Ethics and Public Policy
- Promote research on the ethical dimensions of public policy.
- Improve ethics education for Public Policy/Public Affairs/Public Administration students.
- Build a community of teachers and researchers.
- Scholars teaching and conducting research on the normative dimension of public policy.
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Upcoming Workshops (Zoom)
April 28th 9:00am-10:30am EDT: Claudio López-Guerra, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Philosophy, Politics, Economics, and Law Program, University of Richmond
Title: Public Harm, Fairness, and Political Equality
Abstract: This paper is an (incomplete) draft of a chapter for a book project that defends a novel conception of political equality. The chapter addresses the following question: How should the costs of the unjustifiable risks that policymakers often take be allocated when they ripen into harm? To be more precise, should public officers who take impermissible risks internalize the costs of public harm? If so, how? This chapter provides an account of wrongful political risk-taking and public harm, and on that basis defends the following two claims. (1) Fairness requires that rulers bear the costs of the harm caused by the risks they create by acting in violation of their moral duties. (2) Realizing equal subjection—the novel conception of political equality advanced in the book—is necessary in order to make rulers internalize the costs of public harm. It follows that equal subjection is required by fairness: democratic accountability, the criminal law, and ex post compensation are inadequate.
March 31st 11:00am-12:30pm EDT: Juan Espíndola, Assistant Professor, Institute for Philosophical Research, National Autonomous University of Mexico
Title: Transitional Justice, Social Media, and Responsibility: A Conceptual and Normative Framework
Abstract: More and more, Big Tech companies stand accused of enabling human rights violations. The proliferation of toxic speech in their digital platforms has been in the background of recent episodes of mass atrocity, the most salient of which recently transpired in Myanmar, where the military and nationalist groups used Facebook to dehumanize the Rohingya minority and instigate genocidal acts against it. The involvement of Big Tech companies in mass atrocity raises multiple challenges for the aspiration of transitional justice processes to hold wrongdoers accountable. The main challenge is to properly conceptualize Facebook’s responsibility for the circulation of toxic speech. On one view, endorsed by the corporation itself, Facebook can be absolved from any significant share of responsibility for these atrocities because toxic speech is the speech of third parties, hosted but neither created nor endorsed by the company; if anything, Facebook is responsible for failing to anticipate and swiftly remove that speech. This paper will argue that this view is mistaken. Facebook’s business model relies on the manipulation of its users. This fact alone turns the company into a co-creator of toxic speech rather than a mere transmitter of the speech of others. The implication is that Facebook’s responsibility for the dissemination of toxic speech is greater than usually credited, and this matters for how Facebook—and technological corporations like it—enter transitional justice processes.
January 27th 9:00am-10:30am EST: Alexandra Oprea, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Daniel J. Stephens, Assistant Professor, Department of Philosophy, Duke Kunshan
Title: “Democratic Risks (or The Risks of Being a Voter)”
Abstract: In this paper, we highlight a frequently ignored aspect of being a democratic citizen with the right to vote, namely that even before exercising one’s right to vote, the franchise brings with it certain risks. These risks come from being targeted by political actors seeking to influence one’s voting behavior. Mobilization strategies that rely on stoking fear, outrage, anger, and partisan animosity, for example, are especially likely to harm the targeted voters. Our paper provides an etiology and taxonomy of the different risks associated with the franchise, clarifying the sources of these risks and the types of harm that different categories of risk might translate into. We then turn to the normative implications of this new understanding of democratic risks for democratic institutions. Our assessment of risks reveals that different electoral systems carry different degrees of risk. Some democratic risks can and should be reduced or mitigated through electoral reforms or other changes in public policy. Moreover, the presence of democratic risks invites us to rethink prevalent conceptions of civic virtue with implications for civic education policy.
November 11th 9:00am-10:30am EST: Anca Gheaus, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Central European University
Title: “Inheritance in Unjust Circumstances”
Abstract: I assume that we should abolish inheritance in order to fund justice-promoting policies, including an adequate and robust safety net. This paper argues that in unjust societies, especially those that lack such safety nets, parents do no wrong in bequeathing to their children. In unjust societies both procreative duty and parental concern justify bequest as insurance against some forms of misfortune. The justified bequests, while limited both in size and in form, may however be very substantial and therefore impede egalitarian reforms. I conclude that procreative duty and parental love provide (would-be) parents with special – and powerful – reasons to support the introduction of public safety nets.
