26 January 2011

Today's Sentences of the Day

"Quia quamdiu Centum ex nobis viui remanserint, nuncquam Anglorum dominio aliquatenus volumus subiugari. Non enim propter gloriam, diuicias aut honores pugnamus set propter libertatem solummodo quam Nemo bonus nisi simul cum vita amittit." --from the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath

[My translation (must be read aloud, with emphasis on nearly every word):  "For as long as but one hundred of us remain alive, we shall not submit to English rule. It is not for glory, or honors, or riches that we fight, but for liberty. And a man of honor does not give up his liberty except with his life."]

24 January 2011

Phillipson on Smith

As an update to the earlier notice of my brief podcast, the Cato Institute has now posted the entire book forum on Nicholas Phillipson's book that Cato hosted on January 12, 2011. It is available here, and below. Professor Phillipson speaks for about 30 minutes, I then speak and comment for about 15 minutes, and then we have questions and answers.

[H/T: Anti-Dismal.]

21 January 2011

Podcast: Otteson on Smith

Here is a brief (about ten minute) podcast, hosted by the Cato Institute, of me speaking on Adam Smith as a moral philosopher.

I was interviewed for it right after a book forum, also hosted by Cato, on Nicholas Phillipson's new book, Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life.I provided comments on Professor Phillipson's book.

20 January 2011

He Said It: Wilhelm Röpke

"[A]dvocates [of the market economy], in so far as they are at all intellectually fastidious, have always recognized that the sphere of the market, of competition, of the system where supply and demand move prices and thereby govern production, may be regarded and defended only as part of a wider general order encompassing ethics, law, the natural conditions of life and happiness, the state, politics, and power. Society as a whole cannot be ruled by the laws of supply and demand, and the state is more than a sort of business company, as has been the conviction of the best conservative opinion since the time of Burke. Individuals who compete on the market and there pursue their own advantage stand all the more in need of the social and moral bonds of community, without which competition degenerates most grievously. As we have said before, the market economy is not everything. It must find its place in a higher order of things which is not ruled by supply and demand, free prices, and competition. It must be firmly contained within an all-embracing order of society in which the imperfections and harshness of economic freedom are corrected by law and in which man is not denied conditions of life appropriate to his nature. Man can wholly fulfill his nature only by freely becoming part of a community and having a sense of solidarity with it. Otherwise he leads a miserable existence and he knows it."

--Wilhelm Röpke, "The Conditions and Limits of the Market," chap. 3 of his 1960 A Humane Economy: The Social Framework of the Free Market

19 January 2011

He Said It: Friedrich Hayek

"The great advantage of the competitive system, however, lies exactly in the fact that it offers a premium on foresight and adaptability, and on the fact that one has to pay for it if one wishes to stay in an occupation which has become less needed. Any attempt to indemnify people against the consequences of changes which they have not foreseen makes the forces of the market inoperative and makes it necessary to put central direction in their place."

--F. A. Hayek, "Freedom and the Economic System" (1939), contained in Socialism and War: Essays, Documents, and Reviews

My Teaching: Political Economy

Last semester I taught a course entitled "Different Wealth of Nations." It took its name from Adam Smith's great work, but the word "different" suggested the course's twist on Smith's investigation. The course focused on two questions: One, why are there such tremendous disparities of wealth in different parts of the world today; and two, why did standards of living begin to increase so rapidly just when (around 1800) and where (Britain) they did?

Two of the courses I am teaching this semester, "Liberalism" and "Ethics and Politial Economy,"  have caused some students to ask me how they differ both from each other and from what was in DWN. Moreover, how do they relate to or differ from two other courses I have taught recently, namely "Capitalism and Morality" and "History and Philosophy of Economic Thought"?

There is a handful of themes that run through all these courses, including: By what criteria should we evaluate systems of politics and economics, and which are the best? What can the discipline of economics contribute toward our understanding of the good life? What have the great thinkers in political philosophy and economics believed, and what arguments have they adduced to support their beliefs? What institutions are required for peace, prosperity, freedom, justice?

All of these questions fall within the provenance of a field of inquiry called "political economy." That term is perhaps less familiar today than it was in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries, in part because as the discipline of economics developed, especially during the twentieth century, it increasingly saw itself as a "positive"--that is to say, value-neutral or even value-free--discipline. That left the discussion of values--whether religious, moral, or cultural--to other disciplines, including in particular moral philosophy and political theory or political philosophy. So what was once a single discipline of political economy became two disciplines: moral or political philosophy, and economics.

