For a long time, I've been interested in how economists deal with time preference. Since I began work in the HET, looking at the economics of W. S. Jevons and then other early neoclassical economists, it became clear to me that economists have a hard time dealing with how people treat (their own) consumption over time. Here's a paper at the Canadian Journal of Economics on this subject. Then, it became clear to me that notions of race, or at least competence, were injected into the time preference issue, and that's a major theme in Vanity.
But there's also space -- and I've become increasingly interested recently in whether and how one might conceptualize the economic "person" across space in much the same way as one conceptualizes the individual over time. Though I didn't know what he would speak on at the SI, this was in fact the topic or at least sort of the topic, that a philosopher from UIC chose for his presentation to the Summer Institute(the paper's online there as well). I had no no idea who Tony Laden was before the Institute, but I asked him to take part for a number of reasons: there are, I think, unexploited gains from trade between good economists and philosophers; he came highly recommended by Sam Fleischacker; UIC is, I think, an institution that is doing interesting work in both economics and philosophy. He didn't disappoint. His paper's a facinating look at how one comes to be a "prudent" self, connected temporally with future selves and then also across selves that are variously defined across space (a parent, a friend, a Presbyterian, a Canadian, etc.)
Now, the question that arose, and that David Levy and I need to think about, is a hard one: supposing one is connected not to oneself, sliced up at a point in time across space, but instead to others, so that one is a part of another -- who is close to one -- and another -- less close, and so on. This makes (I think) the spatial distribution of (let's call it) concern for one's neighbours similar to the intertemporal concern for one's self. i.e. one's neighbours become like one's future self. Then how do we work this out, and in particular, do we need some sort of continuity assumption across space (yes) in order to ensure that everyone counts for something?
I've taken much of the week to catch up on routine work and family obligations (it's the play offs!) after the Summer Institute at George Mason University. Returned here on Sunday 16th. I'll have plenty more to say as I get a chance. The program is here. I am of course no impartial spectator, but nonetheless I'll claim that the papers and the collection of participants made the institute a tremendous success. In particular, I'd note the following.
This year, we tried 2 experiments and both paid off. First, we began the institute with a conversation between two leading scholars at GMU whose ideas are now fair game for historians of economics, Gordon Tullock and James Buchanan, on writing their Calculus of Consent. Second, consistent with the Summer Institute's mission to support student research, we broadened "student" this year to include undergraduate presentations. Keeley Reed and Andrew Hickner presented research conducted at Michigan State University, and Bobby Previti presented his work done at City College, London. Judging by the quality of the presentations as well as the comments from the audience, all three were a resounding success.
A few notes of interest about the SI: we had some 65 participants on Monday. Participants throughout the week came from 6 countries in all, and 23 institutions. The variety was immense. We had 28 presenters, comprised of
17 new presenters to SI (11 returning); 5 countries (France, Chile, Australia, England, US); 9 young scholars (3 undergraduates, 4 graduate students, 2 recent PhDs), (I count myself as American here though of course I'm originally Canadian!)
Young scholar (recent PhD, graduate and undergraduate) presenters were from:
City College London (undergraduate); Exeter University (graduate student); Michigan State University (2 undergraduates);Notre Dame University (graduate student); SUNY Plattsburg (recent PhD);Université de Paris I (recent PhD)
Additional students attended the Institute from:
Australia National University ;Baldwin-Wallace College;Colorado State University;Dickinson College; George Mason University; Indiana University of PA; Michigan State University; the New School; St. Gallen University (Switzerland); University of Maryland at BC.
I've been collecting up comments from student and faculty participants. Many of them have picked up on a key feature of the Summer Institute, one that I think has its roots (perhaps) in what is now known as the Virginia School of Political Economy. David Levy and I are working on a talk / paper that we'll give at the fall ECHE conference: on place in economics. (The "place" we're studying is Virginia.) All sorts of reports of the early years for the VA school suggest an egalitarian set up for the discussion of ideas: good ideas on what became known as public choice possibly emerging from anyone, full professor or student. The Summer Institute continues this thinking, creating a place where bright and engaged students -- undergraduates and graduate students alike -- can interact with full professors and senior persons such as James Buchanan. Gordon Tullock, Joe Persky, and David Levy. Here is one comment from a participant who surely picked up on this feature of the Institute (she's not the only one who made this case):
The Summer Institute was a great experience. You and David Levy have succeeded in creating a space where people can speak in an informal manner about thoughtful issues in economics, and where we can also get to know one another. You've managed to include many senior economists, while yet letting unknown people like myself feel free to speak--in truth, I don't think that I have found any other forum like that in economics, and I have missed it.
What David and I have concluded, based on the Virginia School research relating to the early years of the VA School, is that the egalitarianism may generate a more robust network than would otherwise prevail, given similar circumstances. Certainly the Summer Institute network -- ever growing and rather committed -- is a robust network and that robustness may be a result of the egalitarianism noted by the participant above (as well as many others).
The HES annual meeting, in Grinnell IA, was a great success. Here are some photos, of Jose Luis Cardoso (EJHET Editor), Annie Cot, and HES President (our host), Brad Bateman at a reception; of Kevin Hoover (in the background) and Mary Morgan (in the foreground); of our listserve editor, Bert Barreto (left) and the Hume/Smith scholar, Maria Paganelli.
