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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
By Jonathan B. Wight Whenever my dog does something he knows is wrong, he hides his head under a pillow. He just doesn’t want to see what’s coming, and he thinks hiding his face will solve his immediate problem. This is the attitude of the Virginia state legislature toward global warming, according to Stephen Nash, who has been waging a David-vs.-Goliath struggle to inform the Virginia public (see Virginia’s leaders have a serious case of the slows on climate change). Nash is the author of Virginia Climate Fever and other books that use science to help answer questions about the... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Economics and Ethics
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By Jonathan B. Wight Most people would agree that the federal budget is bloated and expenses can be cut. One of the supposed champions of this idea is Tom Price, Secretary of Health and Human Services. Except it turns out Price has been jetting around the Northeast on private chartered jets at government expense. A recent trip to Philadelphia that should have cost under $150 roundtrip in gas and tolls, or an equivalent amount if by train, may have actually cost up to $25,000 for a private jet. Price isn’t the only cabinet secretary to be afflicted by the disease... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at Economics and Ethics
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By Jonathan B. Wight David Colander has a lovely article with this title in the latest Forum for Social Economics. He argues that: Ignorance is ubiquitous, because we have so little evidence of how the world (meaning social policy) actually works; Given this ignorance, economists should fashion themselves after engineers, who use common sense, history, best guesses, and ad-hoc solutions to solve problems; The rules of science can be useful, but only as a rough approximation; Hence, economists should not conceive of themselves as searching for the truth, but rather searching for answers to specific questions in specific contexts; “Truth”—with... Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at Economics and Ethics
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By Jonathan B. Wight The new iPhone X unveiled last week will presumably sell at close to $1,000, stretching the envelope of what consumers will pay for gadgetry. But the iPhone isn’t that expensive, when you consider all the other things it replaces in a home: Alarm clock / Watch / Landline phone / Taxi company (Uber) / Paper calendar \ Paper address book / Paper street map / Paper photo album / Post cards / Compass / Telegram That is to say, all the products that have become obsolete or greatly reduced because of the iPhone. Lots of businesses... Continue reading
Posted Sep 16, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
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By Jonathan B. Wight A pro-Confederate protest and rally is scheduled for Richmond this Saturday. The city triggered the protest by exploring the option to remove the memorials to Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Jeb Stuart, and Jefferson Davis that line the beautiful and award-winning Monument Avenue, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Counter-protestors also plan to come. Needless to say, everyone is on pins and needles, given the events in Charlottesville last month. (The photo shows the giant memorial to Robert E. Lee, erected in 1890. Lee, who died in 1870, opposed erecting such statues, since... Continue reading
Posted Sep 14, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
By Jonathan B. Wight The health concern about football (discussed here) is not the only major problem with this collegiate sport. The industrial football academic complex—and the millions of dollars at stake for coaches and winning schools—has made a mockery of higher education. Let’s be clear: At many small schools like mine, athletes are generally held to high standards and the faculty do not coddle stars. Athletes have great work ethics and put in the time to succeed academically. They are wonderful young men and women, who add a lot to campus life but are full-fledged students first. (I’m sure... Continue reading
Posted Sep 4, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
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By Jonathan B. Wight ...Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin seems to have blundered into such a world. It was reported yesterday that he is not likely to replace President Andrew Jackson with abolitionist Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill. This is in the aftermath of Charlottesville and the spirited debate over the past years about updating our currency to reflect our values today (and not those of 1928, when Jackson was elevated to this bill). Let’s do some basic thinking: Jackson was a slave-owner whose treatment of Native Americans also forever casts doubt on his reputation. Tubman was born a slave,... Continue reading
Posted Sep 1, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
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By John Morton This week we learned that America isn’t about tearing down statues, Russians interfering in U.S. elections, thugs from the left and right pounding each other, or who should use which bathroom. This week we’ve seen Americans of every racial, ethnic, and religious group working together to save lives in Houston. They do not identify each other by group. This is what America should be about and is about. Adam Smith discussed the altruistic nature of people in The Theory of Moral Sentiments. “How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature,... Continue reading
