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May 2014 posts

Does economics need religion?

Mark D. White

Thanks to my globetrotting co-blogger Jonathan Wight, who emailed me about this: a symposium in Econ Journal Watch titled "Does Economics Need an Infusion of Religious or Quasi-Religious Formulations?", anchored by Robin Klay's article "Where Do Economists of Faith Hang Out? Their Journals and Associations, plus Luminaries Among Them" and featuring seventeen short responses from people such as Ross Emmett, Dan Finn, David George, Mary Hirschfeld, Eric Rasmusen, and Andrew Yuengert. Bless tham all.

Special issue of Ethical Theory and Moral Practice: Private Autonomy, Public Paternalism?

Mark D. White

The latest issue of Ethical Theory and Moral Practice (17/3, June 2014) is devoted to the theme "Private Autonomy, Public Paternalism?" and features articles by Joel Anderson, John Christman, Bijan Fateh-Moghadam and Thomas Gutmann, John Kultgen, Amy Mullin, and Diana Tietjens Meyers. Rather than link to each article, I'll reproduce part of the editor's introduction (open access):

A special issue on ‘Private Autonomy and Public Paternalism’ constitutes the first part of this issue. Guest-editors are Annette Dufner and Michael Kühler, both from the University of Munster, Germany. It is often assumed that personal autonomy is a ‘private’ matter in the sense that it is based primarily on a person’s subjective characteristics and capabilities. At the same time, the literature mainly deals with paternalism as a problem of the ‘public’ sphere, for example by focusing on the dangers that threaten the autonomy of individuals as citizens, such as state paternalism. However, it is widely acknowledged nowadays that personal autonomy can only develop and flourish if conditions in the social and relational sphere are favourable, which means that personal autonomy is not so private after all. At the same time, it should be clear that paternalism not only relates to our behaviour in the public sphere, but also to how we behave in more private social spheres, like family, friendships, romantic or sexual relationships.

Being autonomous, says Joel Anderson in the article that opens the special issue, is a socially attributed, socially claimed, and socially contested status, like being able to drive a car. Normative debates about criteria for autonomy (and what autonomy entitles one to) are best understood, not as debates about what autonomy, at core, really is, but rather as debates about the relative merits of various possible packages of thresholds, entitlements, regulations, values, and institutions. John Christman looks at various ways that interpersonal and social relations can be seen as required for autonomy. He considers cases where those dynamics might play out or not in potentially paternalistic situations. In particular, he considers cases of especially vulnerable persons who are attempting to reconstruct a sense of practical identity required for their autonomy and need the potential paternalist’s aid in doing so. He then draws out the implications for standard liberal principles of (anti-) paternalism, specifically in clinical or therapeutic situations. According to Bijan Fateh-Moghadam and Thomas Gutmann, conventional liberal critique of paternalism turns out to be insensitive to the intricate normative problems following from ‘soft’ or ‘libertarian’ paternalism. In fact, these autonomy-oriented forms of paternalism could actually be even more problematic and may infringe liberty rights even more intensely than hard paternalistic regulation. Fateh-Moghadam and Gutmann aim to contribute to the systematic differentiation of soft and hard paternalism by discussing the (legal) concept of autonomy and by elaborating the moral and legal limits of autonomy-orientated paternalism. John Kultgen points out how far-reaching the changes in our public life would actually have to be if we wanted to avoid paternalism altogether. Many professional regulations, not just in medicine and law, but also in engineering and many other areas of expertise, have a strongly paternalistic function. Professional organizations are neither governments, nor necessarily democratic, but they are often state-certified and produce binding regulations for issues of public interest. Kultgen bites the bullet and accepts professional paternalism, while insisting that special care should be placed on how to design an appropriate professional code of conduct. Amy Mullin addresses the issue of paternalism in child-rearing. The parent–child relationship is generally understood as a relationship that is supposed to promote the development and autonomy-formation of the child, so that the apparent source of the concept is a form of autonomy-oriented paternalism. Far from taking paternalism to be overtly unproblematic in such paradigmatic, pedagogical settings, Mullin analyses how an effort should be made to understand a child’s capacities and which standards parents should be held to when deciding whether interference truly serves the child’s interests. The last contributor to the special issue, Diana Tietjens Meyers, argues that potential cases of oppression, such as sex trafficking, can sometimes compromise autonomous choices by the trafficked individuals. This issue still divides radical from liberal feminists, with the former wanting to ‘rescue’ the ‘victims’ and the latter insisting that there might be good reasons for ‘hiding from the rescuers.’ Tietjens Meyers presents new arguments for the liberal approach and raises two demands: first, help organizations should be run by affected women and be open-minded about whether or not the trafficked individuals should remain in the sex industry. Second, the career choices of trafficked individuals should be expanded by the introduction of an opportunityextending right to asylum.

