Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics


PLAP 565                                                                                                       Mr. Rhoads

Economics, Values and Public Policy                                                 Fall  2004



(and in class)


General Instructions


            The questions that follow are suggestive.  You should feel free to write your paper on any part of the assigned reading.  Although it might help our discussions more if you responded to one or more of the questions here, you should feel free to go in a different direction if you would like to.

          The papers are not meant to be research papers.  You should not feel that you have to read anything other than what has been assigned for the class.  If you want to critically analyze a single author's position, that would be fine.  Alternatively, you could discuss two or three authors and indicate where you agree and disagree with each and why.  What you should avoid is simply summarizing the positions of the various authors.  I will be interested in your own analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the authors' positions, and, where relevant, what you think public policy should be in the area under discussion.  Pick out what interests you and what you think would make for an organized, coherent, and well argued paper.


Week 1 (9/6): Incentives / Supply and Demand


What are the arguments for and against rent control?  What do economists think?  Which argument do you find most persuasive, and why?


How does zoning relate to supply and demand?  Do you think zoning is a good idea?  Explain.


What is the standard economic position on minimum wage laws?  How does this relate to supply and demand?  Do you support minimum wage laws and living wage laws?  Why or why not?  What type of economic consequences would you anticipate from your choice?


Week 2 (9/13): Using Resources Efficiently I


Humans cannot survive without water but can survive without diamonds.  Why, then, would most people prefer to be given a bucket of diamonds than a bucket of water?


What is the opportunity cost of you attending college?


Are some tasks better left to the market?  Consider “Hate to Wait?,” IRS, and GAO articles.  Why do such inefficiencies occur?  Would privatization make a difference?  Explain.


To what extent are the public and private sectors intertwined? Consider the PBGC and the IRS outsourcing of collection. Is this entanglement problematic? What costs and benefits might such arrangements have?


If the United States can produce two goods more efficiently than Mexico, explain why it is still economically more efficient for Mexico to specialize in one of these goods.  Create an example.


Do workers fare better in the US or in Europe?


What are some of the arguments supporting the use of benefit-cost analysis in environmental protection?  What are some of the arguments against its strict use?  Can you think of ways you use benefit-cost analysis in your everyday life?  If you think it makes sense for individuals does it for societies as well?


Week 3 (9/20): Using Resources Efficiently II


Has airline deregulation been consistent with the economic principle of competition?  What do Morrison/Winston argue?  Do you agree?  What did deregulation fail to change?  Will this impact the success of deregulation?  Why?


How are airlines responding to possible bankruptcy? Does this reflect market forces at work? 


What is “congestion-pricing.”  How does this relate to airlines?  Can you think of other situations where congestion pricing might be helpful?


Are rising gasoline prices examples of “price-gouging?”  How do changing gasoline taxes reflect economic concepts we have studied so far?  What does the author of “The Ideal Gas Tax” say the ideal gas tax should be?  Do you agree?  What sort of impact would you expect such a tax to have?


What is the relationship between state and federal regulation? Should one be dominant to create efficient outcomes or is each better suited to a different set of issues? Has the evolution of state regulation, as described by Teske, created more or less efficient regulation?


What are the arguments in favor of occupational licensing?  What are the arguments against?  What do you think economists would say?  Which do you think is the stronger argument?


What is the difference between a pecuniary and a technological externalities?  Give your own examples of each externality?  Does government have a role in “correcting” pecuniary and/or technological externalities?  Explain.


How helpful is the externality concept in determining what government should do and what level of government should do it?  Use the externality concept to evaluate the arguments made by Peterson, McGrory and Wicker.




Week 4 (9/27): Environment Regulation Through the Use of Economic



What market methods are used for reducing pollution?  How successful are these methods?  Do you think government regulation is a better method of regulation?  Why?  Consider and evaluate the positions in the readings.


In “Let Them Eat Pollution,” why does the author argue for sending the biggest polluting industries to LDCs?  Is this a practical policy?  Is this a moral policy?  Why?


What have been the effects of CAFE standards?  What does the author suggest as an alternative to these standards?  Which method do you think would be more effective?


