Saturday, August 18, 2007

Sandra Peart Returns to Her Blog After 8 Month's Absence

A welcome return to the Blogosphere of Sandra Peart and David Levy who founded and run the Blog,, and who have been voluntarily absent since 8 January.

All those interested in the History of Economic Thought will welcome the return of an authoritative source of clear thinking about the history of economic ideas.

Reading it regularly last year, I always got the impression that we are only being invited to see the tip of the iceberg of what Sandra and David have to offer. They maintain their scarcity value mainly because of the prodigious amount of work they are doing in other aspects of their academic work. They have high energy and the rare quality of great amounts of patience with beginners entering into their chosen fields of interest, a combination not always easily followed. I saw them at work with graduate students at the Summer Institute and the History of Economics Annual Conference at GMU last June.

Their first return posting is about Frank Knight, whose book, Risk, Uncertainty, and Profit (early 20th century – my battered copy from undergraduate days is still in my library book case), was once mainline reading. I am sure I will find that he was a much more prolific author than the single book by which I know him.

It’s good to see the best among us taking time to share small bits of their deep knowledge.

Sandra has taken a new appointment as Dean of the Jepson School of Leadership Studies at the University of Richmond (Virginia) here and here

You can get a glimpse of Sandra’s approach to modern teaching and learning, and faculty development from this extract from an interview conducted in January 2007 (I now see why she has been so busy between January and August with no time for Blogging, which in Sandra’s work style, it means she has been really, really busy!).

Bold statements are the interviewer's questions:

Jepson is already making vast contributions to our national intellectual discourse and our knowledge of leadership. The work that is being done on leadership at the Jepson School brings national attention to the field and I shouldn’t wish to change any of that. What I might be able to add, should the faculty at the School welcome this, is increased collaboration between economists and leadership studies. I have ideas about enhancing two kinds of collaboration: between economists with an interest in their disciplinary history and the Jepson faculty; and between experimental economists and leadership faculty. The first endeavor would add a relatively untapped dimension to the history of economic thought and leadership studies: exploring leadership insights of political economists such as David Hume, Adam Smith, J. S. Mill and Frank Knight. Secondly, if leadership is a means by which individual and collective interests play out, subjecting our ideas about institutions to experimental procedures would be an important contribution to leadership research. I’d like to help make these collaborations happen.

How does your area of scholarship, economic thought and political economy connect to the study of leadership?

Economic thought in earlier centuries was very much concerned with ethics and the mechanisms by which ethical decision making emerges. Since at least the time of Adam Smith, political economists have been interested in the question of how individuals, motivated by self-interest, can come together and make decisions affecting the group or polity. In 1759, Smith wrote the Theory of Moral Sentiments, in which he makes the case that people are essentially imaginative, social beings who care about approbation or approval, and who want not only to be praised but praiseworthy. He grounds a system of ethics on this argument and says that humans who exchange with one another do so in a social context so that we're not solely motivated by private concerns.

A number of leadership questions arise quite naturally because we all are a mixture of private and social motives. What sorts of institutions help ensure that the best (most effective and also ethical) decisions emerge from the group? Who can lead the group? Does it matter how we choose the leader? So, for instance, if a leader is chosen democratically, does this affect his or her effectiveness, compared to a leader who is chosen by fiat? Can leaders who are chosen randomly also be effective? If what Smith argued is correct, that we all have the capacity to lead, then as long as people in the group perceive the choice of leader is fair or unbiased, then random leadership should work and prove effective.

While we have some faculty at Jepson who have studied economics and others with a keen interest in the discipline, you will be the first economist. How do you see yourself sharing your scholarship and expertise? Do you anticipate teaching any courses in economics or are there other ways you plan to incorporate your field of study into the Jepson curriculum?

The experience of leading a major curriculum revision taught me a great deal about building coalitions and support among disparate faculty. What I bring to the Jepson School, given my disciplinary interests, is a willingness to work with business school faculty to strengthen already-existing connections. I teach game theory as a cross-listed course in economics and business that counts as an elective in our leadership minor. Among other things, here we study how actors (firms, nations or people) come to be leaders moving first and thus pre-empt their rivals. We look at what it means to be a rational actor and whether rationality consists of acting competitively, selfishly, cooperatively or altruistically. We examine how people come to modify their actions and choices when they talk to each other about what it means to be selfish or cooperative. We consider whether repeated interactions yield the same sort of choices (leaders) as one time interactions. In experimental economics, much of this is put to test in the lab. So, an additional course that might fruitfully be offered both to leadership and business or economics students would focus on experimental economics. "Law and Economics" and "Public Choice Economics" would be also be potential courses. In a course on public choice, the key question to explore is how individuals come together to form and run a collective. But that begs the question of leadership, and it makes a good deal of sense now to think about leadership in the context of public-choice economics.

First and foremost, I am a historian of economic thought. I came to leadership studies because many questions relating to leadership were treated in Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations, and J. S. Mill’s Utilitarianism, On Liberty and Principles of Political Economy. A course that works through some or all of these texts would offer a great deal both to students of economics and of leadership.”

Read the interview in full here.


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