Recipes for Student Reading Groups: The Many Uses of Are Economists Basically Immoral?

At private, religious schools like mine, students have to get a certain number of credits for attending chapel or convocation or similar events in order to register and ultimately in order to graduate. It is a credible threat: we have had students complete all their degree requirements except for convocation and have to come back the following semester to complete convocation. Their degree is deferred by a semester.

One way students can get a bunch of convocation credits is by participating in a cadre, which is a faculty-led student reading group. With the generous support of the Charles Koch Foundation, I offer a cadre every semester. 

My student reading groups have probably been too ambitious in terms of the amount of reading I expect. From this point forward, I’m toning it down a little bit and asking students to read fewer pages more deeply. Cadres meet for eight weeks, and I have decided that I can get three distinct cadres from Paul Heyne’s Are Economists Basically Immoral? Are Economists Basically Immoral? is one of my favorite books (I wrote an essay about it for AIER here; Russ McCullough discusses it in a Liberty Classic essay here). First, Heyne writes with crystal clarity. Second, it’s available as a $0 PDF from Liberty Fund. Third, it approaches economics, justice, and Christianity with equal seriousness.

 

Here is how I have chosen to split things up.

Economics, Ethics, and The Idea of the University

I proposed this one for Spring 2022, and it looks like I will have about a dozen students. The cadre will ask broad questions about the purpose of a liberal education and how we can use its tools and insights (like the principles of economics) to evaluate and appraise our world. We will discuss the relationships between students and faculty under ideal circumstances and under actual circumstances, and I plan to bring in some of the insights offered by Jason Brennan and Phillip W. Magness’s Cracks in the Ivory Tower: The Moral Mess of Higher Education (that’s a book I’d love to use for a faculty reading group). Here is the reading schedule; where I have assigned two chapters per meeting in the past, the cadres I plan to lead going forward will only have one chapter per meeting.

 

Cadre 1: The Social Responsibility of Economists

Does economics assume people are horrible? Does it teach that people should be horrible? How do the assumptions we make in economic analysis and the assumptions people make in different evaluations of the nature of humanity interact, sometimes complementing one another and sometimes appearing to exist in irreconcilable tension?

Chapter 1—Are Economists Basically Immoral?

Chapter 2—Economics and Ethics: The Problem of Dialogue

Chapter 3: Income and Ethics in the Market System

Chapter 4: Can Homo Economicus Be Christian?

Chapter 16: Economics Is a Way of Thinking

Chapter 21: Measures of Wealth and Assumptions of Right: An Inquiry

Chapter 23: What is the Responsibility of Business Under Democratic Capitalism?

Chapter 26: Economics, Ethics, and Ecology

 

Cadre 2: Economics, Theology, and Justice

This cadre gives pride of place to the theologians, albeit as read by economists. The goal in this cadre is to listen carefully both to what, for example, the US Catholic Bishops in chapter 10 are saying and how Heyne is replying.

Chapter 5: Economic Scientists and Skeptical Theologians

Chapter 6: Christian Theological Perspectives on the Economy

Chapter 7: Controlling Stories: On the Mutual Influence of Religious Narratives and Economic Explanations

Chapter 8: Justice, Natural Law, and Reformation Theology

Chapter 9: The Concept of Economic Justice in Religious Discussion

Chapter 10: The US Catholic Bishops and the Pursuit of Justice

Chapter 12: Christian Social Thought and the Origination of Economic Order

Chapter 13: Clerical Laissez-Faire: A Case Study in Theological Ethics