Week 5 (10/4): The Ethics and Economies of Saving Lives


A. How Much Should We Spend to Save a Life?


Do we have to value life at least implicitly?  If so, should we be explicit about the value(s) we use?  If so, how should we value life?  Are either the “discounted future earnings” or the “willingness to pay” (wage-risk, contingent valuation and/or consumer market) methods of any use or should they, in Veatch’s words, be “irrelevant”?  Whose lives are the most valuable under the “discounted future earnings” and the “willingness to pay” methods?  Are these methods fair?  Should we spend more to spend the life of a “known” person, than to save a “statistical” life?  If you were the head of the Office of Management and Budget and had to advise the President about how much he should be spending on life saving, education, environmental programs, etc., how would you decide when to stop spending on life saving programs?  Which author’s views are you most sympathetic with? Are the Tappet brothers or Landsburg more right about car phones?


Is the federal government’s campaign to reduce blood cholesterol a mistake?  How should the EPA go about assessing the risks of chemicals?  Would you like to see QALYs used more or less in public decisions about funding for health care?  Should old people’s lives count as much as young people’s?


B. Whose Life Should Be Saved When Not All Can Be Saved?


How would you decide the difficult questions discussed by Rescher, Childress, and Glover?  How candid should we be about the criteria used in these difficult life-saving cases?  How candid should the public debate be?  Would it be a good idea to have Congress pass a bill establishing “the value of life” to be used for all life-saving programs?


Should the nation’s organ transplant system use larger geographic regions when establishing priorities?    Should it be illegal to sell human organs?  In contrast, should the ban on cadaveric organ sales be repealed?


Week 6 (10/18): Equity, Distribution of Income, and Poverty


A. Equity and Distribution of Income


According to Krugman, what role does culture play in the changing structure of financial markets?  Do you see other examples of the influence of culture in the distribution of income? 


Browning suggests that, if measured correctly, the average person in the top quintile makes only four times (260) as much as the average person in the bottom quintile, or perhaps even less than four times as much (262).  Do his adjustments seem appropriate to you? 


How should we measure poverty?  Are you persuaded that it is now under 6% (Browning 265)?


Should we be concerned about inequality in the distribution of income, about poverty or neither or both?


Browning says (253) we spend $208 billion a year on welfare programs.  Are you persuaded? If so, is this too much, to little, or about right?


What if any changes should be made in how we distribute welfare assistance?


Answer Browning’s question #15 on pages 270-1.  What light, if any, does you answer shed on arguments over income redistribution?


Browning suggests there is less income inequality that basic numbers suggest.  Krugman suggests there is more income inequality than these numbers suggest.  Who do you think makes the stronger argument?  Why?


According to Nadler, how does capital ownership change attitudes toward the future?  Do you agree?


Compare / Contrast Judge, Samuelson, and Milbank/Weisman positions on the tax debate?  Who do you think makes the stronger argument?  Why? What do you think of proposals for a flat tax?


Is an estate tax a good idea? Consider Irwin’s article and Lindsey’s response. Is an estate tax efficient? Fair?  If you like the idea of an estate tax, is the current level about right?


Discuss the pros and cons of creating a stake-holding society (Ackerman).  Consider both practical and normative concerns and benefits.


Do you agree with Plattner?  Would he criticize Browning?  Is there an important difference between the welfare state and the redistributive state?  Are you persuaded by Plattner’s argument that if one is concerned about equality there are for more important disadvantages that might be compensated for than those having to do with income?  If you do agree, why do you think we do not compensate in these other realms?  Should we do more compensating in the other areas?  Should we do less compensating in the income area?  Is the philosophy that lies behind the redistributive state dangerous?  Do you find Plattner’s critique of Rawls and Okun persuasive?  Why or why not?


Address Samuelson’s concerns on the intergenerational distribution of income.  Do you believe in a “Generational compact?”  What types of arguments might be considered in such a compact?


