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POLSC302: Contemporary Political Thought

Unit 7: Rational Choice Theory, Keynesian Policies, and Distributive Justice   In this unit, we will study additional theories that arose from post-war and economic depression challenges in America and Western Europe. During this post-war and Depression-era, three particularly prominent theories emerged: rational choice, distributive justice, and Keynesian.  We will learn about all of these, paying particular attention to the work of John Maynard Keynes and John Rawls, which would form the basis for modern government welfare and foreign aid programs. 

Keynes was a British economist who promoted some of the more moderate concepts of socialism, planned economies, and government-sponsored aid to citizens and businesses.  During the critical post-WWI era, Keynes argued vehemently that reparations against the Central Powers would lead to both economic collapse and the rise of nationalistic, authoritarian governments.  While his warnings were not heeded in the aftermath of World War I, they were key in the formulation of post-World War II reconstruction efforts, such as the Marshall Plan.  Keynes also proposed that government should control the actions of citizens and businesses through policies of taxation, and that these policies would lead to greater good for more people than would leaving matters purely to the free market.

Meanwhile, Rawls, a late 20th century political philosopher, promoted a theory in opposition to utilitarian principles—that the first duty of the liberal state was to safeguard the individual's basic civil liberties, and that "the loss of freedom for some" can never be "made right by a greater good shared by others."  The primary critics of Keynes and Rawls are Friedrich Hayek and Robert Nozick, whose works you will also read in this unit.  Nozick and Hayek advocated classical liberal and utilitarian theories as a solution to modern day problems—however, in modern-day parlance, these men are generally considered conservative or libertarian rather than liberal.

Unit 7 Time Advisory
This unit will take approximately 12 hours to complete.

☐    Subunit 7.1: 4 hours

☐    Subunit 7.2: 4 hours

☐    Subunit 7.3: 4 hours

Unit7 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, the student will be able to:

  • Summarize the primary principles of rational choice, Keynesian, and distributive justice theories.
  • Identify the major political proponents of rational choice, Keynesian, and distributive justice theories.
  • Discuss rational choice, Keynesian, and distributive justice theories in the context of relevant historical events.
  • Assess the impact that rational choice, Keynesian, and distributive justice theories have had on law, economics, international relations, and society.
  • Analyze primary sources of rational choice, Keynesian, and distributive justice theories and understand how these theories can be applied to solve problems in society.

7.1 Keynesian Policies in Government and Economics   - Reading: The Library of Economics and Liberty: The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics: Alan S. Blinder’s “Keynesian Economics” Link: The Library of Economics and Liberty: The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics: Alan S. Blinder’s “Keynesian Economics” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read this article.  Keynesian economics served as the economic model during the later part of the Great Depression, World War II, and the post-war economic expansion (1945–1973), though it lost some influence following the stagflation of the 1970s.  The onset of the global financial crisis in 2007 has resulted in a resurgence in Keynesian thought.
 
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  • Reading: Mt Holyoke College: The Yale Review: John Maynard Keynes’ “National Self Sufficiency” and Panarchy.org: John Maynard Keynes’ “The End of Laissez-Faire” Links: Mt Holyoke College: The Yale Review: John Maynard Keynes’ “National Self Sufficiency” (HTML) and Panarchy.org: John Maynard Keynes’ “The End of Laissez-Faire” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Please read these two documents.  In the first article, Keynes argues against free international trade on the grounds that such mobility could endanger peace. In the second piece, he presents a brief historical review of laissez-faire economic policy.  Though he agrees in principle that the marketplace should be free of government interference, he suggests that government can play a constructive role in protecting individuals from the worst harms of capitalism's cycles, especially as it relates to unemployment.  When the Great Depression struck a few years later, this work seemed very prescient.
     
