In his most recent book, The Tragic Science (2022), Professor George DeMartino (University of Denver) argues for a harm-centric economics. Economic policy analysis recognises that most economic interventions entail harms along with benefits. But the notion of harm that economists standardly accept is, DeMartino argues, highly restricted. This limited conception of harm blinds economists to the real damage that economic policy interventions can inflict and this ought, DeMartino suggests, to encourage us to revisit the notion of harm in economic theory and practice. Join us to appraise this important idea.
Posts by Mark D. White
We have another call for papers from a conference in which I've proudly participated in the past (2014), this one on the subject of "Health Law as Private Law" presented by the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School. and to be held in late June 2023. From the conference description:
In the pursuit of public health and universal coverage, health law scholars have long focused on the role of government, and especially the federal government. Yet, whether it is health plan coverage of reproductive services or exclusions of gender affirming care, consumer medical debt or physician practice agreements, hospital mergers or private equity acquisitions, medical negligence waivers or informed consent violations – U.S. healthcare is also substantially governed by private relations, enforced by law. Is private law – the law circumscribing the relations between individuals and institutions – a pathology or a potential fix for the U.S. health care system? In what ways might private law be used as a catalyst for health care reform, separate from federal or state initiatives?
Since at least Kenneth Arrow’s Nobel Prize-winning work in economics, we have understood that there are clear market failures in health care, including agency problems, collective action problems, and information problems. Clarity on these problems can motivate reform. At the very least, understanding the limits of the private law approaches, including those imposed by legislation, regulation, and litigation – sheds light on the potential opportunities for structural reform.
This conference seeks to explore the intersection of private law and health care, especially regarding how private law can be a tool for achieving health care reform or addressing a significant health care or public health problem. Overall, this conference and subsequent book project seek to map out the challenges and opportunities of using private law and the tools it provides to govern and shape our health care system. Contributions that explore the interaction of government initiatives and regulatory reform with private law actions in the health care space are within the scope of this project as long as the contributions focus on the private law aspects.
More details, including suggested topics and submission details (one-page abstracts due October 17, 2022), can be found at the Petrie-Flom website.
Courtesy of Klaus Mathis, I'm pleased to present the call for papers for the tenth Law and Economics Conference at the University of Lucerne in Switzerland (in collaboration with the University of Notre Dame Law School), from March 17-18, 2023. This year's theme is one near and dear to this blogger's heart: Law and Economics of Justice: Efficiency, Reciprocity, Meritocracy. I participated in the conference in 2015 (on nudging) and it was one of my favorite conference experiences ever—I highly recommend it.
The call elaborates on the three subtopics:
Efficiency: Traditionally, the economic analysis of law was guided by the goal of efficiency. Economists usually define efficiency as Pareto efficiency or Kaldor-Hicks efficiency. Any change that puts one member of society in a better position without making somebody else worse off is a Pareto improvement. A change is a Kaldor-Hicks improvement if the gainers value their gains more than the losers their losses, whereby only hypothetical compensation is required. Efficiency as a normative goal is heavily contested. In particular, many authors see an antagonism between efficiency and distributive justice, which they qualify as the greatest socioeconomic goal conflict. Other authors view efficiency not as a goal itself but rather as an instrument to achieve social goals. In any case, the economic analysis of law has to differ between two steps: the positive analysis and the evaluation of the results by normative criteria.
Reciprocity: Economists have traditionally based their models on the self-interest hypothesis of the homo oeconomicus. In this model, an individual maximizes his own utility without showing altruistic or jealous behaviour. Behavioural economics calls into question the theorem of self-interest. Many people do, in fact, stray away from exclusively self-interested behaviour. There are also signs that the consideration of fairness and mutual benefits are important to bilateral negotiations and the functioning of markets. For example, in the ultimatum game, two players have to agree on the division of a fixed sum of money, with one player proposing the division and the other accepting or rejecting the division and with that the money for both players. Empirical evidence shows that offers with only a small share of the available sum are considered unfair and therefore rejected.
