Books

New open-access book: Jeremy Bentham on Police (UCL Press)

Bentham on policingBy Mark D. White

UCL Press has released a new book, Jeremy Bentham on Police, edited by Scott Jacques and Philip Schofield, which is available as a free download. Its chapters are written mostly from the viewpoint of criminology, but they would seem very relevant to the law-and-economics approach to policing as well, given Bentham's foundational influence over the field.

From the description at the publisher's website:

Jeremy Bentham’s ideas on punishment are famous. Every criminology student learns about Bentham, and every criminologist contends with him, as advocate or opponent. This discourse concerns his ideas about punishment, namely with respect to legislation and the panopticon. Yet, scholars and students are generally ignorant of Bentham’s ideas on police. Hitherto, these ideas have been largely unknowable. Now, thanks to UCL’s Bentham Project, these ideas are public.

Jeremy Bentham on Police celebrates this achievement by exploring the story of Bentham’s writings on police and considering their relevance to the past, present and future of criminology. After Scott Jacques introduces the book, the Director of the Bentham Project, Philip Schofield, describes and explains how it works. Then Michael Quinn, who brought together Bentham’s writings on police, delves into the personal and socio-historical background in which they were created. An extract follows, representing the most (criminologically-)relevant passages from Bentham’s police writings. Finally, a rich variety of scholars offer their thoughts on what those writings mean for criminology. These contributions come from Anthony A. Braga, Ronald Clarke, David J. Cox, Stephen Douglas, Stephen Engelmann, G. Geltner, Joel F. Harrington, Jonathan Jacobs, Paul Knepper, Gloria Laycock, Gary T. Marx, Daniel S. Nagin, Graeme R. Newman, Pat O’Malley, Eric L. Piza, Kim Rossmo, Lucia Summers and Dean Wilson.


New book: Human Dignity and Political Criticism by Colin Bird

Human dignity and political criticismBy Mark D. White

This was very quick buy (thank you Cambridge University Press author's discount): Human Dignity and Political Criticism by Colin Bird (University of Virginia) promises a fascinating critical look at both the nature of human dignity as well as its potential impact on political institutions. From the publisher's website:

Many, including Marx, Rawls, and the contemporary 'Black Lives Matter' movement, embrace the ambition to secure terms of co-existence in which the worth of people's lives becomes a lived reality rather than an empty boast. This book asks whether, as some believe, the philosophical idea of human dignity can help achieve that ambition. Offering a new fourfold typology of dignity concepts, Colin Bird argues that human dignity can perform this role only if certain traditional ways of conceiving it are abandoned. Accordingly, Bird rejects the idea that human dignity refers to the inherent worth or status of individuals, and instead reinterprets it as a social relation, constituted by affects of respect and the modes of mutual attention which they generate. What emerges is a new vision of human dignity as a vital political value, and an arresting vindication of its role as an agent of critical reflection on politics.

Although I'm concerned about Bird's rejection of the normal (Kantian) understanding of dignity, I am intrigued by his emphasis on the respect it implies.


Updates to symposium on Reviving Rationality (Yale Journal of Regulation)

Reviving-RationalityBy Mark D. White

There have been some new contributions posted to the symposium at the Yale Journal of Regulation I posted about last week on Livermore and  Revesz's book Reviving Rationality: Saving Cost-Benefit Analysis for the Sake of the Environment and Our Health (Oxford, 2021).

"OIRA the Angel; OIRA the Devil," by Bridget C.E. Dooling

"Reviving More Than Rationality," by Stuart Shapiro

"Cost-Benefit Analysis as Policy and as Dialectics," by Shi-Ling Hsu

While Dooling and Shapiro focus in on the nature and politics of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) itself, Hsu's contribution is more abstract, addressing the possibility of alternative values and principles to welfarism in public policy and acknowledging the difficulties with balancing these different conceptions of what is good or right:

Perhaps the most serious objection to a welfarist, cost-benefit state, is that welfarism is just another value. Welfarism should stand alongside, and not above, other values such as equality, nondiscrimination, liberty, or freedom. Welfarism might even be subservient to some of these other values. Even welfarists acknowledge the importance of distributional issues, while they work to incorporate them into welfarist frameworks. President Biden has called for changes to CBA to account for distributional issues. Liberty and freedom are obviously fundamental to Americans, as well as other Western societies, as the Brexit vote may well indicate. So perhaps government isn’t even supposed to maximize welfare. It is supposed to reflect the values of a moral individual.

