What are the moral foundations necessary to support a free market economy? Does capitalism need a moral base–and if so, does the operation of a market economy erode the moral and ethical foundations on which it rests? We read Adam Smith, Mill, Keynes, Galbraith and other neoclassical philosophers writing about the social fabric that holds an atomistic free market political economy together, with particular emphasis on Smith’s “other book”–Theory of Moral Sentiments–as an argument for limits to self-interested behavior inherent in human nature. (What is the sound of one Invisible Hand clapping?) We test our own articulated moral and political values against the existing political economy of Western democracies with help from more contemporary authors like Amartya Sen, Kenneth Boulding and Robert Kuttner. We will examine in depth the market for carbon offsets as a case study for the evaluation of the ethical validity of market-based solutions to climate problems. Students will write final papers on how well selected aspects of free market economies (organization of production, distribution of resources, mechanisms of inheritance, taxation) measure up to their own stated sense of justice–and how we might reform or perfect markets to align better with our morals.
The Class: Type: seminar
Requirements/Evaluation: 3- to 5-page opinion paper (15%), 5-page comparative paper (20%), final paper applying learning to a specific context (40%), class participation and discussion posts (25%)
Extra Info: not available for the fifth course option
Prerequisites: ECON 110
Enrollment Preference: letters written to instructor
Distributions: Division II; Writing-Intensive;
Distribution Notes: WI: Students will write a 3- to 5-page opinion/argumentation paper early in the semester with feedback on writing, clarity of expression, and logical argumentation. They will write a second 5-page paper comparing two works assigned to date and a final paper (12-14 pages) applying our shared learning to a particular aspect of market economies. For all of the papers, students are encouraged to submit iterative drafts incorporating instructor comments and critiques.