Profile with Lisa Herzog
Lisa Herzog (Germany & New College 2007) is a postdoctoral researcher at the Institut für Sozialforschung and the Cluster “Normative Orders” at Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany. She is the author of Inventing the Market: Smith, Hegel, and Political Theory (Oxford University Press, 2013). Her research interests include political philosophy, philosophy of the market, business ethics, and the history of political and economic thought. She holds a PhD in Political Theory and a MSt in Philosophy from the University of Oxford, and a MA in economics from the University of Munich.
Rhodes Project: Where do you call home?
Lisa Herzog: Europe in general, but we’ve just moved to Frankfurt, and hopefully it will become home for us!
Rhodes Project: When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Lisa Herzog: For a long time, I wanted to be a musician, as I was very active playing cello (I still am). But I was also looking for an intellectual challenge, and I wanted to learn more about how societies function, and how they might function in better ways. I had a very clear sense early on that in order to ask questions about social justice, you need to understand economic processes. Which lead me to studying philosophy and economics.
Rhodes Project: What’s the best or most interesting thing that’s happened to you in the last year?
Lisa Herzog: I’ve taken up a new research project on ethics in financial markets and I started to go out and do field work, which is quite unusual for philosophers. I work with a bank that has a specific ethical mission in supporting development – they started out in microcredits, and are now mostly working with very small enterprises in developing economies. There has been a large sum of small insights about how this bank works, and how they are different from other financial institutions. It made me rethink some fundamental assumptions about the nature of markets, for example about the responsibility companies have for the well-being of their clients.
Rhodes Project: If you could change one thing about the way students learn economics in school, what would it be?
Lisa Herzog: Don’t just learn models, but look at real-life economic processes! In fact, I think that common sense can sometimes be much more useful than economic theory, at least if your aim is to understand economic processes in all their dimensions, including the impact they have on people’s lives. The economy is not just a “system” – it is shot through with moral questions, and questions about what values such as justice and freedom mean. Basically, thinking about the economy means thinking about the kind of society we want to live in. This perspective needs to be given much more space in how economics is taught.
Rhodes Project: Is there anything that consistently frustrates you?
Lisa Herzog: I’m often frustrated about the way in which academia, and in a sense also our societies, are cut up into different spheres. After all, people are shaped by what they do, and if they are caught in some very specific area, this affects their perspective, and they become unable to understand one another. We need much more dialogue between the different sectors of society, and also between the different disciplines of academia. We cannot solve our society’s problems if everyone stays in their cozy little corner!
Rhodes Project: Can you think a way to affect a more interdisciplinary approach to policy?
Lisa Herzog: If you find people who are really willing to engage in an interdisciplinary approach, it is not so difficult! In my experience, what works best is to start with the concrete problems you want to understand and find solutions for. If the process if problem-driven, one can see which insights from different disciplines are relevant and how they hang together. It still takes a lot of work, if only to understand one another’s jargon, but I think it can work.
Rhodes Project: What inspires you?
Lisa Herzog: Well, in the end I hope to contribute to making our world a bit more just and a bit more humane. I very much believe that the way in which we see our societies and the ideas we have about what’s normal, just, fair and unfair, really influence the way things are. This is why the relation between ideas and real life processes has always interested me. Changing the way people think about the world really is a way of changing the world. This is also why I write not only for an academic audience, but also for the wider public. I’ve just finished a book about how to think about markets and economic processes if your aim is to give everyone a chance to lead an autonomous life.
Rhodes Project: If you had unlimited resources to devote to any one issue, global or local, what would it be and why?
Lisa Herzog: I would want to put a lot of resources into building an institute for thinking about how we can retrain our economic systems in ways that are compatible with a sustainable and more just future. On the one hand thinking about how to reduce poverty and inequality, and on the other about how to build stable political institutions that are orientated to the common good. I would want to come people from different disciplines, and from academic and practical backgrounds, to come together and to think really hard about how to address these problems.
Rhodes Project: What’s something you’re looking forward to right now?
Lisa Herzog: In the summer I’ll go on a research trip to Latin America, which I hope will be really exciting and lead to a lot of insights about ethics in finance.