Meritocracy: The concept of meritocracy refers to a system, organization or society in which people are chosen and moved into positions of success, power and influence on the basis of their abilities and merits. This means that through hard work, an individual is able to climb the social ladder. Moreover, meritocracy directs the most talented people into the most functionally important positions and thereby enhances a society’s efficiency. However, the equalizing function of meritocracy has been criticized. Rather than reducing inequality, meritocracy is seen as the cause of racial, economic, and social inequality.
Submissions take the form of a short (1-2 pages) description of the topic and a short CV, and should be sent to Klaus Mathis ([email protected]) by September 30, 2022. Papers will be chosen by October 15, and draft papers are due February 28, 2023. (A conference volume is planned, and final papers will be expected soon after the conference.)
Accommodations are provided for the speakers courtesy of the conference, but they are responsible for arranging their own travel. (I remember the train ride from Zurich to Lucerne well—such breathtaking scenery!)
For complete details, please see the call for papers PDF here.
Prioritarianism is an ethical theory that gives extra weight to the well-being of the worse off. In contrast, dominant policy-evaluation methodologies, such as benefit-cost analysis, cost-effectiveness analysis, and utilitarianism, ignore or downplay issues of fair distribution. Based on a research group founded by the editors, this important book is the first to show how prioritarianism can be used to assess governmental policies and evaluate societal conditions. This book uses prioritarianism as a methodology to evaluate governmental policy across a variety of policy domains: taxation, health policy, risk regulation, education, climate policy, and the COVID-19 pandemic. It is also the first to demonstrate how prioritarianism improves on GDP as an indicator of a society's progress over time. Edited by two senior figures in the field with contributions from some of the world's leading economists, this volume bridges the gap from the theory of prioritarianism to its practical application.
The chapters are as follows:
1. "Introduction," Matthew D. Adler and Ole F. Norheim
2. "Theory of prioritarianism," Matthew D. Adler
3. "Well-being measurement," Matthew D. Adler and Koen Decancq
4. "Prioritarianism and optimal taxation," Matti Tuomala and Matthew Weinzierl
5. "Prioritarianism and measuring social progress," Koen Decancq and Eric Schokkaert
6. "Prioritarianism and health policy," Richard Cookson, Ole F. Norheim, and Ieva Skarda
7. "Prioritarianism and fatality risk regulation," James K. Hammitt and Nicolas Treich
8. "Prioritarianism and climate change," Maddalena Ferranna and Marc Fleurbaey
9. "Prioritarianism and education," Erwin Ooghe
10. "Empirical research on ethical preferences: How popular is prioritarianism?" Erik Schokkaert and Benoît Tarroux
11. "Prioritarianism and equality of opportunity," Paolo Brunori, Francisco H.G. Ferreira, and Vito Peragine
12. "Prioritarianism and the covid-19 pandemic," David E. Bloom, Maddalena Ferranna, and J. P. Sevilla.
I'm still working through Elizabeth Berman's Thinking Like an Economist, and I do hope to comment on it eventually. For the time being, though, Idrees Kahloon's review in The New Yorker will suffice (despite the hyperbolic title, which I assume was not his choice).
Coming out in June from Routledge is a new book titled The Positive and the Normative in Economic Thought, edited by Agnès Grivaux and Sina Badiei:
The book responds to the need for greater clarity regarding the relationship between descriptive, evaluative and prescriptive approaches within positive and normative economics. It also analyses the entanglement between evaluative and prescriptive perspectives within several theoretical frameworks in normative economics such as social choice theory, the capability approach, behavioural welfare economics and various theories of justice.
It provides a forum for discussion between various schools of economic thought and several theoretical frameworks on the relationship between the study of facts, norms and values, with particular emphasis on classical political economy, the Marxian school of economics, the Frankfurt School, the Austrian school, the Chicago school, rational choice theory, expected utility theory, behavioural economics, experimental economics, development economics, welfare economics, public economics, constitutional political economy, the capability approach and politico-economic theories of justice.
Given the scope of questions treated in this book, it will be of interest to economists, historians of economic thought, political philosophers and philosophers of science, especially those interested in the philosophy and epistemology of economics.