Call for abstracts: Conference, "Economics and Psychology in Historical Perspective"

Mark D. White

Conference call for contributions

Economics and psychology in historical perspective

(from 18th century to the present)

Paris, December 17th - December 19th 2014

Organized by Mikaël Cozic (UPEC, IUF & IHPST, France) and Jean-Sébastien Lenfant (U. Lille 1, France)



Notification of interest: June 10th 2014

Deadline for abstract:  July 10th 2014

Notification of acceptance: August 31th 2014

Full paper: December 1st 2014



Erik Angner (George Mason university, USA), Richard Arena (Université de Nice Sophia-Antipolis), Laurie Bréban (Université Paris 8, France), Luigino Bruni (Università Lumsa a Roma, Italy), Annie L. Cot (Université Paris 1, France), Agnès Festré (Université de Picardie Jules Verne, France), Till Grüne Yanoff (Royal Institute of Technology, KTH, Sweden), Alessandro Innocenti (Università di Siena, Italy), Ivan Moscati (Insubria University, Italy), Annika Wallin (Lunds Universitet, Sweden).


Philippe MONGIN (CNRS & HEC Paris, France), Floris HEUKELOM (U. Nijmegen, Netherdlands), Robert SUGDEN (University of East Anglia, United Kingdom).


“Psychology is evidently at the basis of political economy and, in general, of all the social sciences. A day will come when we will be able to deduce the laws of the social science from the principles of psychology” (Pareto, Manual of Political Economy, 1909, II, §1)

Neoclassical economics was built upon a theory of rational behavior that pretended to be independent from psychological foundations. Actually, Pareto, who has been instrumental in laying the foundations of modern utility and rational choice theory, uphold that economics and psychology needed to develop separately and that the hopes for reconciling psychology, economics and sociology in the social sciences “still remain some way off”.

Over thirty years or so, an important part of economics has been oriented towards realizing Pareto’s prophecy that a day would come when economics and psychology would benefit from reconciling each others, opening the way for a better understanding of individual and collective behaviors. This reconciliation comes after a period of time during which economics has developed its tools and principles away from psychology (or so the standard narrative argues), on the mere assumption that rational behavior could be described satisfactorily with a well-behaved utility function. For many economists, the offspring of this collective effort is called “behavioral economics”, and it is sometimes viewed a new paradigm in economics, providing tools and principles that may be applied to different fields of economic inquiry (finance, development economics, game theory, etc.).

Basics of behavioral economics are now part of any curricula in economics. The advent of behavioral economics has often been associated with a story-telling argument about its early development in the 1970s and its establishment, focusing on three main points: 1) the legitimization of experimental methods in economics; 2) the usefulness of concepts and ideas borrowed from psychology to increase the explanatory or predictive power of the theory of rational behavior; 3) the advent of a renewed view of human behavior and hence of new ideas in normative economics.

Actually, Pareto’s opening quotation reminds us also that psychology (in different guises) has been a fundamental issue for economists even since 18th century, if only because economists have usually grounded their own theory of economics on some ideas about human nature, and especially on human desires and beliefs.

In recent years, historians of economic thought and theoreticians have shown an interest in understanding the ins and outs of the behavioral turn in economics, and more broadly, on the introduction of psychological elements in economic explanations. Some have focused on recent history, enhancing the different trends of behavioral economics. Others have dealt with the nascent of behavioral economics and the early collaboration between economists and psychologists in the 1950s. Still some others have tried to understand how the marginalist school of thought had relied on the experimental psychology of its time—namely psychophysics—and how it had progressively been expelled out of the realm of economics, at least temporarily, with Pareto and Fisher. However, those contributions have not been coordinated and we are far from having a comprehensive overview of the complex history of the relationships between economics and psychology.

The aim of this conference is to gather contributions from historians of economics and historians of psychology (including cognitive sciences), and also from historically-oriented researchers and philosophers of these disciplines. The overall ambition is to understand the way economics has dealt with psychological arguments, methods and concepts throughout history and to highlight the main debates between economists and psychologists that have fostered and are still fostering behavioral economics. It is hoped that these will pave the way for an overall vision of the history of the relationships between economics and psychology and of the methodological transformations of economics as a discipline.

The organizers wish to limit the number of contributions so that most of the conference will take place in plenary sessions. Interested contributors are asked to indicate their interest in participating to the conference to A COMPLETER. The deadline for submitting an abstract is July 10th 2014. It is hoped that the contributions to the conference will in turn lead to the publication of a comprehensive reference book with short versions of papers and to thematic issues in journals.

