The Student Court wants to Punish AND Reward

            The Student Court’s role is to protect the interests and reputation of Hampden-Sydney College. During an Honor Code trial, this philosophy doesn’t leave us with a lot of room to be empathetic; that’s just not our job.  However, this is not to say that ‘punishing’ is the only way of protecting our college.  In fact, when it comes to code of conduct issues, and separation from the college is not being considered, ‘punishing’ is not the only means of sanction that the court willing to utilize- we are willing to advocate ‘supportive’ sanctions that aim at reforming individuals who need help, and even reward them for doing the right thing.
            Perhaps the types of sanction that would pay the biggest dividends from utilizing an approach that includes more than just punishment are those involving substance abuse- specifically illegal drug use. Stricter punishments against illegal drugs would only encourage students to be more discrete about using drugs in an effort to avoid being caught. Furthermore, tougher punishments for drug use certainly do not encourage student’s to recommend friends with addiction problems to a counseling center, since, after all, those with a chemical dependency are unlikely to quit ‘cold turkey’ and if they slip up just one time, they would face strict punishments. Ultimately, I fear that tougher sanctions against drug use make it harder for students to be their ‘brother’s keeper’ while also failing to actually decreasing drug use.

            Instead of stricter punishments, the student court has chosen to play a much more productive role in reducing drug abuse at Hampden-Sydney by incentivizing students to seek out help, and by offering them statutory protection against further disciplinary action for doing so.
            Specifically, the student court has agreed to adopt the following philosophy regarding the sanctions for substance abuse violations: “Any student who seeks help from the College’s Wellness Center, or other Center approved by the College, for substance abuse issues will be exempt from subsequent disciplinary sanctions (related to substance abuse) from the Student Justice System as long as the student remains in compliance with the treatment recommendations of the Director of the Wellness Center or the Assistant Dean of Students for Substance Education. Failure to comply with those recommendations will result in disciplinary action by the Student Justice System. Any student referred to the Student Justice System for a drug violation, not enrolled in a substance abuse program, will be subject to disciplinary action by the Student Court.”

            This procedure offers drastically different punishments for those caught abusing drugs and those caught abusing drugs who are seeking help for substance abuse, and asks those who have substance abuse problems to voluntarily enroll themselves in a substance abuse program. Under this policy, students with legitimate substance abuse problems would be incentivized to seek out help for their problems since doing so would grantee them statutory protection from harsher punishments.  Furthermore, with this procedure, the court would be able to identify which students are serious about tackling their substance abuse problems, and which are not interested in becoming honorable men.

            In no way is the court trying to minimize the role of punishments or the importance of separating someone from the college in a situation involving an Honor Code violation. Just as the court utilizes suspension to best protect the well- being and reputation of our college in light of an Honor Code violation, we can achieve the same with substance abuse violations by following the procedure above.  Furthermore this procedure helps the student justice system distinguish between those who are taking responsibility for substance abuse from those who are not.

            Most importantly, the sanction procedure outlined above allows the Student Court preserve the self governing culture and personal accountability aspects of Hampden-Sydney student life while simultaneously encouraging a cultural change away from drug abuse. 

Heated presidential elections won’t lead to better policies

Heated presidential elections won’t lead to better policies
Alexander C. Cartwright & Dylan DelliSanti

            It only takes about 5 minutes of time in front of a national television station to see some commercials trying to influence your vote or some ‘expert’ political commentators screaming about who’s values are superior in order to conclude that we are witnessing a heated presidential election. Most polls show the candidates nearly neck and neck; many argue that once we account for statistical error, knowing who is actually ahead in the race is nearly impossible. Obama and Romney have their campaigns full speed ahead; not surprisingly, their goals are to get as many votes as possible.