The table of contents is very promising:
"The Positive and the Normative in Economic Thought: A Historical-Analytic Appraisal" (Sina Badiei and Agnès Grivaux)
"The Positive-Normative Distinction in the Classical Economic Methodology" (Michel S. Zouboulakis)
"Descriptions, Prescriptions and Norms: The Tripartite Classification of Economics by John Neville Keynes" (Gilles Campagnolo)
"Normative Economics and Its Enemies: Marx, Mises and Friedman" (Sina Badiei)
"Economics as a Normative Discipline: Value Disentanglement in an 'Objective' Economics" (John B. Davis)
"Realism and Deliberation in Normative Economics: The Fruitful Intellectual Dialogue Between James Buchanan and John Rawls" (Nathanaël Colin-Jaeger, Malte Dold, and Alexandre Gascoin)
"Normative Economics and Public Reason: Who Are the Addressees?" (Cyril Hédoin)
"Reconciling Normative and Behavioural Economics: The Problem That Cannot Be Solved" (Guilhem Lecouteux)
"The Unacknowledged Normative Content of Randomised Control Trials in Economics and Its Dangers" (Seán Mfundza Muller)
"The Positive, the Normative and the Marxian Heritage in the Early Frankfurt School" (Agnès Grivaux)
"Economics as Value-Laden Science: Lessons From the Philosophy of Science on the Normative/Positive Distinctions and Rational Choice Theory" (Magdalena Małecka)
"The Positive, the Normative and the Ontology of Social Problems" (Jesús Zamora-Bonilla)
Thanks to Christian Munthe, we have a fantastic announcement for postdocs in economic and environmental ethics at the University of Gothenburg. From the posting:
The University of Gothenburg tackles society’s challenges with diverse knowledge. 56 000 students and 6 600 employees make the university a large and inspiring place to work and study. Strong research and attractive study programmes attract scientists and students from around the world. With new knowledge and new perspectives, the University contributes to a better future.
The University of Gothenburg is looking to hire one or more 2-year post docs in the intersection of economic and environmental ethics. Economic ethics is the application of moral or political philosophy to critical issues in business organizations or the economic system. Environmental ethics is the application of moral or political philosophy to critical issues in the relationship between humans and non-human environmental systems. The research area should be understood broadly so as to include subtopics like business ethics, the political philosophy of financial markets, ethics of commodification, ethics of climate change, ethics of biodiversity, environmental philosophy and the philosophy of (environmental) economics. Any applications related to these subfields are welcome.
Potential research questions in these fields include the following:
- What moral duties, if any, do commercial firms have to mitigate climate change?
- Do consumers have a duty to invest in sustainable firms?
- Is sustainability an irreducible moral value?
- Can environmental values (such as biodiversity) be expressed in monetary terms?
- Do advantaged nations have duties to promote sustainability in vulnerable nations?
- Is the state justified in coercing financial markets towards sustainability?
The post doc will join the Financial Ethics Research Group which consists of philosophers and economists dedicated to ethical and political issues raised by the financial system (in the broadest sense). More specifically, the post doc will be connected to the research program Sustainable Finance Lab, which is a collaboration between several Swedish universities that is funded by Vinnova, Sweden’s innovation agency. Additional funding is due to the University of Gothenburg, the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, the Marcus and Amalia Wallenberg Foundation, and the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research (Mistra).
More details are available here.
In the open-access special issue of the journal Filozofia Nauki (The Philosophy of Science) with the theme "Philosophy of Economics" (guest-edited by Łukasz Hardt and Marcin Poręba), Tomasz Kwarciński and Krzysztof M. Turek (Cracow University of Economics) ask the question, "Can Normative Economics Be Convincing without the Notion of Well-Being?"
From the abstract:
In this article, we examine the notion of well-being in light of the relationship between positive and normative economics. Having identified four interrelationships between possible theoretical developments within the two fields, we propose a framework for the analysis of normative economic theories. The starting point for these considerations were competing stances on well-being proposed by neoclassical welfare economics, Robert Sugden, Amartya Sen, and Daniel Hausman.
