Postponed: PPE Distinguished Public Lecture with Esther Duflo

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this event has been postponed.

Recent co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, Professor Esther Duflo, will deliver the 2020 PPE Distinguished Public Lecture at Virginia Tech.

Esther Duflo is the Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics in the Department of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a co-founder and co-director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). She is a Research Associate with the National Bureau of Economic Research, serves on the board of the Bureau for Research and Economic Analysis of Development, and is Director of the development economics program of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Professor Duflo’s research focuses on microeconomic issues in developing countries, including education, access to finance, health, and policy evaluation – taking economics out of the lab to discover the causes of poverty and means to eradicate it. Her book (co-authored with Abhijit Banerjee), Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty, was Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year.

Professor Duflo is the Editor of the American Economic Review and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. She was honored as MacArthur Fellow in 2009, received the John Bates Clark Medal as the best economist under 40 in 2010, and won jointly the Nobel Prize in Economics for her work on global poverty alleviation in 2019.

Professor Duflo is the youngest person and second woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economics. She hopes that “showing that it is possible for a woman to succeed and be recognized for success is going to inspire many, many other women to continue working and many other men to give them the respect that they deserve like every single human being.”

At Virginia Tech, Professor Duflo will speak about her new (co-authored) book, Good Economics for Hard Times, that addresses some of the thorniest social and political problems of our time. The lecture will take place in the Moss Arts Center on April 1, 2020, from 5-7pm. No tickets are required. The lecture will be followed by a public reception and book signing. You are cordially invited to attend.

PPE Research: Book Symposium on Minimal Morality

The journal Analytic Philosophy featured a book symposium on Michael Moehler’s Minimal Morality: A Multilevel Social Contract Theory (Oxford University Press, 2018):

D’Agostino, Fred, “Pluralism, Prudence, and Political Theory: Comments on Minimal Morality by Michael MoehlerAnalytic Philosophy 61 (2020): 37-45

Thrasher, John, “On Minimal Morality,” Analytic Philosophy 61 (2020): 46-56

Morris, Christopher W., “Morality’s Many Parts: Symposium on Michael Moehler’s Minimal Morality,” Analytic Philosophy 61 (2020): 57-69

Vanderschraaf, Peter, “Stability Challenges for Moehler’s Second-Level Social Contract,” Analytic Philosophy 61 (2020): 70-86

Moehler, Michael, “Minimal Morality, Bargaining Power, and Moral Constraint: Replies to D’Agostino, Thrasher, Morris, and Vanderschraaf,” Analytic Philosophy 61 (2020): 87-100

PPE Research: Gil Hersch

Gil Hersch (PPE Postdoctoral Fellow) published an article on “No Theory-Free Lunches in Well-Being Policy,” in The Philosophical Quarterly 70 (2020): 43-64. Here is an abstract of the paper:

Generating an account that can sidestep the disagreement among substantive theories of well-being, while at the same time still providing useful guidance for well-being public policy, would be a significant achievement. Unfortunately, the various attempts to remain agnostic regarding what constitutes wellbeing fail to either (a) be an account of well-being, (b) provide useful guidance for well-being policy, or (c) avoid relying on a substantive well-being theory. There are no theory-free lunches in well-being policy. Instead, I propose an intermediate account, according to which well-being is constituted by endorsed veridical experiences. This account refers back to theories of well-being but does so as agnostically as possible. An intermediate account of well-being is meant as a policy guiding compromise between the different theories of well-being that make claims regarding what constitutes well-being. An intermediate account does as well as can be hoped for in providing a basis for well-being policy.

PPE Undergraduate Student Ambassadorships

Each academic year, the PPE Program selects several undergraduate students to serve as ambassadors for the program. The primary tasks of the ambassadors are to work closely with PPE faculty and staff on the development of the program and serve as a student contact for PPE events. For more information about PPE events and activities, please follow this link.

The application process for next year’s PPE Undergraduate Student Ambassadorships is now open. All students who are enrolled in a PPE degree (major or minor) and will not also be on the leadership team of the PPE Club next academic year are eligible to apply. Please submit a short personal statement that explains your interest in becoming a PPE Undergraduate Student Ambassador, whether you are a PPE major or minor, your anticipated graduation year, and your resume. The application materials must be submitted to Professor Moehler ( by April 9, 2020. We look forward to receiving your application.

PPE Discussion Colloquium: Economics and a Free People

On February 29, 2020, the Program in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics will co-organize a daylong discussion colloquium for selected undergraduate students on the topic “Economics and a Free People.”

Professor Christopher Freiman (William & Mary) will serve as discussion leader to facilitate an in-depth exploration of the questions and challenges raised by a set of readings on the topic, in particular by Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Friedrich Hayek, and John Maynard Keynes.

PPE Club: Interest Meeting

The PPE Club at Virginia Tech will organize an Interest Meeting on February 4, 2020, from 6-7pm in the Architecture Annex, Room 109. The club is open to all majors. There will be free pizza and soft drinks!

