November 23, 2015

Alumni Spotlight: Daniel D’Amico

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Academic and Student Programs recently caught up with Dr. Daniel D’Amico (an alum of the Mercatus Center PhD Fellowship) to discuss his appointment as Associate Director of the Political Theory Project at Brown University, where he plays an instrumental role in furthering the mission of the Political Theory Project (PTP) to invigorate the study of institutions and ideas that make societies free, prosperous, and fair.

Dr. D’Amico is also The William Barnett Professor of Free Enterprise Studies and Associate Professor of Economics in the Joseph A. Butt S. J. College of Business at Loyola University in New Orleans where he has received awards for teaching, research, and service.

Dr. D’Amico completed his PhD at George Mason University in 2008. His doctoral dissertation, “The Imprisoner’s Dilemma: The Political Economy of Proportionate Punishment,” was awarded the Israel M. Kirzner Award for best dissertation in Austrian Economics.

Could you tell us more about your roles as Associate Director of The Political Theory Project? What excites you most about your role?

I was a visiting professor for the political science department (which formally houses the Political Theory Project) in the 2014-2015 academic year. In short, the PTP has begun soliciting applications for visiting professors as a complement to its existing and successful postdoctoral program. When I saw the listing, I was conveniently approaching a sabbatical period and thus applied. 

Last year, I co-taught the PTP's flagship course "Prosperity: The Ethics and Economics of Wealth Creation," with the project's founding director John Tomasi. Tomasi is a political theorist, whereas my background is in economics. Together we aimed to give students a theoretical foundation for how markets work, an appreciation for the body of empirical evidence surrounding economic growth through history and around the world, and finally a survey of philosophical frameworks to think critically about the moral implications of these theories and facts. Overall I think the class was a success.

This year as associate director, I am once again co-teaching Prosperity as well as designing new programs to better engage the student community here at Brown. The mission of the PTP is to invigorate the study of institutions and ideas that make societies free, prosperous, and fair. In doing so we take a pluralistic approach both methodologically and ideologically. In short we want to know what all ideological backgrounds and academic disciplines have to say about freedom, prosperity and fairness.

In particular, the PTP hosts the Janus Forum. As its namesake, the Roman god with two faces, suggests, Janus aims to provide a unique pedagogical experience for students apart from traditional course work. In short, we provide a venue for top researchers who harbor substantial disagreements to simultaneously present their alternative perspectives on key issues and field questions from a student audience. This year, we have Naomi Murakawa of Princeton and Bernard Harcourt of Columbia Law presenting on November 3 with their alternative takes on the causes of American Mass Incarceration. Murakawa highlights how liberal political campaigns for racial justice inadvertently fostered expansive national punitive authority. Harcourt focuses upon the enforcement foundations of market economies and how the quantification and commodification of criminal justice resources has led to mass incarceration. 

As I understand it, my job is to design these sorts of events and work with motivated students to continue their learning experiences beyond the event itself.

What type of research and/or projects are you currently working on?

My current research is still generally focused upon the causes and consequences of imprisonment through history. In a recent paper forthcoming in the Journal of Comparative Economics, Claudia Williamson of Mississippi State (and a Mercatus Visiting Dissertation Fellowship alum) and I discover and explain a strong correlation between common law origins and greater prison population rates. We posit that incarceration is a lower cost strategy of social control under the common law as common law countries lack the forms of bureaucratic infrastructures that civil law countries typically leverage. This leaves open a variety of questions such as how to diagnose the potential for inefficiently excessive incarceration rates under the common law, and what unique institutional histories lead to such counter intuitive results. We are currently investigating these remaining issues.

How has your experience as a Mercatus PhD Fellow helped you in your academic and professional career?

My Mercatus experience has proven indispensable. My current position requires a lot of inter-disciplinary interaction. I attend workshops in political science, economics, and philosophy and similarly work with undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows from various intellectual backgrounds with a wide spread of topical interests. I can't think of any other graduate student environment that could have prepared me for such.