4999syl - Economics, Ethics and the Environment: Syllabus...

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Economics, Ethics and the Environment: Syllabus Econ 4999 Edward Morey Spring 2009, January 20, 2009 This syllabus is a work in progress. Course Description Our intent is to answer four questions 1. What is ethics? 2. What is economics? 3. What is the environment? 4. And, how do they all relate? Put simply, ethics are limitations a society imposes upon it members. I started to say constraints rather than limitations but ethics don’t always bind; rather, they guide and suggest behavior. The presumption is that if most abide by the ethics, society will be better off. Ethics typically apply to behaviors, as in doing behavior A is ethical, doing behavior B is unethical. Said another way, ethics is a list of principles or rules to determine which behaviors are good, which are acceptable, and which are bad. For example, the ethics of a society might allow the killing of animals or slaves (because their preferences do not count in the societal calculus – they have no moral standing) but not allow the killing of citizens of the State, except, of course, by the State (executions). The 10 commandments are ten rules for ethical behavior accepted by Christians and Jews. Other ethical principles include stuff like “do no harm”, and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The principle that increasing efficiency is a good thing is an ethic; the principle that the market is a good way to allocate resources and distribute goods and services is an ethic.
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Quoting from Aldo Leopold (a famous, dead, environmentalist) taking about an ecological ethic vs. a philosophical ethic An ethic, ecologically, is a limitation on freedom of action in the struggle for existence. An ethic, philosophically, is a differentiation of social from anti-social conduct. These are two definitions of one thing. The thing has its origin in the tendency of interdependent individuals or groups to evolve modes of co- operation. The ecologist calls these symbioses. Politics and economics are advanced symbioses in which the original free-for-all competition has been replaced, in part, by co-operative mechanisms with an ethical content. (From the Land Ethic ) Note the expressions limitation on freedom , cooperation , symbioses . Ethics can stand alone or be based on philosophical, religious or historical principles. For example, sins are unethical acts, where what is and is not a sin is determined by religious beliefs – for example, some believe homosexuality is both sinful and unethical. There are many different, and often conflicting, foundations for ethics: religious, to increase happiness/decrease pain, inalienable rights, precedent/historical, etc. Simply put, the ethics of economics are efficiency , equity and sometimes sustainability .
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3 Economics is two things: (1) the development of models to explain the allocation of resources and distribution of goods, including how the allocation and distribution will change if things exogenous to the models change (e.g. government policy),
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4999syl - Economics, Ethics and the Environment: Syllabus...

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