Harper’s Notes

The Harper Review’s weekly newsletter: competition, counseling, courts, and more.

The editors

January 12, 2024

Friendly competition: In a live-taped episode of the popular podcast “Capitalisn’t,” University of Chicago students peppered Luigi Zingales, a professor of finance at the Booth School of Business, with questions. Selected as a special guest for the episode, The Harper Review’s coeditor in chief Surya Gowda asks Zingales to explain why, exactly, competitive markets are a good thing. It is emblematic of Zingales’s widely roaming style that he invokes both Machiavelli and Tonya Harding’s infamous figure-skating scandal in his answer. The links he makes between serious economic theory and the world it purports to represent are compelling reasons to believe in the worth of his discipline. Enjoy the ride as Zingales ranges broadly in response to questions about start-ups that exist only to be bought, how green energy might take over, his difficult love of soccer club AC Milan, and more.

The spirit of the law: So the old saying goes: “You cannot legislate morality.” But in Law Is a Moral Practice, a book recently published by Harvard University Press, University of Michigan law professor Scott Hershovitz argues that law and morality are inseparable, as laws reflect the moral norms of the people who promulgate them. Thus, from small claims to Supreme Court rulings, legal disputes in reality explore the validity of the moral presuppositions underpinning social norms. Entertaining and unorthodox, Hershovitz’s book addresses problems of constitutional interpretation, the nature and basis of the law, the rights and duties of citizens, and what is truly at issue when one party drags another into court.

When philosophers become therapists: The philosophical counseling movement aims to apply heady, logical insights to daily life. In a recent article for the New Yorker, writer Nick Romeo analyzes the rise of the recent “philosophical counseling” movement, in which clients discuss their personal lives with a philosopher. The aim is that the philosopher guides the client to understand his current dilemma in philosophical terms, in a hybrid between a therapy session and a seminar. Clients may even receive reading assignments after the meeting is over. Two professional associations for philosophical counselors have sprung up in the US: the National Philosophical Counseling Association and the American Philosophical Practitioners Association. Both organizations require their practitioners to have a master’s or doctoral degree in philosophy. While these organizations stress that their services are not intended to help in cases of severe mental illness, they nevertheless enact the idea that philosophy should help one to live well.

Not in my backyard: Those interested in activism, urban development, and contemporary American history should check out the newly published Not in My Backyard: How Citizen Activists Nationalized Local Politics in the Fight to Save Green Springs. Written by University of Virginia professor Brian Balogh and published by Yale University Press, Not in My Backyard recounts one woman’s successful campaign in 1970 to stop the construction of a prison in Green Springs, Virginia. By appealing to federal agencies, Rae Ely and other local activists halted the project, which promised an influx of local jobs, by winning National Historic Landmark protection for the area. The tactics that Ely employed to oppose a controversial new development remain ever-present in local politics. As discussions around NIMBYism grow increasingly ubiquitous in policymaking circles, Not in My Backyard promises to be a timely and engaging read.