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Jonathan B. Wight
Richmond, Virginia
Professor of Economics, University of Richmond
Interests: adam smith, moral foundations of markets, teaching ethics in economics
Recent Activity
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By John Morton Teachers are mad as hell, and they aren’t going to take it anymore. The goal of the current #RedForEd movement is a 20 percent pay raise plus more money for other school activities. To get this, teachers are staging “walk-ins” and “walk-outs.” Polls show strong support for the teachers. Even though God created economists to make weather forecasters look good, I’m bold enough to predict that across-the-board teacher pay raises will have little or no effect on educational outcomes. Here’s why. We already spend a lot with little to show in the way of return. In 2013,... Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at Economics and Ethics
By Jonathan B. Wight This fun short video by Johan Norberg of Cato, and released by Free to Choose Media, lays it bare: She would detest him. She would reject his policies and his boorish behaviors. Her novel’s characters adhere to principles, and concern themselves with ethics (it may not be an ethics everyone agrees with). If Ayn Rand would abhor Trump, why have devotees of Ayn Rand (like House Speaker Paul Ryan) been so averse to calling Trump out on these matters? With hindsight, history will not be kind to current leaders, who held their noses at Trump’s dangerous... Continue reading
Posted Apr 11, 2018 at Economics and Ethics
By Jonathan B. Wight Some ant colonies in Africa have developed the division of labor to such an extent that some workers serve as medics to treat other injured ants after foraging raids (see here). It doesn’t make sense for all ant colonies to save the wounded, if it is cheap for the queen to reproduce new workers. But in some cases injured workers can be rehabilitated and live to fight hard another day, even when missing a limb or two. Medic ants do triage, providing more care to those that are mildly injured, removing enemy barbs and licking wounds... Continue reading
Posted Mar 17, 2018 at Economics and Ethics
By Jonathan B. Wight Several weeks ago the American Economic Association issued an ethics report and a Draft Code of Professional conduct. They asked for public comments. Here are mine: Dear Colleagues, There is disconnect between how economists typically model “other” people’s behaviors and how the authors of the Draft Code model the ideal behaviors expected of economists. The Draft Code of Conduct appeals to deontological ethics, insisting that professionals have a duty to act in certain ways toward others. Good outcomes “demand honesty and transparency in conducting and presenting research, disinterested assessment of ideas, and disclosure of conflicts of... Continue reading
Posted Mar 14, 2018 at Economics and Ethics
By John Morton Again a school shooting dominates the news. As a high school teacher for 30 years, I am horrified by these situations. As in the past, people are shouting at each other rather than trying to find common ground to reduce gun violence in the future. First, the problem must be defined. Mass violence is only part of the problem. In 2017, 762 people were murdered in Chicago, which has the strictest gun-control laws in the nation. What is even more shocking is that on a per-capita basis, St. Louis has the honor of being the nation’s murder... Continue reading
Posted Mar 9, 2018 at Economics and Ethics
Love the quote! Thanks, Jonas.
Toggle Commented Mar 6, 2018 on Trade Wars at Economics and Ethics
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By Jonathan B. Wight Just what we need! More ludicrous and erroneous teachings about Adam Smith! Smith favored laissez-faire markets, right? Wrong! Smith favored unbridled capitalism led by greed, right? Wrong. One person’s profit means another person’s loss, right? Wrong. Unfortunately, The Anspacher Theater in New York is hosting The Low Row, an “epic” play about Adam Smith and his alleged degenerate views. Here is the flyer: Needless to say, the author is profiting handsomely from putting forth outright lies and fabrications (at least judging from the release above). People who love the truth should stay away from this claptrap. Continue reading
Posted Mar 6, 2018 at Economics and Ethics
By Jonathan B. Wight “When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win. Example, when we are down $100 billion with a certain country and they get cute, don’t trade anymore-we win big. It’s easy!” --President Donald Trump We should all read Hayek’s “The Pretense of Knowledge,” which is a sharp rebuke to anyone who thinks that making public policy is easy, with knowable and predictable outcomes. Trump’s tweet on trade suggests a level of bloated bravado, ignorance, and incompetence that... Continue reading
Posted Mar 6, 2018 at Economics and Ethics
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By Jonathan B. Wight “No race or people shall drag me down by making me hate them.” --Booker T. Washington (November 21, 1896) [Speech in Richmond, Virginia] Wonderful words, hard to implement in the fevered political battles that render us all less than rational, and less than human according to Washington. Continue reading
Posted Feb 26, 2018 at Economics and Ethics
