P, P & E

I often have unusual (if you weren’t being polite, you might say weird) thoughts. The other day I recalled a conversation I had subsequent to the 2012 Obama campaign with a young volunteer who I had tremendous respect for. That was the catalyst that got me thinking. If, as I hope, you’ll suffer through my thoughts for a bit  you will read on.


Election night 2012 I closed myself into a room with three computers and a then junior college student who I considered to be wise well beyond his years. I remember Abdul actually calling the election in Obama’s favor when Wisconsin was called for him. In all honesty that was a bit before I did, although we both beat the networks.

As too often happens, over the years I’ve lost contact with him. However, a conversation I had with him a bit later is the catalyst for today’s article. He transferred to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill upon graduation from the junior college. I asked him what he was majoring in at Chapel Hill to which he replied “P, P & E.” That acronym stands for Philosophy, Political Science and Economics. (The acronym will translate slightly differently at different campuses but in essence it remains the same.)

(Sorry, it took me a long time to get there but I feel I have an, albeit nerdy, interesting point to make: I think the three disciplines are perfectly suited to be coupled.)

Viewed from the standpoint of a “political player” the first thing you need is a philosophy. In my case I’m a progressive and everything else evolves from that. (My political philosophy only takes second place to being an American.) That is the problem with today’s Republicans, they are not conservatives, they only hijacked the word to give themselves a veneer of respectability. Other than providing a return on investment to their biggest financiers along with gaining and retaining power, all while blindly obeying a wannabe dictator, they have no philosophy.

Then we come to economics. It’s great to support something but the reality is that you have to find a way to finance/ pay for it. You also have to consider other economic costs like the environment, jobs and opportunity costs in addition to monetary.

In fact, I contend that politics is the intersection of philosophy and economics. Picture it as a Venn diagram with the overlap of the philosophical and economic circles being politics.

P, P & E had its genesis at Oxford in the 1920s. Today it is taught in just a bit over 50 colleges in the US. (One of them is my alma mater although that was not my major.) That translates to less than 1% of the 6000 colleges in America. Obviously with only fifty some schools offering it (in some cases as only a minor, graduate or a certificate program) it is not even available in many states. Not surprisingly most of them are red states.

In contrast over 40 universities (of 166) in the UK offer the program. You do the math from there.

Abdul, I hope you are doing well and if you happen to read this email me with you contact information. More important thanks for your wise friendship especially on Election Night 2012 and I hope you are doing well!

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