Politics of Scarcity at Penn State...No Comment

Glenn Ricketts

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Political Science departments usually offer a broad range of courses, from political theory to elections, to the presidency, to international relations.  They also give their students an increasing number of entries that focus on contemporary issues.  Here’s an example of how they’re doing the latter, from the undergraduate listings in the department at PennState’s main campus at University Park:

"The Politics of Scarcity" examines some "big" questions about the prospects for humans in general and democracy in the United States in particular. Much of the reading assumes that our civilization faces the twin problems of increasingly serious shortages of resources and a growing ecological crisis that threatens the basis of life. Further, it argues that these "twin crises" feed upon each other, and that together they pose serious short and long run challenges to survival. Some readings attribute these problems to the dominant values that characterize modern Western society. The course does consider some dissents from this perspective, arguments that things will be just fine. However, it concentrates on problems and predictions of trouble. Thus, the class does not claim to present an evenly balanced assessment. Rather, it recognizes that most of what we learn, read, and see supports the status quo and assumes our civilization and energy-dependent way of life will continue. Consequently it makes sense to emphasize the less frequently argued position that we may be headed for disaster.

The class aspires to appeal to students regardless of major or college -- to scientists, engineers, students of the humanities, and even economists and political scientists. It fulfills the University-wide general education requirement in Social Science. Although it discusses the role of politics in general and the role of the American political system in particular in discussing the "twin crises," it mostly grapples with fundamental questions of value that underlie and guide the play of power in our political system and with how the massive changes now taking place globally both affect and are affected by politics.

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