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Ingrid

Let’s write a poem

by Ingrid Robeyns on December 6, 2021

Trees

Tall trees standing strong
in the distance a soft sun
wrapped in sweet silence

I turn my head up
searching to see a movement
a woodpecker taps

My walks never end
the trees keep calling me back
like a second home.

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Fairness in five minutes

by Ingrid Robeyns on November 6, 2021

The European Union’s political institutions are organising a many-months-long Conference on the Future of Europe. Part of this are a series of meetings of randomly invited European citizens, who are deliberating on what they think is important for the future of Europe. They are divided in several panels, and the panel that focusses, among other things, on social justice, is meeting this weekend for an online deliberation. As part of this, I have been invited to explain, in five minutes, the concept of ‘fairness’, and to do so in a balanced and accessible way. Not easy if one is used to give hourly lectures to university students, but here’s what I came up with – trying to get the most out of 5 minutes while also being as accessible as possible to a very diverse audience.

When thinking about fairness, we need to ask 4 questions:

First: what is fairness in general terms?
Second, where does fairness apply?
Third, what are the relevant principles of fairness?
Fourth, what are possible policies that affect fairness?

I will explain these four questions one after the other. [click to continue…]

Coffee in Zürich

by Ingrid Robeyns on November 3, 2021

In 2007, I attended a workshop at which, during coffee after registration, I introduced myself to another scholar, who responded that he knew me. I couldn’t recall meeting him before, so when that showed on my facial expression, he added – “Well, I know your Crooked Timber persona”. That was a new expression for me! In my memory, Miriam was also there. A conversation ensued about Crooked Timber, and someone asked how the group of bloggers was put together and whether we all knew each other. I recall that those I was talking to were surprised to hear that, at that time (which for me was one year after I joined the blog), I only had met two Timberites – Harry and Chris. Harry I first met when I was a PhD-student at Cambridge and he was a keynote speaker at a political theory graduate conference, and Chris during a conference a few years later. But I had not met any of the other Timberites, and it would actually take quite a while before that would change. [click to continue…]

E-mailing for work during the weekend

by Ingrid Robeyns on October 23, 2021

I recall, a few years ago, seeing a FB-friend mention that they think emailing for work during weekends is really bad, and should not be done. At the time, that surprised me – as long as it’s clear that no-one expects anyone to read or respond to emails during the weekends, what’s the problem? But that initial response might be too quick, and I’m increasingly having second thoughts about this – though have not come to a clear position on this matter. So this made me wonder what the smart people here think about emailing for work during the weekend.

Here are a few reasons why emailing during the weekend might be bad. First, the sender might think they are not imposing any expectations on the receiver, but that might not be how the receiver experiences it. In that case, they are infringing on the private time of their co-worker. Second, if the sender has some sort of power over the receiver (being their boss, supervisor, etc.), then this might even be more so. Third, if people regularly email during the weekend, they are effectively signaling/telling that one can’t do this job without working at least part of the weekend, and it might be problematic to convey that message to those who aspire having such a job in the future (e.g. PhDs or postdocs receiving messages from professors during the weekend), since it might put off those who want to have healthy/balanced lives to stay in that sector. Finally, perhaps an argument could be made that it is a collective protection/self-binding strategy to not send emails during the weekend in an attempt to contain the working week to Monday to Friday. But I am not sure that argument works, give that there are so many other work related things we can do and do do during the weekend. [click to continue…]

Speeding up the academic refereeing process?

by Ingrid Robeyns on September 13, 2021

A while back, I was invited to referee a paper for an academic philosophy journal that requested the report back within 60 days. Really, 60 days? This provoked two thoughts in me. First, I’ll never submit to this journal. If you already give referees 60 days, how long will the entire process take? Second, why does it often take so long in (political) philosophy, ethics and related fields to get papers reviewed by journals?

What could be the reasons why it takes so long, how does this compare to other fields, and what (if anything) can be done about it? [click to continue…]

Easy birds – in this slow Summer

by Ingrid Robeyns on August 18, 2021

I promised those of you interested in Hilary Cottam’s Radical Help a booknote – but oh my goodness, I’ve been so slow this Summer. I guess I am not alone – if I can go by the stories of many (international) colleagues who are all very tired after trying to keep all balls in the air during the pandemic (in fact, with homelearning more balls than before). So I’ve tried to be foregiving to myself for missing various deadlines, including the self-imposed ones of the books I’d wanted to talk about here. I will get to chatting about that book before too long, but not this week.

In the meantime, I had to think of Crooked Timber while walking in the Belgian countryside two weeks ago – in particular to this photoblog by Chris in which he captured a swift in full action. I smiled when I saw these birds sitting, and though: I will make a picture of some swifts the easy way.