B. Welfare and Poverty


How much of the “welfare problem” is due to the character and upbringing of welfare recipients?  To a lack of economic opportunity?  To the structure of government policies?  Is the problem one of family values, economics or government? Discuss.


Compare and evaluate any two or more welfare reform programs.  Where should reformers concentrate their energies—on encouraging work, ending poverty, promoting private charity, ending illegitimacy or on something else?


Is bad behavior the cause or the consequence of poverty/welfare dependence? (Sawhill)


Should illegitimacy be addressed indirectly, by way of a work requirement, or directly.  Does it make any difference whether the phenomenon is called “births to unwed mothers,” “illegitimacy,” or “bastards”?  If so, which term should be used?


Should welfare remain an entitlement?


Are you persuaded that marriage is an advantage to welfare recipients?  Why are the statistics divergent along racial lines?  What might be done to reverse such trends?


Has the advent of contraception also led to an increase in out-of-wedlock births?  If so, why?  Do you agree that church and police crackdowns can limit illegitimacy?  If so, does the government have a role in promoting marriage?  If so, how?


Does the availability of welfare to single mothers tend to increase the number of families in need of welfare?  Will cutting off welfare to single mothers tend to increase the number of families in need of welfare?  Will cutting off welfare to single mothers really work to deter out-of-wedlock births?  Should government programs concerning unwed mothers be morally neutral?


Consider Jencks and Edin’s question: Do poor women have a right to bear children?


Why are the subjects of marriage and the role of men often relegated to the periphery in the welfare debate?  Is this a mistake?  Discuss.


Mansbridge argues that welfare provides many women a welcome independence from dependence on men.  Is this a benefit of pre-reform welfare?  Does welfare reform undermine female independence?


Has welfare reform been a big success?  What, if any, problems remain down the road?  How should we deal with them?


Consider Eberstadt, Murray, and Weicher (and others)…are current methods for measuring poverty sufficient?  If so, why?  If not, in what ways could they be improved.


Discuss the benefits (or not) of non-economic and non-governmental methods of attacking poverty / welfare.  Are these methods successful?  If so, should they be encouraged and supported by the state? 


In what ways has the welfare/poverty debate become associated with the motherhood debate?  What do today’s welfare policies say about the role of parenting as a job?  Evaluate Montana’s position on valuing stay-at-home parents.


Week 7 (10/25): Equity Between the Sexes: Occupational Segregation and

      Comparable Worth


Does society undervalue women’s work?  If so, does societal under-valuation explain the relatively low wage rates in predominantly female occupations? 


Why is there so much job segregation by sex or gender in the U. S. economy?  


Why are the ministry and farmers paid relatively little (11)?  Why is the wage gap greater among the self-employed than among employees (10).


Why do marital status and children (13, 17) seem to reduce female pay and enhance male earnings?  Does discrimination explain this phenomenon?  If so where is it located?


Are the following legitimate, non-discriminatory explanations for women being paid less than men: they have shorter commutes, less overtime, work fewer hours (even if full time workers), better working conditions?


Do employees promote women less and train them less because they think they will drop out after having children?  Is this unjust?  If so, what if anything, can be done about it?


Is there significant discrimination against women in the market and can job evaluation studies (JES) be used to successfully spot discrimination practices and remedy them?


What are the most significant problems facing comparable worth (CW) systems?  How if at all might they be overcome?  How, if at all, might CW deal with the surplus and shortage problem?  Is comparable worth in Minnesota a success? 


If you oppose CW, why do you think it has made such headway in so many places?  How could it be opposed more effectively?


In areas without comparable worth, are librarians underpaid by whatever criteria you think should prevail?  Are child care workers?  Are police officers underpaid?  Overpaid?  Explain your answers and your policy conclusions.


Are male foresters and female librarians in Minnesota paid beneath their typical JES worth for similar reasons?


Discuss some implementation issues associated with comparable worth and how they might be resolved.  For example, should male occupations underpaid by JES standards be entitled to raises?  What should we do when localities with small numbers of people in them have occupations with few employees that change from sexually balanced occupations to predominantly male ones? Consider other particular problems that arose in Minnesota.


