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Analysis of Several Articles

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“Economical Writing” by Donald McCleskey

In his article “Economical Writing,” Donald McCleskey aptly points to the fact that any serious economist needs to have at least basic writing skills. The argument that content is more important than style is invalid. “Bad writing does not get read” (1985, p. 188). Despite all arguments in favor of good writing the author notes that young economists are hardly even one step removed from the rules learnt at elementary school such as ‘use synonyms’ or ‘never say I’ (p. 188), which is clearly not enough to make a captivating reading. Providing a list of his favorite authors on writing, McCleskey gives a short description of some traits necessary for any writer. Clarity, taste, and coherence are the main criteria a writer should be guided by while writing. It is recommended to avoid excessive introductions and summarizing, and “stale boilerplates” (p. 201). The writer should make sure his/her tone is not dogmatizing or intolerant.

For a constant lack of ideas, a good piece of advice is to write your thoughts on a wide range of topics that you can use in your writings whenever and wherever possible. An outline can be used for organizing thoughts. A good writer always has a selection of dictionaries to consult and a good stationary to experiment with. Using a varied sentence structure is a good idea. However, it is unwise to apply all synonyms imaginable referring to one notion throughout the whole article as it may confuse a reader and an author. Summing up, McCleskey says that good writing can be learnt through a lot of practice. Tireless revisions of drafts, crossing out, deleting, substituting, and inserting always substantially improve any article.

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“Social Distance and Social Decisions” by George A. Akerlof

Considering an issue of influence of social distance on social decisions George A. Akerlof demonstrates some examples showing that “neighborhoods effects are statistically significant and important” (1997, p. 1007). It is better seen on “a geographic model” (p. 1010) when a school class or a neighborhood area is studied. Reviewing the literature on the class stability Akerlof draws conclusions that for most people it is very difficult to ignore the social pressure, and even if they have an opportunity to change their life for better, through education, for example, they choose not to do this. It is a main reason how a “social structure … tends to reproduce itself” (p. 1017). Those few ones who managed to escape the low life did it by physically removing themselves from their social circle. Another example of the reason how people manage to move up the social scale is the case of Lang when students “received reinforcement from others” (p. 1021). Thanks to it they did not regard getting a higher education as creating the social distance and could overcome their social circle.

“Autonomy-Freedom and Deliberation” by Sebastiano Bavetta and Francesco Guala

The article researches autonomy-freedom as opposed to opportunities. A possibility to choose contributes to the person’s satisfaction and cultivates moral and intellectual abilities. However, the point is not just to have options available but to be able to strive to live a perfect life. The article provides a metric for two types of autonomies. Autonomy as capacity is given on the example of Jill who has the abilities to make different choices in different situations being a gourmand, a music and cinema lover but while in prison she cannot choose. Autonomy as an achievement is demonstrated by John who has vast opportunities by being a rich person but quite limited in his tastes by a habit and fashion. It shows that a mere availability of options can be irrelevant to a general lifestyle of a person. The authors give an example of the opportunity to learn foreign cultures or to choose a job versus a wide range of food choices. “The task of identifying ‘important’ (i.e. autonomy-enhancing) experiences involves a commitment regarding the sort of options that are good for different people and, thus, a shift to a substantive … perfectionist philosophy” (2003, p. 442).

“Autonomy Freedom: An Empirical Measure for a Theoretical Concept” by Sebastiano Bavetta, Margherita Bottero, Pietro Navarra

In the article “Autonomy Freedom: An Empirical Measure for a Theoretical Concept,” Sebastiano Bavetta, Margherita Bottero, and Pietro Navarra study a new empirical measure for autonomy freedom. They argue that as choice becomes a tool to “exercise and develop the [people’s] own selves” and “a driving force for improvement” it should be measured (2008, p. 1). Defining the autonomy freedom in accordance with its developer J. S. Mill as the true freedom to act as one wishes if it does not deprive others of the same freedom, the authors explain that autonomy freedom is “a combination of objective and subjective components”. That are the “options to choose from” and “control over one’s choices” (p. 3). The difference between autonomy freedom and other approaches lies in influences on the lifestyle. Thus, autonomy freedom is not merely having options to choose from but making important choices that will have “real life outcomes” (p. 4). The authors assert that autonomy freedom can be measured through some surveys referred to “freedom to choose” (p. 9) and “control over one’s life” (p. 11).

