World Congress Summer School in Social Economics – Applications for Fellowships Now Open

Jonathan B. Wight

Glasgow, Scotland

June 19-20, 2012


Applications for Fellowships Now Open

The Association for Social Economics announces an exciting Summer School workshop for graduate students and recent Ph.D.s. to be held in conjunction with the World Congress of Social Economics in Glasgow, Scotland.  Between 12-18 fellows will be selected to attend the Summer School as guests of ASE. The Summer School begins the evening of June 19 and continues on June 20, 2012.  The World Congress opens the evening of June 20 and concludes on June 22, 2012.

Aims:  The Summer School brings together a small group of fellows to discuss the central concerns of social economics as a springboard for cutting-edge research and teaching.  Social economics is centrally concerned with questions of social, cultural and ethical values in economic life and the study of these questions at philosophical, theoretical, empirical and policy-related levels.

School topics include aspects of: (1) Social economics, the history of economic thought, and frameworks for thinking about ethics and economics; (2) core topics in social-economics research (theory of the individual, the role of social and cultural values in economic life, inequality, poverty, needs, capabilities, social justice, human flourishing); (3) contemporary topics and empirical research in social economics (the social economy/third sector, social networks, fair trade, socially responsible consumption and production, experimental work on fairness, etc.); and (4) publishing outlets and strategies for graduate students and recent Ph.D.s. 

Fellows must be graduate students or recent Ph.D.s in economics or related fields. 

Awards:  Fellows accepted to the Summer School will receive complementary room and meals for the Summer School and the World Congress, complementary registration to the World Congress, plus all Summer School materials, a package worth up to $1,400.  Some travel stipends are also available on a competitive basis. 

Fellow Obligations:  Accepted fellows must become members of ASE and submit a Summer School refundable deposit of $100 (that will be returned upon completion of the World Congress).  All fellows must commit to participating in all sessions of the Summer School and to staying for the entire World Congress. 

Program: Click here for the Provisional Program

Applications: Click here for the Application Instructions and Form

Or, go to the ASE website (, click on "Conferences" à "World Congress Summer School" à to see the Overview, Preliminary Program, and Application.

The application deadline is March 1, 2012.

For questions contact Aurelie Charles, Chair, Summer School Selection Committee, at [email protected]

AEA’s New Ethical Guidelines for Authors

Jonathan B. Wight

Amidst the flurry of travel and other things, neither Mark nor I got around to reporting on the American Economic Association's new principles for authors, adopted January 5, 2012. Current principles of disclosure and data submission are found here. The new extensions to these principles are:

(1) Every submitted article should state the sources of financial support for the particular research it describes. If none, that fact should be stated.

(2) Each author of a submitted article should identify each interested party from whom he or she has received significant financial support, summing to at least $10,000 in the past three years, in the form of consultant fees, retainers, grants and the like. The disclosure requirement also includes in-kind support, such as providing access to data. If the support in question comes with a non-disclosure obligation, that fact should be stated, along with as much information as the obligation permits. If there are no such sources of funds, that fact should be stated explicitly. An "interested" party is any individual, group, or organization that has a financial, ideological, or political stake related to the article.

(3) Each author should disclose any paid or unpaid positions as officer, director, or board member of relevant non-profit advocacy organizations or profit-making entities. A "relevant" organization is one whose policy positions, goals, or financial interests relate to the article.

(4) The disclosures required above apply to any close relative or partner of any author.

(5) Each author must disclose if another party had the right to review the paper prior to its circulation.

(6) For published articles, information on relevant potential conflicts of interest will be made available to the public.

(7) The AEA urges its members and other economists to apply the above principles in other publications: scholarly journals, op-ed pieces, newspaper and magazine columns, radio and television commentaries, as well as in testimony before federal and state legislative committees and other agencies.