October 14th 9:00am-10:30am EDT: Daniel Engster, Professor, Hobby School of Public Affairs, University of Houston
Title: “Responsive Bureaucracy: Toward a Theory of Public Administration for Liberal Democracy”
Abstract: Liberal-democratic theorists have often looked to the hierarchical, compliance model of bureaucratic responsibility to maintain popular control over the state administration and protect the citizenry from bureaucratic domination. Public administration scholars and, more recently, political theorists have criticized this model, however, for misdescribing the role that public administrators actually play in modern liberal-democratic states and have offered other models for subjecting the bureaucracy to popular control, most notably, regime values theory and participatory bureaucracy.
This paper extends the critique of the compliance model and offers a fourth model of the legitimate role of public administration within liberal democracy: responsive bureaucracy. The compliance model is not just descriptively inaccurate, by my account, but inconsistent with core principles of liberal-democratic theory. It represents an authoritarian implant into a governing system that requires public administrators to play a discretionary role in co-producing the laws with legislators. Regime values theory and participatory bureaucracy partially address the problems with the compliance model by making administrative policy implementation more accountable and responsive to the people, but both are insufficient because they leave citizens subject to the implementation of general laws without sufficient control over the process. The particular control that the state now exercises over individuals through the public administration requires new modes of particular citizen control over the public administration to mitigate the threat of domination.
The theory of responsive bureaucracy answers this challenge. Responsive bureaucracy retains elements of the compliance, regime values, and participatory theories of bureaucratic responsibility but highlights the important role street-level bureaucrats can play in giving individuals some say-so over how the laws are applied to them, thus allowing them to avoid domination in their daily encounters with the state and enhancing its normative legitimacy. Responsive bureaucracy represents, I suggest, a theory of public administration most suitable for liberal-democracy.
September 16th 9:00am-10:30am EDT: Johanna Thoma, Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, Logic, and Scientific Method, London School of Economics
Title: “The Democratic Challenge for Policy-Relevant Social Science”
Abstract: Can policy-relevant social science offer action-guidance without violating some basic liberal democratic values? Consider the following claims I take to be relatively uncontroversial and that I will elaborate on in the talk:
- It is desirable for social science to offer useful action-guidance for public policy.
- Policy-relevant social scientific indicators are often value-laden, e.g. measures of thick concepts such as poverty, health, economic welfare, happiness, or the cost of living.
- Reasonable people often disagree about the values captured by such social scientific indicators, both about how to understand them and about their importance.
- The more aggregate a social scientific indicator is, the more likely such disagreement is, and the more unlikely it is such disagreement can be resolved conclusively in a process of public deliberation.
- Public decision-making requires aggregation: Public policy typically has a wide variety of impacts affecting various different people and locations at different times. To be able to make an all-things considered choice, aggregate measures of these effects are needed, and the final choice itself must be based on a weighing of all these effects.
Using the example of well-being indicators, I show how these claims together make it challenging to reconcile action-guidance and helping rather than undermining liberal democracy. To achieve action-guidance, many social scientists have argued in favour of “master indicators”, such as the human development index (HDI) or subjective well-being adjusted life years (WELLBYs) as providing a single metric for policy evaluation in terms of wellbeing. By their very nature, such indicators must settle many contentious moral questions about the nature and aggregation of wellbeing. I argue that there is a two-fold threat to liberal democracy (on all prominent conceptions) coming from giving privileged status to such master indicators: Contentious moral questions are settled by social scientists without, or with insufficient democratic input; and insofar as there is a lack of (knowledge of) alternative indicators, those who do not share the value pre-suppositions of the dominant indicator find themselves at an epistemic disadvantage in public deliberation, without reliable knowledge of how different policies fare in relation to their own moral views. Philosophers concerned with the democratic legitimacy of indicators of value-laden concepts, on the other hand, have proposed ways of democratizing measurement, by involving stakeholders in the development of indicators. However, I argue that unless there is a prospect of a broad consensus on the right measurement through public deliberation, we will still end up with indicators that leave parts of the population at an epistemic disadvantage. And there is only prospect for such consensus in the case of more low-level and contextual indicators. These do not lend themselves well to aggregation, and in any case the correct way to aggregate is itself likely to be subject to irresolvable disagreement. This approach thus does not offer useful action-guidance for large scale policy interventions. I end by sketching what I take to be the best way forward, which involves the use of publicly accessible dashboards of multiple indicators and/or tools that allow policy-makers and the public to adjust the weightings of different components of aggregate indicators.
