George Washington Forum News and Events

GWF Events

Is Capitalism Sustainable in a Democracy?

Thursday, 9 February 2023

7:30 PM | Galbreath Chapel (College Green)

Image of Michael Munger (Duke University)

Michael Munger (Duke University)

Michael Munger is Professor of Political Science, and Director of the PPE Certificate Program at Duke University. His primary research focus is on the functioning of markets, regulation, and government institutions. He has taught at Dartmouth College, University of Texas, and University of North Carolina (where he was Director of the Master of Public Administration Program), as well as working as a staff economist at the Federal Trade Commission during the Reagan Administration. He is a past President of the Public Choice Society, an international academic society of political scientists and economists with members in 16 countries. He now co-edits The Independent Review. 

America’s Rivalry with China and Why It’s Vital to Confront Beijing

Wednesday, 22 February 2023

8:00 PM | Galbreath Chapel (College Green)

Image of Elbridge Colby

Elbridge Colby

Elbridge Colby is co-founder and principal of The Marathon Initiative, a policy initiative focused on developing strategies to prepare the United States for an era of sustained great power competition. Previously, Colby was from 2018-2019 the Director of the Defense Program at the Center for a New American Security, where he led the Center’s work on defense issues.Before that, he served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Force Development from 2017-2018. In that role, he served as the lead official in the development and rollout of the Department’s preeminent strategic planning guidance, the 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS). His most recent book is The Strategy of Denial: American Defense in an Age of Great Power Conflict (2021).

Two (of the Seven) Deadly Economic Sins

Tuesday, 7 March 2023

7:30 PM | Galbreath Chapel (College Green)

Image of James Otteson (University of Notre Dame)

James Otteson (University of Notre Dame)

James Otteson is the John T. Ryan Professor of Business Ethics, Rex and Alice A. Martin Faculty Director of the Notre Dame/Deloitte Center for Ethical Leadership at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business. His books include Adam Smith’s Marketplace of Life (2002), Actual Ethics (2006), Adam Smith (2013), The End of Socialism (2014), The Essential Adam Smith (2018), and Honorable Business: A Framework for Business in a Just and Humane Society (2019). His most recent book is Seven Deadly Economic Sins (Cambridge, 2021). His forthcoming book is Reexamining the Ethics of Wealth Redistribution (with Steven McMullen; Routledge, forthcoming in 2022).

Capitalism and Informality

Friday-Saturday, 14-15 April 2023

8:00 AM-5:00 PM | Baker University Center

Image of Plenary Speakers: Kellee Tsai (Hong Kong University of Science and Technology), Frederike Welter (Institut für Mittelstandsforschung (IfM) Bonn) and Justin Webb (University of North Carolina at Charlotte)

Plenary Speakers: Kellee Tsai (Hong Kong University of Science and Technology), Frederike Welter (Institut für Mittelstandsforschung (IfM) Bonn) and Justin Webb (University of North Carolina at Charlotte)

This conference and subsequent special journal issue will examine capitalism and informality. More than a half-century of developmental discourse has portrayed informality as a signal of economic “backwardness”. From the writings of Max Weber to those of Clifford Geertz, Keith Hart, and Alfred Chandler, social scientific theories have suggested that as economies modernize, hierarchical and rationalized forms of economic organization will displace the “unorganized, unincorporated enterprises” and anomic agents of the informal economy. However, contrary to such predictions, informality remains the global norm. The informal economy continues to comprise at least half of all enterprises, a sizable majority of all jobs, and as much as 20 percent of gross domestic product in developed economies and 60 percent in emerging markets.

