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Both the Boston Globe and the Tina Brown-led digital publication The Daily Beast recently touted a Middlebury course as one of the country’s juiciest (Globe) and hottest (Daily Beast).

So, what’s the course and why the hubbub?

Course Title The Economics of “Sin”: Sex, Crime, and Drugs

Department Economics

Instructor Associate Professor of Economics Jessica Holmes

Course Description In this course, we apply traditional microeconomic principles to nontraditional topics such as adultery, prostitution, teen pregnancy, crime and punishment, drugs and drug legalization, and gambling. We ask the following questions throughout the course: To what extent is “sinful” behavior rational and utility maximizing? What role does the government play in regulating “sinful” behavior and what are the consequences of these government interventions? The primary focus will be on the United States, but brief comparisons will be made to “sinful” behavior and policy interventions in other countries.

What Holmes Says “In what other economics class will they have the opportunity to explore pornography, prostitution, crime and punishment, drugs and drug legalization, the sale of human organs, and gambling? As you can imagine, it is a lot easier to get students to debate the economic arguments for and against the legalization of prostitution than to discuss the latest employment estimates.’’ (Globe)

What the Daily Beast Says “A former blackjack dealer and casino pit boss, Holmes is young and vibrant with the background to match. In this elective course, she takes basic microeconomic principles and applies them to less staid pursuits, such as adultery, teen pregnancy, illegal drugs, and online gambling.”

And About That Title Bob Cluss, a chemistry/biochemistry professor and Middlebury’s dean of the curriculum, told the Globe: “The titles are much more playful than before, no doubt about it. I think it has to do with a younger generation of faculty who understand it’s an opportunity to catch students’ eyes.”

On the Air

“So many people said, ‘Oh, I was visiting some friend of mine and I crawled into bed and picked up Living the Good Life and my life completely changed! There are so many testaments of that kind. I have one in my book that starts, ‘I used to be a dancer in New York City and now I raise leeks.’”

—Rebecca Gould, an associate professor of religion and an affiliate in environmental studies at Middlebury, recently spoke to Vermont Public Radio’s Steve Zind about the influence of homesteading pioneers Helen and Scott Nearing. The Nearing’s book, Living the Good Life, figured prominently in Gould’s own work, At Home in Nature: Modern Homesteading and Spiritual Practice in America.


“Knock on the door of the federal government in 2008, and chances are that you will find nobody home. The U.S. government’s impulse to exploit the comparative advantage of the private sector, and the private sector’s responsiveness to demand for its services, have combined to replace Big Government with a staggeringly large shadow government. In this new world, the private sector increasingly handles the everyday business of governing.”

—From One Nation Under Contract: The Outsourcing of American Power and the Future of Foreign Policy by Allison Stanger, the Russell Leng ’60 Professor of International Politics and Economics and the director of the Rohatyn Center for International Affairs, at Middlebury.


In the July/August 2009 issue of the Atlantic, Middlebury President Emeritus John McCardell Jr. contributed to the magazine’s “Ideas Issue: How to Fix the World,” writing a short essay on underage drinking.

In the piece, McCardell outlined what is at stake: “Underage drinkers now consume more than 90 percent of their alcohol during [underground] binges. . . . each year, underage drinking kills some 5,000 young people and contributes to roughly 600,000 injuries and 100,000 cases of sexual assault among college students.” And he outlined what stands in the way of reform: “Any state that sets its drinking age lower than 21 forfeits 10 percent of its federal highway funds.”

What might states do if freed from this federal penalty? McCardell offered a few ideas. States might

  • License 18-year-olds to drink, provided they have a high school degree, have attended an alcohol-education course, and have a clean record.
  • Mandate alcohol education at a young age, with programs modeled after driver’s education.
  • Enact zero-tolerance laws and severe penalties for drunk drivers, regardless of age.

Concluded McCardell: “Binge drinking is as serious a crisis today as drunk driving was two decades ago. It’s time we tackled the problem like adults.”

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