            Unlike in a market or on a sports field where competition systematically leads to better performance, competition in elections does not necessarily lead to better policy; in fact, it leads to more of the same.  
            As politicians seek to maximize votes, they try to appeal to the median voter. In essence, a candidate trying to get the most votes will align his policy view with those of most Americans. Few voters occupy the extreme right or the extreme left; so appealing to either of these extremes is a bad election strategy. Wherever the median voter stands on the issues is where candidates try to align themselves while still trying to be slightly to the left or slightly to the right of their opponent.

            Therefore, as the polls tighten and the election becomes more competitive each candidate needs to get all the votes he can- by appealing to the median voter. In other words, the more heated an election, the more similar we see candidates become. Though you could never conclude this from P.A.C sponsored T.V commercials, Romney and Obama have extremely similar, if not identical, stances on many issues.

            A quick visit to reveals just how similar the two candidates are. On foreign policy, both candidates think that we should end the war in Afghanistan, we should support Israel, we should support NATO’s effort to contain the Sudanese military, and think that the U.S should not give foreign terrorism suspects constitutional rights. On domestic policy, both support the patriot act, both are against decriminalizing all drugs, against federal regulation of the internet, both say unions and corporations should be able to fund advertising via super PACS.

            Even where the two candidates try to highlight their differences, on economic policy, one just wants more government to play a larger role than the other when it comes to economic affairs. For example, Romney favors corporate taxes that are still steep compared to most of the world, progressive income taxes, and massive government spending- just marginally less than Obama. Both want to subsidize U.S farmers, are against raising the Federal Minimum wage, and are in favor of welfare work requirements.

            When it comes to social issues, the two still have plenty of similar stances. Both are in favor of the death penalty, both agree that illegal immigrants should not receive government subsidized healthcare, and both think homosexuals should be able to marry in some form.

            Of course, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney do differ on a number of issues. The differences are mostly in how government should approach what it does; in few places do they disagree with what government should actually be doing. On almost every issue the candidates disagree on some margin, but the ‘types’ and ‘kinds’ of policies that each wants are similar, most of their differences are in ‘degree.’

            Ultimately, very competitive elections set up an interesting paradox. The more competitive the presidential race gets, and the more we are told that we have a ‘clear choice’ between the two candidates, the less this is actually true. More competitive races encourage each candidate to appeal as much as possible to the median voter while still being slightly different from his opponent.  So, even if current policies aren’t working, then a more competitive political race doesn’t encourage candidates to take radically different positions or even to dissent, very much, from the status quo.

            Even though our debates and political rhetoric seem heated, in the grand spectrum of political ideologies the margins that the candidates are fighting over are probably smaller than we realize, but this is not to say that those are not important margins. However, neither candidate is a clear ‘socialist’ or ‘libertarian.’  One might be slightly more conservative and one slightly more progressive, yet ultimately both are statists. Both candidates face an incentive to appeal to the median voter, which is making them more alike. This incentive doesn’t disappear after the election, which should make us skeptical about just how different public policy would be if a new President were to take office.
            The new President is likely to be only marginally different than before, especially as election’s become more competitive. So just as sending an eloquently written e-mail to a congressman is likely to be met with a generic response, investing your scarce time and effort into the election will only be met by Presidential candidates striving to be generic – regardless of the rhetoric they use. Rather than worrying about the results of this election and allowing ourselves to be divided over artificial lines, we should instead call into question the foundations of our democracy.

The Real Power of Honor

               At the end of every exam, and usually our other assignments, we sign in our name pledging that we have abided by the Honor Code during the exam and are not aware of any Honor Code breaches. Perhaps pledging his exam is the only interaction that a typical student has with the Honor Code; for most students, I would guess this is all the interaction they want. After all, when you signed the Honor Code, attended the Mock Trial, and perhaps talked about plagiarism in a rhetoric class, you probably came away from the experience with the impression that the Honor Code exists to protect us from those who lie cheat and steal; it certainly does, but the Honor Code is much more robust.