A recent generation of scholarship has begun to challenge the idea of the informal economy as a “little people’s alternative” — a static realm of simple, disorganized activity that exists outside of history. Studies have shown that, across different societal contexts, participation in the informal economy is driven by opportunity as well as by necessity, informal organizations can also structured and hierarchical, and informal entrepreneurship can play a powerful role in the reshaping of institutions. Scholars have also highlighted the interdependency of formal and informal economies. Informal enterprises and workers continue to supply critical labor, goods, and services that are used across the formal economy and most are intrinsically linked to formal firms. The informal economy is even facilitating the rise of new industries and new economic forms: artificial intelligence systems depend on “ghost laborers” to code the big data from which AI learns; offshore financial centers rely upon informal networks to arrive at understandings of acceptable practices; and sharing economies operate efficiently because of the services of informal middlemen. The informal thus remains inextricably interwoven with even the most modern elements of economies.

This conference will examine the persistence of informal economies and their relationship with economic transformation. It will explore how informal economies have developed complex organizational structures, have co-evolved in tandem with new industries and modes of production, and have shaped the broader economic and social contexts in which they are embedded.

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Adam Smith’s Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Death of Nations

Thursday, 20 April 2023

7:30 PM | Glidden Recital Hall

Image of Ryan Patrick Hanley (Boston College)

Ryan Patrick Hanley (Boston College)

1776 witnessed the publication of two of the great texts of the Enlightenment: Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and Adam Smith’s Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.  But what relation might these two landmark texts have to each other?  To now scholars have tended to answer this question by looking to the ways in which Gibbon adopted economic concepts taken from Smith.  Prof. Hanley’s talk looks in the opposite causal direction, and asks what political concerns Smith shared with Gibbon.  In particular, it focuses on Smith’s extensive engagement with Gibbon’s main political concern: diagnosing the causes behind the decline and fall of once-great political powers.  To this end it specifically focuses on three of Smith’s diagnostic case studies – his diagnosis of the causes of the fall of Rome at the hands of the Scythians and Germans, his diagnosis of the fall of the Chinese Ming Dynasty at the hands of the Tartars, and his analysis of the threats posed by both the Scottish Highlanders and the American colonists to the integrity of the British Empire – to present his theory of the fundamental economic and moral causes of national collapse, and to show why indeed Adam Smith, the father of economics, himself believed that “defense is much more important than opulence.”

Ryan Hanley is Professor of Political Science at Boston College. Before that he taught at Marquette University and has held fellowships at Yale, Harvard and the University of Chicago. He is the author of Adam Smith and the Character of Virtue (Cambridge, 2009); Love’s Enlightenment: Rethinking Charity in Modernity (Cambridge, 2017); and Our Great Purpose: Adam Smith on Living a Better Life (Princeton, 2019). His most recent book is The Political Philosophy of Fénelon (Oxford, 2020).

How Not to Defend Western Civilization

Thursday, 3 November 2022

7:30 PM | Galbreath Chapel (College Green)

Image of James Hankins (Harvard University)

James Hankins (Harvard University)

James Hankins is Professor of History at Harvard University. He is the founder and general editor of the I Tatti Renaissance Library and works on Renaissance Italian history and thought. He has given the Carlyle Lectures in the History of Political Thought at the University of Oxford and is a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy. His most recent book is Virtue Politics: Soulcraft and Statecraft in Renaissance Italy (2019).

The Culture Wars: A Discussion

Thursday, 20 October 2022

7:30 PM | Galbreath Chapel (College Green)

Image of James Davison Hunter (Virginia) and Wesley YangImage of James Davison Hunter (Virginia) and Wesley Yang

James Davison Hunter (Virginia) and Wesley Yang

James Davison Hunter is LaBrosse-Levinson Distinguished Professor of Religion, Culture and Social Theory at the University of Virginia and is the Executive Director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture. He also served National Council of the National Endowment for the Humanities. He is the author of nine dozen books, including Science and the Good: The Tragic Quest for the Foundations of Morality (2018), The Death of Character: Moral Character in an Age without Good or Evil (2000) and, with Alan Wolfe, Is There a Culture War? A Dialogue on Values and American Public Life (2006). In 1992, he published, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America, which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times book award.


