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RYAN BAKKEN: Think this question is easy? Think again.

This year's philosophical question for the Great American Think-Off is: "Do the wealthy have an obligation to help the poor?" In other words, the annual amateur philosophy contest in New York Mills, Minn., will be a repeat of this country's bigge...

Ryan Bakken
Ryan Bakken

This year's philosophical question for the Great American Think-Off is: "Do the wealthy have an obligation to help the poor?"

In other words, the annual amateur philosophy contest in New York Mills, Minn., will be a repeat of this country's biggest debate over the past six months -- health care reform.

Forget all the other health care arguments, which are sideshows. What it really came down to on both sides is the Think-Off topic. If the legislation passes, health care for the poor will be paid by higher taxes on the richest of the rich. Some people (Democrats) think this is morally right while some people (Republicans, especially the tea partiers) believe it's equally morally wrong.

The Think-Off organizers have never shied from controversial subjects. And, at no time has the town of New York Mills been burned to the ground. So, if you want to hear a civil debate on this issue, mark down June 12 on your calendar.

The competition starts by submitting an essay of 750 words or less. Judges then select four finalists, often two on each side. The four then make their cases in front of a live audience, which picks the winner. The champ is deemed "America's Greatest Thinker" for that year.

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As you can see by some of the past verdicts, the winners cross the political spectrum. Here are past Great Think-off questions and the winning argument.

- 2009: Is it sometimes wrong to do the right thing? Verdict: Yes.

- 2008: Does immigration strengthen or weaken the United States? Verdict: Weakens.

- 2007: What should you trust more, your head or your heart? Verdict: Heart.

- 2006: Which is more valuable to society, safety or freedom? Verdict: Freedom.

- 2005: Which benefits society more, competition or cooperation? Verdict: Cooperation.

- 2004: Should same sex marriage be prohibited? Verdict: No.

- 2003: Do we reap what we sow? Verdict: Yes.

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- 2002: Is the pen mightier than the sword? Verdict: No.

- 2001: Should assisted suicide be legal? Verdict: Yes.

- 2000: Is democracy fair? Verdict: Yes.

- 1999: What is more dangerous, science or religion? Verdict: Science.

- 1998: Is honesty always the best policy? Verdict: No (won by a priest).

- 1997: Is the death penalty ethical in a civilized society? Verdict: No.

- 1996: Does God exist? Verdict: Yes.

- 1995: Money or morality, which does society value more? Verdict: Money.

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- 1994: Does life have meaning? Verdict: Yes.

- 1993: The nature of humankind -- inherently good or inherently evil? Verdict: A hung jury.

There, that should be enough controversial topics to steer you clear of debating health care over morning coffee.

Reach Bakken at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 125; or send e-mail to rbakken@gfherald.com .

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