April 29th 11:00am-12:30pm EST: Matthew Adams, Assistant Professor, Department of Philosophy, Indiana University and Johannes Himmelreich, Assistant Professor, Department of Public Administration and International Affairs, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University
Title: “The Regress Problem for Experiments in Living”
Abstract: An emerging body of literature defends experiments in living as a distinctive and preferable way of doing political philosophy. Proponents are united by a focus on the epistemic role of experiments in living and by the claim that experiments in living not only (a) provide certain sui generisinsights into normative principles that regulate political institutions, but also (b) ground such institutions’ practical authority. In this paper, we present a regress problem: Experiments in living presuppose theories of the same kind that they are meant to be testing.
We identify two kinds of such theoretical presuppositions: (I) conditions of permissible conduct, and (II) conditions of experimental success. Most proponents of experiments in living state the former, few give their account of the latter. Muldoon, for example, states that “collective experiments demand the endorsement of all those involved, or at least all adults involved.”
We argue that all plausible candidate presuppositions are problematic. Against what proponents of experiments in living claim, these presuppositions are not innocuous or “normatively thin”. In this talk we concentrate on permissible conduct for reasons of time. We raise problems for each and argue that the prospects of experiments in living offering a distinctive and preferable way of doing political philosophy are small.
February 18th 1:00pm-2:30pm EST: Joseph Heath, Professor, Department of Philosophy, Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, University of Toronto
Title: “Anodyne Privatization”
Abstract: Public debate over the privatization of state services often exhibits a Manichean tone, as though the boundary between the public and private sectors was the site of an epochal struggle between good and evil, with the state on one side, representing the forces of justice, and the private sector on the other, representing the greed of capital. Discussion of the issue among political philosophers has been somewhat more nuanced, yet there is still a tendency to treat privatization as a unitary phenomenon, the desirability of which can be determined in the abstract, on the basis of fundamental principles of justice. On top of this, the assumption remains widespread that all those who support the welfare state, along with its central mission of attenuating the injustices generated by the market, should be opposed to privatization in all forms. Thus a great deal of energy has been invested in the task of producing increasingly clever arguments against privatization (with particular emphasis on considerations that rule it out on deontological grounds), without much attention to the administrative difficulties that arose within the public sector that provided the primary motivation for it. My central ambition in this paper will be to explain why someone who is a supporter of the welfare state might also support the privatization of certain state services, in certain cases. A great deal of the philosophical literature has focused on the most problematic privatization initiatives, especially the introduction of private prisons and military contractors. As a counterpoint to this, I would like to describe a set of anodyne privatizations, understood as privatizations that no reasonable person could object to. This provides a useful framework for assessing the acceptability of any particular privatization proposal, because most can be situated between these two extremes. The first step in developing this analysis involves showing that privatization is not a unitary phenomenon. Most importantly, there are different types of privatization, and confusingly, different degrees of privatization. There are also importantly different motives for privatization. Once it is made clear that a half-dozen quite different phenomena are routinely lumped together under the heading of “privatization,” it becomes far less surprising to discover that there are important normative differences between these various initiatives, which might lead a reasonable person to support some, but not others. Thus the normative assessment of privatization must be a great deal more nuanced than it has been, or than the current tenor of the philosophical literature encourages.
January 21st 11:00am-12:30pm EST: Emily McTernan, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University College London
Title: “Freedom of Encounter? Free Association in the Aftermath of Lockdowns”
Abstract: During the covid-19 pandemic, lockdowns have seen park benches taped off, church doors locked, playgrounds padlocked, and cafes and bars closed. In some countries, many ordinary social interactions were banned, such as going on a walk with friends or having family over for lunch. These restrictions made vivid the importance of a relatively philosophically neglected liberty, at least compared to free speech: freedom of association. In this paper, I argue that the experience of lockdowns also suggests to us something about what kinds of association have significance. One of the effects of lockdowns was to radically restrict or eliminate our loose and informal associations, such as those amongst like-minded citizens chatting in a bar; or between acquaintances at work or other loose friendships; or the associations formed between, say, coffee seller and regular customers; or amongst parents chatting while their children play at the playground. This paper examines the importance of such associations – or, perhaps better described, of these encounters with others. I argue that many of the key values that underpin our commitment to freedom of association could also underpin what one might call ‘freedom of encounter’.
November 19th 9:30am-11:00am EST Andreas T. Schmidt Associate Professor in Political Philosophy, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Groningen
Title: “Do We Have Too Much Choice?”
