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May 17, 2011 7:23 PM   Subscribe

Help me think of essay topics relating to the national debt!

Timely, I know. So, like a complete idiot, I chose to take waaaaay too big of a course load this spring in an attempt avoid graduating late. Long story short, I'm in a freshman year English class and I have to write a medium length (10ish pages) argumentative research essay on the nation debt. No one is happy about paying $10k a quarter to get assigned an essay topic but here we are. I just spent a few hours reading up on the topic and feel reasonably knowledgeable on the subject.

I haven't taken a non-science class in a long time and honestly have forgotten how brainstorm ideas for an argumentative essay. Most papers I've written have a prompt and their is (are) one (a few) answers. Are there any topics about the debt I should be looking into? I find this stuff to be really dry and am having a hard time thinking of an argument I would be able to make. Their seems to be room for a technical economic analysis and argument, but I don't have the econ background to make any sense of hard econ journal articles.

I have another couple weeks to write a "C" paper and nothings coming to me. What the hell can be written by a layman on the debt?
posted by masterscruffy to Law & Government (9 answers total)
Response by poster: I probably should make it clear that I'm not looking for someone to write my paper for me, I just have no freaking idea where to start on this topic specifically. It seems like a need an advanced degree to touch this subject.
posted by masterscruffy at 7:29 PM on May 17, 2011

Best answer: A great source that breaks down big topics into arguable chunks is CQ Researcher. Check your school's library web site (look under databases) or library catalog to see if you can get free access; if not, I've linked to a pay version of a March issue that identifies a variety of causes, effects, and points of view.
posted by zepheria at 7:46 PM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

How about an argument for or against raising the debt limit?

Is this debt crisis like those faced by prior generations?

Is a national debt still a good idea - this would require going back to Madison and his original reasoning for having a national debt?

Look at some op ed pieces on the debt and see if you agree or disagree with them and why.
posted by Leezie at 7:53 PM on May 17, 2011

If you don't feel up to a hard-econ line, how about an historical examination of the relationship between national debt and reserve currency status, looking at the rise and fall of world reserve currencies? The argument being: does becoming the world's reserve currency sow the seeds of its own demise?
posted by holgate at 8:13 PM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

USA Inc is a good blow-by-blow, i.e., slide-by-slide, account of the debt situation.
posted by jchaw at 8:48 PM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

You want argumentative? Start here: Twitter.
posted by rhizome at 10:03 PM on May 17, 2011

Certain questions occur to me concerning the debt, which perhaps will suggest something to you in terms of a debate topic. Given that the American taxpayer, in most cases, has his or her own personal credit card debt/mortgage etc., and is also responsible for his or her portion of municipal, state, and federal debts (all of which are now rather high), how much debt is it realistic to assume? What will happen to America if the debt level becomes unsupportable? Will the IMF step in? Will China foreclose on America? Will the government default on its debts? Can the global economy surive such a crisis, and if not, what happens to the world? What kind of spending can the government eliminate in order to get its finances in order and stop borrowing money? Is there a cheaper way to combat global terrorism? A cheaper way to deal with addictive drugs? A cheaper way to deal with health care needs? And so forth.
posted by grizzled at 6:05 AM on May 18, 2011

If you're looking for a less technical aspect, I think the main argument over the debt is this: Over time, our economy grows; in econspeak, productivity growth is positive over almost any period of a few years or more. Our children will - on average - be richer than us, just as we were richer than our parents (again, on average). Given that fact, shouldn't we be able to take some money from them?

Again, translated into econ speak: total factor productivity growth is generally positive, so we could allow the capital stock (or, more precisely, the capital to output ratio) to decline and still have future generations to have the same real incomes as we have today.

This is essentially equivalent to one of the more profound debates in economics: What is the appropriate long-term social discount rate? This paper gives a short overview of that issue. It's often debated in the context of government investments (building a dam) or environmental issues (current expenditures to reduce future harm from global warming), but it's also applicable in this context.

OK, reading this over, maybe it's not "less technical," but it's not PURELY technical.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:33 AM on May 18, 2011

a. To generate ideas: read op-ed columns in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. (You can start by googling "Paul Krugman national debt") Those should give you some opposing views in layman's language to start with.

What you'd like to do is pick one or two that have a main thesis you disagree with. Your essay prompt can be "Describe x's argument. Do you agree or disagree? Explain why, using real-world examples. If possible, describe what you think the correct alternative view is."

b. Talk to your prof during office hours and bring a few ideas, ask for help in turning the ideas into a suitable topic/thesis.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:53 AM on May 18, 2011

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