Did the 1990 amendments to Minnesota’s law improve or harm the situation?


Why don’t women flock to the nurse anesthetist sub-specialty in the way that men do? 


Why are women more self-depreciating when describing their work?  Why don’t women fight for pay increases as hard as men do in the JES committees?


Does biology explain occupational segregation to a significant degree?


Week 8 (11/1) : What Obligations Do We Have Toward Nature and Natural


A.  Obligations Toward other Animals (and Plants)


Do we have obligations to nature?  Will a human-centered philosophy preserve nature adequately?


Does the discovery of possible uses for bacteria in Yellowstone’s geysers support Eisner over Baxter or Simon/Wildavsky?  Should the bacteria be exploited commercially?


Should we place special value on defending members of endangered species? Why or why not?  Is it worse to kill an “endangered” Houston toad than an elephant in Zimbabwe where elephants are plentiful?


Would “recreated” species (perhaps through recombinant DNA technology) be as valuable as naturally evolved species? Is it sufficient to “preserve” a plant only in the sense that we preserve its seeds for later generation if desired?


Do species’ gains (e.g. in the Caribbean islands—Simon and Wildavsky, p. 43) counterbalance species’ losses?


Should existing species “be protected against future species that will not have the opportunity to emerge?” (45)


Should we attempt to determine the present and future value of species (46) before deciding how much we should give up to preserve them? Should all species be preserved? For example, should the smallpox virus and other harmful viruses be preserved?


What should our policy toward preserving plants and plant species be?


Is it in accord with nature or in violation of nature for men to hunt and thus kill other animals?


Does fox hunting raise different issues than ordinary hunting? Should fox hunting be banned. Is it fundamentally different than cock fights?


Some animal rights activists think that we should care as (or almost as) much about other animals’ well-being as we do about men’s and women’s (Simon and Wildavsky, p. 45). In his Peoria speech, Abraham Lincoln reminds us that in the past, those who have wanted to collapse distinctions among different kinds of species have done so with the intent of treating certain humans as beasts rather than treating beasts more like humans.  Will a wide-spread belief that men and women are essentially like other animals (and plants?) lead to a more humane world or to one like that of the Nazis, with their lampshades made of human skin?  (Is Lincoln right in his argument that even 19th century Southerners could see that those who traded in humans were despicable in a way that those who traded in cattle were not?  If so, was he right to make such a distinction?  Are we right to make it today?)  Why do we not see “free horses or free cattle running at large” (Lincoln, p. 302)?


Is the Endangered Species Act a Success?


Are you persuaded by Smith’s (85) argument that the Endangered Species Act contains perverse incentives which actually accelerate destruction of the very habitat the Act was designed to protect?  Should the federal government be doing less listing of endangered species and more buying of land or paying property owners in order to preserve habitat that protects endangered species? Would the proposed changes to the Act help correct any of these problems?


Does Barro, in effect, show that the implementation of the Endangered Species Act is being conducted according to Baxter-like principles?  Should “cuteness” rather than endangerment or uniqueness be determinative of out priorities?  How might priorities differ (from the public expenditure patterns that Barro focuses on) if one if one looked at regulations applying to private lands?


Are we being too cavalier in altering the genetic structure of plant and animal species?


Who gets the better of the debate about the kangaroo rat?  Do animals have a right not only to live but to live in their natural habitat?  Is Gelernter right to equate this with dogs’ right to run free in the wild or your living room?  Is today’s environmentalism paganism?  Is it admirable or a problem that some Americans felt the need to build a great city like New York on a small island?


Should the U.S. be” expanding access” to endangered species?


Should stunning of animals be required before they are slaughtered by Jews and/or Moslems?  Should believers be allowed to slaughter sheep in their backyard as part of a celebration of an Islamic holiday?


Should the University of Arizona be allowed to build the telescope that may endanger the red squirrel?


B. Resource Scarcity and Future Generations


Were you surprised by the results of the bet between Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon?   Do you think that the facts will continue to support Simon’s optimism in future decades?  Do you think life will be better or worse for your grandchildren?  Why?   Are you more concerned about future resource scarcity for some materials/substances than others?  Why?