By Jonathan B. Wight The New York Times reports that Adam Smith’s ideas will soon be on the stage: ‘THE LOW ROAD’ at the Public Theater (previews start on Feb. 13; opens on March 7). A freewheeling approach to free market theory, this 50-character picaresque from Bruce Norris (“Clybourne Park”) is set in the late 18th century and inspired by the theories of Adam Smith. Good thing a drama about unrestrained markets and morally dubious economic modes won’t resonate today. Michael Greif directs. Hmmm…. Could be interesting, except this clipping has to throw in the “morally dubious economic modes” snippet.... Continue reading
Posted Feb 8, 2018 at Economics and Ethics
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By Jonathan B. Wight “I don’t trust mobs of any kind, even when they’re advocating for things I support. People losing their careers based on innuendo or accusation is troubling for me. There is a process for this: a legal system. Convicting someone on an accusation is really dangerous territory to be living in.” --Actor Tim Robbins (here) [Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tim_Robbins_(8235175646).jpg] Continue reading
Posted Feb 3, 2018 at Economics and Ethics
By Jonathan B. Wight According to a new study in the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, incentivizing students and teachers with monetary incentives for learning produced …. (drumroll….) increases in cheating! Not only did students cheat more, they may have learned to cheat as a result of the monetary incentive. In virtue ethics, by contrast, people become motivated to do the right thing for the right reasons. Building a solid and genuine relationship between the teacher and student may be necessary for this approach to work. Continue reading
Posted Feb 2, 2018 at Economics and Ethics
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"In business you ask what price, not what religion. And Protestant trousers keep you just as warm." --Bertolt Brecht, Mother Courage and Her Children, Translated by Eric Bentley (NY: Grove Press, [1941] 1955, pp. 52-53). Ostensibly set during the Thirty Years' War between Catholics and Protestants (1618–1648), Mother Courage is the tale of a wandering saleswoman who follows armies across devastated battlefields, supplying soldiers and generals with alcohol and other comforts. War creates the opportunity for profit, and peace the devastation of falling prices. Ironies abound, of course, and the play is a reflection of the devastation of World War... Continue reading
Posted Feb 1, 2018 at Economics and Ethics
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By John Morton Over one million high school students enroll in an economics course each year, usually in their senior year. That’s an impressive number. While these courses vary greatly, three formats dominate. About 150,000 students take Advanced Placement Economics. This program consists of a one-semester microeconomics course and a one-semester macroeconomics course. Because students can earn college credit if they pass a standardized test at a certain level, AP Economics is similar to the college introductory economics course. Most students take a one-semester course, which is a watered-down college introductory course with personal finance added on. The third type... Continue reading
Posted Jan 27, 2018 at Economics and Ethics
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By Jonathan B. Wight “Driving means making a thousand small moral decisions: whether to tailgate to push the slowpoke faster, or to give space; whether to honk only as a warning or constantly as your all-purpose show of contempt for humanity.” “Driving puts you in a constant position of asking, Are we in a place where there is a system of self-restraint, or are we in a place where it’s dog eat dog?” -- David Brooks To read the whole thing, go here. [Image: Piero Sierra, https://www.flickr.com/photos/piero/103691782] Continue reading
Posted Jan 5, 2018 at Economics and Ethics
By Jonathan B. Wight Economists tend to think that people are rational, and that after voluntarily choosing a goal people are therefore capable of exerting the will-power necessary to achieve that goal. We all know this often isn’t so, and behavioral economics has come up with some useful heuristics to improve outcomes and to improve self-control. But economists still tend to be wedded to the idea of developing self-control using rational arguments and incentives: tell subjects that if they are willing to wait 15 minutes they can get two candies rather than one immediately. In theory, incentives lead people to... Continue reading
Posted Jan 2, 2018 at Economics and Ethics
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By John Morton It’s New Year’s Day 2018, and I bet a lot of people are concerned about the new year and the future beyond 2018. President Trump keeps Tweeting. Nancy Pelosi says this recent tax cut is “a Frankenstein monster” and compared it to “Armageddon.” In the United States, life expectancy has gone down two years in a row because of opioid addiction. I have the worst cold in my rather long life. Is the world going to hell in a hand basket? Cheer up and browse the late Hans Rosling’s gapminder.org website. One of the great unwritten stories... Continue reading
Posted Jan 1, 2018 at Economics and Ethics
