ECON 2120: Honors Core: Rights and Harms

This course will expose students to a conceptual framework at the intersection of law, economics, and philosophy – what we can call the paradigm of rights and harms.  Working within this framework, you will analyze and debate a large set of controversial social issues.  The goal of the course is to encourage you to think critically and rigorously about such issues and to hone your skills in argument and persuasion.  Students from all majors and backgrounds welcome.

Consider a famous legal case analyzed by the Nobel Laureate Ronald Coase.  A physician sets up an examination room with a wall that is shared by a candy factory.  Noise from the candy machinery makes it impossible for the doctor to examine patients with a stethoscope.  If the candy factory has the right to make noise, the doctor is harmed; if the doctor has a right to quiet, the factory is harmed.  Economists and philosophers have developed ways of thinking about who should get the right – and thus who should bear the harm – in cases like these.  Most if not all controversial social issues take exactly this form: who has the right?  Who is harmed, and in what way?  As we will see, in many of these cases, the harms are immaterial: there is no tangible emission like noise.  I may harm you (make you angry or unhappy) by giving a speech in favor of Marxism or by selling my kidney to the highest bidder – even if you are nowhere in the vicinity and learn of my behavior only through a third party.  Should I have the right to engage in these behaviors?  Or should you have the right to stop me?

Recent syllabus

Trouble registering? This class has a catalog-level pre- or co-requisite of any 1000-level economics course. We can override this requirement. If you are an Honors student, you may register by emailing and including (1) your name; (2) your 7-digit Student Admin number; (3) your registration “pick time”; (4) the course number and section; (5) the class number from Student Admin; and (6) confirmation that there are seats available in the course.