Honors Theses (PPE)

These theses represent the depth and breadth of interdisciplinary research carried out by Penn's PPE students. In order to write a thesis, a student must have an exemplary record of academic achievement in PPE courses and complete an independent research project under the supervision of a Penn faculty member. The authors here have opted to share their insightful research as part of this repository.



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Now showing 1 - 10 of 53
  • Publication
    How the United States Killed Its Cities: An Analysis of Urban Transportation and Segregation in Philadelphia
    (2022-05-16) Coleman, Luke
    Why, in the United States, do we see such dramatic racial sorting across metropolitan areas? More than 50 years removed from the Civil Rights Movement which altered American social life, why is urban residential segregation still a dominant feature in the United States? The scholarly literature has yet to come to a consensus. There are two broad and well-researched areas of social science that attempt to uncover why neighborhoods in American cities are so racially homogenous. One espouses the belief that racial groups prefer to live near each other. The other upholds the idea that the American government squandered the wealth of communities of color and made it impossible for them to integrate with white people. A burgeoning area of research involves a combination of these two fields: racial groups may frequently prefer to live near each other, but even if they did not, American private and public institutions have made wealth building and residential mobility incredibly difficult for communities of color. This project seeks to supplement this flourishing literature on the American government’s role in fomenting racial segregation by analyzing an often overlooked public good—public transit. To do so, this project uses Philadelphia as a case study, examining how the legacy of redlining continues to impact citizens and how effective, equitable public transit has the capacity to reduce the harmful effects of this legacy, but often fails to do so. This project employs a mixed-methods approach. I use interviews and participant-observation, in pursuit of a community-based comprehension of this policy failure, to understand Philadelphians’ relationship with public transit. Targets of this research are primarily areas simultaneously experiencing lower incomes and limited access to transit relative to the rest of the city. I conclude that Philadelphia’s transit agency, SEPTA, is not sufficiently effective in counteracting the effects of segregation on wealth-building for low-income communities and communities of color.
  • Publication
    Norms of Un-Sustainability: Significant, Yet Overlooked, Factors Inhibiting the Adoption of Environmental Solutions
    (2012-05-01) Miller, Douglas J
    This study discusses the need for a new approach for addressing environmental issues – because current approaches are either not working or not working at a significant scale – and the role of individuals in both creating and resolving environmental issues. An analysis of the social nature of individual decision-making, with an emphasis on social and descriptive norms, is presented to provide background in the subject that serves as the fundamental topic behind this paper’s main argument. Empirical research then offers an opportunity to demonstrate not only the presence of undesirable (largely descriptive) norms that foster unsustainable individual decision-making and habits, but also the inability of individuals to recognize the role of such norms on their behavior. After analyzing the results of a study conducted at the University of Oxford in July 2011 addressing the presence of unsustainable norms, the paper concludes by stressing the advantages of using the power of norms to more effectively address environmental issues.
  • Publication
    “You Can Rely on the Old Man's Money”: The Incumbency Advantage and Potential for Favor Exchanging in Congressional Elections
    (2016-04-27) Slotkin, Brandon
    The definition of corruption currently used by the United States judicial system for congresspeople is very stringent, requiring full knowledge of exchanging money for legislative favors in order to convict. However, the increasing amount of outside money in congressional elections suggests that the environment is ripe for a quid pro quo exchange. This is especially true for incumbents, who have an established, built-in advantage favoring reelection and receive the majority of outside spending. To investigate whether there exists the potential for a quid pro quo, I look at incumbents fundraising and expenditure data in 2010 and 2014, after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. I find that incumbents strategically take advantage of incumbency benefits to build war chests of savings and scare off higher quality challengers. This implies a level of integration with political elites and wealthy donors that suggests a quid pro quo between the two sides.
  • Publication
    Market Design in the Presence of Repugnancy: A Market For Children
    (2012-05-10) Olaleye, Shane
    A market-like mechanism for the allocation of children in both the primary market (market for babies) and the secondary market (adoption market) will result in greater social welfare, hence be more efficient, than the current allocation methods used in practice, even in the face of repugnancy. Since a market for children falls under the realm of repugnant transactions, it is necessary to design a market with enough safeguards to bypass the repugnancy while avoiding the excessive regulations that unnecessarily distort the supply and demand pressures of a competitive market. The goal of designing a market for children herein is two-fold: 1) By creating a feasible market for children, a set of generalizable rules and principles can be realized for designing functioning and efficient markets in the face of repugnancy and 2) The presence of a potential, credible and efficient market in the presence of this repugnancy will stimulate debate into the need for such markets in other similar areas, especially in the cases of creating a tradable market for organs for transplantation, wherein the absence of the transaction is often a death sentence for those who wish to but are prevented from participating in the market.
  • Publication
    The Essence of Morality: A Teleological-Formalist Conception of Moral Progress
    (2015-05-01) Zhang, Daniel L.
    This thesis considers the problem of how people should deal with moral change. I examine various conceptions of morality and induce the essence of morality, or the set of formal features that is fundamental to all moralities. In particular, I claim that the essence of morality consists of four features: (1) it performs some function (namely, solving the problem of cooperation); (2) it is prescriptive; (3) it is regarded as universalized; and (4) it is regarded as possessing overriding authority over other normative systems. From this, I derive a metamorality or standard of moral progress with which to evaluate moral change, namely the teleologicalf-ormalist conception of morality, which holds that morality progresses if and only if it increasingly exhibits its formal features. This is important because it allows philosophers and policymakers more generally to evaluate moral change and steer moral progress.
