In this post I will present five ‘massive open online courses’ (MOOCs) in the area of philosophy, politics and economics (PPE) that give you a strong foundation to critically reflect on the morality of markets. The following courses will be introduced in this post:

  1. Capitalism & Political Economy
  2. Economics from a Pluralist Perspective
  3. The Politics of Economics and the Economics of Politicians
  4. Revolutionary Ideas: Utility, Justice, Equality, Freedom
  5. The Moral Foundations of Politics

1. Capitalism & Political Economy

If you have an interest in moral markets but no background at all in economics, this course – taught by lecturers from Duke University (USA) – is the perfect place to start. According to the course website it “serves three distinct purposes:

  • The course is an introduction to economics for non-majors. It is a self-contained and non-technical overview of the intellectual history of political economy.
  • It introduces the notion of a political economy, emphasizing the moral and ethical problems that markets solve, and fail to solve.
  • It is a bridge to more advanced courses in political philosophy, politics, and economics for the student who wants to sample these disciplines without committing to several semesters of coursework.

After the introductory lecture by course coordinator prof. Michael Munger (to be found at the top of this post) the following topics are being discussed:

  • exchange, specialization and institutions (lecture 2);
  • property (lecture 3);
  • production and division of labor (lecture 4);
  • entrepreneurship (lectures 5 and 6);
  • prices, just prices and opportunity costs (lecture 7);
  • money and banks (lecture 8);
  • bitcoins, cryptocurrency and the future of money (lecture 9);
  • the problem of voluntary exchange & the origins of markets (lecture 10);
  • the paradigm of public choice (lecture 11);
  • the basics of political choice – preferences (lecture 12) and politics (lecture 13);
  • political choice in multiple dimensions (lecture 14);
  • the impossibility problem of political choice (lecture 15);
  • market failure: information, monopoly and rent-seeking (lecture 16);
  • the theory of the firm: pirates (lecture 17).

For each topic you get a video by a different lecturer, plus some suggested readings. It is a self-paced and free course, without assignments (but of course also without the opportunity to test your mastery and earn a certificate).

2. Economics from a Pluralist Perspective

If after this first course you want to develop your economic knowledge and skills further, the course ‘economics from a pluralist perspective’ from Erasmus University Rotterdam (the Netherlands) is a good choice. The dominant paradigm in the discipline is Neoclassical Economics, but according to the creators of this course that is only sufficient “for the special case of ideally functioning markets.” And it does not take a lot of training in economics to realize that markets are often not ideal. Indeed, the assumptions of Neoclassical Economics, such as that of the ‘homo economicus‘, are regularly criticized in debates on morality and markets.

This course teaches you what the alternatives are. “Economic pluralism means that a plurality of theoretical and methodological viewpoints is regarded as valuable in itself“, say the teachers of this course, “and is simply the best way in which economics can make progress in understanding the world.” In addition to Neoclassical Economics, this course teaches you the foundations of:

This pluralist approach “will provide you with policy alternatives to neoliberalist policies promoting free markets.” I would have preferred it if she referred to neoliberalism as promoting completely unregulated markets, as one can be against that without denying the moral and economic need for some form or degree of free markets. However, the relevance of the course – to both proponents and opponents of free and/or unregulated markets – is clear.

For whom is this course meant? To quote the course description again, for those people who:

  • “are curious about their economy, who want to have a better understanding of markets, the economic roles of the state, and how communities create economic value.
  • “look for solid arguments for economic policy alternatives to free market-oriented policies”
  • “are dissatisfied with their standard training in economics and would like to learn about different economic theories than the dominant one, called neoclassical economics.”

For this course you can, if you pay a small fee and successfully complete the assignments, earn a Coursera certificate. This is the introductory video:

3. The Politics of Economics and the Economics of Politicians

Once the previous two courses have given you a firm basis in economics, you might be interested to learn more about the connection of economic theory to politics through this third course, created by the University of Nottingham (UK). “How does economics impact on politicians? And how do politicians impact on economics?“, the course website asks, and promises to “explore these links by looking at the work of major political figures and the key economic ideas they adopted.” After discussing the scope and methods of economics, the following politicians are said to be discussed:

The economic policies and practices of these former leaders are still having an impact on our world today“, says the course description. The view that they had on the shape and role of markets, ranging from neo-liberalism (Margaret Thatcher) to a social market ideology (Deng Xiaoping) is also still of interest.

