ECO 123 Values & Economic Justice

Economics 123
(also Philosophy 123)
Values, Norms, and Economic Justice
Professor Stephen Schmidt

Course Description
Economists are interested in recommending “good” economic policies, but they rarely pause to consider what makes a particular policy good or bad. Philosophers, in contrast, have spent a lot of time worrying about what makes something good or bad, including what makes something the right way to run the economy and what makes it the wrong way to run the economy – things like socialism, private property, free markets, and redistribution of income from rich to poor. In this course we will look at different theories that have been proposed about what “good” means in the context of economic policy. One theory – a modified version of utilitarianism – is the dominant one in contemporary economics. We’ll spend a few weeks understanding that theory and what its strengths and weaknesses are. We’ll spend a few weeks after that looking at some alternative theories of “good” economics – libertarianism, egalitarianism, communitarianism, and some less common alternative proposals like humanist, feminist, and Islamic economics – and contrast them with the mainstream view. We’ll also spend time looking at some specific policy issues, like health care, the environment, unemployment, a bunch of others – and see how different understandings of the self and the good lead to different (in some cases very different) recommendations about what policies we should follow.

There are no prerequisites for Economics 123.

Economics 123 is scheduled to meet Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 1:50 to 2:55. The requirement of the course is to for students to understand the different conceptual approaches that are used in evaluating economic policies, to think about what they personally consider to be good and bad in economic policy, to understand how different answers to that question imply different policies, and be able to give reasoned explanations for the policies that they prefer based on the values that they find compelling. The grade will be based mostly on short writing assignments (two five-page papers and regular shorter papers) and on class presentation and discussion; there will also be one midterm and one final exam, which will have a mixture of short-answer and essay questions.