The AEA's reform is clearly needed, but does it go far enough? The AEA has resisted a formal "code of conduct" or "ethical guidelines" since it has no enforcement mechanism other than barring a miscreant from publishing in its journals. There are no licensing boards for economists, nor can one imagine them outside of a narrow range of subjects (e.g., testifying on wrongful death, cost-benefit analysis, and so on). Even then much mischief would be done by such licensing: it would likely turn into a devise to keep out competition.

Nevertheless, the AEA's response is still incomplete. I think it is possible to come up with a list of values—honesty, integrity, truth-seeking—that should be a part of the economist's toolkit. Ethical conduct should be introduced into every econ class and included in the "National Content Standards." To those who say ethics is just mush, remember that economics teachers are mentors and role models. Studying economics does impact behavior as shown in various studies. Young people are malleable and teachers are, to some extent, the potters of their clay.

Will a discussion of ethics make people more ethical? At the margin, I think so. But a lot depends on the instructor. If the subject is treated as an afterthought ("I've got to cover these bullet points…") it will also be dismissed by students. If a learning subject is treated with passion and context (as advocated by Adam Smith, using the arts… see here) I think it could have a greater impact. Not so much because it will change students, but because it will reinforce their own internal desires to be ethical.

The Walk-Out at Harvard

Jonathan B. Wight

As you may have heard, students at Harvard recently walked-out of Greg Mankiw's Ec 10 Principles class because of alleged ideological bias in his presentation. Guess what—we all have a bias! Dani Rodrik notes that:

…Carlos Diaz-Alejandro once put it, "by now any bright graduate student, by choosing his assumptions regarding distortions and policy instruments carefully, can produce a consistent model yielding just about any policy recommendation he favored at the start." ["Trade Policies and Economic Development," in Peter B. Kenan, ed. International Trade and Finance: Frontiers for Research, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1975: 93-150, p. 97]….

Instead of communicating the full panoply of perspectives that their discipline offers, [economics teachers] display excessive confidence in particular remedies – often those that best accord with their own personal ideologies….

In our zeal to display the profession's crown jewels in untarnished form – market efficiency, the invisible hand, comparative advantage – we skip over the real-world complications and nuances, well recognized as they are in the discipline. It is as if introductory physics courses assumed a world without gravity, because everything becomes so much simpler that way.

While we all have a necessary ideological bias stemming from world view and random facts, Joseph Schumpeter argued that ideology can be overcome using a scientific method. But a first step seems to be to recognize the bias and admit it to students and offer opportunities for alternative viewpoints.

Instead, economists portray "efficiency" as a scientific principle—when it is a moral judgment swaddled in the language of impartiality.

Steven Margolis, also at Harvard, staged a "teach-in" about the Mankiw walk-out (link is to a video of it). First, Margolis noted that a walk-out usually isn't the right way to deal with intellectual differences. Second, he discussed his attempt to offer an alternative Ec principles course at Harvard, which was rejected by the economics faculty--then accepted only as an alternative studies course. Students at Harvard, like students at many other schools, are not allowed to learn about alternatives to the neoclassical model and get credits toward the major! This is reflected also in the demise of "History of Economic Thought" classes where one could learn about historical points of view and schools.

Mankiw justifies his position this way: "A main disagreement I have with Steve is pedagogical. I believe his critiques of mainstream economics should be presented after students have had a standard course like ec 10."

Mainstream economics has a lot to teach students, but I completely disagree with Mankiw in his assertion that students should learn about problems in a separate course. If we are training leaders, not technocrats, we cannot afford to allow the brainwashing of young minds. Teaching economics as if there is no debate is tantamount to brainwashing. Far better to integrate ethical debates from the start, to inculcate in students the notion that economists have a particular ethical framework (consequentialist) and a defensible yet debatable goal (maximizing the economic surplus).

Margolis notes that high school econ classes explicitly omit anything controversial. The new National Content Standards in Economics states that: "Including strongly held minority views of economic processes and concepts would have confused and frustrated teachers and students who would then be left with the responsibility of sorting the qualifications and alternatives without a sufficient foundation to do so."