“Covenants without Swords: Group Identity, Norms, and Communication in Social Dilemmas” by Cristina Bicchieri

In “Covenant without Swords,” Cristina Bicchieri studies why in social dilemma experiments participants cooperate better if are given a possibility to confer with each other. Explaining that the possibility to communicate allows people to “enhance group identity” and “elicit social norms” (2002, p. 193), Bicchieri argues that it is done because people usually act according to the society-accepted norms. Even in the situations when people do not have a particular behavioral pattern they tend to act as they perceive is encouraged by the society. Communication lets people feel themselves a part of the group, thus, making possible to assume the rules of a group and act according to them because “when people face a new situation, they often turn to each other for cues as to how to interpret it” (p. 220). The author notes that the process of understanding what a social norm is in each particular case is automatic; and the norm is communicated in the process of speaking about a dilemma.

“Norm and Beliefs: How Change Occurs” by Cristina Bicchieri and Hugo Mercier

In the article “Norm and Beliefs: How Change Occurs,” Cristina Bicchieri and Hugo Mercier explain how negative practices and norms evolve and how to change them. Changes can be done through a “private disagreement” (n.d., p. 4) or legally – through issuing new laws (usually it is easier to change conventions than social norms); thus, changing “empirical expectations” (p. 21). The introduction of the new empirical and normative expectations is facilitated through discussions and deliberations. However, the authors point out that despite deliberations contribute to a better understanding among participants, respect and finding solutions for numerous problems, the main issue may be left unresolved. The authors conclude that in order to change normative believes a combination of the following means can be used: making promises and keeping them, sanctions against norm violators, and punishments.

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“General Equilibrium Theory” by Mark Blaug

In his article “General Equilibrium Theory”, Mark Blaug tests Leon Walras’s assumption that “the maximizing behavior of consumer and producers can … result in equilibrium between amounts demanded and supplied in every product and factor market of the economy” (1992, p. 161). Being constructed in 1894 as an abstract model, by the late 1930s, the GE theory acquired an immense significance. The author denies that a general equilibrium theory can be applied in practice because its theory is constructed with general terms with which any event can be described. Underscoring that influential economists considered the general equilibrium theory an important one, professor Blaug criticizes “endless formalization of purely logical problems without the slightest regard for the production of falsifiable theorems about actual economic behaviour” (p. 169). The author disagrees strongly with an idea that in order to be considered a true scientific work “every economic theory must be fitted into the GE mold” (p. 169).

“The Emperor’s Dilemma: A Computational Model of Self-Enforcing Norms” by Damon Centola, Robb Willer, and Michael Macy

In the article “The Emperor’s Dilemma,” Centola, Willer, and Macy state the problem of “pluralistic ignorance,” when the majority of people comply with a norm on an assumption that others do the same (2005, p.1010) and attempt agent-based computational models. Through experiments, the authors found out that an unpopular norm can be forced only if the majority believes that a large number of people already exercise it. “The norm becomes self-enforcing” (p. 1014) under conditions of the “illusion of transparency” (p. 1013) because of the desire for a social approval. In order to keep the norm compliance and enforcement through the social pressure are used. However, in case of the few true believers for a large network of people the ideas can be enforced only if the believers are held together and not dispersed over the territory.

Other computations models can also be used; however, it is better to use agent-based models instead of the natural language because the latter provides rather “intuitive” than mathematically exact results (p. 1037).

“Constraints and Animals” by Robert Nozick

In the article “Constraints and Animals” for his book Anarchy, State, and Utopia, Robert Nozick discusses much debated issues of the animal treatment. Saying that killing animals does nothing to us except giving “the extra pleasure” of savoring a dish or relishing a fashion object, the author insists on considering animals as much moral as people through the experiences of natural emotions such as pleasure, pain, and happiness. Nozick explains the position “utilitarianism for animals, Kantianism for people” (1974, p. 39) as increasing the happiness of people and limiting what people can do to other people while animals may be used “for the benefit of other people or animals only if these benefits are greater than the loss inflicted” (p. 39). Making animals too dependent on human beings, utilitarianism allows a person any atrocities if it makes the one happier, thus, raising a question whether it is a relevant theory to use in respect of animals.

