Dr. Loren Lomasky of the University of Virginia gave a lecture on the ethics and economics of inter-generational transfer programs. Professor Lomasky predicts that as people live longer, and fertility rates decline in the West, public debt will rise and existing workers will pay an increasing amount to finance transfer programs. According to the Lomasky and Brennan thesis, transfer programs are easy to pass and hard to cut because it is cheap for people to vote for such programs, even if the consequences include increased debt spending by governments and reduced economic growth and job opportunities for the young.
The Visions of Freedom Living-Learning Community, is Duke’s first living-learning community. We’re a group of Duke upperclassmen with a passion for politics, philosophy, and economics. We also believe the best conversations don’t always happen in the classroom. They happen over a meal, during trip off-campus or in the middle of a “social” event. That’s why we’re striving to create a space for not-too-serious intellectual conversations outside of the classroom and traditional extracurricular settings.
We value intellectual diversity, because how can you have a good conversation if you always agree? We value respect for others’ opinions as well as a good comeback. While many of us major in political science and public policy, some of us major in biology. While a good number of us participated in FOCUS our freshman year, many of us did not. We have members from literally 10 minutes away and literally the other side of the world.
“Michael Munger of Duke University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the virtues and negatives of a basic guaranteed income–giving every American adult an annual amount of money to guarantee a subsistence level of well-being. How would such a plan work? How would it interact with current anti-poverty programs? How would it affect recipients and taxpayers? Munger attacks these issues and more in a lively conversation with Roberts.”
On October 6, 2016, Professor Jonathan Haidt gave a Hayek Lecture at Duke. The event was co-sponsored by the programs in the History of Political Economy (HOPE), Philosophy, Politics, & Economics (PPE), and American Values and Institutions (AVI). The event was open to the public, but also served as a guest lecture in Professor Jonathan Anomaly’s PPE course.
Professor Haidt argues that conflicts arise at many American universities today because they are pursuing two potentially incompatible goals: truth and social justice. While Haidt thinks both goals are important, he maintains that they can come into conflict.
According to some versions of social justice, whenever we observe a disparity of outcomes between races, genders, or other groups, we should infer that injustice has been done. Haidt challenges this view of social justice and shows how it sometimes leads to violations of truth, and even justice.
Haidt concludes that universities should be free to pursue whatever goals – truth or social justice – they want, but that they should make it clear which of these two goals is their “telos” – their highest purpose. He ends with a discussion of his initiative, HeterodoxAcademy.org, to bring more viewpoint diversity to universities in order to improve research and learning.
On September 19, 2016 Professor Jason Brennan of Georgetown University visited Duke University to give a Hayek Lecture. Professor Brennan began with an overview of “anti-commodification” arguments from philosophers like Michael Sandel and Elizabeth Anderson. He distinguished several different ways they criticize markets, include market exchange leading to a misallocation of resources, harm to others, or harm to the participants themselves. He put aside these arguments as legitimate worries, and focused on symbolic objections to markets, which argue that the exchange of some things – like money for sex – is wrong because it signals disrespect to some of the participants, or because it changes the meaning of the same action when money is not involved. Brennan disagrees, arguing that the meaning of any exchange is a socially constructed fact, so that there’s nothing timelessly true about an exchange sending bad signals rather than good signals. If the norms that create the meaning of an exchange produce net harms rather than net benefits, Brennan argues, we have reasons to try to change the norms rather than submit to them. A case in point is kidneys. Many people in the world die waiting for kidney donations that never come. Brennan concludes that rather than deferring to the common view that it’s wrong to exchange money for kidneys, we should criticize the norms that suggest there is something inherently wrong with trading kidneys for cash.
A transcript excerpt below…
VANEK SMITH: (Laughter) And there is always someone who will help us be a little bit lazier – for a profit.
SMITH: And I guess in some ways with all that, you know, one-click shopping, the internet has made us lazier, and it’s simultaneously created all these opportunities for people to jump in and make things even easier but to take a little slice of the profit here and there.
VANEK SMITH: Exactly. Like, save us a couple of keystrokes and charge us a little more. Michael Munger is an economist at Duke. He has been studying the middleman for years.
MICHAEL MUNGER: All you have to do is have a computer with a connection to the internet and the ability to write code, and you can be a middleman. It’s the most competitive industry the world has ever known.
This course is an introduction to the Political Economy. I have tried to raise some issues that economists sometimes ignore, while preserving enough economic reasoning to make it a useful introduction overall. In some ways, the PPE approach makes it hard to come to definitive conclusions, but then we think that is a feature, not a bug!
On March 21, Tyler Cowen visited Duke to give a Hayek Lecture on why economic growth hasn’t reduced the average number of hours Americans work. Professor Cowen’s talk was prompted by an essay by John Maynard Keynes, who predicted in 1930 that in about a century steady economic growth would lead people to work less and spend more time on personal projects.
According to Keynes, “the economic problem may be solved, or be at least within sight of solution, within a hundred years. This means that…for the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem–how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well.”
Cowen argues that although work hours have remained fairly constant, there has been real progress, especially for women and the elderly, and that working more is not necessarily a sign that we are running on a treadmill without going anywhere. Sometimes work, he argues, can give our lives meaning, and can help us enjoy more of the activities and technologies that economic growth makes available.
On Monday, February 22, Matt Zwolinski flew out from the University of San Diego to talk about Exploitation and the Psychology of Moral Judgment. Professor Zwolinski has written extensively about laws that prohibit price gouging and sweatshop labor. In the past, he has argued that if the terms of employment are clear, and the risks are understood by the relevant parties, the voluntary relationships between employer and employee should be respected rather than regulated, even if wages are low and working conditions are risky.
At the beginning of his lecture, Zwolinski briefly recapitulated those arguments, but then moved on to ask why so many people think that price-gougers and sweatshop owners who benefit their employees by providing them with more options than they would otherwise have are worse than people who do nothing at all to help the poor. Zwolinski argued that our intuitions about these cases are misleading, and that we should revise them if we discover that people who protest sweatshops and price gouging make the poor worse off than they would be without them.