Summer School Themes and Workshops


The four summer school themes and associated workshops are as follows:


1.   A historical overview of the background social, political, and economic conditions that have brought us to the current state of inequality and emergent neonationalism.
The key time periods are (1) the gilded age of stark inequalities of income and wealth culminating with the Great Depression and World War II, (2) the unprecedented prolonged period of diminished inequality coupled with high rates of economic growth that lasted from about World War II to 1980, (3) the implementation of a neoliberal suite of domestic and international policy regimes that brought back gilded age levels of inequality, culminating with the great Recession, and (4) the present era of neonationalism or, in other words, Global Trumpism. A key facet of this historical narrative is the post-1980 trend of removing key policy levers, such as fiscal policy, antitrust enforcement, and monetary policy, from the political to the technocratic sphere and an accompanying unresponsiveness of democratic institutions to the interests of 85% of the electorate.

Mark Blyth, a political economist with the Department of Political Science and the Watson Institute at Brown University, will deliver instruction that traces the progression from the gilded age to the era of neonationalism.m in his talk “ A Brief History of How We Got Here and Why.”

2.   What has gone wrong, through a value lens. 
Some of the most renowned figures in political philosophy (e.g., Rousseau, Hegel, Marx, and Rawls) deigned to diagnose the social, cultural, and political pathologies of the time and to describe institutions and policies that would address those pathologies. This tradition focuses on the solidarity-promoting political institutions and policies that are necessary for the realization of justice and the good.

Stefan Sciaraffa, a political philosopher with McMaster University, will trace the historical tradition of solidaristic institutional design in political philosophy. The abstract of his talk “Solidaristic Institutional Design” is as follows:

Abstract: Rousseau’s general will is a set of policies and laws that reflect the general interest comprising values and concerns that all members of the polity share in common rather than particular interests. Rousseau recognized that groups of persons capable of forming a general will are not born; rather, they are forged by way of moral education and conducive institutional structures and policies, such as Rousseau’s democratic assembly and legislative constraints on economic inequality. Hegel, Marx, and Rawls expand upon this same basic idea, but with different accounts of the institutions necessary to foster a public’s capacity to form an egalitarian general will. We might refer to this disposition as a capacity for justice, solidarity, and civic friendship and cooperation. Relevant opposed disvalues include domination, subjugation, and exploitation. A key idea is that solidaristic institutional and policy design aims at the felicitous shaping of persons’ conceptions of their own interests, values, and identities so that they are capable of forming together a general will that serves a deeply shared common interest. A second is the Hegelian and Rawlsian notion that solidaristic institutions are feasible and self-sustaining only insofar as they crystallize, embody, and bolster normative commitments shared by a critical mass of the public they serve.

Bill Edmundson, a political philosopher at Georgia State University, is a leading exponent of Rawlsian liberal democratic socialism. His talk “Formal Political Equality Is Mere Ideology” will explore the reasons why Rawls never made a case for merely formal—as opposed to “fair-valued”—political equality.

3.   A comparative assessment of a number of social justice institutional design proposals.
Like Marx, John Rawls argued that solidarity can be achieved only in the presence of the requisite form of politico-economic institution. Rawls defended two distinct sets of institutional possibilities, but he remained non-committal between these two: property-owning democracy and liberal democratic socialism.  

 Alan Thomas, a political philosopher with the University of York, is thethe leading contemporary exponent of property-owning democracy. The following is an abstract of the material he plans to cover in his “Property Owning Democracy and the Role of the State: Big State, Small State, Smart State Or....?”

Abstract: Both political liberals, such as John Rawls, and republicans, such as Richard Dagger, think that a fully specified implementation of a just society will take the form of a property-owning democracy. In this presentation I will begin by explaining why both of these traditions converge on this specific form of what Rawls called a “realistically utopian” private property system that is not capitalist. I will then address a fundamental problem for this approach to the specification of a schematic political economy; its failure clearly to demarcate itself from its rivals, and an inherent vagueness about the envisaged role of the state. For both supporters and critics, a property-owning democracy can seem to be nothing more than the familiar welfare state capitalism, supplemented by some ad hoc asset based policies (such as baby bonds, or estate taxes). Alternatively, it is the wholesale rejection of welfare state capitalism to be replaced by a competitive individualism that gives citizens only “starting gate” equality of opportunity (plus a demogrant). Another way of framing the issue here is the role envisaged for the state in a property-owning democracy. Is it the “big state” of traditional redistributive socialism with an extensive sector of public ownership? Is it the “small/smart” state of neo-liberalism, allied to a specific vision of globalization? By examining the role of the state in guaranteeing full employment, democratizing finance, directing public investment, underwriting key markets for essential goods, and the democratic co-opting of all major forms of capitalized institution (the open corporation, charitable trusts, pension funds) I hope to defend the distinctiveness of asset based egalitarianism as a realistic utopia.

Bill Edmundson, in his talk, “Why Fetishize the Means of Production?”, will defend framing Rawls’s distinction between property-owning democracy and liberal democratic socialism in terms of public versus private ownership of the commanding heights of the economy.

In his “Can We Really Do It for Everyone?”, Mark Blyth will offer critical assessments of the economic feasibility of grand institutional design projects, such as those proposed by proponents of liberal democratic socialism and property-owning democracy. He will also assess the potential of a number of more modest reforms, such as the more vigilant antitrust enforcement and the mandatory inclusion of people’s representatives on the board of directors of all publicly held corporations and privately held companies with capital holdings over a certain threshold.

4.   Political mobilization and implementation.
A key task for social justice institutional design is to identify and create political opportunities for introducing solidaristic institutions and policies. 

Stephanie Mudge, a sociologist with the University of California at Davis, will focus on the technocratization of politics in Europe and North America, particularly how political parties and movements have historically failed and succeeded at realizing egalitarian ideals.

Robert Hockett is a lawyer and law professor with Cornell University who specializes in finance law and is a regular consultant for many government institutions and non-governmental organizations, including the New York Federal Reserve Bank and the International Monetary Fund. He will focus on the legal mechanisms and contingencies that might facilitate the implementation of solidaristic institutional design.

Public Engagement: Solidaristic institutional design is aided by public engagement and consciousness raising. To this end, Mark Blyth, who has a significant following on YouTube and other social media, will present a public lecture. We expect to draw a crowd of about 325 from Hamilton, Ontario and the surrounding area. 

Graduate Student Presentations: Thursday, June 27, the fourth day of the seminar, will culminate in graduate student presentations.

Informal Discussion: As the summer school schedule makes clear, participants will have ample time for informal discussions with one another over breakfasts, lunch, coffee breaks, and dinners.