But this line of thinking then leaves unanswered the difficult and obvious question of what government is supposed to do about conflicts in values. What, indeed, is government to do to balance say, public health and safety against liberty and freedom? Personal responsibility against equality? Fairness against prosperity?

They join the first three entries in the symposium:

"Saving Cost-Benefit Analysis for the Sake of the Environment and Our Health," by Timothy Brennan

"Why this is still an important book after the 2020 elections," by E. Donald Elliott

"Cost as the Ultimate Regulatory Restraint," by Jonathan H. Adler


New book highlights Adam Smith's contributions to political theory

Adam smith reconsideredBy Mark D. White

A new book from Paul Sagar (King's College London), Adam Smith Reconsidered: History, Liberty, and the Foundations of Modern Politics, coming out in March 2022 from Princeton University Press, argues that Adam Smith should be understood as a pioneer in political theory as well as economics and moral philosophy (the PPE trifecta, so to speak). Furthermore, Sagar argues that this new focus significantly alters the way Smith's more widely acknowledged contributions should be understood.

From the publisher's website:

Adam Smith has long been recognized as the father of modern economics. More recently, scholars have emphasized his standing as a moral philosopher—one who was prepared to critique markets as well as to praise them. But Smith’s contributions to political theory are still underappreciated and relatively neglected. In this bold, revisionary book, Paul Sagar argues that not only have the fundamentals of Smith’s political thought been widely misunderstood, but that once we understand them correctly, our estimations of Smith as economist and as moral philosopher must radically change.

Rather than seeing Smith as either the prophet of the free market, or as a moralist who thought the dangers of commerce lay primarily in the corrupting effects of trade, Sagar shows why Smith is more thoroughly a political thinker who made major contributions to the history of political thought. Smith, Sagar argues, saw war, not commerce, as the engine of political change and he was centrally concerned with the political, not moral, dimensions of—and threats to—commercial societies. In this light, the true contours and power of Smith’s foundational contributions to western political thought emerge as never before.

Offering major reinterpretations of Smith’s political, moral, and economic ideas, Adam Smith Reconsidered seeks to revolutionize how he is understood. In doing so, it recovers Smith’s original way of doing political theory, one rooted in the importance of history and the necessity of maintaining a realist sensibility, and from which we still have much to learn.


Amartya Sen's first volume of memoirs, Home in the World

Sen home in the worldBy Mark D. White

I'm sure it will come as no surprise that Amartya Sen was my primary early influence in economics-and-ethics. His book On Ethics and Economics was tremendously influential to my thinking, and I always mention his discussion of commitment in his seminal "Rational Fools" paper whenever I discuss my own approach to Kantian economics. I have had only one point of contact with him, an encouraging message from him in 2000 (!) during my earliest venture in economics-and-ethics, but I hope to touch base with him again. (I have tried, to be sure!)

This week I became aware of the impending publication of Home in the World: A Memoir, covering the first thirty years of his life (1933-1963). As such, it covers "only" his formative years, but you can see in this review by Umang Poddar how his experiences in those first three decades, traveling widely and meeting prominent intellectuals from many fields, shaped much of his academic work and popular writing to follow.

Of particular interest to academics will be Sen's experience with graduate school, journal publication, and his first academic position, as he describes in an excerpt published several months ago. At the age of 22, he completed his dissertation for Cambridge after just one year, short of the required three. He secured permission to go to India for the remaining two years, where he was soon invited to launch and head a new economics department in Calcutta, designing the curriculum and teaching most of the classes at first (as many as 28 hours of teaching per week). He confirms what many of us working in education know: "I was learning so much from teaching that I felt convinced I could not really be sure of knowing a subject well until I had tried to teach it to others."

I'll finish this post with a quote from the excerpt that shows not only Sen's humility but also how things may have changed a bit since 1956 in academic publishing (although perhaps not for him!):

Sen excerpt


On Edward Glaeser, urban economics, and economics-and-ethics

GlaeserBy Mark D. White

I'll start this post with an admission of ignorance: I've long had a casual interest in urban economics, although I've never had the opportunity to give the literature the attention it deserves. Given its policy focus, however, there would seem to be ample room for alternative ethical approaches, especially regarding property rights as well as the nature of welfare or well-being in an intrinsically and intensively social context. Whether or to what extent this is been done, however, I have no idea.