Posted Aug 31, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
Hi Jonas, Thanks for your note and your questioning. I think the evidence is that very few schools actually come out in the black financially. It's sort of like the belief in tax cuts--people keep saying they pay for themselves, and athletic directors keep insisting that athletic programs earn the green--but ask them to show transparent books and they suddenly look the other way. :) JW
By Jonathan B. Wight Ed Cunningham, who played pro-football for five years and did TV game coverage for 20 years afterwards, has walked away from the camera. He initially gave as a reason the standard response of wanting to spend more time with his family. But he felt bad about that incomplete answer, and has now come clean. A stronger answer is that he can’t stand to be a person who profits from a sport that is taking excessive risks with players’ lives. The key problem are injuries to the head, which lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE. Cunningham... Continue reading
Posted Aug 30, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
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By John Morton Because the violence in Charlottesville has been covered by the news media and on social media so much more than other issues, I have been reluctant to comment. However, the issue has iron legs, and the rhetoric keeps getting more irrational. The violence in C-ville divides the nation and is shaping political debate in dangerous ways. In the hope of turning down the rhetoric, I offer a few observations. The incident was precipitated by the decision of city council to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee from a city park. Tearing down statues is a dangerous... Continue reading
Posted Aug 24, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
Thanks for your comments. Regarding the last point, Elliott Sober and David Sloan Wilson, in Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior (Harvard University Press, 1998): pp. 23-26, provide a model for explaining how the gene for altruism could survive. Your MEME point is a good one, but may not be the only mechanism for promoting altruism. Perhaps you will convince me in the end, but I'm willing to keep open the gene possibility for now. Best regards, JW
Toggle Commented Aug 21, 2017 on (Recent) Books at Economics and Ethics
By Jonathan B. Wight Two books occupied me this weekend. Neither is brand new, but both relevant to ethics and economics. E. O. Wilson, the dean of ant biology, wrote The Social Conquest of Earth in 2012. In it, he continues to argue for a more complex understanding of human evolution, one that was envisioned by Darwin. The more complex argument says that human evolution occurs in two ways: first, through individual selection as you and I compete with others to leave the most surviving offspring. This is the standard view of Richard Dawkins and others, who argue that any... Continue reading
Posted Aug 20, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
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By Jonathan B. Wight As Charlottesville imploded yesterday, thousands of people of all races gathered 70 miles away to celebrate ideas that unite us—the sounds of blues, jazz, and everything in-between at the Richmond Jazz Festival. The races of humanity mingled, laughed, shared food and fans, danced, and enjoyed each other’s company. Like the white supremacists who came from all over the country to C-ville, people came from New York, Baltimore, Chicago, and elsewhere to hear music in the bucolic Maymont park, a tranquil setting where people sweltered not from the rhetoric and pepper spray but from the sun peeking... Continue reading
Posted Aug 13, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
By Jonathan B. Wight We’ve dodged the bullet on destroying the ACA, and Krugman asks “What’s next?” His answer is to learn from the experience of other high income countries, notably the Netherlands, which has a system similar to ACA. Fixing the current system is preferable to trying to get the best system: “I have nothing against single-payer; it’s what I’d support if we were starting fresh. But we aren’t: Getting there from here would be very hard, and might not accomplish much more than a more modest, incremental approach. Even idealists need to set priorities, and Medicare-for-all shouldn’t be... Continue reading
Posted Aug 7, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
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By Jonathan B. Wight Humans communicate lots of ways. Some ways are less designed to convey information, and more like to convey and to evoke raw emotions. I learned this as a kid growing up in Brazil, where the “Okay” sign is a dirty insult. (Think of where females have a lower orifice of interest to males and you’ll get the idea of what it means—“screw you”.) This weekend the Atlee Virginia Girl’s Junior League Softball team was disqualified from the World Series game in Kirkland, Washington, because six teammates had posed for a photo extending their middle fingers to... Continue reading
Posted Aug 7, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
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By Jonathan B. Wight Some areas of my ignorance are immense and come around to blindside me. One such event occurred this weekend when I stumbled across a video of Sister Rosetta Thorpe, singing “Didn’t It Rain,” at a concert in England in 1964. Oh my gosh! What a soul-bender! This woman can sing! This woman can rip the guitar! This woman has a charismatic presence that can be described as magno-electric! Where has she been my whole life? It turns out that others have had similar epiphanies. Jerry Lee Lewis said: “Say man, there’s a woman who can sing... Continue reading
