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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 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 6 days ago 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
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By Jonathan B. Wight I’ve been incommunicado for several weeks while traveling in Asia (some blogs may eventually appear on what I learned). Meanwhile, I saw an interesting graphic on determining one’s political compass. These surveys and tests are probably meaningless, but for fun I took it (link here). In the interest of transparency to any readers of this blog, here it is: No surprises—I’m generally pretty confused! What is a left-leaning libertarian? To me I think it means I’m a pluralist. I’m not satisfied with simplistic answers, but rather always try to overcomplicate things. That’s both a negative and... Continue reading
Posted Jul 14, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
Thanks, Mort, for a provocative post, even though i'm a bit worried that Coca-Cola will be on your case! Like Jonas, I am unwilling to say that capitalism gets the credit for all the good things that have happened in last two centuries. For one thing, when you break out individual country data, the connection between development indicators and GDP per cap is often non existent, for the simple reason that literacy and public health programs may be funded not out of profits. Good governance is critical, and bad government a hindrance. Quality varies so greatly across countries and time. The beautiful thing about capitalism is the market enforced accountability in the right circumstances! We should celebrate that! At the same time capitalism is not accountable when the prices are incorrect, as is the case with the environmental damage. No amount of misinterpreting Coase will fix that problem.... I like the approach that capitalism offers us the best shot at freedom to live creative lives of meaning, along with a healthy safety net that we all contribute to. More later....
Toggle Commented Jun 27, 2017 on Enjoy Capitalism at Economics and Ethics
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By John Morton As I write this, I’m wearing a t-shirt, a gift from my daughter. It says “Enjoy Capitalism” written in the style of the cursive Coco-Cola logo. Every day I enjoy what’s left of an economic system that is responsible for improving billions of lives around the world. As Milton Friedman put it: “There is no alternative way so far discovered of improving the lot of ordinary people that can hold a candle in the productive activities that are unleashed by a free enterprise system.” Yet young people are not feeling the joy. Their contempt for capitalism is... Continue reading
Posted Jun 26, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
By Jonathan B. Wight I remember studying the history of how we got into World War I. It was a disaster nobody wanted, and yet, step by step, we marched over that precipice. Where were the grown-ups? We are facing a similar crisis today. Leadership in the world’s dominant country is absent due to incompetence and inexperience. Many executive leadership positions are still sitting empty because names have not been submitted for confirmation; quality candidates are also withdrawing from consideration. Who wants to be part of this administration’s dysfunction? There is also the huge energy- and attention-drain in Congress and... Continue reading
Posted Jun 14, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
Jonas raises some excellent points. Asking the market to solve problems won't work if the prices and incentives aren't right. And they won't be right in health care when there are huge problems of asymmetric information and negative and positive externalities. Yes, Obamacare has problems, but many of these arise from trying to ignore the potential market failures outlined above. There were riots in Paris in the 19th century when the government insisted that every house must buy into the sewer system (forcing them to pay for something they didn't want--most people wanted to simply throw their feces into the street as before). Requiring homeowners to connect to the sewer is somewhat akin to forcing citizens to buy into health insurance, for all the negative and positive externalities reasons! It's the 21st century and a universal basic health system is the way to go. (E.g., Trump recently praised Australia for its health results.) This is not to say that a private system could not exist alongside. Let those who want drink champagne; clean water is good enough for me. --JW
By John Morton In his post of May 30, Jonathan makes a good case that Hayek believed the state should provide a minimum level of assistance to individuals who cannot guard themselves. He clearly says in The Road to Serfdom, “There can be no doubt that some minimum of food, shelter, and clothing, sufficient to preserve health and the capacity to work, can be assured to everybody.” (Fiftieth Anniversary Edition, p. 133) Hayek also says his opposition to planning should not be confused with “a dogmatic laissez faire attitude.” (p. 41) However, it’s a big jump to think Hayek would... Continue reading
Posted Jun 12, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
Please do! --JW
Hi Jonas, is your comment directed at me or at Alan Dershowitz? Your point is well taken; Harvard is not the universe. --JW (P.S. -- Feel free to write up longer pieces that I will post if you want. :))
By Jonathan B. Wight The Boston Globe reports that “Harvard revokes admission to at least 10 students for offensive Facebook posts.” Yikes!! First of all, don’t students have some expectation of first amendment rights? I don’t know what they posted (other than that it was reported to be offensive blather). What do we expect from teenagers? Aren’t we all supposed to do stupid, experimental things to stretch our wings? If that did not involve making some mistakes, it means we’re not really stretching very far. Second, the university claims the right to expel a student for pretty much any behavior... Continue reading
Posted Jun 6, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
Thanks for the head's up. I was not aware of this, but you're right: the intention may be to strike fear into those who remain. -- JW
Toggle Commented Jun 6, 2017 on The Brain Drain at Economics and Ethics
By Jonathan B. Wight Several months ago I predicted that self-respecting civil servants would be reluctant to stay working for an administration that shows so little regard for ethics, which includes the process by which public policies are enacted. The New York Times reports that key career diplomats in the State Department are starting to jump ship. The ranking American official in Beijing, David Rank, announced yesterday he was resigning in protest against the decision to pull out of the Paris accords. “’[Rank] was a complete pro, extremely well-regarded,’ said Daniel F. Feldman, a former special representative for Afghanistan and... Continue reading
Posted Jun 6, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
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By Jonathan B. Wight Bart Hinkle is one of the smartest, principled, libertarian editorial writers today. His opinion pieces demonstrate reason and moderation, with a hefty concern for procedural justice and economic ethics. They are also often very funny, and draw on classical thinkers. In today’s opinion, the RTD editorial writers hit the right balance, I think, with regard to the Paris climate change accords. The key point is that the global political/economic sphere has lots of moving pieces, and they are all interconnected. You cannot treat each treaty in isolation, but rather must focus on the big picture. You... Continue reading
Posted Jun 2, 2017 at Economics and Ethics
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By Jonathan B. Wight All my students are overbooked, stressed out, and unable to relax in the flow of life. Many of their faculty members feel the same way! Despite mindfulness meditation, centering prayer, yoga, and other non-medical techniques, life can weigh us down. To some extent, neoclassical economic theory isn't helpful. When we focus on "maximizing" as the desired mode of operating, it sets us up for constant evaluation and stressful revisiting of our choices. Herbert Simon's "satisfycing" behavior seems like a much better mental attitude to adopt--that is, stop calculating and striving when you've reached a minimum threshold... Continue reading
Posted Jun 2, 2017 at Economics and Ethics