Monday, February 21, 2011

Doctors, Teachers, and Professional Ethics

So, after the midterm exam, we will be discussing your final project soon. As a way of introduction, take a look at this clip. As you may know, there is a massive teacher union protest in Madison, Wisconsin. Teachers called in sick, closing all public schools in Madison for three consecutive days, to protest at the state capital about the Governor's effort to eliminate public sector unions. If teachers who do not provide a medical certificate they lose a day's pay for protesting instead of going to work.
The University of Wisconsin medical school reports that it is investigating reports that doctors from the school handed out medical excuse notes to protesters at the state Capitol this weekend.
As you can watch in the clip, doctors from numerous hospitals set up a station near the Capitol on Saturday to provide notes to explain public employees' absences from work.
The University of Wisconsin Health said Sunday that any doctors who distributed notes did so on their own behalf. Now, the questions are whether it is morally permissible for a doctor to pass out sick notes to protesting teachers who were not sick so that they would not lose a day's pay for protesting and whether a teacher is justified in submitting such a note to the school. Assuming that the Governor's initiative is unfair and that workers have a right to protest, should schools accept these notes from the teachers? And should the hospitals discipline the doctors who hand out fake excuses to protesters?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Talk on "Giving What We Can"

Larry Temkin was my professor a few years ago. He is a brilliant philosopher and a good friend. Toby Ord is an Oxford philosopher and the founder of the "Giving What We Can" movement. Given the good reception of the "Giving What We Can" initiative, I thought that you may be interested in attending the talk (or even bring these guys to Rose Hill).

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Give What We Can

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Nick Beckstead, Mark Lee, and Tim Campbell, students at Rutgers University, are launching a chapter of Giving What We Can, an initiative that began at Oxford University in the U.K to encourage people in the developed world to pledge a fixed percentage of their incomes to charity. These guys get by on stipends and earn no more than $20,000 a year. But in most other parts of the world they would be considered both wealthy. Indeed, the rate at which each donates his income to charity puts him in an elite bracket with leading philanthropists.
Lee and Beckstead have pledged to give away all of their income over their stipends until graduation, and half their post-tax income from then until they retire.
Campbell has pledged to give away 5 percent of his income for now, and more after he receives his Ph.D. and starts his career. His wife, he says, supports the general idea.
The story recently appeared in the Wall Street Journal (here).
You can check their website here and this is the list of members who have each made a pledge to give at least 10% of their income to where they think it will do the most to eliminate poverty in the developing world. They have 64 members, from 9 countries, who together have pledged more than 22 million dollars. Most of them, as you can see, are students. None of them are majoring in business, management, finance, accounting or marketing...
They think - along the lines of utilitarianism - that they have a moral duty to do it. But according to virtue ethics, it is not a matter of duties but rather the development of good habits which will eventually lead to acquire the virtue of generosity.
Would you join Nick, Lee, Tim, and Giving What We Can? Should you? Why? These are moral questions...

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Is inequality good? Is equality bad?

There is an interesting article in the last edition of The Economist on inequality and the Gini coefficient (the most famous measure of inequality).
The data: The Gini coefficient has gone up a lot - which means that inequality is rising - in some rich countries since the 1980s. For American households it climbed from 0.34 in the mid-1980s to 0.38 in the 2000s (in the 1990s the income of the richest fifth rose 27% while that of the poorest fifth went up only 10%). In China the Gini coefficient went up even more, from under 0.3 to over 0.4. But Brazil’s Gini coefficient has fallen more than five points since 2000. And inequality in the world as a whole is falling. Follow this link to read the piece, it is very interesting!
As we will be discussing this coming week, some people believe that (social/economic) equality is morally good. Some other people believe that there is nothing intrinsically good or bad with inequality from a moral standpoint.
Same discussion among economists. The new managing Director of the IMF, French Economist Dominique Strauss-Kahn, bemoaned “a large and growing chasm between rich and poor—especially within countries” and argued that inequitable distribution of wealth could “wear down the social fabric”. According to Strauss-Kahn, the data indicates that "more unequal countries have worse social indicators, a poorer human-development record, and higher degrees of economic insecurity and anxiety.”
Other economists such as Gary Becker disagree. Becker argues that there is good and bad inequality. Some types of inequality, he argues, have great social value. And other types of inequality reduce efficiency, productivity, and utility. He illustrates his point with examples of economic development and inequality in China. Follow this link to read his arguments for why there is good and bad inequality.
The discussion is excellent; I hope you have time to read the posts.
If so, the question is pretty straightforward: is inequality good or bad?