This Summer, with all the nasty events unfolding in the world (which leads to worries, sadness and anxieties, because it’s not easy to see how we can make a significant change), and with all the long-term fatigue from the pandemic, it seems so much better to try to take it the easy way. Ten more days, and then the third academic year in the pandemic will start.

Book Chat: Mariana Mazzucato – Mission Economy

by Ingrid Robeyns on July 24, 2021

As announced a few weeks ago, here is the first of a series of book chats – starting with Mariana Mazzucato’s Mission Economy. The idea is that this post opens up a space for anyone to talk about any aspect of the book they want to discuss (under the general rules that apply to discussion on this blog), as well as raise questions of clarification that we could put to eachother.

Mission Economy is about rethinking capitalism and rethinking government. Perhaps it is even more about rethinking government than about rethinking capitalism. Both need to be rethought in order to redirect the economy into what Mazzucato calls ‘a mission economy’, which will allow us to tackle problems facing humans and the planet that are currently not properly addressed: climate change, insufficient high-risk long-term investments in the real economy, real wage growth that is much lower than productivity growth, and so forth.

Mazzucato argues that right now we (that is, our governments) ask “how much money is there and what can we do with it?” but instead we should be asking “what needs doing and how can we restructure budgets and design innovation and collaborations between the government, industry, academia and other groups so as to meet those goals?” [click to continue…]

There is such a thing as being too rich

by Ingrid Robeyns on July 12, 2021

I spoke to some US-based scholars today about a study they are planning to do on the question whether American citizens think one can say that at some point, one is having too much money. Long-time readers of our blog might recall that in January 2018 I asked you for input on a study I was setting up in the Netherlands to find out whether the Dutch think there is the symmetrical thing of a poverty line – a riches line. And yes, they do. The study has in the meantime been conducted and published in the journal Social Indicators Reserach, and is open access – available to all. I am very grateful to my collaborators and (economic) sociologists Tanja van der Lippe, Vincent Buskens, Arnout van de Rijt and Nina Vergeldt, since I would never have been able to do this on my own: the last time I did empirical work was in 2002 (and in the good tradition of economics graduate training, I never collected my own data when I was trained as an economist, hence it was a great adventure to set up this survey).

Based on our data, we find that 96,5% of the respondents made a distinction between a family that is rich and one that is extremely rich, whereby the standard of living of the latter is described as: “This family has much more than they need to lead an affluent life. They never have to consider whether they can afford certain luxury spending, and even then, they still have plenty of money left to do extraordinary things that almost no one can afford. No one needs that much luxury.” [click to continue…]

Chatting about books

by Ingrid Robeyns on July 3, 2021

Yesterday, I handed over the directorship of my institute to a colleague. In the speech two colleagues gave to thank me for my service, they described my role as being that of the ‘middle-manager’, who in the present-day neoliberal universities is crushed between the powers and constraints set by those above them, and the demands and needs of the many below them. I fear that kind of sums it up (although one could also mention the added difficult which is the negligence of the Government that continues to underfund higher education, despite report after report showing that with current levels of funding the only way for Universities to continue their mission is by effectively forcing its workers to produce massive amounts of unpaid overwork). No surprise, it was a role that consumed way too much of my time.

In any case, I turned this page and am now looking ahead to a year in which to concentrate fully on writing a book on limitarianism, the view that no-one should be extremely rich, which recently was discussed in The Washington Post. And I’m also very much looking forward to reading widely and freely, rather than not having time to do that to the degree that I would have wanted to.

My hope to read up on many books that have been staring at me, some for years, waiting to be read, made me think that it might be nice to organise “Book chats” here at Crooked Timber. So what’s the plan? [click to continue…]

ADHD not being a disorder

by Ingrid Robeyns on March 9, 2021

My colleagues Branko van Hulst (Child psychiatry), Sander Werkhoven (Ethics) and Sarah Durston (Developmental Disorders) have written a piece in the Scientific American in which they argue that ADHD should no longer be called a disorder. Fascinating stuff.

You can read it here and since comments and discussion are not possible there, let’s open our space here in case anyone wants to discuss this.

It’s time for the Green Human Development Index

by Ingrid Robeyns on November 16, 2020

The United Nations Development Program’s flagship index of wellbeing and social progress, the Human Development Index, no longer captures what humans need, and needs to be replaced by a Green Human Development Index. That’s what I’ll argue in this post.

First, some context for those who do not know the Human Development Index (HDI). The HDI is the main index of the annual Human Development Reports, which, since 1990, have been published by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The reports analyse how countries are doing in terms of the wellbeing of their citizens, rather than the size of the economy. In 1990, the Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq had the visionary idea that in order to dethrone GDP per capita and economic growth as the yardstick for governmental policies, an alternative index was needed. He asked Amartya Sen to help him construct such an index. The rest is history. The HDI became a powerful alternative to GDP per capita. It consists of three dimensions and several indicators. The first dimension is human life itself, for which the indicators are child mortality and life expectancy. The second dimension is knowledge, captured by school enrollment rates and adult literacy rates. And the last dimension is the standard of living, for which the logarithmic function of GDP per capita is used.

