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The Political Economy Project

PEP.jpgWe too often forget, amidst Dartmouth’s serial scandals and endless waste, that honest teaching and real innovation occur in Hanover. A fine example is the evolving Political Economy Project (PEP), organized by Economics Professors Doug Irwin and Meir Kohn, and Government Professor Russ Muirhead (left to right). I don’t know where the whole thing is headed, but PEP has the potential to be an exciting intellectual force at the College.

Irwin Kohn Muirhead.jpg

PEP’s mission, should you decide to accept it, reads as follows on its website:

Is capitalism a system of injustice and exploitation, or a system that allows for individual freedom and prosperity? What does it mean to have a fair and just society, the equality of legal rights or equality in the distribution of resources? What system of values is most conducive to prosperity, dignity, and happiness? How do different political and economic systems differ in their ability to achieve these objectives?

The Political Economy Project aims to explore questions such as these—at the intersection of economics, politics, and ethics—through teaching, research, and student inquiry. Such inquiry is an important component of a liberal arts education.

The Project is emphatically interdisciplinary: it welcomes students, faculty, and visiting speakers and scholars from all disciplines, including philosophy, history, sociology, government, and economics. Participants will share a commitment to rigorous and open-minded investigation and a respectful but critical attitude toward all views.

In addition to the three outstanding professors — all of whom I know well, having in the past few years audited a seminar with Muirhead and term-long reading groups with Irwin and Kohn — the project will soon have an instructor and post-doctoral fellow of its own, the first instructor being Bernard Avishai, an Adjunct Professor of Business at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (take that ASA!).

However Irwin, Kohn and Muirhead conceive of PEP as something more than an interdisciplinary project that will add classes to the curriculum. Its weekly dinner/discussion groups (PEP Talks?) and visiting speakers will be part of an effort to support the life of the mind at the College. One can go so far as to imagine a cadre of Peppies, students focused fully on the project and its faculty, with PEP one day becoming an approved minor, and even a major.

The project is a nice example of Hanlon-era intrapreneurship (entrepreneurship inside of an existing structure), the kind of thing in which brain-dead previous administrations had little interest. The three professors have raised their own funds from alumni (full disclosure: including your humble servant), and one can fairly say that they are seeking to carve out an independent academic space, one that meets their exacting standards. Participating students will be the winners.

Addendum: If you have been thinking of contributing money to the College, but don’t want it to disappear into the gaping maw of the bureaucracy, PEP is a good option. All of your donations will directly support the project’s expenses (bypassing the College’s infamous 19% levy), and I have no doubt that PEP’s management will be lean and mean. Write to PEP Director Doug Irwin ( for further information.


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