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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 Jonathan B. Wight The now famous statue of the “Fearless Girl” confronting the Charging Bull on Wall Street is a wonderful juxtaposition of images. But what does it mean? The David vs. Goliath metaphor immediately comes to mind. The young girl shows spunk and courage against the testosterone of powerful male traders – symbolizing the huge risks and huge collapses that occurred by male dominated financial firms leading up to 2008. And there is the further implication that if more women had been on Wall Street, the bubble either would not have happened or would have been more muted.... Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at Economics and Ethics
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By John Morton The appointment of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education has intensified passions on both sides of the school-choice debate. Lost in the politics of this debate is the idea that school reform ultimately depends on improving instruction. I have taught for 50 years. Sometimes when I wake up in the middle of the night, I think I’m teaching. My experience tells me that academic and social advancement comes down to a teacher and a student in a classroom. So what makes a great teacher? Twenty years ago, the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future emphasized that... Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at Economics and Ethics
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By Jonathan B. Wight Cindy Edson, and her husband Mike, have spend 20+ years as volunteers in service in Uzbekistan. They’ve fought a hard battle to gain acceptance from the government and society for young people with disabilities. During these decades they came to learn more about themselves than anything else. One insight is that our own misconceptions about other people—particularly those with disabilities—cripples our ability to help them. This TED talk is a fascinating account of their adventures. Continue reading
Posted Apr 18, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
By Jonathan B. Wight [Update: United Airlines has apparently agreed with the conclusion below, and has changed its policies so that once a passenger has taken their seat, they cannot be replaced by a United crew member needing a seat. That still leaves lots of wiggle room. United also says they will not use police unless a passenger is disruptive. All this to the good.] David Dao, the doctor dragged from a United Airlines flight this week suffered a concussion, a broken nose, two broken front teeth, and certainly a trauma that is worthy of PTSD. So, let’s play a... Continue reading
Posted Apr 16, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
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By Jonathan B. Wight Robert Rubin was never my favorite Wall Street-White House insider, since he and others like him tore apart the financial regulations that eventually contributed to the severity of the 2008 crash. So, yes, I blame him for using his position as Treasury Secretary to push through excessive deregulation, damn the risks. But Rubin does make a good point in the Times yesterday about Fed independence, “Don’t Politicize the Fed.” A quick reminder—in recent decades Presidents treated the Fed with respect: President Reagan reappointed Volcker, first appointed by Democratic President Carter; President Clinton reappointed Greenspan, first appointed... Continue reading
Posted Apr 13, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
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By Jonathan B. Wight Pramoedya Ananta Toer (1925-2006) was a Javanese writer and activist, who grew up when his land was colonized as the Dutch East Indies. Pramoedya ended up in Dutch prison during the revolutionary years (1947-49) and later in Suharto dictatorship prison from 1965-79, and later still under house arrest until 1992. While imprisoned at the Buru Island penal colony, Pramoedya wrote the first book of what became a quartet, This Earth of Mankind. Actually, it wasn’t “written” because it was illegal for prisoners to have any reading or writing materials. The story was told orally, and only... Continue reading
Posted Apr 10, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
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By Jonathan B. Wight Krugman today seems to capture a part of what is happening in the American zeitgeist: “Mr. Trump isn’t an honest man or a stand-up guy, but he is, arguably, less hypocritical about the darker motives underlying his worldview than conventional politicians are. “Hence the affinity for Mr. O’Reilly [revealed in additional sexual harassment lawsuits]…. “One way to think about Fox News in general, and Mr. O’Reilly in particular, is that they provide a safe space for people who want an affirmation that their uglier impulses are, in fact, justified and perfectly O.K. And one way to... Continue reading
Posted Apr 7, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
By Jonathan B. Wight The Huffington Post has a moving and important story on what it means to be gay. The legal ratification of gay marriage creates a new golden age for homosexual unions—or does it? The issue of gay mental health is complex. As the article points out, the drivers of depression and suicide can have deep roots in learned behaviors and sometimes in stressor hormones. My reaction to the story is of course shock at the bleak portrait painted about the life of unmarried gay men in their 30’s and 40’s; at the same time, something seems to... Continue reading
Posted Apr 6, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
