Saturday, October 08, 2011

The Political Safeguards of Federalism: Dead or Alive?

The Center for the Study of Federalism at the Meyner Center invites paper proposals for the 2012 APSA Annual Conference

The Political Safeguards of Federalism: Dead or Alive?

Submission deadline: December 15.

The Center for the Study of Federalism at the Meyner Center invites papers on the vitality of the “political and institutional safeguards of federalism” conceived broadly. Consistent with the conference theme of Representation and Renewal, we invite papers that especially examine the extent to which the interests of state and local governments continue to be represented in and protected by the political safeguards of federalism, such as representation in the U.S. Senate, the electoral college, and Senate confirmation of judicial appointments. In its 1985 Garcia decision, the U.S. Supreme Court opined that states should rely on such political safeguards rather than on the Court to protect their powers. We invite a range of papers, from normative and philosophical to historical and empirical, that examine the effectiveness of these safeguards generally and across different branches of government and different policies. Possible questions to consider include: Are the political safeguards of federalism fundamental to the American federal system or has the United States evolved beyond them? How do federalism's political and/or institutional safeguards affect citizen representation? How have the political safeguards fared under united and divided government of the last two decades? Do the political safeguards protect states from unwelcome federal intrusions? Finally, given that 2012 will be the tenth anniversary of the demise of the Supreme Court’s so-called federalism revolution, one can ask what happened to that revolution and are there any signs of a federalism revival from the Roberts’ Court? Papers on other federalism topics will be considered as well, depending on CSF’s panel allocation.

Submit your proposals to: Troy Smith at

Friday, October 07, 2011

The McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society at Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship Opportunities for 2012-2013

For 2012-2013, we seek up to four new postdoctoral fellows. We welcome candidates with substantial normative research interests from diverse backgrounds including philosophy, the social sciences, and professional schools. We are especially interested in candidates with research interests in inequality, human rights, immigration, and environmental justice, but we welcome all applicants with strong normative interests that have some practical implications. Fellows will teach one class, participate in a Political Theory Workshop, interact with undergraduates in the Ethics in Society Honors Program and help in developing an inter-disciplinary ethics community across the campus.

The appointment term is September 1, 2012 - August 31, 2013; however, the initial term may be renewed for an additional year. Applicants must have completed all requirements for their PhD by June 30, 2012. Candidates must also be no more than 3 years from the awarding of their degree (i.e., September 2009).

Stanford University is an equal opportunity employer and is committed to increasing the diversity of its faculty. It welcomes applications from women and members of minority groups, as well as others who would bring additional dimensions to the university's research and teaching missions. Salary is competitive.

The application deadline is January 11, 2012 (5:00pm Pacific Standard Time).

To access the online application system, click here.

For more information on the Center and our fellowship program, click here.

For inquiries, please contact Joan Berry:

Sunday, October 02, 2011

The virtues and the economist

A series of exchanges on facebook about this comic with people trained in economics who seemed to me to miss the point of it entirely made me remember running across the abstract for this article, which I then dug back out and read and appreciated, and which I now recommend.

Lisa Herzog, "Higher and lower virtues in commercial society: Adam Smith and motivation crowding out," forthcoming, Politics, Philosophy, and Economics.


Motivation crowding out can lead to a reduction of ‘higher’ virtues, such as altruism or public spirit, in market contexts. This article discusses the role of virtue in the moral and economic theory of Adam Smith. It argues that because Smith’s account of commercial society is based on ‘lower’ virtue, ‘higher’ virtue has a precarious place in it; this phenomenon is structurally similar to motivation crowding out. The article analyzes and systematizes the ways in which Smith builds on ‘contrivances of nature’ in order to solve the problems of limited self-command and limited knowledge. As recent research has shown, a clear separation of different social spheres can help to reduce the risk of motivation crowding out and preserve a place for ‘higher virtue’ in commercial society. The conclusion reflects on the performative power of economics, arguing that the one-sided focus on models of ‘economic man’ should be embedded in a larger context.

My view about the cartoon itself, since Mike Munger misunderstood the punch line completely (hi, Mike!): The philosopher already knows the economist's arguments, having encountered them in week 2 of freshman intro moral philosophy under the names "Bentham" and "Sidgwick." That the economist is falsely assuming his ideas are new to the philosopher is made clear with the "fractions" joke.

The economist is violating lots of the official methodological pronouncements of economics, which is supposed to take preferences as exogenous and is not supposed to be a normative injunction to individual persons to maximize market value in all of their choices. It's supposed to be a way to model the decisions that are made among commensurable ends, whatever the decision process that goes into deciding what to value. So a good economist would have said, "ah, this is a question that comes before the questions I know how to answer; I need to put my toolkit away and see whether there's something interesting to learn here about how individuals do, or should, form priorities." And of course the economist is also violating the rule against engaging in interpersonal comparisons of utility; there's not even a pretense of showing Kaldor-Hicks efficiency (which itself is mighty dubious from the perspective of no-interpersonal-comparisons).

But the economist is talking like lots of people with some econ training talk, despite those methodological pronouncements. He's seeking aggregate welfare maximization, using only the welfare measures that are revealed in market prices. That this is a tail-swallowing rule for individuals to follow in making ethical choices was shown long ago by Bernard Williams. But it's also worth noting that it's Benthamite utilitarianism of just the sort that modern economics purports to have outgrown.