Posts by Mark D. White

Deirdre McCloskey on Humanomics

Bettering humanomicsBy Mark D. White

In case you missed it, there was a fantastic interview with Deirdre McCloskey—another of my main influences, as well as a longtime friend—conducted by Paolo Silvestri in the Spring 2021 issue of Erasmus Journal of Philosophy and Economics. Their discussion is wide-ranging and insightful, covering much of McCloskey's writing over the years, but a significant focus is on her book Bettering Humanomics: A New, and Old, Approach to Economic Science, released earlier this year by the University of Chicago Press.

In solidarity with Vernon Smith and Bart Wilson (including their recent book Humanomics), and all of them drawing ultimately on Adam Smith, McCloskey argues for a richer economics—"quantifiably serious, philosophically serious, historically serious, and ethically serious," as she writes in the preface to the book—that recognizes the subject of economics as human beings, not mathematical abstracts, which only gets us so far (and reasonable people can quibble about exactly how far that is).

McCloskey takes particular aim at behaviorism and positivism, "both top-down, infantilizing, as in nudging, and industrial planning, and other anti-liberalisms. And both are indefensible philosophically. And both are poor guides to understanding the economy" (p. 202 of the interview). For more on these points, see the discussion between her and Silvestri in the Journal of Institutional Economics (open access), which focuses more on her forthcoming book Beyond Behaviorism, Positivism, and Neo-Institutionalism in Economics (also from Chicago).


Symposium in Bioethics: "Health Rights: Individual. Collective. ‘National?’"

Bioethics 35-8By Mark D. White

There is a symposium in the latest issue of Bioethics (35/8, October 2021), edited by Michael Da Silva and Daniel Weinstock, on the topic of health rights that explores their ethical, political, and economics dimensions of "health rights"—the opening paragraph of the editors' introduction provides context and citations to supporting and critical literature:

‘Socio‐economic’ rights are a species of so‐called ‘positive’ right that call for performance of certain actions—most often the provision of particular goods and services—on the part of the rights claims’ purported corresponding duty‐bearers.1 Advocates of ‘socio‐economic’ rights to health, healthcare, or public health (‘health rights’) have produced several plausible theories that address some of the most pressing challenges for socio‐economic rights claims. Many critics still deny that moral health rights exist or that rights‐based approaches will best achieve health justice,2 but health rights theorists at least provide sophisticated answers to basic questions like ‘Who possesses the rights and their corresponding duties?’and ‘What are the nature, scope, and content of the duties?’Answers to these questions differ and will not convince all critics, but rights‐based approaches to the corner of bioethics devoted to health justice now at least constitute part of the scholarly mainstream.3 Regardless of their theoretical bona fides, in turn, health rights exist in many legal systems. The international right to health is well established and most domestic constitutions recognize rights to healthcare, if not broader rights to health or public health.4 Theorists should and do attempt to ‘make sense’ of this phenomenon.5

(The footnotes appear at the end of this post.)

As the rest of the introductory essay recognizes, and the papers in the symposium explore, a right to health, as with positive rights in general, is fraught with conflicts with negative rights (against interference and compulsion) as well as other positive rights that may compete with health rights in principle or along more practical concerns of resource scarcity.

- -- --- ---- ----- ---- --- -- -

Footnotes to opening paragraph of introduction:

1 For good summaries, see Rumbold, B. E. (2017). The moral right to health: A survey of available conceptions. Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, 20(4), 508–528; Hassoun, N. (2015). The human right to health. Philosophy Compass, 10(4), 275–283; Hassoun, N. (2020). The human right to health: A defense. Journal of Social Philosophy, 51(2), 158–179. On the less commonly discussed purported ‘right to public health’, see Wilson, J. (2016). The right to public health. Journal of Medical Ethics, 42(6), 367–375.
2 Gopal Sreenivasan provides one of the strongest arguments against moral health rights in Sreenivasan, G. (2012). A human right to health? Some inconclusive scepticism. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume, 86, 239–265 and Sreenivasan, G. (2016). Health care and human rights: Against the split duty gambit. Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics, 37(4), 343–364, though he recognizes that legal rights exist and may be justified. Cohen, J. (2020). Paradigm under threat: Health and human rights today. Health and Human Rights Journal, 22(2), 309–312 has a nice, succinct overview of criticisms of rights‐based approaches to health justice and attempts to respond to such critiques.
3 The last two comments build on sources cited in note 1. For a succinct discussion focused on theorizing the international rights, see Wolff, J. (2012). The human right to health. W. W. Norton.
4 United Nations. (1966, December 16). International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 993 UNTS 3, art. 12; Rosevear, E., Hirschl, R., & Jung, C. (2019). Justiciable and aspirational economic and social rights in national constitutions. In K. G. Young (Ed.), The future of economic and social rights (pp. 37–65). Cambridge University Press.
5 The language here is inspired by Nickel, J. W. (1987). Making sense of human rights: Philosophical reflections on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. University of California Press. Wolff, op. cit. note 3 is an example of an attempt to ‘make sense’ of existing laws from a philosophical perspective.


