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

This year’s (2019) question: “Do people today confuse having stuff with well-being?” (1500-2000 words)

Wearables are the new big thing. From Fitbits to Apple Watches to Garmins, there is great pressure to record our steps, heartbeat, and other activities. These objects are supposed to make us healthier and happier. Do they? Or, do we just confuse buying them with accomplishing something?

This same tendency to “externalize” our wellness is found outside of exercise. We subscribe to Netflix and Spotify to make us happy, thinking that having more shows and music is better than having less, and that owning a phone that takes higher resolution photos or plays faster games is always an improvement. People even subscribe to food delivery services like Blue Apron that provides pre-chopped and pre-measured ingredients to make cooking as effortless as possible. Is getting these packages a meaningful substitute for shopping and meal planning, or does it undermine our agency and independence? Can we even say that Blue Apron patrons have the same “ownership” over their food? In short, are we all giving up too much to the services that make our lives easier? Are we ending up with too much stuff and not enough self-knowledge?

These are the themes and puzzles that run through this year’s Glassheim essay question: “Do people today confuse having stuff with well-being?” We are interested in essays that examine whether we are being misled into thinking that personal wellness is better achieved by providing more options, more convenience, more technology, and more objects. Of course, we may not be wrong. Wearables provide incredible information for athletes and streaming services offer people access to some of the greatest entertainment ever created. When it comes to Blue Apron, there’s nothing inherently wrong with making people’s lives easier, especially when everyone is so busy. Self-knowledge is a complicated process.

Your essay should examine both sides of the issue and present an argument for one or the other. It should strive to be fair, not polemical, and connect examples from popular culture, literature, science, or any other arena that helps clarify the controversy. It can also use evidence from political science, anthropology, psychology, history, economics, sociology, or any other discipline that asks about the human social experience. But first and foremost, this is a philosophy essay, so it should examine the key ideas and terms found in and around the question. Some examples of relevant questions are: What is wellness? Is buying something the same as doing something? What is independence? What is agency? How do we motivate change? What is the relationship between what we do and who we are? What does it mean to know yourself?

The essay should be written for a general audience, not for a class or a teacher. It should be clear, thoughtful, and accessible to an average college student, not super technical or confusingly abstract. The essays should not be research papers, have extensive quotes, or have excessive footnotes. Classroom assignments will not be accepted without significant revision. Writers are encouraged to refer to specific philosophers and schools of thought, but these ideas and references must be presented in lay language, for the most part. Finally, essays will not be evaluated on what position they argue for. All conclusions have equal opportunity to win. IPPL is non-partisan and non-ideological.

Entrants must be enrolled as a UND student in 2019-2020; 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.

Submission deadline: March 1, 2019.
All entries should be submitted via UND’s scholarship central:
click here to sign in using your UND user name and password. 

Download a high-quality poster of this year’s competition here.

Previous Winners

click on the picture or title to read the past winning papers

“Does what we buy represent who we are?”
2008 winner, Matthew Scott Johnson.


“Will making college free, improve education?
2017 winner, Katey Ramey


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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