Evidence that such considerations are being addressed by urban economists comes from a feature on Harvard economist Edward Glaeser and his evolving views on the roles of the market and the state in the "life" of cities. (The piece was prompted by Glaeser's latest book, Survival of the City: Living and Thriving in an Age of Isolation, co-authored with his Harvard colleague, health economist David Cutler.) Whatever one may think of Glaeser's shift from his early libertarianism to his more recent endorsement of government intervention, his concern with not only growth, income, and employment, but also health, poverty, and well-being, suggests the kind of ethically nuanced approach the topic needs.

I find this very encouraging, and I look forward to investigating his work, and that of other urban economics, more in the future. (I do have to wonder, still, if more traditionally academic work in urban economics, by Glaeser or others, incorporates the same broader approach. If anyone knows of work along these lines, I would be more than happy to showcase it here.)


New book: Jennifer A. Baker and Mark D. White (eds), Economics and the Virtues: Building a New Moral Foundation

Mark D. White

E&V coverOur readers may be interested to know about a new book coming out soon from Oxford University Press that I co-edited with Jennifer A. Baker entitled Economics and the Virtues: Building a New Moral Foundation. From the blurb:

While ethics has been an integral part of economics since the days of Adam Smith (if not Aristotle), many modern economists dismiss ethical concerns in favor of increasing formal mathematical and computational methods. But recent financial crises in the real world have reignited discussions of the importance of ethics to economics, including growing calls for a new approach to incorporating moral philosophy in economic theory, practice, and policy. Ironically, it is the ethics of virtue advocated by Aristotle and Adam Smith that may lead to the most promising way to developing an economics that emphasizes the virtues, character, and judgment of the agents it models.

In Economics and the Virtues, editors Jennifer A. Baker and Mark D. White have brought together fifteen leading scholars in economics and philosophy to offer fresh perspectives on integrating virtue into economics. The first section covers five major thinkers and schools in the virtue tradition, tracing historical connections and suggesting new areas of cooperation. The second section applies the ethics of virtue to modern economic theory, delving into its current practices and methodology to suggest areas for integration with moral philosophy. Finally, the third section addresses specific topics such as markets, profits, and justice in the context of virtue and vice, offering valuable applications of virtue to economics.

With insights that are novel as well as rooted in time-tested ethical thought, Economics and the Virtues will be of interest to economists, philosophers, and other scholars in the social sciences and humanities, as well as professionals and policymakers in the fields of economics and finance, and makes an invaluable contribution to the ongoing discussion over the role of ethics in economics.

Many if not all of the contributors will be familiar names: besides me and Jennifer, they include Christian U. Becker, Tim O'Keefe, James Otteson, Michael Baurmann and Geoffrey Brennan, Eric Schliesser, Andrew Yuengert, Christine Swanton, David C. Rose, Seung (Ginny) Choi and Virgil Storr, and Jason Brennan. (You can see the complete table of contents at Amazon, OUP, or my personal blog.)

Personally, this book has been a dream of mine for a number of years, and working with Jennifer, Adam Swallow and (the late) Terry Vaughn at OUP, and all the contributors, made that dream a reality in every possible way.

Economics and the Virtues has already been reviewed by Adam Gurri at Sweet Talk, where he calls it "a valuable source of insight, especially for economists used to operating within only one framework." Will Wilkinson of the Niskanen Center and The Economist calls it "a fascinating volume" and "an indispensable collection for anyone interested in moral psychology, economic theory, or the morality of markets," and pre-eminent philosopher and Kant scholar Onora O'Neill calls it "a rich and rewarding collection" that "explores classical accounts of the virtues, and argues that they remain essential not only to character but to culture, including the culture of markets."

(You can also see Jennifer's and my post at OUPblog discussing "The Big Short" in relation to the theme of the book.)


Do-Gooders

Jonathan B. Wight

Mark White calls attention to a Wall Street Journal review of Strangers Drowning: Grappling with Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help (2015) by Larissa MacFarquhar.

