Chautauqua Preview: Markets, Morals and the Social Contract

Jul 15, 2013

Market ethics will be explored this week as the Chautauqua Institution's summer season continues.  As WBFO's Mark Scott reports in our Chautauqua Preview, several prominent journalists will be traveling here to talk about "Markets, Morals and the Social Contract."

Miller Bell Tower at Night
Credit Photo courtesy of Chautauqua Institution

Columnist David Brooks
Credit Photo courtesy of the NY Times

This week is so popular that one Chautauquan tells me that you can't find a room on the grounds.  Markets and morals, to some, are contradictory.  Some in the business world argue the only job of a CEO at a public company is to make decisions that increase the return for shareholders.  Others respond that business leaders should concentrate on the greater good and doing what's best for the public at large.  Chautauqua President Tom Becker says it is a complex issue.

"When you bring morals into it, sometimes the discussion ends around the disagreement," Becker said.  "What we're trying to do is to open it up, so that one can see the conflicts and that moral choices are not always obvious."

Tuesday, New York Times columnist David Brooks delivers the morning lecture at the Amphitheater.  He's a regular commentator on Friday's All Things Considered.  Last Friday, Brooks touched on an issue that fits in with this week's theme.  The House Republicans approved a Farm Bill that removed the food stamp program from it.  Brooks said he had no problem with splitting food stamp funding and agricultural subsidies into separate pieces of legislation.  But Brooks, a conservative, said the Republicans then failed to do the right thing.

"Instead of doing something populist and reducing the ag subsidies, they caved into their interests and kept the ag subsidies while not even funding the food stamp program," Brooks noted.  "They're helping their interests, rich corporate farmers, while ignoring poor people who rely on food stamps."

The afternoon talks at Chautauqua's Hall of Philosophy feature Brooks' colleague on All Things Considered, E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post, plus TV business commentator Ali Velshi and journalist Chris Hedges.  Chautauqua's Religion Director Joan Brown Campbell says Thursday's speaker might not be as well known as the others.  But she says Thomas Kinnear of the University of Michigan will likely serve a role as the week's contrarian.

"When we asked him to come, he asked if he was going to be the enemy in that week -- the (lone) capitalist," Brown Campbell said.  "(Kinnear) turned to me and said markets aren't moral or immoral.  It's what happens with markets."

From Markets and Morals in the afternoon to evening entertainment, this week features two concerts with a Chautauqua favorite, pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk.

"He is much loved by the Chautauqua audiences," said Vice President of Programming Marty Merkley.  "He's a brilliant pianist."

Gavrylyuk will present a piano recital Wednesday night at the Amphitheater.  Then, Saturday, Public Radio Day at the Chautauqua Institution, he'll appear with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra in a concert that will air live on Classical 94.5, WNED.  Among the works he'll present is Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3.  

Also Friday and Saturday evenings, Chautauqua Theater presents its second production of the summer season.  Theater Director Vivienne Benesch says it's a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning work by playwright Bruce Norris, Clybourne Park.

"What I love about this play is that it boldly goes forward into issues that many artists avoid," Benesch said.  "It puts race on the table.  It puts upward mobility on the table."

Many of the performances at the Bratton Theater are already sold out.  It continues through July 28th.  

Finally, this week's Friday night Amphitheater concert features country music star Travis Tritt.