A Wide-Angled View of Political Economy
Is capitalism essentially a system of social inequality, injustice and exploitation, or is it mainly a system of individual freedom and responsibility conducive to economic prosperity? What system of values is associated with human happiness? What does it mean, for example, to seek equality in legal rights as compared to equality in the distribution of resources? How do political and economic systems differ in their ability to promote the good life, and what role does political economy have in defining what the good life might be?
The Project aims to explore questions such as these—at the intersection of economics, politics, and ethics, though often falling through the cracks of these specialized academic disciplines—by means of teaching, research, and student inquiry.
The Project is expressly designed to enrich an undergraduate liberal-arts education. Most of our activities are centered upon expanding the opportunities of students who may or may not become specialists in the theory or practice of political economy, but who are looking to broaden their horizons and prepare themselves to think more deeply about the complex world that awaits them.
This commitment manifests itself in the following activities:
The Political Economy Project (PEP) grew out of the practice of faculty members such as Professors Meir Kohn and Douglas Irwin offering students informal opportunities to read and discuss important books together. Texts and topics that could not easily be fit into the framework of formal academic instruction could instead be made the occasion for a kind of continuing education, in an intimate small-group setting that allows for more careful exploration and closer interaction than is sometimes possible in the classroom.
Monday Night Dinners
Equally informal is the popular practice of inviting faculty members to offer brief remarks on a topic of wide appeal over a catered dinner. Usually held at 6 p.m., the event typically features a talk of no more than twenty minutes or so, followed by a question-and-answer period of similar length, so that the whole event is completed within about forty-five minutes. The PEP generally offers about five such dinners per term, making them an integral part of the schedule of the academic quarter. Sometimes the topic is a recent current event, sometimes it is a broader trend. Either way, countless students have enjoyed the wide-ranging offerings of participants in this popular initiative.
Independent Research Fellowships
Starting in 2019, the Political Economy Project will launch a two-year pilot program to offer funding, on a competitive basis, that will allow qualified students to initiate their own program of directed reading under the guidance of a faculty mentor, for periods of anywhere from five to ten weeks. The fellowships can be used during the Winter break, or during any off term. These stipends, ranging between $1500 and $3000, will be designed to replace job or intern activities, freeing up a period of concentrated full-time reading on a topic chosen by the student. For more information, see "Programs" ("Student Fellowship") on this website.
One of the features of the Political Economy Project from the beginning has been the practice of scheduling outside speakers to participate in an exchange of views over an important topic. Over the years, our debate program has covered everything from the minimum wage to the future of liberalism.
The PEP typically brings in a number of outside speakers per term. Often, these speakers are invited to enrich a course that is being taught that term. On those occasions, the speaker will frequently attend the class in question. Other times, the purpose is to introduce audiences to topics of broad and continuing interest to the PEP.
Learn more about outside speakers who have been brought to campus in the past and who will visit in the near future.
Typically, the PEP has been sponsoring about fifteen courses per year. These are housed in a variety of departments and programs, including Economics, Government, Philosophy, Sociology, and International Studies.
The Project is emphatically interdisciplinary: it welcomes students, faculty, and visiting speakers and scholars from disciplines as varied as political science, economics, philosophy, history, sociology, even religion and literature. The PEP is committed to rigorous and open-minded investigation and a respectful but critical attitude toward all points of view.