Economics, Literature and Scepticism

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I am a PhD student in Economics. I am originally from South Africa and plan to return there after my PhD. I completed my M. Comm in Economics and my MA In Creative Writing (Poetry) at the University of Cape Town, where I worked as a lecturer before starting my PhD.

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Monday, July 07, 2008

Research Program

Posted by Simon Halliday | Monday, July 07, 2008 | Category: , , , |

My research program this vacation is, firstly, to complete an essay for the History of Economic Thought seminar course I took with Ernesto Screpanti this past quarter on Equality of Opportunity. Secondly, subsequently and probably somewhat concurrent with that, as the themes overlap, I am pursuing reading and research on group inequality which is the general area I have decided to research for the articles for my thesis.
Black/white handshake contest image[Aside: I was originally trying to decide between research into either the evolution of cooperation, or into group inequality/segregation, I am passionate about both, but chose to do the latter as it relates more to South Africa.]

The implication of which is that I will be blogging about the books and articles that I am reading and the attempts that I make to write about them. With respect to the equality of opportunity essay, and equality generally, I am currently reading or have been reading:

Bowles, Arrow and Durlauf (eds) (2000) Meritocracy and Economic Inequality
Roemer, John, (1998) Equality of Opportunity
Roemer, John, (1996) Theories of Distributive Justice
Cohen, G.A. (1995) Self-Ownership, Freedom and Equality
Rawls, J (2005 (1971)) A Theory of Justice
Nozick, R (1974) Anarchy, State and UtopiaPolitical Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)

As a political philosophy autodidact the base texts that I read to give myself an introduction were:
Kymlicka, Will Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Introduction
Wolff, Jonathan, An Introduction to Political Philosphy
Miller, David, Political Philosophy A Very Short Introduction

I know that some of the above are a bit simple (eg. the very short intro), but I found it useful to look at slowly advancing texts when I was teaching myself the basics, before getting on to reading the genuine article of Rawls, Nozick, etc.

So that you know one of the main reasons that I am really trying my best to get to grips with these topics is because I believe strongly in having some kind of consistent theory behind the work that I intend to do in economics. Without this grounding I don't know whether the work I do will be out of anything more than curiousity. I agree furthermore with John Roemer when he says that,
"Unfortunately, too few graduate students today who work in political philosophy or welfare economics have an understanding of both methods. I think that to do good political philosophy o welfare economics it is essential to be cognizant of the main issues and ideas in both disciplines, if not to have both sets of techniques in one's tool kit. Political philosophers with too little knowledge of welfare economics frequently try to reinvent the wheel, usually with bad results. Welfare economists who are poorly read in political philosophy often waste their time on technical questions that philosophy shows have no interest for the study of human welfare."
John Roemer, 1998:i, Equality of Opportunity
So, if you are interested in these topics, I am using a somewhat altered version of Jonathan Wolff's reading list on equality.

With respect to group inequality, I am using two reading lists, the first is from Glenn C. Loury for his course on group inequality at Brown, and the second list (which now no longer appears to be online) is from Rajiv Sethi's Inequality course at Columbia.

If you have any suggestions then please feel free to supply them I am open to all kinds of ideas on the abovementioned topics.

Currently have 4 comments:

  1. That's a LOT of reading. Rawls took me almost a month to read properly... Kymlicka I should add is really bad on Rawls imo. Wolff is excellent and I'm a big fan of the Very Short Introduction series, though I haven't read the one of Political philosophy.

    There was a very good Human Development report that focused on equality a while back - I think it might have been 2005. Have a look, it's certainly worthwhile...

    Otherwise, have a look at Dworkin and Sen...

  2. The list of intro political philosophy texts is useful - thanks.
    -John McCoy
    (I got here through Mike, incidentally.)

  3. Yes, the Human Development 2005 was on equality. I will be using that as a backdrop for my thesis work in all likelihood. I am doing the 'quick read' of Rawls, the one he suggests to get the general ideas (about one third of the text). I plan to read the rest of it later. I am finding him easier to read than Cohen was though.

    John - always a pleasure :-)

  4. Frankly, I don't think you should read the last 1/3 of Rawls - it's long, complicated and uninteresting. I can send you my "prized" essay on Rawls if you want, by the way...

    I haven't read Cohen - and I'm sure not going to if he's harder to read than Rawls! :-)