What are the Political Economies of Thriving Societies?
IESE New York hosts distinguished panel discussion to celebrate book launch
(From left to right) Dr. William English, Research Fellow at Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching; Harold James, Claude and Lore Kelly Professor in European Studies at Princeton University; and Jesús Fernández-Villaverde, Professor of Economics at Penn / Photo: Juan Ude
What are the principles that make for a good society? How do contemporary social practices sometimes facilitate and sometimes threaten human flourishing?
Those were some of the questions a panel of distinguished scholars discussed at IESE New York this month.
Entitled “The Political Economy of Thriving Societies,” the event coincided with the launch of a newly published collection of essays, The Thriving Society: On The Social Conditions of Human Flourishing (The Witherspoon Institute, 2015) and was co-hosted by the Social Trends Institute.
The discussion was opened by Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University.
George was joined on stage by three economists and fellow contributors: Harold James, Claude and Lore Kelly Professor in European Studies at Princeton University; Jesús Fernández-Villaverde, Professor of Economics at Penn; Michael Bordo, Professor of Economics at Rutger University; and William English, Research Fellow at the Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching, who moderated the discussion.
“I think there are two kinds of questions that we have to ask,” said George. “One is, what is the moral view or the world view — the view about human nature and dignity and destiny that is implicit in any particular policy or proposal? Secondly, what does this particular proposal or policy tell us about the way things are going.”
A decent and dynamic society, Prof. George argues in the volume’s opening essay, is undergirded by five pillars: respect for the human person; the family; fair and effective law and government; institutions of research and education institutions; and economic institutions. The first three are foundational and necessary for a decent society, while the latter two contributed to a society’s dynamism.
There’s a tension, he said, between politics conceived as a “moral enterprise” in our personal lives and the economic necessities of life relating to survival, wealth and power.
“How do we live up to our moral aspirations of a good society while preserving the need for economic dynamism and structure that within a moral framework that can guide them?” he asked.
James argued that laws and government must be as “general” as possible and not discriminate in favor of certain groups. A tall order, he said, when you pit those who defend “traditional society” and are resistant to change against the demands made on government.
Bordo and Fernández-Villaverde concurred, highlighting the issues of healthcare and education policies – the two “biggest policy debates in the United States over the last 10 years.
As life expectancy rises, said Fernández-Villaverde, more and more elderly will require care. “Getting healthcare right is essential and we need a system that delivers these services while respecting human dignity. We need to set two goals: efficiency and justice.”
To “maximize economic potential for all,” Bordo laid out a framework for fiscal, monetary and financial policy advocating “necessary reforms.” Among these are fiscal guidelines that can hold the size of government stable and limit fluctuation cycles; a transparent link between government expenditures and the tax revenues needed to fund them; a completely independent central bank; and eliminating “too big to fail.”
Professor English brought the debate to a close, describing the essays as “substantive contributions.”
“They explore truly timely and important social issues in a manner I think is remarkable for its breadth and depth,” he said.
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