            The Honor Code is much more than a “rule.”  If the code only exists to help our school maintain a strong academic reputation, build trust among students, and give us some peace of mind about our possessions, why don’t we call it the ‘Cheating Code’, the  ‘Stealing Code’ or the ‘Hampden-Sydney Code’?  We specifically follow an ‘Honor’ code because our system seeks to create a way of life rooted in honor, which we can conceptualize as self-respect. 

            Aside from the ‘external’ effects that lying, cheating, and stealing have on other students, an Honorable person refrains from doing these things because they are disrespectful to himself.  Lying to myself about the integrity of my ideas negates my own ability to search for truth, understand the world more completely, and be a better intellectual. Similarly, cheating and stealing only have the potential to put me better off, in material standing, relative to others. Cheating and stealing can’t make me a better person; they don’t contribute to my personal flourishing. In fact, by choosing to lie, cheat or, steal, because I have chosen an easier road at the expense of bettering myself, such actions actually detract from my flourishing, making them disrespectful and likewise dishonorable.

             Even the part of the honor code that reads  “…nor tolerate those who do” contains elements that should be part of our personal honor. Though this part of the Honor Code is designed to require all rule followers to be rule enforcers, it is reflective of the high standard we should reserve for our personal honor. By not tolerating those who do break the honor code, Hampden-Sydney Men agree that neither friendship, nor social standing exempt someone from the code; the code applies equally to all. Likewise, as we seek to maintain our own personal honor, no idea should be considered to have an intrinsic worth or being beyond a standard which we are willing to question. In fact, if there is no theoretical fact, mechanism, or idea, which if true would provoke you to switch any position you hold, you are limiting just how honorable you can be. 

            As academic environments become more competitive and students are driven to cheat, conversations about Honor Codes will become more popular in academic institutions. Schools who are struggling with academic integrity issues, are attracted to Honor Codes because of their ability to keep students in line, but Hampden-Sydney seeks to create “good men and good citizens” not just intelligent men; our honor code is part of that mission, not just a mechanism we use to minimize academic dishonesty.  By being honest, respectful, and therefore honorable, we can become maximize our potential; push the limitations of what we perceived our limits to be. Low cheating incidents, and trust among peers are only some of the benefits our Honor Code provides, but these are not necessarily the goals of the Honor Code. Even though most of us only encounter the Honor Code when signing a pledge on an assignment every few weeks, I hope that each student takes a moment to think about how the Honor Code exists to influence who you are, as much as it seeks to influence what you do.

Bad Coffee is Usually Bad Economics

Bad Coffee is Usually Bad Economics

Alexander C. Cartwright ‘13

            There has been plenty excitement on campus about our new food service.  Aside from a re-modeled Tiger Inn and a completely revised menu, there is a series of new decorations in the commons. Next to the windows that overlook Chalgrove Lake is a poster promoting “Fair Trade” coffee. Fair Trade products, especially coffee, are more and more popular, yet few people understand what “Fair Trade” actually entails. Some basic economics can help us understand why it’s confusing that buying “Fair Trade” is counterproductive to what the practice seeks to achieve.

            “Fair Trade” is a relatively simple idea.  Fair Trade cooperatives agree to put their certification logo on a coffee producers’ products if the producers agrees to meet certain social and environmental standards. These usually include paying a specified minimum wage, and using certain harvesting practices. In return for complying with the Fair Trade cooperative, the coffee producers receive a premium for their coffee, which is typically the market price plus a certain percentage. Additionally, if the market price falls, fair trade producers are guaranteed a minimum price. Ultimately, the program aims to raise wages for poor coffee producers in the developing world, and encourage them to produce coffee in a more socially productive way. A better livelihood for coffee producers and an increased capacity to hire new them to higher new employees are certainly noble goals.