Below is a non-exhaustive list of topics, authors and schools of thought:

  • Psychology in economics before the marginalist revolution (Hume, Smith, Condillac, Quesnay)
  • Psychophysics, psychology and the (pre)marginalists (Gossen, Jevons, Walras, Marshall, Edgeworth, Pareto and Fisher, psychology in the Austrian tradition)
  • Psychologists, economists, and the birth and development of experimental psychology (1850-1950)
  • Psychology in the institutionalist and Keynesian schools of thought (Veblen, Mitchell, J.M Clark, Keynes, Duesenberry, Post-Keynesian school).
  • How psychologists came to study decision and choice after World War II (Edwards, Davidson, Luce, Suppes, Siegel, etc).
  • The role and importance of ‘mathematical psychology’ and of the ‘representational theory of measurement’
  • Allais’s paradox and other decision paradoxes from the point of view of economics and psychology.
  • National traditions in the development of “economic psychology” (in relation with social psychology) and early behavioral economics in the USA (Katona, Simon), France, Germany, England, Italy, etc.
  • How psychologists have been involved in the development of behavioral economics and alternative paradigms to study economic behavior (e.g. Kahneman, Tversky, Slovic, Gigerenzer)?
  • Did economics borrow concepts and laws from psychology or did they rather borrow methods?
  • What has been the influence of behavioral sciences, marketing and business studies on the development of behavioral economics?
  • What have been the effects of behavioral economics on public policy? Which role played public policy in the development of behavioral economics?
  • What have been the after effects of behavioral economics on the representation of utility and welfare? (Pigou, Boulding, Scitovsky, Easterlin, Happiness economics)
  • How has behavioral economics come into different fields of economics (finance, development economics, health economics, social choice, public economics, normative economics)?
  • The historical development of neuroeconomics and its links with psychology.
  • The role of normative considerations in the development of behavioral economics, and the links between normative and behavioral economics.

If you are interested in participating in this conference, please send a notification of interest mentioning the theme of your contribution by June 10th 2014 and an abstract of approximately 1000 words prepared for blind review by July 10th 2014. Send your abstract by email at [email protected]  with the following information:

Name and surname


Title of your contribution


Agency, Policy and the Future of Macroeconomics: A Summer School in Economics and Philosophy

Mark D. White

INEM/CHESS Summer School in Philosophy and Economics

“Agency, Policy and the Future of Macroeconomics:

A Summer School in Economics and Philosophy”

University of the Basque Country UPV/EHU

Donostia-San Sebastian, Spain

21-23 July 2014

The International Network for Economic Method (INEM) and Centre for Humanities Engaging Science and Society (CHESS, Durham) will be holding an International Summer School in Economics and Philosophy for graduate students and researchers.

The Summer School is part of the UPV/EHU XXXII Summer Courses and XXV European Courses and continues the series initiated by the Urrutia Elejalde Foundation (UEF).


Alan Kirman, University of Aix-Marseille, France

Till Grüne-Yanoff, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden

Natalie Gold, King’s College London, UK


Julian Reiss, Durham University, UK

Conrad Heilmann, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherlands

Anna de Bruyckere, Durham University, UK (Grad Student Assistant)

The recent financial crisis has shattered the economics discipline like an earthquake. Whilst many economists are striving to rebuild and strengthen the structures that were hit others are taking the opportunity to open their horizons. Economists are often being blamed for having contributed to the crisis, even by prominent members of the profession: ‘the economics profession went astray because economists... mistook beauty... for truth’ (Krugman 2009); economists ‘killed America’s economy’ because of unrealistic models (Stiglitz 2009), and that the Crisis has made clear a ‘systemic failure of the economics profession’ as it had systematically disregarded key factors responsible for outcomes such as the Crisis (Colander et al. 2009).

At the same time, many economists have become at lot more open towards neighbouring disciplines. Some now regularly collaborate with psychologists to investigate to provide the behavioural foundations for choice theory. Even mainstream economists such as Greg Mankiw now urge the importance of political philosophy for their discipline. Modellers look to alternative approaches from complexity theory and agent-based modelling.

The aim of the Summer School in Economics and Philosophy is to present a variety of new insights from this exciting new work from the fringes of economics. It will bring together graduate students with scholars from economics, philosophy and neighbouring disciplines in order to exchange ideas, build a community and strengthen ‘economics and philosophy’ as an independent and diverse research field. This year’s main focus is on complex systems approaches in macroeconomics, the modelling of agency and behavioural policies.


The Summer School is open to Masters/PhD students and other researchers at various stages of progress on their dissertation project or academic careers.

To register please send us, by June 15 at the latest, 2014, a short CV and motivation statement to Anna de Bruyckere (email: [email protected]). We will accept applications as they come in, so to be guaranteed a place let us know as soon as possible.

Registration Fee and Bursaries:

Participation in the Summer School is free of charge. There is, however, charge a small registration fee of under €50 (with a small increase if you register after May 31) to be spent on food and beverage during the event. There will also be a bursary to help with accommodation expenses in San Sebastian. If you are interested in applying for a bursary, please let us know in your registration letter.