Who gets the better of the debate about energy—Lomborg or Holdron? 


Who get the better of the debate about population—Lomborg or Bongaarts?



Week 9 (11/8): Education Reform and Vouchers


A. Education Reform


Are you convinced that the U.S. educational record is dismal?  How worthwhile are international education comparisons?  What is their benefit, if any?


In Jordan’s Post article, a group believes that increased spending fails to raise educational standards.  Do you agree with their assessment?


Should reform efforts focus on “inputs” like teacher certification and class size or “outputs” like test scores and parent satisfaction?    


Should educational reform focus on students at the top, middle, or bottom?


Should we have new higher minimums for minimum competency tests?  Should SAT minimum scores be required for college attendance?  For federally assisted aid for college?  How could such a proposal be implemented? 


How would you assess Miller’s proposal in “A New Deal for Teachers.”  Would such a bargain help?  If so, why?  If not, what could make the difference?


What might be the impact of increasing enrollment in advanced courses? Are students likely to learn more, less, or the same? Is future achievement likely to be affected? How might it impact the achievement gap?


Should education measures focus on ameliorating differences outside the classroom (health, poverty) that indirectly contribute to the achievement gap?  Should extra resources (funding) be set aside for such goals?  Would current funding be better spent by diverting some to such goals?  Why or why not?  Is this an appropriate job for education leaders?


Should companies be looking at high school transcripts in assessing the quality of prospective employees?  Why might some object to this practice?


How important are uniform standards for educational achievement? Is it a problem that different states have different requirements for their students? Should there be a national standard for literacy? For other achievement measures?


B. Different Schools – Choice, Vouchers, Charters, For-Profit


Centralization of government power over education is a concern of many of these authors.  Are the advantages of decentralization greater than the advantages of centralization?  At what level would successful educational reform most likely be developed and implemented—at the national, state, or local level?  (You might consider points made by Chubb, Moe, and Schrag).


Do you favor “choice” in education?  Would it help or hurt the children of the poor?  Would it lead to a brain drain?  Would choice lead to increased racial and class segregation?  To greater parental involvement?


How important is it that Americans share a common educational experience?  Consider Coleman.  What kind of choice plan, if any, would you support?  Does a decision about choice expose tension between freedom and equality? 


Chubb and Moe have confidence in the “productive potential already present in the schools and their personnel.”  Will the states, communities and families take on more responsibility for choice under a system of school choice?  Why or why not? 


Chubb and Moe say that school choice would favor schools that are “better organized.”  Is this the root of American educational problems, and the proper target for reform?  Might the schools embrace a profit motive, and does this have the potential to make schools better?  Worse? 


Should we be working to “privatize” America’s public schools?  Why or why not?  What, if anything, would ‘choice’ that included private schools give over charter school choice?


Consider the debate between Chubb and Levin on privatization.  Who makes the stronger argument?  Why?  Do you believe that the market can bring about the desired changes or is there something different about education that would prohibit this?






Week 10 (11/15): Using Economic Standards as a Normative Standard for



A. Higher Education


Why don't we just let consumer sovereignty working through the market determine the appropriate level of spending on higher education?  Should we?  Discuss.


Do we subsidize higher education for equity reasons or effiency (externality) reasons or both?  Consider appropriate objectives for a higher education program: How if at all should our current subsidies be changed?


Should federal aid (i.e. grants and loans) to college students be raised or cut?  Consider and evaluate the positions in the reading.


B. Libraries


Explore the contending views about the objectives and purposes of libraries, the role they have in service to the poor, and the kinds of reading material that should be provided with public funds.  How would each of the authors respond to the points made by the other(s)?  Do any of the authors make use of welfare economics in setting forth their point of view?  Give your own ideas about the debate.  What are the possible views about the kinds of reading that deserves public support and where do you stand?


C. Urban Renewal


In what ways do David/Whinston argue that the unfettered market may not bring urban renewal?  Do you agree this argument? Why? Consider the Prisoner’s Dilemma and the concept of Pareto Optimality.  Is cooperation unlikely to occur?  Why or why not?  Are there conditions where maintaining slums is an appropriate response? If so, describe.