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  • Reading: Ludwig Von Mises Institute: Friedrich A. Hayek’s “What Price a Planned Economy?” and “Intellectual and Socialism” Link: Ludwig Von Mises Institute: Friedrich A. Hayek’s “What Price a Planned Economy?” (HTML) and “Intellectuals and Socialism” (PDF)
     
    Instructions: Please read these two articles. The article, “What Price a Planned Economy?” is a direct link.  To access “Intellectuals and Socialism,” click the link provided, then scroll down to “Intellectuals and Socialism” and click it.  Central to Hayek’s conservative thesis, reflected in the articles, was that government control or intervention in a free market economy only forestalls such economic ailments as inflation, unemployment, recession, or depression.
     
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  • Lecture: Duke University: Bruce Caldwell’s “John Maynard Keynes and Hayek” Links: Duke University: Bruce Caldwell’s “John Maynard Keynes and Hayek” (YouTube)
     
    Also available in:
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    Instructions: Please watch this lecture (17 minutes) which compares the economic policies of Keynes and Hayek.
     
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7.2 Distributive Justice   - Reading: University of Tennessee: Ole Forsberg’s “John Rawls: A Theory of Justice” Link: University of Tennessee: Ole Forsberg’s “John Rawls: A Theory of Justice” (PDF)
 
Instructions: When you arrive at the linked page, scroll down to “John Rawls: A Theory of Justice” and click on the link to read the article.  The author explores and analyzes Rawls’ theory on the requirements of a just society.
 
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  • Lecture: YouTube: The Open University: Ian Shapiro’s The Moral Foundations of Politics: “The Rawlsian Social Contract” and “Distributive Justice and the Welfare State” Link: YouTube: The Open University: Ian Shapiro’s The Moral Foundations of Politics: “TheRawlsian Social Contract” and “Distributive Justice and the Welfare State” (YouTube)
     
    Instructions: Watch these lectures from Yale University Professor Ian Shapiro on the Rawl’s Social Contract and Robert Nozick’s critique of Rawl’s theories. 
     
    Watching these lectures and taking notes should take approximately 2 hours. 
     
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  • Lecture: Harvard University: Professor Michael Sandel’s “Episode 8: What’s a Fair Start?” Link: Harvard University: Professor Michael Sandel’s “Episode 8: What's a Fair Start?” (YouTube)
     
    Also available in:
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    Instructions: Please watch this lecture (55 minutes).  Dr. Sandel offers a provocative examination on the “fairness” of societal inequality when applied to Rawls’s theories of distributive justice.
     
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7.3 Rational Choice Theory and Capitalism Revisited   - Reading: John Scott: Understanding Contemporary Society: Theories of The Present: “Rational Choice Theory” Link: John Scott: Understanding Contemporary Society: Theories of The Present: “Rational Choice Theory” (PDF)
 
Instructions: Please read the above document. Go to the above website, scroll down the syllabus to the subheading “Readings” and click on the link “Rational Choice.” This will open up the PDF of the book chapter. Rational choice theory (RCT) attempts to explain all social phenomenon in terms of how self-interested individuals make choices under the influence of their preferences.  The RCT approach has long been the dominant paradigm in microeconomics, but in recent decades has become more widely used in political science.

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  • Reading: NY Times: Morris P. Fiorina and Ian Shapiro’s “Political Scientists Debate Theory of Rational Choice” The Saylor Foundation does not yet have materials for this portion of the course. If you are interested in contributing your content to fill this gap or aware of a resource that could be used here, please submit it here.

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  • Reading: University of Michigan: Milton Friedman’s “The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase its Profits” Link: University of Michigan: Milton Friedman’s “The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Please read this article.  Friedman, an economist, was the twentieth century’s most prominent advocate of free markets.  The argument he presents—the core obligation of business is to act in their shareholders' best interests—remains the basis for many companies' contention today that "corporate social responsibility," serve as a distraction from their primary purpose: profit enhancement.
     
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  • Lecture: iTunesU: Utah Valley University: Elaine Engelhardt’s “Episode 14: Milton Friedman” Links: iTunesU: Utah Valley University: Elaine Engelhardt’s “Episode 14: Milton Friedman” (iTunes U)
     
    Watch Lecture 14 in this series (58 minutes) on the life and work of Milton Friedman.  Note that Lecture 14 is the 15th listed lecture on the page, so click the information link to make sure you have selected the correct lecture. 
     
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