It is easy to criticize the HDI for not capturing all dimensions of wellbeing, or for other shortcomings. For whatever those academic arguments are worth, there is no denying at how successful the HDI has been at accomplishing its two primary purposes: to dethrone GDP per capita and economic growth as the sole yardsticks for societal progress, and to stimulate policy makers to put human beings central in their institutional design and policy making. And by that yardstick, the HDI has been a great success. Each year, the release of the Human Development Reports captures the attention of media and policy makers worldwide. Many politicians and governments care about their ranking in comparison with other countries. And, most importantly, the political power of the HDI provides an incentive for countries to try to invest more in education and health, combatting child mortality and increasing life expectancy.

Yet, it is now time to abandon the HDI. Paradoxically, this is not despite, but because of its political success. The reason is that we have entered the Anthropocene – the geological epoch in which the human species is changing ecosystems and the geology of the Earth. The most well-known of those changes that humans have caused is climate change. And since these ecosystems and planetary boundaries in turn affect human flourishing, they must be central in any analyses of that human flourishing. [click to continue…]

The good effects of the Pandemic

by Ingrid Robeyns on October 31, 2020

The pandemic has been hitting many of us hard – from the (roughly) 100 million people who were poor and are now pushed into extreme poverty, but also those of us reading this blog who might be lucky enough not to have lost their job, or not to have fallen sick or having lost family members, but who are nevertheless feeling gloomy, missing friends, and social interactions as we knew them.

But is there then absolutely nothing good coming out of this pandemic?

I confess I had to think hard to not answer this question with “No, what were you thinking??”. Still, while the advantages of the pandemic are peanuts compared to all its bad effects, there are a few changes for the good. I’ll start with pointing out the ones I see in my live and around me; then you tell me what you see in yours. [click to continue…]

Why publish books open access?

by Ingrid Robeyns on October 23, 2020

This week is the 2020 Open Access week. I’m using the occasion to share my experiences with publishing a book open access, now almost 3 years ago. I’ve had multiple emails since publishing that book, mainly from established scholars who had earlier published with world-leading academic publishers, and who were wondering whether or not they should opt for a genuine non-profit open access publisher for their next book project. [click to continue…]

Dutch university protests, start of another year…

by Ingrid Robeyns on September 5, 2020

Last Monday was the opening of the academic year at Dutch Universities. Over the last three years, it has become a tradition for the activist group WOinActie to organise some sort of protest. This year, there was the challenge of how to organise a protest given COVID, but a solution was found.

WOinActie organised together with the labour union protest bicycle tours between various Dutch universities. The idea was to symbolise the lives of temporary part-time teaching staff, who teach a few years (often on a contract that doesn’t allow for research) at one university, and then have to move on to another university, since they are not offered permanent contracts (they universities don’t want to offer those because they claim they can’t take the financial risks). But those temporary instructors teach courses that are part of the regular curriculum, and the claim of WOinActie is that work that is permanent should be done by tenured teachers; instead, the Netherlands has in international comparison one of the highest percentages of temporary teaching staff. Of course, the protest was used to talk again to the press, and also to have a brief, open-air and corona-proof, conversation with the minister of HE before the cyclists took off at the University of Nijmegen to cycle to the University of Wageningen.

The students from Utrecht University supporting WOinActie painted 10.000 red squares in Utrecht, from the historic Academy Building in the city center all the way out of town to the University Headquarters (Bestuursgebouw) at Utrecht Science Park.
Each of the red squares symbolises one hour of unpaid work that is done by staff at Utrecht University each day; the students estimated that this amounts to 10.000 hours on a daily (workday) basis, and protest that their education should not depend on the unpaid overwork of their teachers. That estimation is probably an overestimation, but the point stands. It was pretty impressive to see those red squares through town, as you can see in this clip that my son Ischa made: #10.000 In Groningen, students also staged a protest around the 10.000 hours. [click to continue…]

New PPE book series

by Ingrid Robeyns on July 27, 2020

I received an email earlier today announcing a new book series, focussing on Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE). There has been a notable rise in the success of PPE – as can be seen from the multiplying numbers of PPE undergraduate and graduate programs and PPE scholarly activities in recent years. This series is a logical next step in the development of the multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary study of topics that are relevant to economics, politics and philosophy.

The new series, which will be published by Oxford University Press, has a website, five editors (Ryan Muldoon, Carmen Pavel, Geoff Sayre-McCord, Eric Schliesser and Itai Sher), and a long list of editorial advisors (and I’m honoured to be included there).

I’m not sure how long it will take them to publish the first book – given how slow academic publishing is, it might take a while – but in the meantime the editors welcome book proposals by scholars working in this area.