Posted Aug 6, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
By Georgianne Ginder [Georgianne Ginder’s work explores the intersection of health care and ethics. She is the Wellness Counselor at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Arts in Health Care and a proponent of LifeSMILE medicine! In this poem she grapples with the effects of unethical conduct on health. Printed with permission. – JBW] Whistleblowers, Speaker-Uppers, Way Showers Honesty Goers, Dignity Growers To keep that job he 'lived ' a lie To excel and get ahead And when the tension grew too tough He popped some pills instead Instead of facing what was wrong Since incongruency won't and can't belong... ...The... Continue reading
Posted Aug 4, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
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By John Morton Charlie Gard died on July 28, 2017, from a rare genetic disease. His parents had raised enough money to get a second opinion on whether he could be saved by undergoing experimental treatment in the United States. When the hospital and courts said no way, like many others I was shocked by the decision. How could a hospital and judge overrule the opinion of loving parents? The parents appealed, but finally too much time had elapsed, and the American specialist said Charlie could not be saved. The parents then announced they were dropping their appeal. This case... Continue reading
Posted Aug 3, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
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By Jonathan B. Wight For those who love Hayek but don’t subscribe to laissez-faire (I’d put myself in that camp, and I’d include Adam Smith from the grave), you might want to read the latest piece in the Journal of Economic Perspectives 31(3)(Summer 2017): Samuel Bowles, Alan Kirman, and Rajiv Sethi, “Retrospectives: Friedrich Hayek and the Market Algorithm.” The authors argue that although Hayek had a prescient understanding of decentralized information and competitive markets, he failed to acknowledge how opportunistic behaviors could lead the market astray from social welfare. Disequilibrium (rather than equilibrium) can be profit-maximizing at the level of... Continue reading
Posted Jul 28, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
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By Jonathan B. Wight Following up on Dawkins, a friend just recommended Robert Sapolsky’s new book, Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst (2017). Sapolsky is a neuroendocrinologist and professor of biology and other departments at Stanford. Unlike Dawkins, who posits that greed is the only instinct that survives the evolutionary process, Sapolsky takes a more nuanced (and I think modern) approach to see humans as evolving along complex lines that entail empathic cooperation as well as competition. I obviously haven’t read the book yet but I did peruse its epilogue. One quote immediately stood out, because... Continue reading
Posted Jul 26, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
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By Jonathan B. Wight I don’t agree with Richard Dawkins on many things, including his views on Islam. But canceling his radio appearance because he might offend people is giving in to a view that all speech must be agreeable in advance to the listener. Don’t listeners have the right to hear his views, even if misguided? Those that don’t agree with him can change the station, voting with their marketing dollars to stations that they like. If spewing bile were to be avoided on the radio, would Rush still be on the air? Continue reading
Posted Jul 25, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
By Jonathan B. Wight “Pardon me,” you say when you accidentally step on someone’s foot. “Pardon me” said by our current President means something else entirely! Beyond saving his own skin, hinting that he might pardon his aides and family members sounds like the first salvo in a Prisoners Dilemma game, in which one party wants to shore up cooperation among one’s fellow thieves to reduce back-stabbing—in this case by becoming a state’s witness and testifying against higher-ups. Issuing a blanket pardon (or hinting that one will) would mean that conspirators have every incentive to lie and obfuscate to investigators,... Continue reading
Posted Jul 23, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
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By Jonathan B. Wight What do these cities have in common? Yes – they’re the largest 19 cities in the nation, comprised of about 32 m. people. And if Obamacare is repealed next week as planned by the Senate leadership, 32 million people will eventually lose health insurance coverage, according to the CBO. 17 million would lose their health insurance next year alone. To be fair, some of these are young and would be thrilled to lose the mandate to buy something they don’t want. But the vast majority of these would involuntarily lose it through reductions in Medicaid. The... Continue reading
Posted Jul 23, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
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By Jonathan B. Wight Does the West face an existential threat? That is the conclusion of one columnist, who wrote recently: “The news media in the West pose a far greater danger to Western civilization than Russia does,” and that “The real threat to Western civilization is Western civilization ceasing to believe in itself” (emphasis added). There is no question that loss of confidence in key institutions is a detriment to the survival of a culture or peoples. And the constant harping on our deficiencies as a Western society is one thing that could undermine that confidence, particularly in young... Continue reading
Posted Jul 20, 2017 at Economics and Ethics