And, if Mankiw has his way, controversy will be removed from college principles classes as well! Most students never go beyond one economics class. Even if they do go on to graduate school, they would surely not expect to find "balanced" treatment at that higher level. The bottom line is, if critical thinking about plural viewpoints isn't a part of Econ principles, students will largely never experience it.

Forgive the self-promotion, but teachers who want to easily integrate a bit of ethical discussion in Econ Principles can try this book of ten lessons by Wight and Morton, Teaching the Ethical Foundations of Economics, NCEE, 2007). Introducing different ideologies and ethical frameworks takes only a moment of time, and creates enthusiasm in students who are treated as adults not children who need rote learning.

New issue of Social Philosophy and Policy: New Essays in Political and Social Philosophy

Mark D. White

Spp29-1Always an essential read, the latest issue of Social Philosophy and Policy (29/1, January 2012) has the theme of "New Essays in Political and Social Philosophy," and features essays by some of biggest names in those fields (not to mention legal philosophy):














The overseas superstar status of Michael Sandel and what economics can learn from it

Mark D. White

Thomas L. Friedman had an interesting piece in The New York Times last week describing the rock star reception given in Asia recently to Harvard political philosopher Michael J. Sandel, author of Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? and lecturer in the accompanying PBS series (available here). In the piece, Friedman writes (emphasis mine):

Sandel’s popularity in Asia reflects the intersection of three trends. One is the growth of online education, where students anywhere now can gain access to the best professors from everywhere. Another is the craving in Asia for a more creative, discussion-based style of teaching in order to produce more creative, innovative students. And the last is the hunger of young people to engage in moral reasoning and debates, rather than having their education confined to the dry technical aspects of economics, business or engineering.

This characterization of economics education may be true in some cases, but certainly not all--there are many economics professors who can bring economics alive in much the same way that Sandel presents philosophy. And to be fair, philosophy (especially analytical philosophy) can often seem dry and technical to students as well if not taught extraordinarily well.

But if economics seems dry to many students, even when presented by a talented professor, then perhaps it could use some philosophy to enliven it, whether that means highlighting the philosophy that is embedded in economics already, or bringing fresh concepts from philosophy to bear on economic thinking and teaching. Any way we can, we should remind students that economics was once much more closely tied to economics than it is commonly thought of now, and that economists were once heralded as The Worldly Philosophers, not purveyors of "dry" and "technical" analysis.

The changing purpose of faculty sabbaticals [UPDATED]

Mark D. White

Over at Prawfsblawg, Elizabeth Dale, who teaches history and law at the University of Florida, has an extremely thought-provoking post about sabbaticals for full-time professors, wondering if the original purpose--scholarly rejuvenation and renewal--has been replaced by "catching up" with work one wasn't able to complete during the normal academic terms and breaks.

From the end of her post (after she compares her sabbatical time with her normal working experience):

If sabbaticals supposed to be a time of rest and rejuvination, I blew this one.  I joke (much to the annoyance of my colleagues who are not on leave) that I am going to need a sabbatical to recover from my sabbatical. But truth be told, apart from reading a lot of mysteries (which I would probably have done if I was working normally) and occasonally meeting people for lunch, I have not exactly been frivoling away my time. Partly that's because you can't exactly afford to frivol when you are on half pay, but partly its because I've been so busy working to catch up I haven't had the time or energy to take a month off to see the sights or smell the daisies. That having been said, I don't want to complain too much--I'm working 7-8 hour days, not 10-12 hour days. That is a break, even if it's hardly time lazing in the sun.

But that suggests the other side of the problem. If I'm  working that much, and falling behind, during a normal year, then there's either something wrong with me, or something wrong with a normal year.

I'm inclined to think that there are problems with what are seen as normal academic expectations. We'll need to return to that in a future post (this one is too long as it is).  But my take away for today is that my sense is that even for tenured faculty, the demands of the rest of the time are such that sabbaticals are a time of trying to stay on track or play catch up, rather than a time of R&R, academic renewal and intellectual growth.  Or, to put it another way, distortions in ournormal working conditions are, to significant extent, undermining the original purpose of the sabbatical.

