Tuesday, September 27, 2011

SAMUEL BOWLES (by Francesc Trillas)

(Presentation of the Inaugural Lecture at the Department of Applied Economics, UAB, 26 September 2011)

It as a great pleasure and honour to have Sam Bowles from the Santa Fe Institute and the University of Siena to give this Inaugural Lecture, which marks the start of our academic year in the Research Master and the Doctorate in Applied Economics.
When we asked Samuel Bowles about the topic of his lecture, he gave us four or five options, among them the evolution of inequality for the last 20000 years or the emergence of property rights some 10000 years ago. We chose the relationship between economic incentives and social preferences because we thought it would be more closely related to the policy-oriented preferences of our faculty and students, and because it integrates theory and evidence from experiments and from the field. But any of the other topics was very tempting, and shows the ambition and breadth of interests of our speaker.
He may not know that I know that he is also the auhtor of a theater play entitled “My Dinner Party with Karl, Leon and Maynard:  A Play in 1 Act and 7 Scenes”. I am sure you can guess who Karl, Leon and Maynard are.
Samuel Bowles is one of the most interesting economists and social scientists of our times. His book “Microeconomics”, a very unusual microeconomics book, is one of the best, probably the best, economics book I have ever read. He has just published another book, with Herbert Gintis, “A Cooperative Species” and has a long list of journal publications in a variety of fields.
I encourage all of you to read his work. Reading parts of it has taught at least me a few lessons. Challenging the orthodoxy implies respecting it and knowing it well. It also implies using more, not less, complex and mathematically demanding methods than orthodoxy.
SB is an example of openness to other disciplines, not as an imperial venture or as a superficial show of wisdom, but as a profound endeavour to improve our knowledge of human societies using the scientific method.
If you want to know about exciting fields such as behavioral and evolutionary economics, or the role of institutions, you can find all of this in Sam Bowles’ books. You will learn about the difficulties of separating equity from efficiency, or the importance of how to achieve cooperation and coordination in social dilemmas, or the explanatory power of economic power and social classes.

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