I'm back from another whirlwind ASSA conference, this one in Boston, where, if you're not careful, you can spend the entire conference in the hotels, Copley Place, and the Prudential Center, and never set foot on a Boston street!
After arriving by train at Back Bay Station Friday afternoon—across the street from Copley Place, which is amazingly convenient—and registering at my hotel and for the conference, the first event was the opening plenary session for the Association for Social Economics (ASE), organized by my good friend (and successor as ASE president) Ellen Mutari and featuring Guy Standing of the University of London. Not only was the talk fantastic, but the plenary and the reception afterwards are always a wonderful chance to reconnect with all my good friends in the ASE.
The first full day for the conference got off to a great start with a fantastic ASE session, chaired by the incomparable Deirdre McCloskey and featuring presentations drawn from her forthcoming Oxford Handbook, co-edited with George DeMartino, on professional economic ethics, featuring an all-star roster of Julie Nelson, Irene van Staveren, Rob Garnett, and John Davis. Next was an ASE session I chaired, focusing on ethics and motivations in global markets, which featured a presentation by DeMartino and his co-author, Kate Watkins, and other prominent ASE members, such as Tonia Warnecke and John Tomer.
As I wrote about last year's ASSA, this year's was also, for me, chiefly an ASE conference, with fewer meetings with editors and publishers than in previous years, but I did enjoy some time with other people and associations. Saturday afternoon I participated in a session of the International Method for Economic Method (INEM), for whom I gave my first ASSA presentation back in 2002. (More on this later.) I'm grateful to my relatively new friend Erik Angner for inviting me to speak in this session on inequality, and for Don Ross (who contributed to several of my edited volumes in the past) for terrific comments. Finally, after the ASE membership meeting, during which I passed the crown and scepter to Ellen, I headed off to the History of Economics Society reception, where I reconnected with yet more old friends from previous ASSA sessions and HES conferences, including Steve Medema, who inspired my work in law and social economics (and who blurbed my forthcoming edited book on the topic, drawn from papers presentated at least year's ASE/ASSA sessions).
This was the big day: my address to the ASE during our presidential breakfast, and the first presidential address to be recorded for posterity (otherwise known as YouTube). Until it's posted, though, you'll have to be "satisfied" with this snap, offered by one victim audience member, John Moreau, on Twitter.
My talk was titled "Judgment: Balancing Principle and Policy," and was an overview of my thoughts going into my planned book on the topic for Stanford University Press (as a follow-up to my book on Kantian ethics and economics). In it, I gave (what I hope was) a concise summary of how Kantian ethics works with traditional economic models of choice and the limitations of this, which motivates the need for judgment, my conception of which is based on the practical jurisprudence of Ronald Dworkin. I ended the talk with some examples of how this could be applied to economic theory and policy, including my work on retributivist criminal justice. (Even though Ellen introduced me as "an expert on superheroes" and "a bit of a superhero himself," I neglected to mention my application of moral judgment to Superman!) The talk was very well received and generated some terrific comments (which, I hope, will be included in the video), and was a terrific way to end my year as ASE president.
(One additional thing made that morning even more memorable. My first ASSA talk in 2002, mentioned above, was a crushing experience because of one particular person, who made me question my future in this profession. Other than one encounter in an elevator a couple years later, I haven't seen him since that session, but for some reason he was at the presidential breakfast this year, which I noticed before my talk. Although I was struck for a moment, I'm pleased to say this didn't rattle me; instead, I took it as vindication, that the young scholar he publicly and forcefully accused in 2002 of ignorance and incompetence was now giving a well-received presidential address in front of a prestigious audience. My good friend Wilfred Dolfsma was there for both events—in fact, he helped pick me up after the 2002 experience, for which I will always be in his debt—and I think he appreciated the significance of this "return performance" as well.)
After a relaxing coffee and lunch with a friend—who also asked me more about my work on superheroes than anything else!—I attended the editorial board meeting for the Review of Social Economy, one of the two ASE journals, edited by Wilfred and another old friend, Robert McMaster, and published by Taylor & Francis (T&F). We met the new editorial team from T&F, who continued the tradition of helpful and innovative ideas for pushing and promoting the journal in new directions.
After stopping into an ASE session for a few minutes, I ran off to the book exhibits—sadly, my only visit this conference, because one of my favorite parts of ASSA is wandering the aisles, seeing new books, meeting with editors and publishers, and running into people I've lost track of over the years. (It's like they say about Times Square in Manhattan: if you stand in one spot long enough, you'll run into everyone you ever knew.) After saying hi to the team at Palgrave and an old friend at Elgar, I kept an appointment with my editor at Oxford, Adam Swallow, to discuss progress on the book on economics and the virtues that I'm co-editing with Jennifer Baker (and which is progressing nicely but not precisely in what you might call a timely fashion). As we said goodbye, he thanked me for the funny Twitter feed, which I was delighted to hear—I'm always happy to hear that my more academic followers enjoy my usual frivolity.
Next it was off to the editorial boad meeting of ASE's other journal, the Forum for Social Economics, also published by T&F, after which a group of us attended to a terrific dinner hosted by T&F for the editors of all of the economics journals they publish. ASE was represented by me, Wilfred and Bob from the Review, and John Davis, the previous editor of the Review, and it was a fantastic evening full of food, drink, and laughter, a perfect way to end a long, long day at the ASSAs.
My last day in Boston began with a breakfast with my old friend at Elgar, then two ASE sessions at which I said goodbye to all my dear ASE friends, who I'll see next at our World Congress in Ontario in June. I realize I referred to so many people in this post as friends, but the ASE, aside from being an impressive group of scholars, is also a tight but welcoming group of long-time and treasured friends, a group that I'm honored and grateful to be a member of. I have many friends outside of ASE that I enjoy seeing at ASSA, including those within INEM and HES, and even more casual acquaintances, but the other people in ASE are the reason I go to ASSA year after year.
After a quick stop at Au Bon Pain with Wilfred, Bob, and new ASE vice president Quentin Wodon, I headed back across the street to Back Bay Station to catch the train to Newark—and who do I see there but a colleague from the College of Staten Island, also returning home after ASSA. Friends everywhere, I guess, which is a perfect way to start 2015.