I was able to go to only one young scholar session, and enjoyed it as always. Kevin Hoover, Joe Persky, Chuck McCann, Dan Hammond, Andrew Farrant and the audience gave David and me a stiff workout at a terrific session on our book,The 'Vanity of the Philosopher': From Equality to Hierarchy in Post-Classical Economics. Kevin said we need to take the idea of equality (or hierarchy) more seriously -- take on the evidence and see what it supports. Joe pushed us to think about other forms of equality, arguing that our analytical equality isn't strong enough so that we need to take on arguments for redistribution and so on.
A session with 2 papers on Jevons was also good. Plenary talks by Crawfurd Goodwin and by former HES Young Scholar, Cristel DeRouvray were terrific.
I'll have more to say in the next while on the papers I heard presented. The program is here.
Doug Mackenzie asked the HES list members this question about Smith's Wealth of Nations:
which edition of the WON works best for an undergrad HET class?
Without doubt, the paperback edition of the Oxford (1976) edition, reprinted by the Liberty Fund at a ridiculously low price (about $20 for the 2 vol set, I think). For at least ten years I have spent four weeks during the first term of my History of Economic Thought seminar [for 4th-year, Honours undergraduates in Economics, for whom it is compulsory at this university] working through selected chunks of WN. The students all buy their own copies and most report that it is one of the best buys they have ever made in economics books. Anthony Waterman
I use Skinner's edition published by Penguin. Jeffrey Young
I devote about a quarter of my one semester course to Adam Smith, and we use Heilbroner's Teachings from the Worldly Philosophy. This has some short one or two page introductions by Heilbroner and then excerpts from the Theory of Moral Sentiments, and then from the Wealth of Nations. One advantage of using this book is that it also has excerpts from Karl Marx, which I then also use for a couple of weeks. Marie Christine Duggan
The edition of WON that works best for an undergrad class depends on how much time you plan to devote to Adam Smith in your course. I teach a freshman seminar on the WON where I use the 1976 OUP edition of Campbell, Skinner and Todd in the inexpensive Liberty Classics paperback. In a regular HET class, where I devote two weeks to Adam Smith, I like to use the abridged version of WON in Robert Heilbroner's _The Essential Adam Smith_, which also contains excerpts from other writings of Smith such as TMS. I am sure there are many other good abridged versions of WON. Andrea Maneschi
I'm with Anthony Waterman on this one. The Liberty Fund edition of Smith's WoN is wonderful. And, of course, you can now have your students read Sraffa's Ricardo for a "ridiculously" low price as well! See the full catalogue here.
The question -- touched on in the responses above -- is whether Smith's WoN is enough without TMS. I like to have students read some of both. It's possible these days now that low cost and online versions abound.
Two nights ago, with my family I enjoyed a concert at Blossom Music Center, the summer home of the Cleveland Orchestra. It's a holiday tradition for us to take a picnic and listen to patriotic American music sometime close to the 4th. Today we took a bike ride, then had the dinner the kids prescribed, and fireworks afterwards. Four days ago was, of course, Canada's similar holiday, "Canada Day." Not much happened for that as I grew up. We called it by the nondescript name, "Dominion Day". I recall no fireworks. "Firecracker Day" was the May 24th week end, celebrating not the birth of the nation but Queen Victoria's birthday instead).
In Canada -- or at least in southern Ontario -- we prided ourselves in our low key (lack of) celebration. We told ourselves the American 4th holiday was over the top. The bicentennial was beyond our imagination. We stood for the singing of God Save our Queen. There was a great deal of discussion over whether we needed our own flag.
Supposing we agree that nations mean something -- we want to them to thrive -- I've come to realize that it requires active institution- or custom-building to make them really work. We Canadians could perhaps take a page from the fireworks and shows of patriotism in America. We might stop wanting so much to be self-deprecating and actively construct institutions that celebrate us, Canada. The flag, the anthem, the holiday. All of these and more. We might construct a real national holiday from the fabric of our past and the reality of the present.
Strong nations with strong cultural identities make good trading partners. And good trading partners live together peacefully, without the envy that now colours how many Canadians see Americans. JS Mill put it this way in his Principles of Political Economy:
To human beings, ... it is indispensable to be perpetually comparing their own notions and customs with the experience and example of persons in different circumstances from themselves: and there is no nation which does not need to borrow from others, not merely particular arts or practices, but essential points of character in which its own type is inferior. Finally, commerce first taught nations to see with good will the wealth and prosperity of one another. Before, the patriot, unless sufficiently advanced in culture to feel the world his country, wished all countries weak, poor, and ill-governed, but his own: he now sees in their wealth and progress a direct source of wealth and progress to his own country. It is commerce which is rapidly rendering war obsolete, by strengthening and multiplying the personal interests which are in natural opposition to it. And it may be said without exaggeration that the great extent and rapid increase of international trade, in being the principal guarantee of the peace of the world, is the great permanent security for the uninterrupted progress of the ideas, the institutions, and the character of the human race.