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 question: Does what we buy represent who we are?

Look at any group of Americans and you’ll see brand names on people’s sweatshirts. From clothing shops like Abercrombie & Fitch to sports teams like the Minnesota Vikings, people use clothing to communicate their loyalties. The same is true of electronics. Ask people if they are an iPhone or an Android person, or if they have a Mac or PC, and someone is going to take issue with their choice. Why is this? What is it about brand loyalties that advertise someone’s personality and is it a good thing that we see people in terms of their purchases? Does it promote a healthy community? Does economic preference accurately reflect the human experience? What is the relationship between human identity and human action? Does the marketplace falsely equate economic choice with human freedom?

This essay should answer the question from a philosophical perspective. It should explore the themes mentioned above, including identity, freedom, choice, and what it means to live in a free-market society. It should address social expectations, what it means to “fit in,” and what it means to be “cool,” among other themes the author chooses to highlight. It can incorporate concepts from sociology, psychology, folklore, marketing, and of courses economics. However, it must remain first and foremost a philosophical discussion, and one written for a general audience, not one written for a class or a teacher. This means that referring to specific philosophers and schools of thought is encouraged, but all of their ideas and references must be presented in lay language. Quotes should not be excessive. We are interested in their ideas, not the text themselves. Also, make sure the conclusion answers the question directly in the form of “What we buy does represent who we are because…” or “What we buy does not represent who we are because…” It should be clear to the reader. (Please note: you will not be evaluated on what position you take. All conclusions have equal opportunity to win; IPPL is non-partisan and non-ideological.)

Entrants must be enrolled as a UND student in 2018-2019; 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. While the essays should be scholarly and thoughtful, they should be written for a general audience and not for a classroom setting. As such, they should not be research papers or have excessive footnotes. Classroom assignments will not be accepted without significant revision. Prize money will be dispersed through UND in the form of a scholarship.

Please send the paper, as a PDF file to: with the subject line reading “Glassheim Essay Award.” The winning essay will be published and archived on this website, and publicized by IPPL..

Submission deadline: February 15, 2018. 

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

 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.


2017 Essay Question: “Will making college free improve education?”

There has been a lot of political discussioabout making college education free for all (or some) Americans. Yet, people disagree as to whether it is a good idea.

True, free education would provide college access to many who can’t afford it, but some claim it would lessen the value of an education and others claim it would hurt students’ motivation.

At the heart of this discussion are great philosophical questions. Some have to do with rights and human nature. For example: Is education a right or a privilege? What motivates people to succeed? Does scarcity make something more valuable? Others have to do with equal opportunity: Is it money or prejudice that prevents people from having access to college? Is college itself a process that weeds people out—is it designed for only certain people and not others? And, then there are questions of economic justice: if college is free, will it help the wealthy as much as the poor? Is this really a program to buy off middle-class voters?

Winner: Katy Ramey, student, University of North Dakota College of Education.


Click here to read Katy’s essay