            Unfortunately good intentions don’t necessitate good results; there is great deal of unsettled debate around the benefits of fair trade. In fact, there is a large lack of accounting on how of the fair trade premium the actual coffee workers get; some suspect that most of the premium is collected by the fair trade cooperative themselves. Of the few estimates that exist, all of the one’s I found cite that coffee producers are actually receiving less than 10% of the fair trade premium. However, this is an empirical argument. Just because a small percentage of the premium actually gets to the hands of the poor coffee workers, doesn’t not discredit the free trade movement, it just question’s the movement’s effectiveness.

            Aside from being potentially ineffective, free trade advocates don’t seem to understand basic economics. Simply paying coffee producers higher prices can’t lead to more profits without an increase in consumer demand.[i] The standard supply and demand graph can easily help us visualize how an artificially higher price leads to decreased quantity demanded by consumers. Because there is no actual increase in demand on the consumer side, an artificially higher price for coffee will necessitate a lower quantity demanded. If less coffee is bought, fair trade certified or not, the coffee producers will be selling less and subsequently won’t be better off.

            Interestingly under fair trade, just because there might be less coffee sold does not mean there will be less coffee produced. Because members of a fair trade cooperative are guaranteed a minimum price independent of the market price for coffee, they have an incentive to over produce. If fair trade producers know that they will always be guaranteed a certain price for coffee, they can maximize their own profits by continually producing, even as the price for coffee falls. By guaranteeing a minimum price and incentivizing producers to over-produce, fair trade producers could flood the market to a point where it’s hard to sell any coffee.  
            A bigger problem with guaranteeing the coffee producers a minimum price is that it insulates fair trade producers from competition. By knowing that, regardless of their product’s quality they will receive a certain minimum price, producers have a marginally lower incentive to care about product quality.  After the fair trade cooperative pays a higher price for the (lower quality) coffee that meets the cooperative requirements, consumers that buy the coffee are actually paying a higher price for a lower quality product.

            Fair trade advocates maintain that even if the coffee is a little lower in quality, and even if the producers end up only getting a small amount of the fair trade premium, buying fair trade is still a worthwhile way to support working conditions for coffee workers. This position accurately recognizes that better working conditions require a higher cost, but fails to recognize that producers can more easily substitute out labor for capital with a higher coffee price. Thus assuming that fair trade actually convinces consumers to pay higher prices for coffee, it is certain that fewer workers will be employed as working conditions are improved[ii].

            Still the fair trade proponents maintain that the only alternative to artificially raising prices is to let some poor coffee producers go out of business. Yes- they are correct, and that is the appropriate alterative. Even though allowing producers to go out of business seems like a heartless response from someone outside of the developing world, the fair trade program will make coffee producers even worse off. The fair trade system encourages producers to produce coffee when the market isn’t demanding it, and it encourages lower quality coffee that market prices aren’t signaling demand for. If allowing businesses to go under is heartless, I can’t imagine what the makes the people who support a program that perpetuates and institutionalizes loosing.

            Advocates of fair trade certainly want a world that is more just and prosperous for all, but their program won’t produce either.  In the meantime, coffee chains and grocery stores are glad to capitalize on selling lower quality produces at higher prices so long as consumers demand the fair trade label. The only benefit that seems to come from fair trade is the good-feeling that a consumers gets from buying something with the fair trade label- a feeling that is unjustified. The very term “Fair Trade” illustrates that proponents do not understand how markets work. Markets do not adversely favor the rich over the poor, nor are prices fair or unfair, just or unjust. Prices are signals that communicate countless pieces of knowledge like the relative demand, substitutes, and scarcity of a product to nearly countless numbers of producers who use that information to modify production. They cannot be fair or unfair- they are signals determined by consumer demand- not a decree of the rich and powerful. We don’t need to ignore poor coffee producers in the developing world; we need to remember that justice and prosperity are the result of economic freedom, not fair trade.

[i] Callahan, Gene. “Is Fair Trade a Fair Deal?: Fair Trade Means Well, but Ignores Some Economic and Political Realities” The Freeman. March 2008 • Volume: 58 • Issue: 2.

[ii] See I