PHIL/PLCY 364.001 – Ethics and Economics

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Instructor: David Frank. This course meets MW 2:30 – 3:45 p.m. in WG 301.

Should we guarantee all people a minimum income? Should we tax wealth more heavily? Is “market efficiency” a good thing? Is “economic growth” a good thing? What is “economic rationality” and does it give us reasons to pursue particular actions or policies? Should there be legal markets for (currently illegal) drugs, or sex, or organs? Giving answers to these questions involves both social scientific analysis and ethical argument. This course will provide students with the tools to answer questions at the critical intersection of ethics and economics.

Economists have sometimes claimed that their social scientific work is purely descriptive and free of value judgments. In the first part of the course we will establish that economics as a social science is infused with ethical judgments and assumptions. We will explore how these normative premises inform models of economic rationality and prescriptive economic analyses of individual decisions and social policy, for example in risk/cost-benefit analysis and economic analysis of the law. Along the way we will encounter two major traditions of ethical theory inspired by economic reasoning, contractarianism and utilitarianism. In the second part of the course we will survey select debates about the proper scope, limits, and regulation of markets, drawing from diverse reformist and radical perspectives on “actually existing capitalism.”

Recommended prerequisite: at least 1 PHIL ethics course (PHIL 160, 163, or 170) or 1 ECON course.