Class meetings Mon from 12:30 to 3:30, in Wieboldt Hall 103



Office Hours

Course Description

“Evidence-based policy making” sounds like a slogan everyone can get behind. But evidence doesn’t speak for itself. We combine evidence and values to ground policy advice. Many governments institutionalize a particular combination, through cost-benefit analysis. Critics argue against cost-benefit analysis, fearing it downplays non-quantifiable ethical concerns.

In this course, we will dig into these issues. We look first at the normative frameworks, utilitarianism and welfare economics, that straightforwardly support cost-benefit analysis. Next we will look at alternative normative frameworks, including richer theories of distributive justice, structural oppression, and individual liberty. Next we will ask how disagreement, both about the effects of policy changes and about values, affect public policy discussion. Finally, we will zoom in on one current controversy on college campuses—the regulation of hate speech.

Prerequisite PBPL 20000 or ECON 20000 or one course in Philosophy

Course Goals

Course Work and Evaluation

Component Weight
Participation 30%
Reading Responses 20%
Plan for First Paper 10%
First Paper 20%
Final Paper 20%

Student Responsibilities

Each meeting is divided into two sessions. In a typical week, the first hour and 20 minutes will be discussion of the readings listed under Session A. After a 10 minute break, we will reconvene for a second session that will be mainly lecture, to introduce new topics based on the readings listed under Session B. Do not take the description “lecture” too seriously—all of our sessions will involve opportunities for you to participate. As such, attendance at all class meeting is required, as is active participation in exercises and discussions.

The weekly reading responses are designed to help all of us start thinking about the material for discussion before class starts on Monday. As such, late responses will not be accepted. Reading responses are due at 11:59 PM on Sunday. Your grade for this component will be based on your 8 best attempts, out of the nine weeks possible.

Each of the two papers is to be 1800–2100 words long, on a topic selected from a list I will distribute well in advance of each due date. For the first paper, I am also asking you to submit a 300–500 word plan for the paper, due two weeks before the paper is due. This is so you can get feedback relevant to what I expect from your papers in advance.

For the plan and the two papers, you will lose 5% of the total course grade each 24 hours the work is late. In particular, the plan for the first paper will get no credit if it is more than 24 hours late, and a paper will get no credit if it is more than 72 hours late.

There are no exceptions to the deadlines for any assignment, except in case of a serious emergency. If such an emergency does arise, you should contact the office of the Dean of Students.

Technology in the classroom rules are TBA.

Schedule and Readings

Week 1

Session A: Introduction

Session B: Efficiency and Cost-Benefit Analysis

Uwe E. Reinhart, “Reflections on the Meaning of Efficiency: Can Efficiency Be Separated from Equity?”

Peter Diamond and Emmanuel Saez, “The Case for Progressive Tax: From Basic Research to Policy Recommendations”, pp. 165–175

Week 2

Session A: Repugnance and Limits to Markets

Debra Satz, “The Moral Limits of Markets: The Case of Human Kidneys”

Alvin Roth, “Repugnance as a Constraint on Markets”

Session B: Liberty, Rights, and Distributive Justice

Robert Nozick, selections from Anarchy, State, and Utopia

Hal Varian, “Distributive Justice, Welfare Economics, and the Theory of Fairness”, pp. 223–235

Week 3

Session A: How Much Redistribution?

N. Gregory Mankiw, “Spreading the Wealth Around: Reflections Inspired by Joe the Plumber”

Jonathan Weinstein, “Fairness and Tax Policy: A Response to Mankiw’s Proposed ‘Just Deserts’”

Elizabeth Anderson, “Thomas Paine’s ‘Agrarian Justice’ and the Origins of Social Insurance”

Session B: Equality and Distributive Justice

Jonathan Wolff, “Equality: The Recent History of an Idea”

Hal Varian, “Distributive Justice, Welfare Economics, and the Theory of Fairness”, pp 235–247

Week 4

Session A: Socialism/Exploitation

John Roemer, “Socialism Revised”, pp. 261–278, 291–292, 304–315

Charles Mills, “Racial Expolitation and the Payoff of Whiteness”

Session B: Structural Injustice

Iris Marion Young, “Political Responsibility and Structural Injustice”

Glenn Loury, “Relations Before Transactions”

Week 5

Session A: Gender in the Labor Market

Richard A. Posner, “An Economic Analysis of Sex Discrimination Laws”

Claudia Goldin, “A Grand Gender Convergence: Its Last Chapter”

Session B: Game Theory and Convention

Francesco Guala, selections from Understanding Institutions: The Science and Philosophy of Living Together

Martin Osborne, sections 2.1–2.7.7 of An Introduction to Game Theory

Week 6

Session A: Law and Norms

Kausshik Basu, “The Republic of Beliefs”

Kate Manne, “Ameliorating Misogyny,” ch. 2 in Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny

Session B: Experts and Testimony

Alvin I. Goldman, “Experts: Which Ones Should You Trust?”

Jacob Glazer and Ariel Rubinstein, “A Game Theoretic Approach to the Pragmatics of Debate: An Expository Note”

Week 7

Session A: Strategy in Advice Giving

Glenn C. Loury, “Self-Censorship in Public Discourse: A Theory of ‘Political Correctness’ and Related Phenomena”

Joseph Farrell and Matthew Rabin, “Cheap Talk”

Session B: Epistemic Injustice

Miranda Fricker, “Testimonial Injustice,” ch. 1 in Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing

Week 8

Session A: Who is Heard?

Elizabeth Barnes, “Taking Their Word for It,” ch. 4 in The Minority Body: A Theory of Disability

Melissa Harris-Perry, “The Epistemology of Race Talk”

Session B: Facts and Values

Heather Douglas, “Facts, Values, and Objectivity”

Week 9

Session A: Facts, Values, and Climate Change

Eric Winsberg “Values and Uncertainties in the Predictions of Global Climate Models”

Stephen John, “From Social Values to p-Values: The Social Epistemology of the Intergovenmental Panel on Climate Change”

Session B: The Marketplace of Ideas

Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse Shapiro, “Competition and Truth in the Market for News”

Alvin Goldman and James Cox, “Speech, Truth, and the Free Market for Ideas”

Week 10

Session A: Academic Freedom

Jacob T. Levy, “Safe Spaces, Academic Freedom, and the University as a Complex Association”

Session B: AMA