March 7, 2013

McConnell Center hosts reTHINK discussion, educating students on capitalism and equality

The McConnell Center hosted Dr. Otteson, who discussed traditional capitalism and its affect over life quality in the states. The next installment, reTHINK Liberalism, will be hosted on April 11.

By Aaron Williams–

On Feb. 28 the McConnell Center hosted the next installment of its reTHINK discussion series at Chao Auditorium in the University of Louisville’s Ekstrom library. The guest speaker for the event was Dr. James R. Otteson of Yeshiva University and New York University. Dr. Otteson is an American philosopher, economist, and author of the book “Adam Smith’s Marketplace of Life”. Otteson earned his Bachelor of Arts from Notre Dame and his Master’s degree and Ph. D in philosophy from the University of Chicago.

Otteson’s lecture topic was Capitalism and Equality. Over the course of his presentation, Otteson argued that traditional Smithian capitalism was responsible for the increases in life expectancy, birth rates and overall quality of life over the past two centuries. His analysis was backed by data that compared the wealth and GDP of pre-industrial societies to their counterparts today. Otteson argued that the inherent inequality of Smithian capitalism was unavoidable as countries seek to raise the standard of living and stamp out poverty.

“Equality, insofar that it is equality, is a kind of moral equality, I call it equality of authority,” said Otteson during his lecture “It’s meeting each other as peers. So it’s not looking at how much money you have, or how much money I have. It’s not looking at that. It’s saying that you get just as much right to offer something to me as I get to offer something to you. You have just as much right to say no thank you to the offer I make you. That’s a kind of equality of moral authority that is present in capitalism, irrespective of the inequality of material wealth that can arise.”

The event turned out a fairly large crowd in Chao Auditorium, but not all audience members were convinced of Otteson’s claims.

“I thought it was very well presented. I did disagree with a lot of it though. I think it was very limited in that it restricted itself really to only interactions between consumers, ignoring many of the problems inherent in capitalism. I don’t think he gave a very comprehensive view of capitalism. It seemed very selective.” said senior English and philosophy major Jacob Hines following the lecture.

The McConnell Center’s final installment of its reTHINK discussion series will be “reTHINK Liberalism: Luck, Responsibility, and Markets”. The event will be hosted on April 11 in Bingham Humanities Building Room 205. The guest speaker will be Jeff Spinner-Palev, a political ethics professor from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

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Photo: Andrew Nathan/The Louisville Cardinal

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