“The Philosophical Foundations of Mainstream Normative Economics” by Daniel M. Hausman and Michael S. McPherson

In the thirteenth chapter of the anthology The Philosophy of Economics, Daniel M. Hausman and Michael S. McPherson discuss the central features of normative economics on the basis of the World Bank’s Chief Economist Lawrence Summer’s 1991 memorandum claiming that its main concern is with the people’s welfare in contrast to, say, freedom or justice (2008, p. 229). The authors point out that in order to regard and measure welfare one needs to define what welfare is, which becomes a philosophical ground because it deals with such vague notions as ‘happiness’ or ‘pleasure’ (p. 238). Hausman and McPherson conclude that welfare economists cannot provide “a precise economic analysis” without any basic philosophical assumptions about “justice and rights” (p. 248), and that the theory of welfare is highly questionable and demands the further development.

“A Model of Persuasion with Boundedly Rational Agents” by Jacob Glazer and Ariel Rubinstein

The article “A Model of Persuasion with Boundedly Rational Agents” by Jacob Glazer and Ariel Rubinstein argues that a subject can be persuaded by an agent through the usage of a set of conditions and plausibility of his/her arguments. Introducing a new model of persuasion the authors demonstrate two cases of implementation: the one that is possible to put into practice “if and only if the listener would want the speaker’s true profile to be persuasive”. The other one is possible to truthfully put into practice if “any speaker who is able to persuade the listener can do so without lying” (2012, p. 1061). The authors conclude that with the help of the new model it will be easier for a subject to analyze some basic considerations in order to understand whether an agent lies or not. However, there are cases when the subject cannot reject an agent’s request, which allows the latter to successfully lie.

“The Transformative Power of Democracy and Human Rights in Non-formal Education: The Case of Tostan” by Diane Gillespie and Molly Melching

The article “The Transformative Power of Democracy and Human Rights in Non-formal Education” by Diane Gillespie and Molly Melching discusses how new social norms were created through the introduction of democracy and human rights into the educational program of Tostan, an international non-governmental organization based in Africa. Describing the period from 1995 to 2003, the authors outline the stages that preceded the social transformation. By using a comprehensible way of communicating the information to local people with religious and cultural connotations it was possible to encourage discussions that then led to transformations in mindsets and encouraged people to actions. Starting from women’s rights the organization managed to move to people’s rights by involving “religious leaders, husbands, fathers, and brothers,” thus, widening the area of making efforts of girls and women. The authors conclude by saying that Tostan’s human rights’ based programs of non-formal education did not stop their work in that region. The communities continue to be transformed.

“Actively Open-Minded Thinking and Reflection-Impulsivity as Alternatives to the Sequential Two-System Theory of the Cognitive Reflection Test and Moral Judgment” by Jonathan Baron, Sydney Scott, Katrina Fincher, and S. Emlen Metz

In the article “Actively open-minded thinking and reflection-impulsivity…,” the group of authors argues that the sequential two-system theory of judgment covers intuitive processes when solving cognitive tasks and a reflective process that follows the quick intuitive processes. Concentrating on two cases of it, the Cognitive Reflection Test and moral judgment, the authors conclude that correlations between utilitarian responses and the Cognitive Reflection Test measures result from “a set of related believes about morality and about thinking itself” (n.d., p. 29). Basically, all morality can be reduced to a simple rule, “Do the most good,” however, most organized religions require “a longer list of rules” (p. 29). The dual-system theory matches the cognitive intuition against reflection. The authors doubt their results in what concerns differences in individual inclinations to outdo intuition that comes first during the Cognitive Reflection Test. Usually, people use one of the systems; and it is determined from the outset.

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“An Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science” by Lionel Robbins

In his book An Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science, Lionel Robbins argues that economics cannot be regarded as a science of mere ‘economizing’ but only as a social science (1935, p. 4). “Economics is the science which studies human behavior as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses” (p. 16). The author states that economics reflects the facts of general experience by the means of deductive reasoning, but differs from the natural sciences. So the methods of the natural sciences are not acceptable. Throughout the book the following ones there are Robbins’ main ideas: wealth is valued not “because of its substantial properties” but “because it is scarce” (p. 47). Economics is about the logic of means and ends rather than about the utilitarian approach (p. 24); the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility, implying that “the marginal utility of a rich man’s income is less than the marginal utility of a poor man’s income,” is impossible to “verif[y] by observation or introspection” (p. 137).

