage of the Civil Rights Act, President Johnson said that the federal government would begin a process of “affirmative action” in order to remedy the past injustices that blacks had suffered at the hands of whites throughout the history of our country.  These programs have proven to be quite controversial.  By most objective measures (unemployment, education, infant mortality, average family income, health care) members of the African American community continue to suffer from the residual effects of past discrimination and (to some extent) from on-going current discriminatory practices. In 1978 the Bakke case held that “hard quotas” were unconstitutional .  A wide variety of alternative means have been attempted to try to achieve “fair equality of opportunity” in our society, and to provide just compensation for past injustices.  Using the principles and theories that we have discussed in this class, write a paper in which you address the current state of this debate.

There is a general misperception (myth) that the problem of too big a government is that it gives too much to the undeserving poor. A strong case can be made that shows that it is the middle class and the wealthy and corporations that receive by far the largest portion of governmental redistribution activity.  Write a paper that (1) makes this case (2) provides the appropriate theoretical foundation for criticism of this reality, and (3) defends steps to remedy this situation.  Notice that you are asked to take a particular side in this issue and defend it.

We need to look into the economic justice questions that surround the changing role of women since the Second World War, (entering the work force in large numbers, sexual revolution, effective contraceptives). For example, does the structure of the welfare system have a bias toward traditional male dominated hierarchal family structures? Does the distinction between paid and unpaid labor perpetuate a gender bias in society? Etc. etc.

o       To enable a decent, safe, and sanitary home and suitable living environment for every American

o       Creating opportunities for homeownership

o       Providing housing assistance for low-income persons

o       Working to create, rehabilitate and maintain the nation's affordable housing

o       Enforcing the nation's fair housing laws

o       Helping the homeless

o       Spurring economic growth in distressed neighborhoods

o       Helping local communities meet their development needs

HUD has executed various programs over the years to meet the specific needs of the society.  Currently, HUD 202 projects are being used to further their mission.  HUD 202 projects are living facilities that are designed to offer older, lower-income adults adequate housing at and affordable rate (approximately 30% of their adjusted income).  There are certainly issues of distributive justice with which to be concerned.  In light of the theorists presented in this course what are the strengths of the HUD 202 projects and how can they be criticized.  In other words, use the economic justice theories to evaluate the HUD 202 projects.  In particular, concentrate on whether an approach, such as HUD 202, which address the issue through Federal intervention, is appropriate, or should a private approach be employed?

·        Who has the right to satellite parking?  Ownership rights of geo-synchronous space are a controversial issue, and one that would likely be argued differently from the perspectives of Rawls, Nozick, and the utilitarians.  Outline this issue and propose a solution that is grounded in a theory of justice AND defended against at least one opposing theory of justice. 


·        What do you think about the topic of domestic partnership/same sex marriage and equal benefits for same sex partners, as an issue for federal legislation; forcing any governmental organization, as well as any business receiving money or contracts from the government to offer these benefits to their employees?  This seems fine.  However, you will need to make sure that you keep a focus on issues of economic justice.  For example, some would argue that this is the sort of thing that should be decided by the market place.  That is, some organizations will choose to provide such benefits and others will not.  If enough people want such benefits to be extended (or if the significant--i.e., highly desired employees--subset of the population want them) then companies will be forced to provide them.  On the other hand, if they are not demanded by sufficient numbers, then corporations can afford not to offer them.  Others would argue that this is not the sort of thing that should be left up to the market to decide.  Certainly the case for deciding this issue is much stronger in the case of state or federal workers.  Their claims are more easily converted into rights claims that are protected by constitutional or statutory law.  But can the case be made for passing a law that would require private corporations to provide such benefits for their employees?  For related links, see:

Baker v State The Vermont Supreme Court Decision ordering the Vt. legislature to come up with a law that provides equal protection of the law for gays in Vermont, The Vermont civil union statute.  Guide to Vermont's Civil Union Law, Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Recent Georgia ruling overturning that State's anti-Sodomy law, Bowers v Hardwick 478 US 186 (1986), Baehr v Lewin, Baehr v Miike, Loving v Virginia 388 US 1 (1967), Shahar v Bowers (Gay Marriage denied in Georgia), Romer v Evans____ US ____ (1996), Equality Foundation of Greater Cincinnati v City of Cincinnati ( Civil rights, not special rights)