By Jonathan B. Wight Do you remember the Fed’s Quantitative Easing purchases after the 2008 crisis? Turns out there was a leak about this that caused an uproar. Some insiders learned of the QE3 plans and were able to trade on that information ahead of the market. Now, they’ve found the leaker, it and it was none other than Jeff Lacker, the Richmond Fed president. Yikes!!! Dr. Lacker has often appeared on campus and is a friend to my university. His misdeed was implicitly verifying information that a reporter had obtained elsewhere, and then not reporting this slip immediately. This... Continue reading
Posted Apr 5, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
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By Jonathan B. Wight Arnold has launched a crusade against gerrymandering. Watch and weep. [Thanks to Judith Staples for the link!] Continue reading
Posted Apr 1, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
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By Jonathan B. Wight The raging bull in a china shop (sorry for the cheap pun) doesn’t stop to take account of the random destruction. But those of us who profess economics can and should reflect on the unintended consequences of our actions. Larry Summers did this recently in analyzing Trump’s desire to weaken Mexico’s link to the U.S. market by renegotiating NAFTA. Summers raises an important political point—the potential rise of a left-wing government in Mexico: “As illustrated by the more than $60 billion China has poured into Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela, China would regard opportunities to ally with a... Continue reading
Posted Mar 26, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
Anything that helps us laugh through what will be four long years is helpful. Thanks, Mort! I take (slight) issue with the comment on ideologues who kill innocents on bridges. Yes, that is appalling. At the same time, from thousands of feet in the air, our non-totalitarian government drops bombs that kill many times more innocents (perhaps hundreds times more). We can justify it by the end goal, by saying our society is better, more just, and so on, and we can justify it by saying we have a democracy and we care about human rights and we always apologize for such mistakes and try to set things right through compensation. But those claims and justifications seem to be getting much weaker recently and especially so when the current administration praises imperialism as a goal and torture as a method. Thanks again for your post! -- Jonathan
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By John Morton It’s difficult to blog about the revolting international and national news these days. It’s easy to conclude that we’re all going to hell in a handbasket. History may never repeat itself, but in the political world, politicians rarely change. I decided that what is most needed in any blog these days is a dash of whimsy. What follows is an analysis of current issues by mostly historic people. On the failure of Republicans to agree on how to repeal and replace Obamacare: “Laws are like sausages. It’s better not to see them being made.” Otto von Bismarck... Continue reading
Posted Mar 24, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
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By Jonathan B. Wight Trees are one of humanity’s saviors—producing oxygen, shade, habitat, raw materials, and beauty for the soul. They are great living things, and should enjoy basic protection from random violence. (Yes, that does mean limiting human property rights, in some cases.) Spring is nosing its way out of the warm winter. Let’s celebrate and cherish trees. [Photos: Sanibel, Florida; Potomac River, Widewater, Virginia.--JBW] Continue reading
Posted Mar 19, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
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By Jonathan B. Wight One fashion item that has caught my eye recently is the ripped knee jean. This has been around for some time, but it seems particularly overt these days. No self-respecting student can be without a pair. But why the ripped knees? This seems like a new twist on the old practice of buying pre-faded and pre-distressed clothing. In the olden days, poor people saved to buy up nice, clean, and pressed clothes that could be worn in public. Worn or ripped clothing would be a huge embarrassment. Jeans were reserved for heavy manual labor, and they... Continue reading
Posted Mar 18, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
By Jonathan B. Wight The latest Journal of Economic Perspectives (Winter 2017) has an important paper by Jonathan B. Berk, Campbell R. Harvey, and David Hirshleifer, “How to Write an Effective Referee Report and Improve the Scientific Review Process.” The authors explore some of the many failings in the review process, including ethical lapses. These fall into two categories: a) blatent conflicts of interest (like holding up the review of a competing paper while you rush your own paper into the pipeline!); and b) subtle and sometimes unconscious personal biases and failings. One such latter lapse is the introduction of... Continue reading
Posted Mar 17, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
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[John Morton is author of Teaching the Ethical Foundations of Economics and many other works. He has a long career teaching economics and training teachers how to teach economics. In the post below, he essentially asks us why we continue to treat athletes as unpaid workers.--JBW] By John Morton The NCAA men’s basketball tournament is the biggest amateur sports event of the year. It’s amateur because the teams represent universities although everyone makes money except the players. I confess to being excited about March madness. Nevertheless, I ponder some questions about the event. How did big-time sports become an important... Continue reading
Posted Mar 14, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