Wesley Yang is an essayist and cultural critic, who writes a regular colum for Tablet magazine and is a contributor editor to Esquire. His most recent book is The Souls of Yellow Folk (2018). He has written extensively about identity politics and the ‘successor ideology’.

Do We Have a Democracy or a Republic, and Why Does it Matter? (Constitution Day Lecture)

Thursday, 15 September 2022

7:30 PM | Galbreath Chapel (College Green)

Image of Randy E. Barnett (Georgetown Law Center)

Randy E. Barnett (Georgetown Law Center)

Randy E. Barnett is the Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Legal Theory at the Georgetown University Law Center, where he teaches constitutional law and contracts, and is Director of the Georgetown Center for the Constitution. After graduating from Northwestern University and Harvard Law School, he tried many felony cases as a prosecutor in the Cook County States’ Attorney’s Office in Chicago. The author of twelve books and a hundred ofarticles, his most recent book is The Original Meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment: Its Letter and Spirit (2021) (with Evan Bernick). In 2004, he argued the medical marijuana case of Gonzalez v. Raich before the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2012, he was one of the lawyers representing the National Federation of Independent Business in its constitutional challenge to the Affordable Care Act.

Origins of Capitalism

Friday–Saturday, 25-26 March 2022

8:30 AM-5:00 PM | Baker Univeristy Center

Image of Plenary Speakers: Gareth Austin (Cambridge), Sven Beckert (Harvard), Emma Griffin (East Anglia), and Prasannan Parthasarathi (Boston College)

Plenary Speakers: Gareth Austin (Cambridge), Sven Beckert (Harvard), Emma Griffin (East Anglia), and Prasannan Parthasarathi (Boston College)

This conference and its subsequent volume will examine yet again the origins of what Max Weber called “the most fateful force in our modern life,” capitalism. Scholarly inquiry into the origins of capitalism dates back to the founding of the social sciences and the topic is of perennial interest. Why did a radically new form of socioeconomic organization that eventually encompassed and transformed the globe emerge in parts of the early modern world? The question has generated and continues to generate extensive debate across disciplines.


This conference will bring together historians and historically-oriented social scientists to reconsider the origins of capitalism in the early modern period (c. 1450 to c. 1850). It will include researchers working on all the major world regions—Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas—as well as comparativists and generalists in order to explore the topic regionally, globally, and theoretically. In addition to examining the historical emergence of capitalism, the conference will discuss the concepts and categories that are used to grasp the nature and dynamics of this form of socioeconomic organization. The organizers aim to include as many different approaches to the study of capitalism as possible among the conference presentations and in the subsequent volume.


Gareth Austin (Cambridge), Sven Beckert (Harvard), Emma Griffin (East Anglia), and Prasannan Parthasarathi (Boston College) will deliver plenary lectures.


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We Have Never Been Woke: Social Justice Discourse, Inequality and the Rise of a New Elite

Thursday, 20 January 2022

7:30 PM | Galbreath Chapel (College Green)

Image of Musa Al-Gharbi (Columbia University)

Musa Al-Gharbi (Columbia University)

Musa Al-Gharbi is a Paul F. Lazarsfeld Fellow in the Department of Sociology at Columbia University and will be an SNF Agora Institute Visiting Fellow at Johns Hopkins University in Fall 2021. Previously he was a Mellon-Sawyer Fellow on Trust and Mistrust of Experts for the Interdisciplinary Center on Innovative Theory and Empirics (INCITE), in partnership with the American Assembly, at Columbia University. His work has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, The Atlantic, New Republic and many other popular outlets — as well as in publications by the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Army War College, the Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point (CTC), the Brookings Institute, RAND Corporation and beyond. He was the communications director of Heterodox Academy (HxA) from 2016–2020. His first book, We Have Never Been Woke: Social Justice Discourse, Inequality and the Rise of a New Elite is forthcoming from Princeton University Press in 2023.


The event will be live-streamed for those who cannot attend in person.