For more information about the PPE Club, please see here.

PPE Research: Michael Moehler publishes book on Contractarianism

Michael Moehler, Director of the PPE Program at Virginia Tech, recently published a book on contractarianism that integrates methods in philosophy, politics, and economics.

The book provides a systematic defense of moral contractarianism as a distinct approach to the social contract. It elucidates, in comparison to moral conventionalism and moral contractualism, the distinct features of moral contractarianism, its scope, and conceptual and practical challenges that concern the relationship between morality and self-interest, the problems of assurance and compliance, rule-following, counterfactualism, and the nexus between morals and politics. It argues that, if appropriately conceived, moral contractarianism is conceptually coherent, empirically sound, and practically relevant, and has much to offer to contemporary moral philosophy.

Here is more information about the book.

PPE Speaker Series: Erik Kimbrough

Erik Kimbrough from Chapman University will give a talk on the topic “How Norms Shape Ideology.” The talk will take place on February 5, 2020, from 4-5:30pm in 223 Engel Hall. The talk is tailored to appeal to both students and faculty, with plenty of time for discussion and interaction with the guest speaker. You are cordially invited to attend.

Here is the abstract of the talk: Are Americans’ policy preferences constrained by ideological belief systems? If so, what does this imply? We bring clarity to these long-debated questions by addressing three vital concerns: First, constraint is typically operationalized based on researchers’ understanding of “what goes with what,” but how valid are these assumptions? Using an incentivized coordination game, we find substantial variability in ideological norm clarity across issues. Second, the extant literature equates lack of constraint with ignorance, but how many seemingly “ideologically innocent” voters simply choose to flout ideological norms? When we measure political beliefs and knowledge of ideological norms separately, it becomes clear that ignorance and pragmatism are typically conflated. Third, does constraint facilitate accountability, or does it indicate adherence to ideological norms? Using a survey experiment, we find that priming norms increases adherence. This suggests that the most ideologically constrained are the strongest norm followers and perhaps not best-suited to ensure democratic accountability.

PPE Reading Group: Spring 2020

This semester, the PPE Reading Group will discuss Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo’s book, Good Economics for Hard Times (2019).

Together with Michael Kremer, Banerjee and Duflo won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2019 for their work on global poverty alleviation. On April 1, 2020, Professor Duflo will deliver the 2020 PPE Distinguished Public Lecture at Virginia Tech. 

The PPE Reading Group will meet every other week during the semester on Thursdays 4-5:30pm at 225 Major Williams Hall. Enjoy free pizza and soft drinks with our discussion!

Participation is open to any interested student (whether already a PPE student or interested in becoming one). Please sign up with Gil Hersch ( at the beginning of the semester to receive your book in time to read.

PPE Events: Spring 2020

This semester, the PPE Program will organize a biweekly reading group and a daylong discussion colloquium, as well as host two guest speakers.

Erik Kimbrough (Chapman University) will speak about how norms shape ideology and Esther Duflo (MIT) will deliver the 2020 PPE Distinguished Public Lecture. In 2019, Professor Duflo jointly won the Nobel Prize in Economics for her work on global poverty alleviation. For more information about Professor Duflo and the event, please see here.

Christopher Freiman (William & Mary) will lead an all-day discussion colloquium on the topic “Economics and a Free People,” and the PPE Reading Group will meet biweekly to discuss Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo’s book, Good Economics for Hard Times (2019).

All PPE events are open to faculty, students, and the general public. For more details concerning these events, please see the PPE Calendar.

PPE Speaker Series: J.P. Messina

J.P. Messina from the University of New Orleans will give a talk on the topic “The Ethics and Politics of Private Censorship.” The talk will take place on December 4, 2019, from 4-5:30pm in Brush Mountain A (Squires Student Center). The talk is tailored to appeal to both students and faculty, with plenty of time for discussion and interaction with the guest speaker. You are cordially invited to attend.

Here is the abstract of the talk: Concerns about censorship have shifted away from the state and toward censorship by private parties (e.g., employers, social media companies, TV networks, twitter campaigns, and restrictive social norms). Regardless of its particular form, private censorship has generated roughly two families of response. The first is to call for legislation that would protect persons from the restrictions in question, perhaps by extending the reach of the first amendment (in U.S. contexts) to prevent infringement by private parties. The second is to deny that non-state agents can censor in ways that wrong others, and that in cases of so-called private censorship we have merely so many instances of private parties exercising their rights. This talk defends the claim that both reactions are mistaken in important ways but correct in others. Those concerned about private censorship are wrong to think that it should be treated analogously with state censorship, but correct to think that censorship by private parties involves something of crucial moral and political importance. Those who think that talk of private censorship is much ado about nothing are wrong in this, but correct to think that the parties involved often act well-within the boundaries of their moral rights. The talk concludes by characterizing various principles that govern the permissibility of private censorship.