Above: University Scholars and faculty guests split into groups to negotiate trade deals.
The second group for the University Scholars Symposium 2017 discussed various political and economic perspectives on Relativity.
We began with Alex Oprea’s thought-provoking talk exploring “Does Moral Diversity imply Moral Relativism?” With a show of hands, we all agreed that eating is morally acceptable and eating children is morally unacceptable…but there was a gray zone in between with pigs and shark fin. Similarly, we agreed that women working in the office is acceptable and female genital mutilation is not, but is it morally acceptable for women to wear a veil? Or to be obligated to wear a veil? Alex thus demonstrated moral diversity. Does this imply that there are different acceptable standards? Is it ok if we have certain standards for ourselves and our local culture, but are simultaneously accepting of other standards in other areas of the world? Some philosophies say no, that there should be a single, absolute set of acceptable behaviors. Others think that there is a collection of acceptable standards (“pluralism”), but then the question arises as to which standards fall within or without this collection. What do you think?
Alex’s presentation was followed by Zach Heater’s enlightening overview of slavery in ancient Athens and Rome: “When Slaves Write the Laws”. The history of slavery in the United States is quite sordid; conversely, slaves in ancient Athens and Rome often held admirable positions in society. They were state-owned, and as such, anyone who mistreated another, whether a free person or a slave, could be reported and punished. Slaves often held erudite positions, including recording the current laws, recording the weights and measures, teachers, and remembering names to whisper into their client’s ear in social events. Lastly, they were a large proportion of society, estimated at 40% of Romans in the first century BCE, as compare to 10% in the USA in 1855.
Bobby Harris then guided us through an intriguing exploration of how the phrasing of your available options can influence the rationality of your decisions: “Can Rationality Explain Weird Outcomes?” For instance, consider a disease expected to kill 600 people, and you could pick between two treatment programs:
- A) If program A is adopted, 200 people will be saved.
- B) If program B is adopted, there is 1/3 probability that 600 people will be saved and 2/3 probability that no people will be saved.
Which option would you pick? Now consider these two options:
- C) If program C is adopted, 400 people will die.
- D) If program D is adopted, there is 1/3 probability that nobody will die and 2/3 probability that 600 people will die.
Did your choice change from the first two options? People will often choose options A and D, contrary to expected rational behavior since the two sets of options are the same except for the phrasing: the upper options start with 600 dead people, allowing us to save people, whereas the lower options start with 600 living people, requiring us to let people die. This importance of reference point and framing can be related to the latest US Presidential Election, where Trump had a much larger range of potential performances, leading to a riskier option, but with the possibility of higher performance and higher utility, whereas Clinton had a higher expected performance, but within a much narrower range of possible performance and utility measures.
We finished the student presentations with two talks on trade. Greg Lyons brought us into the world of big money and advanced statistics in the Business of Sports. The sports industry continues to grow, forecasted to be worth $75b by 2020, but creating a successful sports team is complicated. How do you quantify the value of a player? And their value in the context of a team? And are you aiming to win in the short-term (experienced players) or long-term (train up young talent)? Sports analytics is an exploding industry, employing data analysts and statisticians to capture a player’s full value; as a simple example, the number of touchdowns scored will not be indicative of a football linebacker’s value. These methodologies of assessing relative value are used to allocate money amongst contract offers, to trade players and coaches, and to select draft picks — including the option to tank your team for the sake of better picks in the future!
Lastly, Kavya Sekar led us in a fabulous interactive activity to explore the challenges of trade negotiations. In each group of four, there were two people from Country A (wealthy country with high labor protections and patent technology for mass production of leather goods) and two from Country B (poor country with low labor protections, but ample land for leather cow farming). Currently, there are high import tariffs for both countries and Country A citizens cannot start businesses in Country B. The groups were given 5 minutes to try to make a trade deal, role-playing as a leather factory worker & shoe manufacturer from Country A and an unemployed laborer & leather artisan in Country B. There was a wide variety in outcomes amongst the dozen groups in the room, although only a couple came to an agreement. Most discussions seemed to disadvantage one or both of the Country B citizens. Further, most groups aimed for consensus on the terms of the trade deal, but thereby failed to come to agreeable terms, given us all a sense of the challenges of real-life, large-scale trade negotiations.
Excellent presentations and activities all-around!
~ by Nikki Pelot