This annual essay contest awards a $500 – $750 scholarship to the university of North Dakota student who submits the best essay on a question related to the theme Capitalism and the Public Good.

By establishing this award, Dr. Glassheim hopes to encourage critical analysis of capitalism’s claims, especially: whether there is such a thing as a self-regulating “market” based on self-interest; whether corporate capitalism functions by different rules than small scale capitalism; and whether unregulated capitalism is good for the economy, the environment, and the common good.

The contest is non-partisan and prioritizes no specific ideological position. IPPL welcomes all submissions as long as the essay is representative of thoughtful reflection and critical evaluation of the contest themes.

This contest is only open to students who will be enrolled at The University of North Dakota during the academic year following the submission deadline. The prize is awarded as a scholarship. 

Questions about the contest should be sent to



The world seems like it’s falling apart. Covid-19; violent exchanges between protestors, armed citizens, and the police; a divisive election that threatens to break America apart; wildfires exacerbated by climate change; and so much more. Many people feel that “capitalism” is to blame. Its critics charge that free-market excesses lead to indefensible income inequality, political oppression, and horrendous work conditions that force people into humiliating and dangerous part-time jobs with no benefits.

Defenders of capitalism see it the other way. They see the shutdown and quarantine as the cause of problems. Big government and lazy people are trampling on law-abiding and hard-working citizens, or so they claim. Capitalism is an economic system that promotes freedom, they say, but some people will always lose. That’s just the way it is.

Obviously, these positions are two extremes, and it is likely that the truth falls somewhere in between. But what is that truth? This essay is the opportunity for you to have your say.

How to write it:

The point of this essay is to examine the controversy and connect to it key philosophical ideas. You may take any position you want, including finding some middle ground, but you must explain the opposing positions in the debate. Compare arguments and evidence for each side—persuasively argue against yourself while you defend your ultimate conclusion.

The essay must conclude with a clear and definitive position. It should strive to be fair, not polemical, and can connect examples from popular culture, literature, science, or any other arena that helps clarify the controversy. It may also use evidence from political science, anthropology, psychology, history, economics, sociology, or any other discipline that asks about the human social experience.

The essay should be written for a general audience, not for a class or a teacher. Do not think of it as a research paper, but more like a magazine article or long-form blog post. It should be clear, thoughtful, and accessible to an average college student, not super-technical or confusingly abstract. The essay should not have extensive quotes or excessive footnotes, although it should have some quotes, at least. Classroom assignments will not be accepted without significant revision. Prospective authors are encouraged to look at previous years’ essays to see some winning examples.

Finally, essays will not be evaluated on what position they argue for, but on how well they argue that position. All conclusions have equal opportunity to win. IPPL is non-partisan and non-ideological.

Where to start:

We encourage you to find secondary sources from newspapers, magazines, and reputable websites, to bolster your position. But all roads must lead to philosophy. Since this is a philosophical essay, it should examine the key ideas and terms found in and around the question. Explicit connections to specific philosophers and schools of thought are welcome, although these ideas and references must be presented in non-technical language.

Some examples of relevant philosophical questions are: What is capitalism? Can there truly be a free market? Is competition helpful or harmful? Is social change possible under capitalism? Can capitalism counter climate change? How can the poor make their voices heard? Is protest incompatible with capitalism? What is equality of opportunity and is it possible? Can free markets rise above discrimination? Is education necessary to be an informed consumer? Is private property necessary? Must capitalism and democracy always be paired, or can you have one without the other?

We suggest looking at books such as Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, Michael Sandel’s What Money Can’t Buy, Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom, Alfie Kohn’s No Contest, and Naomi Klein’s No Logo or The Shock Doctrine. Two helpful magazine articles to get you started are “In order to understand the brutality of American capitalism, you have to start on the plantation” by Matthew Desmond (NY Times Magazine, August 14, 2019) and “This economist has a plan to fix capitalism. It’s time we all listened,” by Joad Medeiros (Wired, October 8, 2019). You are free, however, to choose your own sources.  


Entrants must be enrolled as a UND student in 2021-2022. Only one’s own work can be submitted, and group essays are not eligible. Essays must be original, never published, and be between 1500 and 2000 words. Prize money will be dispersed through UND in the form of a scholarship.

Due Date: March 1, 2021.

Submit via UND’s Scholarship Central. 

Submission deadline: March 1, 2021.
All entries should be submitted via UND’s scholarship central:
click here to sign in using your UND user name and password. 

Previous Winners

click on the title to read past winning papers:

“Does what we buy represent who we are?”

2018 winner
Matthew Scott Johnson.

Citizen Glassheim


Eliot Glassheim’s father was a businessman, a Rockefeller Republican. His mother, a special education teacher, was a Democrat. From them, he learned he learned the art and potential of compromise, the importance of respect and decency in public life, and the rightness of listening to people who might think differently.

For more than four decades, that has been the Eliot Glassheim way in Grand Forks. He brought those two parts of himself here from his New York origins, not as hobbling contradictions but as a template for honest engagement in public life. As a poet, philosopher, Educator, bookseller and activist—as a long-serving City Council member and state legislator—he has earned the title he prizes above all others, that of citizen.

He enjoys vigorous argument, but there is no spite, no dishonesty in it. He craves engagement despite an enduring shyness, and he listens actively, never passively. He can be eloquent and self-deprecating, New York urbane and North Dakota nice, and he is among the best at making a serious point with humor. He has taken to radio, TV and newspaper editorial pages, as well as to the City Council chambers and the floor of the North Dakota House of Representatives, to defend the idea of self-government at a time when many see government as the source of their problems, not the answer.

He literally wrote the book on the essential role of kindness in public life: Sweet Land of Decency: America’s question for a more perfect union.

We are a better community for it, and we say: Well done, citizen Glassheim.

— Written by Chuck Haga, from Eliot Glassheim: A Day of Recognition, May 2, 2015.

Some books that influence Eliot’s thinking:

Paul Goodman, Communitas.

Earnest Hemmingway, Old Man in the Sea.

Arthur Miller, The Crucible

He was particularly influenced by the 1957 film version of the Crucible, co-written by Jean-Paul Sartre.

Arthur Miller, Death of A Salesman.

Charles E Silberman, Crisis in the Classroom.

Thomas Wolf, Look Homeward Angel

Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States.


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