We would like to draw your attention to national sponsorship institutions like the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) in the case of Germany, who offer training course scholarships for students. Please contact your university’s international office for further information on scholarships available in your country.

We gratefully acknowledge the financial support from the International Network for Economic Method (INEM) and the University of the Basque Country (UPV).

Further information: http://chess-centre.org/index.php/chess-events/summer-school-in-economics-philosophy

Call for papers: Symposium on "Ethical Limits to Markets" in Moral Philosophy and Politics

Mark D. White

A new call for papers for a special journal issue, highly recommended:

Moral Philosophy & Politics, issue 2016/01 , symposium:

Ethical Limits to Markets

Claims about the dominance or “hegemony” of the market abound in contemporary discourse, yet there remain areas of social life in which goods are not produced and/or allocated via markets. There are also areas of social life in which the use of the market mechanism is contested. The editors of Moral Philosophy and Politics invite high quality submissions that examine questions such as:

- Are there goods that cannot, opposed to should not, be produced and/or allocated via the market?

- What are the characteristics of goods that cannot or should not be bought and sold on markets?

- Is there a “general theory” of limits to markets, or are their limits to be enumerated on a case-by-case basis but not by an all-encompassing theory?

- Are there examples of discourses about the limits to markets in history from which contemporary debates can learn?

- What are the processes through which a given good enters the market domain, having been previously produced or allocated by non-market means?

- What sorts of ethical arguments and sentiments are made or held by lay people who oppose “marketization”?

- What are the processes through which ethical opposition to “marketization” is reduced or broken down?

- To what extent can questions about ethical limits to markets be detached from wider questions about the ethics of “market society” or “capitalism”?

Commentaries and critiques of recent literature on the limits of markets are also welcomed.

Submissions are to be received via the journal’s manuscript submission site (http://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/mopp) by 1st January, 2015.

For more information, see the journal's homepage: http://www.degruyter.com/view/j/mopp

My personal debt to Gary Becker (RIP)

Mark D. White

BeckerI was very sad to hear of Professor Gary Becker's passing. Although I never met him, and heard him speak only once, he had a tremendous impact on my life and career.

As an undergraduate economics major in college, I was focusing on monetary economics and anticipating a career with the Federal Reserve -- I wasn't even thinking of graduate school at that point. And like many an economics geek, I would confuse amaze my friends by applying reasoning based on marginal benefit and cost to everything in their lives, advising them (for instance) to ignore the sunk costs of "everything they'd put into a relationship" and focus on whether they were likely to derive positive net benefit from it going forward.

Oh how they mocked me.

But then two things happened. One was the publication of Richard Posner's book Sex and Reason, which applied basic economic reasoning to a variety of sexual topics. The other was Gary Becker's being awarded the Nobel Prize and my subsequent introduction to his work on crime, discrimination, and the family.

Validation at last! Here were two brilliant scholars, at the top of their fields, applying economic reasoning to topics other than the traditional subject matter of undergraduate economics: interest rates, GDP, and widgets. I loved the internal logic of economics since my sixth-grade teacher Mr. Dalton drew a supply-and-demand diagram on the chalkboard, but I was bored by the topics to which it was normally applied in my college classes. And here were Becker and Posner, doing interesting things with economics -- dare I say, sexy things -- and being heralded for it!

Furthermore, they showed me that I could have an academic career studying these things using economics. So I forgot about Alan Greenspan's job and instead applied to graduate schools (which I would have had to do anyway, but I hadn't thought that far ahead yet). My eventual graduate program didn't focus on "Becker topics," so instead I took the full range of microeconomics courses to get the basic modeling techniques under my fingers. And while I wasn't working on marriage or crime as I progressed toward my PhD, I did always have them in the back of my mind -- and I would include these topics in the introductory economics courses I taught in graduate school and beyond.

By the time I addressed topics like marriage and the family in writing, it was as part of a critique of the ethical foundations of mainstream economics. The same topics that fascinated me and drew me into academic economics as an undergraduate later frustrated me because of the difficulty mainstream economics had dealing with their inherent normativity. People don't help their family members and obey the law simply because the expected payoff exceeds the expected cost -- there's often more to it than that, ethical factors that are not easily reducible to raw utility. Economics has a valuable perspective to offer on these issues, although it is neither complete nor dispositive.

But, I repeat, it is valuable. And for that value, anyone who studied topics such as crime, discrimination, and the family -- or economics in general -- owes Professor Becker a tremendous debt of gratitude. My personal debts go much deeper, of course: I thank him for showing me a new avenue for my curiosity and, indirectly, for inspiring my shift to philosophy to supplement the economic approach he helped to teach me. Rest in peace, sir.