Abstract: In institutional design, securing freedom of choice for individuals is clearly important. But how much choice should we aim for? Various theorists – including Gerald Dworkin, Joseph Raz, and Barry Schwartz – argue that above some level, choice seems to improve neither wellbeing nor autonomy. Worse still, much psychology research suggests that too much choice even makes us worse off. Such reasons suggest we should adopt the Sufficiency View: increasing choice is only important up to a sufficiency level L, where L is not too far from the level enjoyed by well-off citizens in rich liberal countries today. I argue that we should reject the Sufficiency View and accept Liberal Optimism instead: expanding freedom of choice should remain an important priority even far beyond levels enjoyed in rich liberal countries today. I argue that none of the arguments given for the Sufficiency View work. Importantly, neither psychological evidence nor any broader social trends support it. If anything, they support Liberal Optimism instead. I also indicate why further increases are possible and desirable and briefly sketch some implications for debates around immigration, economic growth and markets, and the value of community.
October 15th 9:30am-11:00am EDT Mollie Gerver, Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in Political Theory, Department of Government, University of Essex
Title: “Asylum Offsetting”
Abstract: States have an obligation to assist refugees, but some states assist refugees via means other than granting them asylum. In other words, they offset their failure to grant refugees asylum by helping refugees in other ways, such as by sending them aid in camps in low-income countries. Such Asylum Offsetting can be wrong in virtue of intentions, as when states send aid to refugees abroad to avoid accepting non-white refugees, and it can be wrong in virtue of its effects, as when states send aid less effective than offering asylum. I demonstrate that these wrongs can be avoided if states engage not in Asylum Offsetting, but in Moral Trades. Moral Trades arise when Y morally values φ-ing, X morally values ψ-ing, and X does φ in return for Y doing ψ (Ord 2015). In the context of refugee protection, a state X which values sending aid abroad might agree to grant asylum to many refugees, despite not valuing accepting these refugees, in return for another state which values asylum for refugees giving a large amount of aid abroad, despite this other state not valuing giving aid abroad. Moral trades avoid wrongs common in Asylum Offsetting, so long as no offsetting is involved. Offsetting can be involved in moral trades if one state X commits a wrong and offsets this with φ-ing, because Y values φ-ing, in return for Y offsetting its wrong with ψ-ing, because X values ψ-ing. For example, a state might wrongly use violence to deter refugees from arriving and offsets this by sending aid which Y values, but only if state Y which is wrongly refusing to send aid offsets this by accepting refugees which X values. I argue that policies should shift towards moral trades involving neither wrongs nor offsetting, but that moral trades with wrongs and offsetting are superior to moral trades alongside wrongs and no offsetting.
April 13th to 16th: American Philosophical Association 2022 Pacific Division Meeting
Session: Ethics of Public Policy: From AI to Freedom of Association
“Against Democratizing AI,” Johannes Himmelreich, Assistant Professor, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University
“Unbundling Freedom of Association,” Valerie Soon, Postdoctoral Fellow, McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society, Stanford University
Moderator: Douglas MacKay, Associate Professor, Department of Public Policy, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
March 31, 10am EDT Author Meets Critics: Just Work for All: The American Dream in the 21st Century
Author: Joshua Preiss, Professor of Philosophy, Director of the Program in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics, Minnesota State University, Mankato
- Jonathan Wolff, Alfred Landecker Professor of Values and Public Policy, Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford
- Suresh Naidu, Professor, Department of Economics, School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University
- Ryan Muldoon, Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, Director, Philosophy, Political Science and Economics Program, University of Buffalo
PPE Discount: To purchase book at 30% off, use promo code SS213 or JPS22 at checkout here.
Book Abstract: A book about the theory and practice of justice at a time of rising inequality and declining hope for a better future. As economic, technological, and political trends propel many countries further and further from a Smithian Well-Ordered Society (SWO) of rapid, broad-based gains from economic growth toward a Winner-Take-All Society (WTA) of slower growth, rising inequality, and declining absolute mobility, this book calls for renewed political and policy commitment to Just Work. Just work concerns the dignity of work and those who perform it, including the widely held conviction that individuals should be able to exchange hard work for at least a middle-class life for themselves and their families. By contrast with middle-income, middle-class is a context-relative normative standard that includes people’s status, power, and share of the benefits of economic growth.
Such a commitment is essential to combat the negative moral externalities of an economy where the fruits of growth are increasingly claimed by a relatively small portion of the population: slower growth, rising inequality, declining absolute mobility, dying communities, the erosion of social solidarity, lack of faith in political leaders and institutions, ethnic and nationalist backlash, the rise of authoritarian politics and parties, and the rapid rise in what economists Angus Deaton and Anne Case call deaths of despair. Covid-19 threatens to pour gasoline on these winner-take-all fires, further concentrating economic and political power in the hands of those best suited to withstand (and even profit from) the pandemic-driven economic crisis. In this book, I provide a model for understanding the American Dream and making it a reality in a post Covid-19 economy.