Monthly Archives: November 2009

Credit Cards and Exploitation

PBS‘ Frontline this week aired an interesting episode on the credit card industry, which began with a discussion of some of the controversial practices initiated by Providian and soon adopted by the bulk of its competitors. I think the episode raises some interesting philosophical questions about the nature and moral force (to borrow Alan Wertheimer‘s term) of exploitation.

For instance, one of the practices Providian is said to have developed involved substituting what they called “stealth pricing” for explicit annual fees. Instead of charging all its customers a flat fee of, say, $50 per year, Providian offered cards with zero annual fee but with steep penalties for late payments, going over your credit limit, etc. To many customers, Providian’s cards thus appeared to be free. But Providian knew that many of its customers – especially the low-income, high credit-risk customers it was targeting – would wind up paying much more in penalties than they would have with a flat annual fee, even if most customers (wrongly) believed the opposite to be true.

So, at least at first glance, it looks like Providian was exploiting several kinds of vulnerability on the part of these customers.  First, the customers were vulnerable insofar as they were likely to do the things that would incur penalties. And secondly, they were vulnerable insofar as they tended to underestimate the extent to which they would do this, and hence underestimate the true cost of the cards Providian was offering. Providian took advantage of these vulnerabilities to enhance its own profit (which, at its peak according to the documentary, were around $1 billion per year).

Is this a case of wrongful exploitation? It might be, but the story raises a few questions in my mind.

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CFP: Roundtable on Marx’s Capital, February 24-27, 2011

The Society for Social and Political Philosophy is pleased to issue a

for a Roundtable on Marx’s Capital

Texas A&M University,
College Station, Texas
February 24-27, 2011

SSPP’s second Roundtable will explore Volume One of Marx’s Capital (1867).  We chose this text because the resurgence in references to and mentions of Marx – provoked especially by the financial crisis, but presaged by the best-seller status of Hardt and Negri’s Empire and Marx’s surprising victory in the BBC’s “greatest philosopher” poll – has only served to highlight the fact that there have not been any new interpretive or theoretical approaches to this book since Althusser’s in the 1960s.

The question that faces us is this: Does the return of Marx mean that we have been thrust into the past, such that long “obsolete” approaches have a newfound currency, or does in mean, on the contrary, that Marx has something new to say to us, and that new approaches to his text are called for?

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Survey on Publishing in Philosophy

Via Sally Haslanger:

All professional philosophers are invited to participate in a survey on publishing in philosophy. It should take about 10 minutes. It will be useful to have your CV handy as you fill it out. Please go here to find it.

If all goes well, Sally Haslanger will report on the results at the December APA in a symposium on philosophy publishing (Wednesday 30 December, 11:15-1:15).

Thanks for your help. Please help spread the word.

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Continuum Ethics book series

Continuum Ethics
A series of books exploring key topics in contemporary ethics and moral philosophy.

Continuum Ethics presents a series of books that will bridge the gap between new research work and undergraduate textbooks. They will provide close examination of key concepts in contemporary moral philosophy. Aimed largely at upper-level undergraduates and research students, they will also appeal to researchers in the field. Authors will be expected to combine philosophical sophistication with an accessible style that can engage the educated reader.
Each volume will introduce its subject within the context of recent developments in moral philosophy. Each book will cover the major thinkers and their key ideas, outline questions raised within the area of concern, and explore possible answers to those questions. Authors will be encouraged to argue for a particular view or views and each volume will present an original contribution to the field. Each book will explore – either throughout the text or in the final chapter(s) – the future of the topic in contemporary ethics and other research areas. read more...

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Global Justice and Human Rights book series

Announcing two new book series with Edinburgh University Press:

Series Editor: Thom Brooks

“Global justice and human rights” is perhaps the hottest topic today. Studies in Global Justice and Human Rights is a new book series published by Edinburgh University Press. The series aims to publish groundbreaking work in this increasingly popular field. This series will publish leading monographs and edited collections on key topics in the area of global justice and human rights that will be of broad interest to theorists working in politics, international relations, philosophy, and related disciplines. read more...

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Getting to the Rule of Law: The Annual Conference of the American Society for Political and Legal Philosophy

The American Society for Political and Legal Philosophy (ASPLP) is pleased to announce that it will hold its annual meeting in conjunction with that of the Association of American Law Schools in New Orleans on January 6, 2010. The topic is “Getting to the Rule of Law.” All three sessions of the program will be held in Hilton New Orleans Riverside, 2 Poydras Street, Belle Chasse Room, Third Floor. Below is the program:

Getting to the Rule of Law

I. Getting to the Concept of the Rule of Law: 10:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m.

Principal paper (philosophy): Jeremy Waldron, New York University

Commentator (law): Robin West, Georgetown University

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