Thursday, October 25, 2012

Economists' Golden Rule

The moral economist tries
A society so to devise
That there he would live in
In any case, given
No clue what his role would comprise.

The preceding verse sums up what Nobel laureate Paul Krugman has articulated as the "social vision" guiding his work. Prof. Krugman, of Princeton University, joined fellow Nobel laureate and Columbia professor Joseph Stiglitz Tuesday evening at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology for a wide-ranging conversation before a sold-out audience. The event was co-sponsored by the Institute for New Economic Thinking, whose executive director Robert Johnson moderated the conversation. A video of the entire talk along with Q&A is embedded below.

At 1:27:10 of the video, an earnest interrogator notes that classical economics has come under attack for a lack of moral vision, and asks if the two professors can articulate the moral code that underpins their work. Prof. Krugman, after an initially stunned reaction, responds that he follows the philosophy of John Rawls, who said in his Theory of Justice that social issues should be decided as if from behind a "veil of ignorance," where "no one knows his place in society, his class position or social status; nor does he know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence and strength, and the like." In other words, self-interest should be replaced by fairness and impartiality.

It would be neither just nor fair if I failed to thank my friend Sherry Brabham, FIT's Treasurer and head of Finance & Administration, whose guest I was for the evening.

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