  • Publication
    The Ethics and Policy of Personal Data Exchanges
    (2023-04-24) Staszkiewicz, Maria A
    This thesis explores the impact of personal-data-driven profit-making strategies on consumer rights and democratic institutions. The lag in regulatory efforts in fast-growing fields, such as big data analytics and machine learning, has enabled unprecedented access to control over individual consumers and social processes. The resulting power asymmetry characterizing the relationship of corporate persons to private clients poses a threat to privacy and democracy. This thesis assesses existing and emerging approaches to protecting personal data privacy, engages with the question of imposing moral duties toward customers on private sector enterprises, and proposes systems to strengthen regulatory measures. The urgent need for multifaceted policy reform is highlighted, drawing from interdisciplinary expertise ranging from technology policy and business ethics to law and behavioral economics. This synthesis proposes paths forward by combining approaches to privacy ranging from enhanced consumer protection requirements to antitrust law.
  • Publication
    Drowning in Debt: Understanding Debt-for-Climate Swaps Through a Case Study of the Belize Blue Bond
    (2023-04-12) Desai, Sheil
    Debt-for-climate swaps are an increasingly popular policy to help developing countries achieve debt sustainability and invest in climate action. However, there is a lack of research that critically evaluates the limitations of debt-for-climate swaps. In this paper, I seek to understand the challenges and successes of debt-for-climate swap through an analysis of the 2021 Belize Blue Bond, a case study representing the most ambitious and innovative debt-for-climate swap to date. I begin with an overview of the global eco-bond market and the history and structure of debt-for-climate swaps. I then retrace the economic history of Belize to contextualize the events leading up to the 2021 debt-for-climate swap and its aftermath. Next, I delve into the details of the Belize Blue Bond agreement and attempt to analyze its successes and shortcomings. Through an economic analysis and an ethics-based discussion, I will argue that the Belize Blue Bond cannot guarantee long-term debt sustainability and warrants allegations of greenwashing. Next, I will condense the lessons learned from the Belize Blue Bond and argue that debt-for-climate swaps are only effective under a narrow set of conditions. Instead, I will make the case for de-linking debt restructuring and climate finance as a more efficient alternative to debt-for-climate swaps.
  • Publication
    In Defense of Liberty: Social Order & The Role of Government
    (2022-12-22) Conrad, Dylan J.
    This thesis seeks to address some of the most central questions to the fields of political philosophy and political economy. First, how can social order and government rationally develop out of anarchy? Next, what acts of force, if any, are morally permissible for the State to perform in its relations with individuals, so as to maintain political legitimacy? Lastly, what policies ought the State implement to achieve the best welfare outcomes for a society? This thesis will first show that a laissez-faire capitalist social order can spontaneously emerge from a purely self-interested State of Nature, with the institution of government being a mere product of market forces. Then, this thesis will defend a theory of natural rights on the basis that persons are normatively separate, before establishing that a laissez-faire capitalist social order is uniquely in compliance with these universal moral standards of conduct that predate the institution of any government. Finally, it will be argued in this thesis that the key tenets of laissez-faire capitalism - strong individual rights to life, liberty, and property - produce maximal human welfare from both individualist and collectivist aggregations, before such conclusions are translated into a foundation for limited government. Cumulatively, these arguments serve to fortify libertarian political philosophy and demonstrate that laissez-faire capitalism is the optimal form of social order.
  • Publication
    Up in Smoke: The Rise and Fall of Federal Anti-Drug Policy in the United States
    (2022-11-30) Weiss, Dominic A.
    This thesis analyzes the role of drugs in federal policy, specifically as a topic of presidential discourse. To this end, speeches, press releases, and other executive documents from various administration’s public papers are examined within their historical and social context. On the whole, it is noted how drugs provide a forum for approaching policy questions that presidents were already concerned with. Such questions include intergenerational conflict, race relations, war, individual liberties, incarceration, immigration, federalism, communism, scientific developments, and crime more broadly. While each administration focused on these topics to a greater or lesser degree, every president from Herbert Hoover to Ronald Reagan used drugs to further their existing political agenda within some of these domains.
  • Publication
    An Overview of Positive Economic Rights in American Political Thought
    (2022-01-01) Ryan, Noah
    Positive economic rights are entitlements an individual has for the state to provide for their basic needs. Though codified in international law, the existence of such rights remains deeply controversial in the United States. This thesis will explore the concept of positive economic rights throughout American history, beginning in the Colonial Period and ending with the recent revival of positive economic rights discourse since Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign. The thesis will explore political literature related to positive rights, state duties to the poor, and positive liberty—a concept frequently invoked by advocates for positive economic rights. Through political literary analysis, I will argue that while the concept of state duties to the poor spans the full duration of American history, the framing of such duties in terms of individual rights is largely a product of the New Deal Era. The thesis will also explore arguments against positive economic rights, which began to intensify during the late 1960s. Though positive economic rights receded to the fringes of American discourse during the Reagan years, support for these rights appears to be making a comeback.