Week 12 (11/22): Critiques of Microeconomics as Policy Science – Part B


Are economists more selfish than other people?  Do they start out that way or does their discipline make them more selfish?


Can we have too much choice (Schwartz)?


With reference to the Bloom reading: Should the search for the good life be the real motive of education (34)?  Does relativism extinguish this motive?  Is Bloom right to assert that the natural reaction to differences of opinion is “to raise the question as to which is true or right rather than to banish it” (39)?


Is it natural to want to approach other countries with an eye to what is “good and bad” in them (40)?—With an eye toward “what is good for me, what will make me happy” (41)?  Does our relativism instead encourage “an openness of indifference” (4)?


Would a serious study of non-Western cultures lead one to conclude that it is “primary and even natural” to believe one’s way of life is best (36)?  Does the attack on ethnocentrism actually assert the superiority of western ways since the west is the least ethnocentric of cultures(36)?


Does our openness destroy the special claims of reason which were meant to overcome ethnocentrism (39)?


Is the appropriate philosophy for a free society relativism or the inalienable rights of the Declaration of Independence (25)?  Was Lincoln a relativist?  If not, was he unjust?  What should British administrators have done about widow burning in India (26)?  Should we be open to everything?  Is it laudable or perverse to esteem everyone, even those who may be frivolous or corrupt (30)?  Is a praise of minorities healthy or harmful (31)?  Are minorities selfish?  Neglectful of the common good?


With reference to the Rhoads reading, are “relativist” students and economists fundamentally alike in their thinking?  Discuss.


How can an economist know when the consumer needs more information?


Do tastes change frequently?  Have yours?  Do you have tastes you wish you didn’t have?  Do you wish you had tastes that you don’t have?


Are economists neutral about tastes?  Should they try to be?  If not, how should they treat tastes?


Are there common components to a good and happy life?  What are they?  Why don’t today’s economists ever make statements like those of their forefathers quoted on pages 175-177?


Is schizophrenia a terrible illness or are those others label schizophrenic simply different? Should we honor the preferences of the seriously mentally ill or use medication, even against their will, in an effort to make them well?


Week 11 (11/29) Robert Frank’s “Luxury Fever” and Book Reviews


Discuss Frank’s views on inequality.  Is it rising or falling?  Why?  How does this relate to his views on luxury?


Is it true (4) that the lifestyles of the rich and famous necessarily affect your well being?


Do we work too much and enjoy leisure too little 48-51; 275)? Does money buy happiness (68-74)?  Or is happiness the result of context and position?  Is it true that “in a poor society a man proves to his wife that he loves her by giving her a rose, but in a rich society he must give her a dozen roses? (134)”


Frank argues that we should focus on the poor and that our situation is such that directing more resources there will not harm our self-interest (13).  Is he right?


Are you persuaded that there has been an increase in winner take all markets?


If good looks and earning power are key in attracting potential mates, is it the case that individuals need only achieve high relative standing and absolute levels are not very important.


“With respect to good looks, it is not the case that working out to maintain a well shaped body and cosmetic surgery create negative externalities?  Surely living in a society in which everyone is trying to look their best is more enjoyable than living in one in which no one is.”  Discuss.


Do extremely hard workers hurt or help the rest of us?


Are you persuaded that laissez faire with respect to risky jobs is damaging to society (169-70)?


Is Frank’s critique of the “voluntary simplicity” movement persuasive?  Could individuals and small groups achieve all or most of what Frank advocates on their own (187-93)?  What do you make of Frank’s treatment of the libertarian argument?


Are you persuaded that in the U.S., over the last two decades, we have squeezed the public sector too much (251-5)?  Does Frank’s proposed public employer of last resort proposal make sense (259-65)?


Discuss the implications of a progressive consumption tax.  Do you agree with Frank’s proposal?  Are there consequences he does not consider or address?  Why do conservatives argue this will stifle the economy?  How does Frank address this concern of equity v. efficiency. (Consider, also, comments from book reviews)  Is this a practical objective?  Is this a desirable objective?


