Saturday, January 22, 2011

Added to the blogroll

Ethics for adversaries. Mission statement:
This blog is based on a hypothesis: that we made a slight mistake when we carved out the sub-fields of ethics and political philosophy. The blog will not, for the most part be trying to prove this hypothesis in a heavy-handed way, but hopes to make it a little more compelling by way of examples.

What was the mistake? At some point “we” assigned some scholars to work on the foundations of moral theory, and others to work on the foundations of political philosophy, and then several other mutually exclusive bands of scholars to look into the peculiar ethical challenges facing professionals working within particular kinds of institutions and professions, like business, law, politics, international relations, journalism, accounting, international relations and, say, sports.

So what’s the hypothesis? That there just may be something similar about the challenges faced in design of all the aforementioned institutions, and also in the ethical dilemmas faced by people working within these settings. And further, that the challenges of designing and justifying these institutions may strain any more foundational theories of justice that have not adequately accounted for how different these competitive institutions are from other “merely administrative” institutions. (And we suspect this includes almost all famous theories of justice — not least John Rawls’s.)

The institutions, professions, and practices that we will be exploring throughout this blog are what we might call “deliberately adversarial.” They set up highly — but never completely — regulated competitions in order (ideally, in principle, as if by an invisible hand) to benefits those outside the competitions. We do not need to use free(ish) markets to produce and distribute goods and services, but if we do so in the right way, consumers should get better value for their money. We have not always had an adversarial legal system, or democratic elections, but when we do, citizens should be less likely to face injustice. We could have events where athletes show off their individual physical talents, but we tend to find competitive sports, where they do this in an attempt to win, a more satisfying spectator experience.

When does it make sense to try to get results from competitions rather than merely by attempting to achieve them directly? Why aren’t cooperation, mutual deliberation, and professionalism more efficient and just ways to deliver services? And if we do need to structure competitive environments, how do we ensure that the system won’t be “gamed” by the players so that they benefit more than the intended beneficiaries (like consumers, criminal suspects, or the general public)?

These will be the sorts of questions we will have in mind in this blog as we search for examples of effective or flawed “deliberately adversarial institutions” all around us.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011



Association for Political Theory 2011 Annual Conference
University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana

Proposals due: February 15, 2011

The Association for Political Theory (APT) invites proposals for its ninth annual conference, October 13-15, 2011, at the University of Notre Dame. To learn more about the Association and its annual conference, please visit the APT website at: The Association for Political Theory welcomes proposals from all approaches and on all topics in political theory, political philosophy, and the history of political thought. Faculty, advanced PhD candidates, and independent scholars are eligible to participate. We also encourage faculty to volunteer to serve as chairs and/or discussants.

How to Apply: To apply online, click on the following link . Proposals are due by midnight on Tuesday, February 15, 2011 (PST). Please review the proposal guidelines described below before completing a proposal form. Each participant may submit one paper and one co-authored paper proposal. To propose a paper, each participant must submit an abstract of 300-400 words and a recent copy of his/her vita. If a copy of the CV can be found online, the applicant can provide the web address in the relevant box on the proposal form. Otherwise, the applicant must email a copy of the CV to with his or her name as the subject line. Each participant is required to submit a proposal form, even if the proposal is part of a co-authored paper. Please note: you must both submit the proposal form and email your CV in order for your proposal to be considered by the Program Committee.


Chairs/Discussants: If you wish to participate as a chair and/or discussant, please note your areas of expertise and interest in the relevant box on the proposal form. You may offer to serve in both of these roles, but the Program Committee prefers to limit volunteers to one role to ensure broad participation in the conference. Presenting a paper does not preclude one from serving as a chair or a discussant in another panel.

Pre-circulation requirement: All papers accepted for the conference must be submitted electronically to an archive on the APT website no later than October 1, 2011. Please note that you should limit the length of your paper to 30 double-spaced pages of text so that discussants may provide suitable feedback. The archive will be password-protected so that access is limited to members of APT. Participants who fail to submit their paper to the archive by October 1, 2011 will be removed from the program.