By Jonathan B. Wight After the recent fiasco at Middlebury, many faculty there came together to articulate a set of values for academic discussion in a liberal arts setting. Here’s the list: Genuine higher learning is possible only where free, reasoned, and civil speech and discussion are respected. Only through the contest of clashing viewpoints do we have any hope of replacing mere opinion with knowledge. The incivility and coarseness that characterize so much of American politics and culture cannot justify a response of incivility and coarseness on the college campus. The impossibility of attaining a perfectly egalitarian sphere of... Continue reading
Posted Mar 14, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
By Jonathan B. Wight The disturbing stories of intolerance that plague our nation and world’s history should not be forgotten when sometimes the tables are turned. Some liberals, once advocating openness, toleration, and respect for all, have been behaving as brownshirts on some campuses. Tom Ciccotta, a libertarian and senior economics major at Bucknell, relates his story of being branded a fascist by an unthinking and reactionary left in “The Isolation of College Libertarians.” Allison Stanger, a Professor of International Politics and Economics at Middlebury College, was actually assaulted by a mob on campus when she tried to moderate a... Continue reading
Posted Mar 13, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
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By Jonathan B. Wight “How amiable does he appear to be, whose sympathetic heart seems to reecho all the sentiments of those with whom he converses.” -- Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments What a sublime quote, but it could be misinterpreted. What if a salesman-type takes it up as a way to schmooze and bamboozle? No offense to Dale Carnegie, but How to Win Friends and Influence People could be the blueprint for con artists, and so could Smith’s TMS. When I teach students about Smith, it is essential to convey two other ideas: That the person of... Continue reading
Posted Mar 11, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
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By Jonathan B. Wight The carnage to be caused by the Republican health care bill will likely go down as a major American disaster. Even before dis-enrolling tens of millions, life expectancy has been falling in some sectors of the U.S. These statements seem incontrovertible: Prevention is cheaper than cure. Early treatment is cheaper than later treatment. Doctor’s office treatment is much cheaper than emergency room treatment. Contagious diseases cause negative externalities—one potential reason for government involvement. Health care transactions have many of the characteristics that produce other market failures (see Ken Arrow)—another potential reason for government involvement. Conservatives such... Continue reading
Posted Mar 10, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
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By Jonathan B. Wight The illustrious Kenneth Arrow passed last week. I have a few personal thoughts. His famous 1963 paper on health care made a huge impression on me—erudite and full of insights for how the real world works. His cautionary words about trying to use markets when there is widespread asymmetric information seemingly made no impression on the forces of political economy, and health insurance companies and hospitals fell over themselves to be privatized and converted into for-profits. The race for profit did not bring down cost because of misaligned incentives and other problems he identified early on.... Continue reading
Posted Mar 2, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
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By Jonathan B. Wight Random thoughts on President Trump’s address to Congress: A. The president said the murder rate in 2015 experienced the largest increase in nearly 50 years. If we are talking percentage increase that may well be so, because murder rates have been so low recently, any increase represents a large percentage increase. But the murder rate, lamentable as it is, is in far better shape than 20 years ago, and much better shape than in our past: B. The President also identified two families of victims of crime. Both the families singled out for recognition were victims... Continue reading
Posted Mar 1, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
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By Jonathan B. Wight I’ve been reading a stunning book about economic development in Central Asia, Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. It’s a bit old (2006) but came recommended. It’s the inspiring story of a K2 mountain climber (Mortenson) who is so moved by the poverty and lack of education especially for girls in Northwestern Pakistan, that he set up a foundation to help. Amidst many hardships, including being kidnapped by the Taliban, our hero painstakingly fights against the enemies of ignorance to build more than a hundred schools in remote parts of Pakistan... Continue reading
Posted Feb 27, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
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By Jonathan B. Wight Many faculty members and universities around the U.S. are reacting to the threat to academic freedom posed by the arbitrary temporary ban on students and scholars from countries with Muslim majorities. My own University of Richmond, founded by Baptists (it is no longer affiliated), had an enlightened view of religious liberty as a foundation for education, welcoming students of all religious persuasions or none, promising equal justice and equal consideration. That was in 1830. Our president, Ron Crutcher, released this statement a few hours ago: Dear Members of the University Community, I share the concerns expressed... Continue reading
Posted Jan 29, 2017 at Economics and Ethics