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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 Sorry to Bother You is a sci-fi drama about a young black man who enters the sleazy world of telemarketing because he’s desperate. He starts to excel when he learns to speak like a geeky white guy, and makes lots of money working for a horrible big corporation. His bigger break comes when he starts marketing for the company WorryFree, where humans around the world live and get three square meals but they are basically slaves. They agree to this because they lack the basics of security on the outside. Our hero uncovers a plot to... Continue reading
Posted 7 hours ago at Economics and Ethics
What a wonderful quote! Thanks! --JW
Toggle Commented yesterday on The Decline of Reason at Economics and Ethics
By Jonathan B. Wight I’m getting to this late, but this is really important for ethics and economics. There is a product that is very profitable for private producers, who naturally want to promote it. That product is vitally important for a few people, if used properly. But that product is fundamentally worse than a free alternative for most people, and in some countries is improperly used much of time, causing avoidable deaths. That product is infant formula milk. Nestlé was famous for pitching this product in sub-Saharan Africa as a modern woman’s product. Billboards suggested that if you really... Continue reading
Posted yesterday at Economics and Ethics
Jonas, I don't know who "you people" are that you are referring to. Where have I or John Morton used "blistering, offensive, and unrelenting vitriol"? Can you find a single quote to back up this assertion? If so, where? When? Or, are you lumping me or John in with some other group? If so, I don't appreciate that conflation. I suppose it is self serving to say that John and I have known each other for more than 20 years, and his principles of honesty and treating others with respect have shined through. Your post is confusing to me for these reasons.
Toggle Commented 2 days ago on The Decline of Reason at Economics and Ethics
By John Morton The United States has become a nation of screaming toddlers having a collective meltdown. Jonathan has a great post on denying Sara Sanders service at a Virginia restaurant. There are so many examples of boorish behavior. One example is how protestors and politicians love to use the f-word; evidently they think that printing it on a sign makes their point more intellectual. Jonathan’s review of D.C. Rasmussen’s book The Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith, and the Friendship That Shaped Modern Thought strongly affected my view on this situation. These friends discussed and argued, agreeing... Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at Economics and Ethics
By Jonathan B. Wight The President tweeted: “Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!” This kind of statement, if made by an undergraduate student on a paper, would receive an immediate D (or worse). I would remind the student to avoid using hyperboles, ridiculous exaggerations, especially about things that easily can be shown to be false. I would ask the student: “Do you mean our relationship with Russia today is WORSE than during the Berlin crisis of 1961? “Is it worse than the Cuban... Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at Economics and Ethics
As for your comment on Denial of Service, I think progressives make a grave mistake when they go down the negative route that Trump has laid out. Being obnoxious does not help win hearts and minds to the progressive cause.
Toggle Commented Jun 27, 2018 on Denial of Service at Economics and Ethics
?? The only people who have the power to disapprove a comment are myself and Mark White (not John Morton). I did not remove it and I can't imagine Mark did. Do you wish to repost and we can try again? I'm not terribly tech savvy, but hope it can stay up this time! (Note: the only posts I would disapprove would use foul language, attack the writer not the ideas, be completely off topic, etc.)
Toggle Commented Jun 27, 2018 on Denial of Service at Economics and Ethics
"Heavy handed censor"? To my knowledge, no comment has been censored. Am I missing something? JW
Toggle Commented Jun 26, 2018 on Denial of Service at Economics and Ethics
By Jonathan B. Wight Denying Sarah Huckabee Sanders service at a restaurant because of her ideology was abominable. It was almost as grotesque as denying her service because of her race or religion. (Denying service for politics or sexual orientation is apparently legal in most places, but not legal for the latter two reasons--thank goodness for some things.) I admit that serving someone whose politics seems atrocious and seems to reflect a lack of common humanity and contact with reality would make it difficult to put on a smiling face. But so what? However difficult, it must be done, and... Continue reading
Posted Jun 26, 2018 at Economics and Ethics
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By Jonathan B. Wight Alex Cequea produced a lovely short animated video of this name on act.tv. An authoritarian , we learn, wants power. He starts by attacking the independent press (which acts as a check on that power). Next comes the attack on racial or ethnic minorities as a way to galvanize the base. This is successful because human psychology is tribal by nature. Great philosophies and religions often try to overcome the natural bias against "others" by proclaiming that we are all one under God. Think of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, in the Christian tradition. Or... Continue reading
Posted Jun 23, 2018 at Economics and Ethics
By Jonathan B. Wight In theory, markets work to maximize wealth creation through voluntary exchange. In the pure version espoused by Pareto, trade is always win-win. A problem develops when there are externalities—as occurs quite frequently and to great expense in the area of mining. Precious metal mining uses vast amounts of water that otherwise might go to local farmers; cyanide is used to leach metal from junk rock. Arsenic is found in the drinking water and downstream. The landscape may be forever ruined for any other purpose, and mining companies (after extracting their profit), may simply decide to go... Continue reading
Posted Jun 17, 2018 at Economics and Ethics
By Jonathan B. Wight Trump is shown on tv, praising Kim Jon Un: “Hey, he is the head of a country and I mean he is the strong head. Don’t let anyone think anything different.” Then comes his lament: “He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.” He wants to be fêted with a military parade, perhaps so he could be revered as the supreme leader. In a free country, people sit up to attention when a speaker who is respected has something important and interesting to say. Fortunately, in America... Continue reading