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.)


Symposium: Cost-Benefit Analysis at the Crossroads (LPE Project)

Lpe projectBy Mark D. White

The Law and Political Economy (LPE) Project recently launched a symposium that promises to examine cost-benefit analysis (CBA) under the critical lens of political science, law, and philosophy. The introductory post by legal scholar Frank Pasquale can be found here, and after surveying a number of the issues with CBA, summarizes the symposium's intent and future participants in its final paragraph:

The challenge to CBA is now clear. If it is to be a tool of policy evaluation worth supporting, we must embed it in political frameworks that make CBA just as prone to catalyzing regulation, as to derailing it. Moreover, the limits of quantification must be squarely addressed. Posts in this symposium demonstrate a way forward on both fronts, enriching CBA with both immanent and transcendent critiques of past OIRA missteps. We will be thrilled to welcome the symposiasts over the coming weeks: Beth Popp Berman, James Goodwin, Lisa Heinzerling, Zachary Liscow, Melissa Luttrell, Jorge Romano-Romero, Mark Silverman, Amy Sinden, and Karen Tani. Each has done important work in the field, and LPE Blog is honored to host their contributions.

The first full post, by legal scholar Lisa Heinzerling, discusses CBA in the context of the dual concerns of racial justice and climate change. She asks whether CBA can adequately appreciate the true benefits of action on these fronts, given its reliance on discounting of future benefits (which is highly sensitive to the specific discount rate chosen) and monetary valuation of benefits (which does not apply well to issues involving dignity and rights). She concludes by suggesting an alternative evaluative approach to these policy issues:

Discounting and monetary valuation are so central to the cost-benefit method that it is hard to imagine cost-benefit analysis without them. Happily, though, it is easy to imagine White House regulatory review without cost-benefit analysis. The vast majority of federal regulatory statutes do not require cost-benefit analysis. Many do not even allow it. Instead of evaluating major rules by asking whether they satisfy the test of formal cost-benefit analysis, the White House could ask whether the rules faithfully follow the relevant statutory framework and whether the agencies have rigorously analyzed the evidence in front of them. This simple reform would not only avoid the conundrums posed by cost-benefit analysis. It would also close the gap that has opened between the regulatory standards set by Congress and the cost-benefit metric that recent presidents have preferred.

This symposium is shaping up to be a valuable and fascinating survey of the numerous moral, legal, and political issues with cost-benefit analysis, and we'll likely be highlighting more contributions here as it continues.


A new Economics and Ethics, same as the old Economics and Ethics...

Small logoBy Mark D. White

Welcome to the new and improved, but basically the same, Economics and Ethics blog!

It's been nearly two years since this blog has featured any content, and for a long time up to that point Jonathan was carrying the ball on his own. (Thanks Jonathan!) But we have returned, spruced the place up a bit, and we're ready to get back to business.

As we slide back into "regular" posting again, we'll start by sharing any new books, articles, conference, and media that is relevant to economics and ethics—and I'm pleased to say there is a lot to share, if judging only by the number of tabs open on my browser at any given time.

Before long, I hope we can also resume offering short commentary and responses to new developments in the field, including longer discussions of academic work past and present—one goal is to have a bibliography or reading guide to complement Jonathan's teaching guide—as well as insights on real-world events from an ethically-informed economic perspective.

But Jonathan and I don't want to do this all by ourselves: We welcome contributions from interested and knowledgeable people from all backgrounds. I've reached out to some of very smart people—and again, I'm pleased to say I know a lot of them—but feel free to drop me a line at profmdwhite@hotmail.com if you want to be an occasional or regular contributor.

Also, this blog now has a dedicated Twitter account, @econandethics, which I hope you will follow and retweet when we've earned it.

Stay tuned...


Job announcement: UNC Chapel Hill open faculty position in PPE (associate or full)

Mark D. White

On behalf of Geoff Sayre-McCord, UNC Chapel Hill is currently searching for an associate or full professor in work  in its PPE (Philosophy, Politics, and Economics) program:

The Department of Philosophy in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is seeking to appoint a tenured Associate or Professor to begin July 1, 2017 (although start date is negotiable). This person would be a core faculty member in our thriving Philosophy, Politics, and Economics Program, and would be expected to contribute substantially to that program. AOS: Moral and Political Philosophy, with research and teaching interests that include the intersection of philosophy, politics, and economics. Essential to the position is working knowledge of political economy (including public choice economics) and game theory. Interdisciplinary collaborations required. An extraordinary research track record is a necessary condition for consideration, as is evidence of excellence in teaching. Salary commensurate with qualifications; usual research, teaching, advising and service expectations.