“Transformational Leadership” by Bernard M. Bass and Ronald E. Riggio

In the chapter “Transformational Leadership,” Bass and Riggio address the issue empowerment and autonomy that follows after the guidance from a successful leader. Contrasting the transformational leadership and laissez-faire leadership, they argue that despite transferring some tasks and obligations to his/her followers in both cases, the true leader will teach “how to act as a self-leader. Behavioral-focused and cognitive-focused strategies are employed to lead yourself” (2005, p. 198). Among the negative consequences of empowerment, the authors name the discrepancy between the followers’ goals and the organization’s goals, “social loafing”, and “a potentially unhealthy dependence on the leader” (pp. 199, 204). Among the tools for the effective empowerment there are groupthinking and delegating responsibilities. A transformational leader is a self-defining one, as opposed to a self-oriented leader. Only he/she can “comfortably delegate autonomy to followers to develop them” (p. 206).

Drawing on a social science research, the paper concludes that the dynamics of effective empowerment are better understood through effective group decision-making processes.

“An Economic Analysis of Fertility” by Gary S. Becker

In “An Economic Analysis of Fertility,” the chapter from Demographic and Economic Change in Developed Countries, Gary S. Becker analyzes economic reasons for the demographic situation that were overlooked in previous years when the marital status, age and the frequency of coition were the main factors for fertility. Referring to children, Becker uses economic terms such as “demand,” “a consumption good,” “utility from children,” and etc. (1960, pp. 210-211) making a reservation that children are not compared to goods in terms of pleasure. “The satisfactions or costs associated with children are morally the same as those associated with other durables” (p. 211). Likewise, Becker mentions the correlation between the high class income and knowledge about contraception, which shows that fertility is not always determined by only the income but by “child costs, uncertainty, and tastes” (p. 231). According to the author, the data of this research may be applied for various social issues such as the reason for fluctuation in fertility in different historical times, the difference in fertility rates between urban and country women, and the relation between income and the number of children.

“The Methodology of Positive Economics” by Milton Friedman

In “The Methodology of Positive Economics,” Milton Friedman gives two prescriptions regarding economics. The first one is that positive economics is “judged by the precision, scope, and conformity with experience of the predictions it yields” “as any of the physical sciences” (1953, p. 4). The second prescription is about the discrepancy between assumptions and descriptive accuracy of economic theories or hypotheses that should be evaluated on the basis of their significance and relevance (p. 34). Unlike the declared title, the chapter does not have much methodological knowledge except that theories can be indirectly verified by the usage of “assumption” (p. 26) and that “social scientists need to be self-conscious about their methodology” (p. 40). However, in conclusion, the author says that positive economics is in the process of development and will definitely require new theories and hypotheses (p. 42).

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“Transformational Leadership in Work Groups: The Role of Empowerment, Cohesiveness, and Collective-Efficacy on Perceived Group Performance” by Dong I. Jung and John J. Sosik

In their article “Transformational Leadership in Work Groups,” Dong I. Jung and John J. Sosik study whether transformational leaders are able to empower their followers to act more independently and cooperatively on the example of forty-seven groups from Korea. Aiming to test how transformational leaders influence the group members’ perception of empowerment and cohesiveness, the authors demonstrate that cohesiveness depends on a leader’s articulation in saying his/her goals for the group. The empowerment is successful in case of positive experience and personal motivation. Through delegating tasks and cooperating in performing a collective assignment the group had a positive association with their collective efficiency. Despite a wide range of implications for the research and practice being discussed, limitations should be taken in consideration due to “a common method bias” and “carryover effects that may inflate the associations between study variables” (2002, p. 330). However, the study is an important step in the field of leadership that gains more popularity over time.

“Of Individuality, as One of the Elements of Well-Being” by John Stuart Mill

As a part of John Stuart Mill’s book On Liberty, the chapter “Of Individuality, as One of the Elements of Well-Being” discusses whether people can freely express their opinion and act on them observing that “actions should [not] be as free as opinions” and should not hinder other people (1869, p. 260). However, being “the principal ingredients of human happiness” (p. 261), individuality should display itself even if not always successfully. Mill links the ability to have desires and make choices, and not conforming to customs silently, with the development of a character. Eccentricity is a signature of the character. “The amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigor and moral courage which it contained” (p. 269). Giving the example of China with its customs, traditions, public opinions making people rigid and uniform, the author predicts that Europe would share the same fate unless individuality will manage to succeed.

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