In my view, the bifurcation of moral philosophy from economics was, and is, a mistake. Human beings are purposive creatures, so the study of their behavior must also take into account their purposes, which includes their religious, moral, and cultural ends. That is not to say that moral philosophy and economics do not have their separate methods and their distinctive approaches to understanding human behavior. But the division between them can be taken too far, which is partly why there is considerable mutual suspicion between practitioners of each discipline.

What I am interested in, and what I believe every economist and every moral philosopher should ultimately be interested in, is in discovering those institutions that are necessary for or that encourage human flourishing. What are the political and economic, the moral and religious, the social and cultural institutions that can enable human beings to live together in peace, to associate and create and prosper, and to construct lives of dignity, virtue, and happiness? To make some headway in this regard requires drawing on a number of disciplines: economics and moral philosophy to be sure, but also political theory, psychology, history, anthropology, cognitive science, even rhetoric, languages, and literature--in short, all the species of study that would, in Adam Smith's time, fallen under the single genus moral philosophy.

Back to my teaching. The courses I teach approach in their own way the discipline of moral philosophy, classically understood. I intend for them to complement one another, and indeed for them to form something of a coherent introduction into the field of political economy.

My hope, then, is that a student who has taken all of these courses will have completed a competent survey of the field of political ecnonomy. He will have some idea of what the great figures of the field have believed; he will have acquired some basic knowledge of human economic history, including some of the political, economic, and moral experiments that human beings have attempted; he will have a sense of the current lay of the scholarly land, as it were; he will have an understanding of the complexity of human life and human behavior, and the difficulties involved in trying to comprehend, predict, or affect it; and he will have developed some tentative judgments about what kinds of institutions encourage, and what kinds discourage, human prosperity.

I believe these questions are not only vexing but also among the most interesting we can explore today. But I also think there are few that are more urgently important or timely. That is why I have developed this circuit of courses in political economy, why I teach them, and why I welcome students to take as many of them as their busy schedules permit.

17 January 2011

Call for Papers: Conversations on Philanthropy

The journal Conversations on Philanthropy is inviting submissions for an upcoming volume on "Law and Philanthropy." For more information, click here.

13 January 2011

Conversations on Philanthropy

My short article "'The Gospel of Wealth' and True Philanthropy," published in Identity, Interests, and Philanthropic Commerce (vol. VI (2009) of Conversations on Philanthropy), is now available online. My article is an invited response to the featured article, Steven Grosby's provocative "Philanthropy and Human Action."

He Said It: St. Benedict

"Speaking and instructing are the teacher's duties; the student's duty is to be silent and listen. If any questions must asked of the teacher, they should therefore be asked with sincere humility and proper respect."

--St. Benedict of Nursia (AD 480-547), "De taciturnitate," Regula monachorum 6.6-7 (ca. AD 529; my translation)

11 January 2011

Pride by Proxy

As of today, I can boast that I have had students* who have gotten into the following top-ten law schools (listed in order of this ranking):


An outlier had been Chicago, where, despite the fact that it is where I got my PhD, I had never had a student accepted. (I had had one or two wait-listed, but never outright accepted.) That changed today, when a student of mine, who had already been accepted to Harvard and NYU, received his Chicago acceptance. 

I have had students accepted to many other fine law schools, though, to my knowledge, to none of the other schools in the top ten. (Students: If I am misinformed or misremembering, please let me know!)

Congratulations to the students!

*I count only those students of mine for whom I have actually written letters of recommendation.

06 January 2011

Review of Cohen on Socialism

My review of the late G. A. Cohen's final book, Why Not Socialism? (Princeton, 2009), has just appeared in The Independent Review. The review is available here.

As you will see from the review, I was not particularly impressed by the argument in the book. Indeed, I was quite disappointed, especially given that Cohen was a distinguished philosopher who had produced excellent and important work earlier in his career. His Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality (Cambridge, 1995), for example, provided a searching and challenging critique of Nozickean libertarianism. The argument of Why Not Socialism? is, by contrast, thin and facile.

Cohen's book may end up having had one important redeeming feature for me personally, however: It may have inspired my next book. (More on that soon . . . .)

01 January 2011

Happy New Year!

Here is wishing everyone a happy and prosperous 2011, and hoping it is your best year yet.

To commemorate the New Year, I have changed the template for my website.  The template is called "Simple." Is it too simple? Let me know what you think.