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High School/Community College Essay Contest

The BB&T Center for the Study of Moral Foundations of Capitalism Competitions

Jessica Perez, 2013 high school winnerAnnie Lyons (second from left), winner of the 2014 high school competition, with her award. From left to right, Jennifer Orndorf, business service officer and AVP at BB&T, Dr. Karl Einolf, dean of the Bolte School of Business, and Dr. David Rehm.

To engage young people in discussions about economics, the human condition and their connection to the moral underpinnings of capitalism and individual and business ethics, the BB&T Center for the Study of the Moral Foundations of Capitalism sponsors an annual essay competition. The competition requires students to write an essay on a topic about the nature of economics, capitalism and the ethical challenges facing business today. 

The contest is open to high school students from the Maryland area. The winner receives a $400 cash prize and is eligible for a $1000 scholarship if they attend Mount St. Mary’s in the next three years. The second place award is a $200 cash prize.

The Essay

The BB&T Center’s mission is complex: to explore how views of the human condition influence social theory about economics and business, as well as attitudes toward the free market system. To touch on these ideas, and to keep the contest open to the maximum number of students, the 2016 essay includes two different options about which the contestants may write.

Option 1: Economic Policy: What factors make health care markets different from other markets? How do those factors shape possible health care reform policies?

Option 2: Economic Theory and the Human Condition: In what way(s) have assumptions about human nature—particularly free will, rationality, and creativity—shaped social theories about how people behave? How might this have influenced theories about economic behavior and/or attitudes toward various economic systems and policies? See essay contest website for further details and helpful resources.

The first option is a clear focus on economic theory and its connection to a public policy issue. This year’s topic is health care. Specifically, students who choose this essay must explore the economics of health care markets, what features are significant about health care markets and how that affects possible policy options to maximize the accessibility to health care, whether publicly or privately provided.

The second essay focuses upon the central theme of Mount St. Mary’s Center for the Study of the Moral Foundations of Capitalism: in what way(s) do ideas of the human condition affect thinking about economics and business. By its nature, this touches upon many different disciplines. As a result, this essay is intended to be open to a wide array of students from different backgrounds and from different high school courses: social science, psychology, sociology, political science, history, philosophy, theology and, yes, economics. While students may perceive that the economic theory question may be more likely to require an explicit course in economics, they should find that this question on human nature and economic theory does not. We also hope that this format makes the question useful to high school teachers who may wish to help their students integrate across multiple disciplinary areas.

The essay begins from the most basic questions about the human person generally—are we simply matter or is there something more, do we have free will, can we initiate action? It then considers how those assumptions shape social theory generally about how people behave, and then to specifically consider how that would shape theories in economics.

Additional guidelines and helpful suggestions for the human nature and economic theory question are posted below, as are some resources which students and teachers may consult for ideas. More details on the contest generally are available on the official Essay Competition flyer.

Note: while there are two choices regarding the topic, no preference is given to either topic. Essays are judged on the accuracy of the ideas, the quality of the thinking, and the effectiveness of the writing. Faculty members from Mount St. Mary's University evaluate the essays and select the winners.


► Renewing Our Experiment in Ordered Liberty
Michael S. Joyce; Religion and Liberty; September/October 1998
View the Action Institute website.

►The Lucretian Swerve: The Biological Basis of Human Behavior and the Criminal Justice System
Anthony R. Cashmore; Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences  Vol 107, #10 (March 9, 2010).

► “What is Man?”
B. F. Skinner; Chapter 9 from Beyond Freedom and Dignity; 1971

► “Making Room for Victims”
Tibor Machan; Chapter 3 from Initiative: Human Agency and Society; 2000

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