Posted Jun 16, 2018 at Economics and Ethics
By Jonathan B. Wight Non-profits are good and for-profits are bad, right—by definition? Not so by a long shot. Some non-profits are completely self-serving, and despite the furor over the IRS delaying the certification of some 501(c)(4)s because of shady political uses, some questionable NGOs do exist. The New York Times reports that the Donald J. Trump Foundation is being sued by New York State for misuse of funds. This wasn’t a one-time event or minor oversight. Trump allegedly used the non-profit’s funds consistently for a variety of non-sanctioned activities, including donations to political campaigns, promoting his own presidential candidacy,... Continue reading
Posted Jun 15, 2018 at Economics and Ethics
Hume and Smith By Jonathan B. Wight The Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith, and the Friendship that Shaped Modern Thought (Princeton University Press, 2017). Dennis C. Rasmussen, Associate Professor of Political Scientist at Tufts University, has written an engaging and informative account of the professional and personal relationship between Smith and Hume. A full review will appear in The American Economist. Here is a synopsis. The book explores the overlap of economic and moral theories and personal amities that flowed between two of the Scottish Enlightenment’s greatest thinkers, providing a rich intellectual history. An important takeaway is... Continue reading
Posted Jun 13, 2018 at Economics and Ethics
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By John Morton Our federal government is in chaos. Although the government has often offered a wildly entertaining ride, now everything is over the top. The executive branch is investigating the executive branch on Russian influence on the 2016 election. The congressional branch is also investigating the executive branch and the Clinton campaign. The executive branch will not produce subpoenaed documents even though both branches are controlled by Republicans. Watch any newscast for 10 minutes, and you will conclude that the political debates are controlled by emotions, not values or principles. President Obama doesn’t get a pass on this. When... Continue reading
Posted Jun 12, 2018 at Economics and Ethics
By Jonathan B. Wight Perhaps “disaster” is premature. Perhaps America’s institutions—and the global institutions we helped create after World War II to promote prosperity and peace—are strong enough to withstand the tsunami of Trumpian diplomacy. But who can be sure? Everyone remembers the night the lights went out in New York City in 1977. Suddenly civilization turned to mayhem with widespread looting, arson, and vandalism across many neighborhoods. And this was just in one day of darkness. According to a jaundiced view, civilization is perhaps a thin veneer, held in place by social and moral norms. As long as everyone... Continue reading
Posted Jun 10, 2018 at Economics and Ethics
By Jonathan B. Wight Arbitrary, unpredictable, and thoughtless: these are the policy characteristics of the current White House. The tariffs slapped for “national security” reasons on our major allies today is shocking, a slap across the face of longtime friends and business partners. Is Canada really a security threat? I spoke yesterday to a high-level executive of a major international company, who shook her head in disgust. She confirmed that there is no way for businesses to plan and to invest in such an unstable business environment. Why then, is job growth so high? It’s a paradox, and I don’t... Continue reading
Posted Jun 1, 2018 at Economics and Ethics
By Jonathan B. Wight David Brooks has an interesting article in today’s Times, “The Strange Failure of the Educated Elite.” It’s actually the failure of our parents to inculcate all of us in the ethical norms of sociability and the civic virtues that follow from that. In pursuing a society of meritocracy, we glorified a hyper-individualistic career-achievement ethic, to the detriment of a wider conception of human meaning and purpose. My own comparison for this would be George H.W. Bush—the epitome of heroic civic virtue, with George W. Bush—his wayward son. Narcissism glories over sacrifice and harmony. The result, Brooks... Continue reading
Posted May 29, 2018 at Economics and Ethics
By Jonathan B. Wight Krugman has an interesting blog today theorizing about why we have little upward wage pressure even though unemployment rates are historically low. What I like about the blog is that it integrates different strands of theory, one having to do with downward nominal wage rigidity, the other with microeconomic market structure, and uses relevant data sources to tease out what might be going on. It’s tentative, speculative work, and an interesting romp through history and behavioral economics. His conclusion is that: “[T]he combination of downward nominal wage rigidity and monopsony power helps explain both why wages... Continue reading
Posted May 21, 2018 at Economics and Ethics
By Jonathan B. Wight It is way too soon to know how a major policy change—in this case taxes—will work out. Yet the early signs are that Republicans have redistributed wealth to the top without creating any requisite increase in growth that would pay for this redistribution, or that would enable gains to trickle down to those below. Krugman (not an unbiased observer) writes: “the effects of the Trump tax cut are already looking like the effects of the Brownback tax cut in Kansas, the Bush tax cut and every other much-hyped tax cut of the past three decades: big... Continue reading
Posted May 1, 2018 at Economics and Ethics
By Jonathan B. Wight When I think of my dad, I think of a quiet soldier, gentle, faithful, honest, and dependable. He demonstrated by his actions, day after day, his devotion to others, not overwhelmed by his own ego. We are so often bombarded today by takers, braggadocios, and self-promoters, at the highest levels of society that we forget what quiet dignity is or was. This quote from George Eliot’s Middlemarch thus struck my fancy: “[Dorothea’s] full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. “But... Continue reading
Posted Apr 30, 2018 at Economics and Ethics
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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 Apr 18, 2018 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