The full job listing is here; application deadline is February 8, 2017, and the committee will start reviewing dossiers on January 21, 2017.


Call for papers: "Prizes and Virtues: An Interdisciplinary Workshop" (Rome, April 10-11, 2017)

“PRIZES AND VIRTUES: AN INTERDISCIPLINARY WORKSHOP”
LUMSA University, Rome – April 10-11, 2017

To an economist, a prize, such as a golden medal, is merely a special type of incentive. Any other kind of social scientist would be perplexed by thinking of the Nobel Prize, or of the Medal of Honour, in these terms. In contemporary neoclassical economics, the concept of incentive is a primitive, similar to that of “utility”, “price”, “production” or “consumption”, that all economists use but none feels the need to define: it is a foundation, or a corner stone, of the science of economics. However, if we tried to articulate what economists mean by incentives, we would probably find that they are considered as any “motivation” for adhering to and for complying with some form of contract. Once incentives are intended in this all-embracing way, it immediately follows that prizes and awards are considered simply as their sub-set. Yet many real world prizes and awards do not follow this contractarian, consequentialist logic and cannot be understood within this framework. A more complex understanding of human motivation–we believeis needed to hold that prizes are indeed not incentives.

This search cannot ignore the history of economic and philosophical ideals. Competing theories of action and motivation were central topics of debate among eighteenth century philosophers. David Hume, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Adam Smith’s theories implied much more complex social and economic motivations than mere self-interest, which can be opportunely diverted through an appropriate incentive. Within the Italian school of civil economy, Pietro Verri and Antonio Genovesi elaborated on the unintended consequences of public and institutional actions on individuals’ behaviour. In the same line, Giacinto Dragonetti debated (at a distance) with Cesare Beccaria on the nature and effectiveness of punishments and awards in shaping agents’ choices, both in private and public contexts. From the mid XIX century onward, economists became those social scientists most characterized by the purest anthropology (i.e. that of a human being acting in order to maximize individual utili!
 ty), endorsing utilitarian philosophy and sacrificing previously complex understanding of human actions. In the XX century, microeconomics has continued this process of anthropological reductionism: management theory, as well as agency and contract theory, have distilled the all-embracing theory of incentives.

In the last three decades, behavioural and experimental economics are undermining from within this reductionist model of human behaviour. By taking serious account of concepts such as reciprocity, intrinsic motivation, inequality aversion, and fairness, they are making more complex interpretations of human action and motivation central again, albeit still within the utilitarian framework. In addition, there is an important contemporary philosophical stream of inquiry, the so-called virtue ethics, which competes with utilitarianism yet remains almost unknown to the economic profession. We argue that this research may provide further insights into human action, which seem otherwise intractable within the current anthropological framework, and can cast a new light on the nature and working of prizes as fundamentally different from incentives. In particular, prizes may well suit the rewarding of virtues, because incentive are known to be liable to cause motivation crowding-out.

To advance our understanding of the economics of prizes, awards and their link with virtues,we warmly invite economists, historians, philosophers, scholars in organization and management and other social scientists to answer to this call and submit an extended abstract (max 1000 words).

Keynote speakers:
– Robert Dur, Erasmus University Rotterdam (Economics)
– Bruno Frey, University of Basel (Behavioural Science)
– Ruth Grant, Duke University (Political Science)

“Pier Luigi Porta” Award:
Heirs will honour the memory of the past Heirs’ President Professor Pier Luigi Porta by a special award to the best paper presented at this conference, a stream of research strongly supported by him before dying. Heirs invites all under fourty scholars to apply for this special “Pier Luigi Porta Award”. The award consist in 2500 euro plus travel cost and accomodation for the conference. The prize will be assigned during the social dinner.

Deadline for submissions of extended abstracts (max 1000 words):
February 15th, 2017 (acceptance date: February 25th, 2017)
to: heirs.unimib@gmail.com

Organization committee: HEIRS & LUMSA University
Luigino Bruni (LUMSA), Vittorio Pelligra (U. Cagliari), Tommaso Reggiani (LUMSA),     Matteo Rizzolli (LUMSA), Alessandra Smerilli (LUMSA).

Contacts:
heirs.unimib@gmail.com


Discussion of Kant and classical liberalism at Cato Unbound

Mark D. White

KantUpon generous invitation, earlier this month I helped launch a conversation at Cato Unbound regarding whether or to what extent Immanuel Kant can or should be regarded as a classical liberal.

The entire discussion can be found here, starting with my lead article in defense of Kant as a classical liberal, followed by critical responses from Gregory Salmieri, Stephen R. C. Hicks, and Roderick T. Long, followed by my response to all three comments and further discussion (still continuing through the end of the month.


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.)