Freedom Center Visiting Fellow James Konow had a good job working for the Ford Motor Company, but his passion for academia was too much to ignore. So, he left the automotive business for UCLA, earning a Ph.D. in Economics. Dr. Konow was on the leading edge of what would become commonly known as behavioral economics. Since then, his scholarship has focused on the intersection of behavioral and experimental economics, ethics, and moral philosophy.

He became interested in the Freedom Center Visiting Fellows program because of his long-time friendship with Mary L. Rigdon, Freedom Center Director and Associate Professor of Political Economy & Moral Science. He respected and appreciated Mary’s scholarship in the field of experimental economics and jumped at the chance to come to Tucson as a Freedom Center Visiting Fellow.

“Mary was very accommodating and welcoming, and I’m excited to have the opportunity to spend six weeks on campus,” Dr. Konow notes.  “I appreciate being here. The University of Arizona’s economics and philosophy departments are among the best in the world. I enjoy my time at the Freedom Center, engaging with UArizona faculty, staff, and students.

“We’re excited to have James on campus as a Freedom Center Visiting Fellow because his research reflects our focus on multidisciplinary perspectives,” Dr. Rigdon said. “He is an exceptional scholar and colleague, and I have always appreciated his focus on blending economics, ethics, and philosophy. We share a love for the lab and developing experimental research that answers important questions, leads to new avenues of study, and contributes to individual and societal prosperity.”

Dr. Konow is currently on sabbatical, prioritizing his research. In addition to being at the Freedom Center, he also spends significant time at the Center for Ethics at The Murphy Institute at Tulane University.

“Economics is about consequences, and behavior is about one’s actions, while ethics and moral philosophy ask what is the right thing to do,” he notes. “Most of my work, especially early in my career, was on descriptive ethics or what economists call positive economics. I explored the role of people’s values in influencing their behavior in differing circumstances.”

Dr. Konow is currently working on a substantial project that blends normative philosophy, behavioral economics, experimental economics, and ethics within the framework of traditional moral philosophy. When discussing this work, he references three schools of philosophical thought: moral conduct as determined by the consequences of our actions, conduct in compliance with moral rules, and a third that says it isn’t about our conduct but rather what kind of people we are – it has to do with our moral character.

He notes a great deal of economic theory and empirical evidence surrounds each and stresses that his goal is to present each alternative impartially and challenge students and colleagues to evaluate them critically. This approach reflects the Freedom Center’s multi-disciplinary perspective and commitment to training critical thinkers to appreciate diverse viewpoints.

“I present information partly as a question of people getting in touch with their inner philosopher,” Dr. Konow says. “We don’t want students to feel indoctrinated but rather take the ideas, consider them, and develop their views.”

Another project or set of projects he is working on seeks to address what he calls Jekyll and Hyde paradoxes, where individuals behave morally under certain circumstances yet behave immorally (or, at least, less morally) under conditions that differ for reasons that seem morally irrelevant. He is working to understand what drives these behavioral transformations through experimental economics.

“I’m working to develop a theory that explains these ostensible moral inconsistencies,” Dr. Konow says. “This is the beauty of experiments and the lab. We can better understand what causes them and try to predict them in the future. I think, actually, that a fairly simple theory can account for this phenomenon.”

He will present this research at an Economics Seminar on December 6 from 3:30 to 5:00 p.m. hosted by the UArizona Eller College of Business. This event is open to the UArizona community and public.

Dr. Konow earned a B.A. in Economics from Arizona State University, which was followed by a Fullbright Scholarship at the University of Cologne in Germany. Dr. Konow loves reading, hiking, and traveling when he’s not working. He and his wife have done a couple of safaris in Africa, including in South Africa and Kenya.

“We were observing elephants and such, and then the guide suggested we get out of the truck for a while. We didn’t know what to expect, and he took us to an area with a couple of rhinos,” he said.

If you look at his photo, you might see one of them.