What happens when people have an almost pathological urge to help others? The people described in this book undertake “extreme ethical commitments”—such as adopting 20 children, undertaking a dangerous political protest despite having a young son, and refusing to wash dishes because this takes time away from environmental activism.

This last example is  juvenile, and reminds me of the humorous claim made about Gandhi: “You will never know how much it costs us to keep that saint, that wonderful old man, in poverty!”

The implication is clear—the supposed saintly one who extols benevolence toward others often does not fulfill the most basic moral virtue of prudence—taking appropriate regard for one’s own life and responsibilities. One has a duty to oneself as well as to others.

A virtue ethicist would say we need balance. It is fine to be generous and altruistic toward others, but not if that makes you the ward of the state or a burden on others. Some of the people described in this book seem to lack that balance, and that would not be virtuous, regardless of the motive for helping or the focus on others.


New book: Law and Social Economics

LawSEMark D. White

Over at the Association for Social Economics Blog, I talk about my latest edited book, Law and Social Economics: Essays in Ethical Values for Theory, Practice, and Policy, drawn from papers presented at the Allied Social Science Associations (ASSA) and Law and Society Association (LSA) meetings. Below is the table of contents:

Part I: Foundations

Chapter 1: "Towards a Contractarian Theory of Law," Claire Finkelstein

Chapter 2: "Environmental Ethics, Economics, and Property Law," Steven McMullen and Daniel Molling

Chapter 3: "Individual Rights, Economic Transactions and Recognition: A Legal Approach to Social Economics," Stefano Solari

Chapter 4: "Institutionalist Method and Forensic Proof," Robert M. LaJeunesse

Chapter 5: "Retributivist Justice and Dignity: Finding a Role for Economics in Criminal Justice," Mark D. White

Part II: Applications

Chapter 6: "Female Genital Mutilation and the Law: A Qualitative Case Study," Regina Gemignani and Quentin Wodon

Chapter 7: "An Unexamined Oxymoron: Trust but Verify," David George

Chapter 8: "On the Question of Court Activism and Economic Interests in 19th Century Married Women’s Property Law," Daniel MacDonald

Chapter 9: "Divergent Outcomes of Land Rights Claims of Indigenous Peoples in the United States," Wayne Edwards

Chapter 10: "Punitive (and) Pain-and-Suffering Damages in Brazil," Osny da Silva Filho


Economics After the Crisis

Irene van Staveren

Irene bookA year after the fall of Lehman Brothers, The Economist's headline proclaimed the end of modern economics. What has happened since? Well... almost nothing.

Mainstream and near-mainstream economic textbooks still sell like before. And INET has supported some initiatives that eliminate the rough sides of neoclassical thought and neoliberal policy advice. Very laudable initiatives, with, for example, Wendy Carlin's work on developing a new undergraduate curriculum CORE. But students of economics are not satisfied with these minor changes, so many years after the start of the financial crisis. Their Rethink Economics petition demands more fundamental changes to textbooks.

As a supporter of every single petition, pamphlet, op-ed, and plea for pluralism in economics before and after the crisis, I decided three years ago that I should practice what I preach. The result is Economics after the Crisis, a pluralist introductory textbook published by Routledge in January 2015. It offers a tool to understand the basics of economics from four theoretical perspectives either for use in the classroom or for self-study alongside a standard course book. The theories are presented in every chapter, micro and macro. And from interdisciplinary and close to real-world experiences to mathematically in an idealized world of perfect markets and agents following the single ethical guide of utility maximization. The book presents social economics, institutional economics, post Keynesian economics, and neoclassical economics and thereby shows that almost no economic concept or tool is theory-neutral. If only this message gets across, the book will have accomplished already more than I could hope for.

The window of opportunity to reform economic teaching is almost shut. Banks pass stress tests in Europe and the US while still being too big to fail. Nobel Prizes are awarded to economists who show no effort at all in rethinking economics. And economic policies ignore the danger of continuously increasing private and public debt, while shifting the consequences of such myopia on disadvantaged groups and whole populations.

If it is not now, we may have to wait for the next crisis to change economic thinking and teaching. I truly hope that the combined efforts of critical economists, activist students, and courageous teachers will help to make the change. We cannot afford to standby any longer.