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2023 Student Essay Competition

The deadline for the 2023 Independent Review student essay contest was May 15, 2023. The winners announced on July 6, 2023 are:

First Place Winner: “Smith and Cicero on Philosophy in Action” by Phoebe Johnston (Faculty: Ivan Pongracic, Hillsdale College)
Prize: $3,500 

Second Place Winner: “Pumping Gas and Siphoning Rents: The Political Economy of Self-Service Laws” by Samuel Peterson (Faculty: Caleb Fuller, Grove City College)
Prize: $2,000

Third Place Winner: “Landlords, Banking, Merchants, and European Financial Systems: An Intellectual History of Richard Cantillon's Innovative Entrepreneurial Theory” by Meredith Kottom (Faculty: Charles Steele, Hillsdale College)
Prize: $1,000

We congratulate the winners of the Student Essay Competition. The winning essay by Phoebe Johnston will be featured in the Winter 2023/2024 edition of The Independent Review.

Social Justice. Crony Capitalism. Higher Education. Egalitarianism. Universal Basic Incomes. Populism. COVID. Classic Works of Political Economy. Economic Aspects of Great Works of Literature. The Future of the Economy. 

The Independent Review has published timely symposiums on these subjects in recent years and now invites undergraduates to write about these and other issues, with the best essay to be published in TIR in 2023. 



  • Paper Length: 2,500–5,000 words
  • Submission deadline: May 15, 2023
  • The first place winner will be selected by the editors of The Independent Review and will be published in the Winter 2023/24 issue.


  • Applicants must be 35 years of age or younger as of May 15, 2023. In other words, they must have been born on or after May 16, 1988.
  • Applicants must be enrolled in an accredited college or university as an undergraduate in Fall 2022 and/or Spring 2023.
  • Applicants may be either part-time or full-time students.
  • Applicants may be citizens or residents of any country.

Style Guidelines

  • Essays must be in English.
  • Essays must be submitted using the webform below
  • Essays must be in .doc or .docx format.
  • Essays must have a cover page with the essay’s title and the name of the author. 
  • Essays must be original works written by the submitter and must not have been previously published anywhere else. Plagiarism will not be tolerated and will be reported to the student’s school.

Suggested Topics

  • Social Justice
    Explore and critically assess the concept of social justice—relating it to ongoing debates in economics, history, philosophy, politics, public policy, religion, and the broader culture.
    Make sure to read the papers in TIR’s symposium on the topic.

  • Crony Capitalism
    Respond to Michael Munger and Mario Villarreal-Diaz’s essay questions: Suppose it’s true that capitalism has a tendency—it’s not inevitable, or irreversible, but a tendency nonetheless—to devolve into crony capitalism.  Is laissez-faire simply the first step on a kind of road to serfdom, where giant corporate syndicates achieve a parallel kind of economic planning every bit as pernicious as that feared by F.A. Hayek? Is it possible that cronyism is intrinsic to, and not separable from, capitalism?
    Make sure to read the papers in TIR’s symposium on the topic.

  • Future of Higher Education
    Critics say that American higher education has significant flaws and that these flaws will only worsen in coming decades.  Others say that American higher education continues to improve and that it is the best in the world.  What do you think?  What are the key problems higher education will face over the next 30 years?  Can they be fixed?  Will they be fixed?  How?  What will be the biggest opportunities for higher education in the next three decades?  How can it successfully grasp them?  Bottom line: How will higher education change?  How should it change?
    This symposium will be published in TIR in Winter 2022/23. 

  • Egalitarianism
    Papers should explore and critically assess the concept of egalitarianism—relating it to on-going debates in philosophy, politics, history, law, and economics.
    Make sure to read the papers in TIR’s symposium on the topic.

  • Universal Basic Income
    Is it time for the United States to adopt a universal basic income program?  Why or why not?
    Make sure to read the papers in TIR’s symposium on the topic.

  • Populism, Self-Government, and Liberty
    Papers should explore the nature of populism (within the United States and/or around the globe) and both the challenges and the opportunities it poses to classical liberal ideas, the political system, civil society and the economy.
    Make sure to read the papers in TIR’s symposium on the topic.

  • COVID Pandemic
    The COVID pandemic raises a host of issues for those concerned with the maintenance of a free society. What are the role and limits of entrepreneurship, civil society, and governments in preparing for and responding to health crises involving collective-action problems? What is the role, if any, of government regulation in matters of public health? Might regulations reduce well-being by stifling innovation and adaptations? And how do government responses to health crises empower Leviathan in ways that threaten individual freedom and liberty both in the immediate term and in the long term? 
    Make sure to read the papers in TIR’s symposium on the topic.

  • Political Economy of Great Works of Literature
    Papers will examine great works of literature—either individual works or multiple works by one author—to consider potential lessons for how to arrange human affairs. The papers will not aim to use economic analysis to help explain plot elements or note that story lines demonstrate economic principles.  Rather, the essays will grapple with what these thinkers can tell us about the political and economic arrangements that make for a flourishing society.  The essays will wrestle with these authors' understandings of human nature and how it relates to the working of political and economic institutions and culture.
    Make sure to read the papers in TIR’s symposium on the topic.

  • Classic Works of Political Economy
    Read or reread a classic work of political economy, put it in context, assess whether its arguments work, and discuss its usefulness for today.
    Make sure to read the papers in TIR’s symposium on the topic.

  • The Economic Future
    Forecast what the economy might look like 50 years from now—highlighting the most important trends that you foresee and the biggest challenges that will need to be faced by the U.S. or by the world.  Essays are encouraged to take a broad view of “the economy" and to consider social, political, demographic, and cultural trends as well.
    Make sure to read the papers in TIR’s symposium on the topic.

  • Other Topics
    The Independent Review has published a wide-range of articles on topics at the intersection of economics, politics, philosophy, law, and public policy since 1996.  Build on one or more of these articles to explore an important topic in political economy or critically examine a government policy. 

If you have questions, please contact Robert Whaples.

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