Pressman says that adoption of Frank’s proposal would lead to lower tax revenues and lower taxes on the rich.  Is he right?  If so, is this enough to undermine his argument?


Ref Kniesner: Does Frank’s inattention to yard sales and swap meets undermine his argument?  Would a consumption tax unfairly burden retirees?


Ref Landsburg: Have the PC, Microwave oven, videocamera and CDs  (all becoming widely available only since 1979) improved our sense of well being?


Do people like competition, not winning, as one Frank critic argues?  Would people just jockey for relative position in some other way if added work and consumption didn’t give them a leg up?



Why does Frank say there are more bankruptcies and debt today than in the past?  Do you agree?  What methods does he suggest for limiting this?  Why does he focus on the wealthiest class?


According to Frank, is happiness the only goal?  Is it the most important goal?  What do you think and why?  Discuss the relationship between happiness and income.  How does this influence Frank’s position on luxury goods? 

Is more wealth always bad?  Is there some spending that will matter in the long-run?  If so, what is it and why?  Or why do you disagree with Frank?


Is growth a good thing? 


Discuss Frank’s views on savings.  Do we oversave or undersave?  Consider saving v. income transfer (Social Security).  How do his views on savings relate to his views on conspicuous v. inconspicuous consumption?  Do you agree or disagree, and why?


Discuss Frank’s views on absolute v. relative consumption.  Does he think one is more important than the other?  What does standard economic theory say about this?  What do you think?  Why does standard economic theory fail to explain luxury consumption? (Hint: consider conspicuous consumption as an externality.)


According to Frank, what is the role of evolution in the attraction of luxury consumption?  Why do people not merely seek to be happy?  Discuss the concept of “smart for one, dumb for all.”  Can you think of other relevant examples of this concept not listed in the book?


What does Frank mean by “context dependent.”  How does this contribute to his argument on conspicuous v. inconspicuous consumption? 


Why do libertarians object to curbing conspicuous consumption?  What is Frank’s argument?  With whom do you agree and why?





Week 13 (12/6): Political and Social Well Being and the Limits of



Are external effects more common than economists acknowledge?  If so, what additional public policies, if any, should take account of them? Does prostitution result in externalities?  If so, what are they?  Does pornography yield negative (or positive?) external effects?  What if anything should be done about soft-core pornography?  About sexual/sadistic pornography?  About the graphic portrayal of violence in the media?  About ads like the one for Bali bra?  About misogynist music and other music which seems to glorify violence?  Is misogynist music more or less dangerous than violent visual pornography?


Was Harvard University justified in asking for the resignation of Divinity School dean Ronald Thiemann?  Is Preger correct in arguing that no resignation would have been requested if the pornography on the dean’s computer had been that which appeals to gay men?  Is Prager right to say that normal and honorable heterosexual men enjoy looking at partially clad and naked women? 


Is heterophobia rampant on college campuses?


Would you support the campaign of William Bennett and DeLores Tucker against Time Warner’s sponsorship of misogynist music?  Was it wrong for TV stations to refuse to run their ads?


Do ‘easy’ women impose external costs on those women who want to save sex till marriage? 


Reference the Britt column on the one hand and the article on our efforts to discourage premarital sex in Latin America on the other: Why do we do more to encourage romance and chastity among Latin American youth than among our own?


Should there be a law against cock and dog fights?  Why or why not?


What are the arguments for and against state sponsored lotteries?  Assess the arguments.  Are the external benefits in or costs from the acts of those who purchase lottery tickets?  Explain, assess and compare these external benefits and costs if they exist.

Are there external benefits and costs from religion?  Explain and assess them and compare their importance.  Assess current constitutional law and public policy as it pertains to religion.  Is government making it harder to practice and promote religion while simultaneously promoting lotteries?  If so, does this policy make sense?


Does religious belief have positive externalities? What implications would such externalities have for the relationship between church and state? How might positive externalities play into the debate about faith-based initiatives?