What will you do and achieve during this course? Among others the following, according to its creators:

  • Investigate policy making in an historical context
  • Apply economic tools to policy relevant questions
  • Discuss the relationship between politics and economics
  • Develop an understanding of how economic theory guides policy choices

Too bad that it is not clear when the course will start again. Here is the promotion video for this course:

4. Revolutionary Ideas: Utility, Justice, Equality, Freedom

When we think about the role and shape that the market should have, immediately questions about the role and shape of the state also arise. The politicians discussed in the third course have of course not only been influenced by economic theories, but also by philosophical ideas – including ideas about government and the state. These ideas and questions are central to this introductory course in political philosophy (see the course website):

  • “What is the purpose of government?
  • Why should we have a State?
  • What kind of State should we have?”

In discussing these questions, this course pays attention to a range of influential thinkers / philosophers, such as “Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Immanuel Kant, Mary Wollstonecraft, and John Stuart Mill; and more contemporary theorists such as Elizabeth Anderson, Isaiah Berlin, Thomas Christiano, Frantz Fanon, Amy Gutmann, Friedrich Hayek, Robert Nozick, Martha Nussbaum, Julius Nyerere, Ayn Rand, John Rawls, Peter Singer, and Kok-Chor Tan.” Each course week one of the values of utility, justice, equality and freedom is put central. While the course title speaks of utility, the course material refers to ‘happiness’ – indicating that it is not or not only the narrow economic conception of utility that is being discussed, but rather happiness more generally.

There is a follow-up course that is less relevant if you are interested in markets and morality, as it focuses on “borders, elections, constitutions and prisons.” The video below introduces a shortened, combined version of both these courses. Instead, you can also watch the first, introductory video on “utility, justice, equality and freedom” on the Coursera platform where the separate, extended courses are hosted. Both courses are taught by Alexander Guerrero, who is currently affiliated with Rutgers University (USA). If you pay $41 and get a sufficient grade for a number of assignments, you can earn a certificate.

5. Moral Foundations of Politics

The central question in this course on the ‘moral foundations of politics’: “When do governments deserve our allegiance, and when should they be denied it?” The course consists of three parts:

  1. We start with a survey of the major political theories of the Enlightenment: Utilitarianism, Marxism, and the social contract tradition. In each case we begin with a look of classical formulations, locating them in historical context, but then shift to the contemporary debates as they relate to politics today.
  2. Next we turn to the rejection of Enlightenment political thinking, again exploring both classical and contemporary formulations.
  3. The last part of the course deals with the nature of, and justifications for, democratic politics, and their relations to Enlightenment and Anti-Enlightenment political thinking. In addition to exploring theoretical differences among the various authors discussed, considerable attention is devoted to the practical implications of their competing arguments. To this end, we discuss a variety of concrete problems, including debates about economic inequality, affirmative action and the distribution of health care, the limits of state power in the regulation of speech and religion, and difficulties raised by the emerging threat of global environmental decay.

The course, on Yale’s own open course site, is taught by Ian Shapiro, a well-known political scientist from Yale University (USA).

Series "Online Courses to Sharpen Your Thoughts on Markets & Morality":

The morality of markets is a complex topic. Do you feel like you have enough knowledge to make a sensible contribution to the debate? If not, this series of blog posts introduces some ‘Massive Open Online Courses’ (MOOCs) that you can take from anywhere in the world.

Posts in this series:
  1. Five Foundational Online Courses in PHILOSOPHY, POLITICS and ECONOMICS that Help You Reflect on the Morality of Markets
  2. Four Open Online Courses on ECONOMIC GROWTH, (IN)EQUALITY and WELL-BEING to Deepen Your Knowledge
  3. Five Online Courses on CAPITALISM, Chinese MARXISM and GLOBALIZATION to Deepen Your Knowledge