There is also some interesting discussion brewing in the comments section regarding sabbatical procedures over time and across different universities--well worth a look.

UPDATE: Professor Dale has a follow-up post here, with additional valuable insights.

Moral Education, the Virtues, and Literature (at The Literary Table)

Mark D. White

One of my neighbors at The Literary Table (and occasional commenter on this blog) Patrick O'Donnell has a thought-provoking piece on moral education and the virtues, focusing on the role literature can play, particularly in providing moral exemplars, in his new post "Narrative Goodness" at the Table. Well worth a read!

Stanley Fish on the state of the humanities in colleges and universities

Mark D. White

AA Stanley FIsh has a nice piece in The New York Times today, adding to the chorus of voices concerned about the increasing emphasis on sciences in higher education and the accompanying neglect of the humanities. He highlights a new book by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, and offers several observations based on it:

...its thesis is that what is limited — in short supply — is learning that is academic rather than consumerist or market-driven. After two years of college, they report, students are “just slightly more proficient in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing than when they entered.”

The authors give several explanations for this unhappy result. First, a majority of students surveyed said “that they had not taken a single course . . . that required more than twenty pages of writing, and one third had not taken one that required even forty pages of reading per week.” Moreover, “only 42 percent had experienced both a reading and writing requirement of this character during the prior semester.” The conclusion? “If students are not being asked . . . to read and write on a regular basis . . . it is hard to imagine how they will improve their capacity to master performance tasks.”

Nor will they be encouraged to if they are caught up in the “deepening of consumerist orientations within higher education.” This is a second explanation of the weakening of academic (read liberal arts) learning; for, Arum and Roksa observe, there are “many reasons to expect students as consumers to focus on receiving services that will allow them, as effortlessly and comfortably as possible, to attain valuable educational credentials that can be exchanged for later labor success.” United States college students seem to have internalized (before its appearance) the spirit of England’s Browne Report on higher education, which explicitly equates the value of a course with the future earnings potential value of the students who take it.

It's not just England, of course; there is a growing drive in the US to monetize the educational contribution of college professors as well.

CUNY bans smoking on all campuses--the unintended consequences

Mark D. White

Wow. The New York Times reported yesterday that the board of trustees of the City University of New York (CUNY) voted to ban smoking on all 23 of its campuses. The article notes that the ban won't mean much for the urban campuses, since the university cannot ban smoking on the public streets in between college buildings, but on the more traditional campuses--like at the College of Staten Island (CSI), where I teach--it will prohibit smoking in all outdoor areas between the buildings.

Just considering CSI, this will be huge. By my casual estimates, a significant percentage--I would say at least half--of the students at my school smoke. Preventing them from smoking between classes (and during breaks in classes, official or "otherwise") will definitely have unintended (if not unanticipated) consequences. Most obviously, less students will stay on campus between classes when there are significant gaps in their schedule, implying less attendance at extracurricular events, talks, and so forth.

Perhaps less obviously, many students will seek sanctuary in their cars to grab a smoke between classes (assuming either that this is allowed, or that it will not be well enforced if the ban extends there). This could also drive (pun intended) more students to travel to school by car rather than bus, stretching parking resources on campus (and countering any environmentally- or safety-minded initiative to cut down on automobile traffic).

Discipline and Paternalism in Parenting – Are these Virtues?

Jonathan B. Wight

Amy Chua’s fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal last week has been causing shock waves of cultural angst.

 “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior” argues that American-style parents are failing to teach their children proper discipline that is needed for success and self esteem.  Instead, American-style parents mistakenly promote a self esteem of low expectations, which becomes a vicious cycle downwards.

In addition, Chua (who is a professor at Yale Law School) also argues that parents MUST be strictly paternalistic toward their children, and substitute their own preferences for those of the prevailing culture of self indulgence.

For a counter-story to this, see this follow-up in the New York Times yesterday, “Retreat of the ‘Tiger Mother’”.

The bottom line is:  Virtues are good.  But virtue taken to the extreme becomes a … vice!