Membership : Participation in the conference requires membership in the Association. Membership is free. Papers are available to APT members only, so conference participants will need to join APT in order to receive access to the archive. Click here to submit a membership application.

Questions and assistance: For questions about the program or proposal guidelines, or if you have any difficulty submitting a proposal form, please contact the Program Committee Co-Chairs, Alisa Kessel ( and Amit Ron (

***NEW APT INITIATIVE FOR 2011: Working Group Panel
“Power, Democracy, and the City”

This group is part of APT’s new Working Group initiative. Participants will engage in pre-conference dialogue as they prepare their papers, and the panel will serve as one moment in a longer collaboration. The format will enable scholars working on similar questions to learn from each other, develop their ideas over time, and create professional networks. The group will be chaired by Clarissa Hayward of Washington University in St. Louis. The intention is to submit the papers from this panel as a proposed special issue in the Journal of Power. Participants must have a first draft completed by August 15, 2011, and be ready at that time to share their work-in-progress and to comment on the work of the other participants. Just as for any APT paper, a polished version must be completed in time for presentation at the fall conference. For more information on this year’s working group theme, visit the APT Gateway website.

Potential participants should submit proposals via the proposal form and must indicate that they want their proposal to be considered for the working group panel. (You can submit the same proposal for both the working group panel and the general APT program, if you wish.) Papers will be selected by the working group panel chair and the APT program committee based on fit and strength. Generally, participants in APT working groups are expected to be at a post-dissertation stage of their career and to have begun publishing scholarly work. Once participants are notified of their acceptance and confirm their willingness to participate, members will develop a work-plan and schedule that include an initial re-reading and discussion of Robert Dahl's Who Governs? followed by the sharing of work in progress.
Cass Sunstein in the news

As part of its effort to mend fences with business, the Obama administration has ordered of a review of regulations to seek "the proper balance," trying to "ensure that regulations protect our safety, health and environment while promoting economic growth" and to remove "outdated regulations that stifle job creation and make our economy less competitive." "Per a senior administration official, OMB Director Jack Lew is overseeing this effort, and it will be run out of Cass Sunstein’s office at OMB."

Left-leaning groups are predictably worried, and respond as if the mere notion that a regulation could be economically harmful is some kind of vile Republican lie.

Note that Obama's op-ed named just one example of overregulation, already repealed: the classification of saccharine as hazardous waste by the EPA. And it foresees new or stiffer "safety rules for infant formula; procedures to stop preventable infections in hospitals; efforts to target chronic violators of workplace safety laws." The emphasis of the piece is hardly on any claim that in fact there is too much regulation in any area. The tone is generally one that says "we've been doing things basically right and now we will confirm that with a self-audit."

I predict that almost no regulations will actually be repealed as a result of this, except in cases of conflict or redundancy with other regulations. I'm sure that compliance requirements can be simplified in many cases, and that we'll hear triumphant accounts of that: "Small businesses used to need to fill out 13 forms to do this; that has been reduced to 3." Almost any complex bureaucracy accumulates surplus paperwork requirements, and there are always reductions that can be made there just by deciding to look for them. But don't expect any sweeping round of deregulation here. Something more like Gore's "reinventing government" is the most to expect: basically worthy housecleaning, important to do every so often, but not at all fundamentally transformative of the regulatory balance. This is an effort to "change the tone," not to change the state.

Indeed, the Executive Order itself explicitly says "This order is supplemental to and reaffirms the principles, structures, and definitions governing contemporary regulatory review that were established in Executive Order 12866 of September 30, 1993"-- that is, the original order establishing the Reinventing Government initiative. It's a reaffirmation and refinement of existing practice. The greatest novelty is the order that each agency develop a plan for the periodic review of past regulations; but it seems that the reviews will be conducted by the agencies themselves, which already could have proposed changing their past rules had they wanted to.

One question, though: doesn't the new order mandate what Sunstein's office was supposed to be doing all along? He's a very energetic guy who likes to work long hours, and he was confirmed a year and a half ago. The Federal Register only grows by a couple of hundred pages per day, which is about his writing pace. Hasn't he already completed this review?

Update: See als these comments from Eric Posner.