Near the end of their introduction, they preview their contributions:
First, if the development of positive economics is the main mode of resolving normative issues, then the category of well-being (especially when as specific as welfare) can be abandoned or replaced. Second, when the welfare approach in normative economics is replaced by an opportunity or capability approach, the question remains whether to accept normative minimalism, in the hope of resolving most normative issues through the development of positive economics, or on the contrary, accept a value-laden approach in normative economics. Third, if the category of well-being is to remain crucial in normative economics, a richer, normative account of that concept is required, since positive economics cannot solve normative problems by merely equating well-being with welfare.
Forthcoming in Politics, Philosophy & Economics but currently available online (and open access) is "The Puzzle of Competitive Fairness" by Oisin Suttle (Maynooth University), exploring common intuitions about the concept of fairness as it applies to markets. (I find this very welcome, as the vague use of this concept in economics was one of the frustrations that drew me into economics-and-ethics in the first place.)
From the abstract:
There is a sense of fairness that is distinctive of markets. This is fairness among economic competitors, competitive fairness. We regularly make judgments of competitive fairness about market participants, public policies and institutions. However, it is not clear to what these judgments refer, or what moral significance they have. This paper offers a rational reconstruction of competitive fairness in terms of non-domination. It first identifies competitive fairness as a distinctive claim, advanced within markets in turn characterized as antagonistic, instrumental and procedural. It distinguishes competitive fairness from a number of familiar ideals with which it might be confused: legitimate expectation, equality of opportunity, sporting fairness and economic efficiency. While many exponents likely assume competitive fairness can be explained in terms of one of these ideals, in each case there are significant objections to doing so. Instead, the paper argues that the most promising justification of competitive fairness is under the republican ideal of non-domination, which can reconstruct many of the intuitive judgments of competitive fairness that we make in particular cases. However, it concludes, this explanation makes it difficult for exponents to continue to emphasize competitive fairness, given diverse other risks of domination, and to other values, in markets.
Extra points for using Ronald Dworkin's methodology of fit and justification. From Suttle's introduction:
My method throughout is interpretive, in the sense advanced by Ronald Dworkin (Law's Empire: Ch. 2). We begin with a pre-theoretical account of a practice, identifying this inter alia through a number of paradigm instances. We next ask whether there is a principle or set of principles that could both explain and justify the practice, so conceived. To be successful, the required principles must both account for prominent features of the practice, and explain the value realized thereby. We can then return to our paradigm instances, and to any unclear or marginal cases, reassessing these based on our new, principled, understanding of the nature and function of the practice under examination.
Forthcoming in the Journal of Economic Methodology, currently available online (and open access), is a paper from Don Ross (University College Cork) titled "Economics Is Converging with Sociology but not with Psychology." The abstract is as follows:
The rise of behavioral economics since the 1980s led to richer mutual influence between economic and psychological theory and experimentation. However, as behavioral economics has become increasingly integrated into the main stream in economics, and as psychology has remained damagingly methodologically conservative, this convergence has recently gone into reverse. At the same time, growing appreciation among economists of the limitations of atomistic individualism, along with advantages in econometric modeling flexibility by comparison with psychometrics, is leading economists to become more pluralistic than psychologists about the ontology of behavioral causation and structures. This, combined with economists’ growing interest in network models, is drawing economists closer in theory and practice to sociologists who use quantitative or mixed methods.
He elaborates on the second page of the paper:
My talk about economists and sociologists becoming ‘partners’ should not be read as forecasting or advocating institutional amalgamation. I refer only to increasing interest in similar topics, with consequent convergence on some methodological elements because part of what drives methodological evolution in sciences are features of application targets. The pattern whereby, through the rise of behavioral economics after the 1980s, an array of concepts and experimental practices from psychology spread into mainstream economics, is my template here. The main claim I aim to defend is simply that that penetration has passed its high-water mark and gone into recession, but that we should now expect a period of enhanced conceptual and methodological seepage between economics and sociology. This predicts increased cross-citation across the disciplinary line, and increased frequency of both interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary collaborations. I do not predict that economics departments will start hiring sociologists, or vice-versa.
As always with Ross's work, this is an intriguing and provocative read, with copious references for those new to this line of thought.