By Jonathan B. Wight In “Misconceptions About Nudges.” Cass Sunstein seeks to redeem nudges from the lambast emanating from Kantians and others. I’ll leave it to Mark White to rebut (if he chooses). Abstract Some people believe that nudges are an insult to human agency; that nudges are based on excessive trust in government; that nudges are covert; that nudges are manipulative; that nudges exploit behavioral biases; that nudges depend on a belief that human beings are irrational; and that nudges work only at the margins and cannot accomplish much. These are misconceptions. Nudges always respect, and often promote, human... Continue reading
Posted Dec 28, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
By Jonathan B. Wight Arthur J. Robson has in interesting review of David Sloan Wilson’s Does Altruism Exist? Culture, Genes, and the Welfare of Others (Yale 2015) in the latest Journal of Economic Literature. The bottom line is that it is likely that genes and human culture co-evolve. For example, the technology of herding animals may give rise to favoring the survival of those who are lactose tolerant. This has profound implications for society, particularly if some genes can survive that lead humans to sacrifice for the interests of others., according to group selection theory. Darwin certainly thought that in... Continue reading
Posted Dec 9, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
By Jonathan B. Wight The title of this piece is tongue-in-cheek. Mort’s post on “Why I Fear Government” is completely understandable. He’s wise and mature. He’s experienced how the most benevolent plans of government leaders often produce horrible unintended consequences., and many government leaders are not paragons of virtue to start with. Point well made. However; I don’t believe our only choice is between a) laissez faire free market capitalism and b) Stalin, Hitler, and Mao. Aren’t there any options in the middle? But as Mort noted, young people, who have their whole lives ahead of them, are increasingly saying... Continue reading
Posted Dec 8, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
By John Morton Several years ago, economists from the University of Arizona and Arizona State University and I conducted a study to see if more knowledge of economics influenced high school students’ views about markets and government. We administered the Test of Economic Literacy accompanied by a survey assessing attitudes on government and market solutions to problems. We found some positive correlations between economic knowledge and pro-market approaches, but the big finding was that the more important an issue was, the more the students wanted to rely on government solutions. We also found that the wealthier a ZIP code, the... Continue reading
Posted Dec 5, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
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Jonathan B. Wight Given last night’s Hail Mary pass of the turkey tax reform that passed the Senate, I would have hoped that at least two Republican senators of conscience would have made a speech along these lines: “There is no immediate economic crisis that forces hasty action in the dead of night. With the economy growing last quarter over 3%, with the Dow up more than 25% this year, with unemployment hovering near full employment, and with corporate profits near record highs, there is no urgency for a major fiscal stimulus that would pump another trillion dollars into the... Continue reading
Posted Dec 2, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
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By James Brusseau The Wealth Inequality Workshop is a half-hour documentary exploring the philosophy and ethics of wealth distribution. The question is: How do we begin thinking about wealth inequality? What values initiate the discussion, and how can they be understood? After reviewing the Rawls/Nozick debate which casts wealth inequality as a tension between equality and freedom, some more speculative and disquieting questions are considered. What is need? Is it possible to feel desire because we have too much instead of too little? While no perfect answers emerge, the documentary does provide a sense of the full range of approaches... Continue reading
Posted Dec 1, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
The left control the media? Hmmm... Let's forget Rupert Murdoch and his control over 21Century Fox, Fox News, the Wall Street Journal? And the conservative Sinclair Group which is the largest control over tv stations in the nation? Ignoring that, can't we argue that consumers (not the corporate owners) dictate whether there is violence on tv or not? Isn't that the way competition is supposed to work? A liberal would, in theory, be willing to allow government restrictions on violence and gratuitous sex on the airwaves--as we used to have in the past. But it is not hypocritical of someone to advocate for such a change but only if everyone has to play by the same rules. :)
Toggle Commented Nov 27, 2017 on Guns at Economics and Ethics
By Jonathan B. Wight Leaving the EU is much harder, and more costly, than Brexit proponents allowed. Take, for instance, the issue of Northern Ireland, which trades freely with Ireland. But when the UK leaves the EU, Northern Ireland will be forced to close borders with Ireland. That will be hugely painful politically and economically. See: Will Ireland Sink Brexit? Continue reading
Posted Nov 27, 2017 at Economics and Ethics