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Congratulations on getting an offer to study with us! We hope we'll get to meet you soon. In the meantime, we wanted to give you a chance to learn more about our staff.

Dominic Spengler is the programme leader for three of our four courses, and Chair of the Board of Examiners for the whole School. He is also a lecturer in economics. 

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I initially wanted to study law

I grew up in Germany when we still had military conscription. When the law suddenly changed, I was able to go straight to university. I wanted to study law, and had to apply somewhere at short notice, but all the official deadlines had passed. I ended up signing up for business, while waiting for the next application round for law, but then I ended up finishing my undergraduate degree in business.

As part of that degree, I did an Erasmus exchange in the UK. After that, I did a placement at the Chamber of Commerce in London. After I graduated, I ended up applying for jobs and graduate programmes, like a lot of people do. I worked for three and a half years for some big American corporations, but I realised that, as much as the corporate world has a lot of perks, it wasn’t an environment that worked for me.

I was interested in the global situation at the time

It was the start of the financial crisis, and lots of people around me were losing jobs. Being on the inside, you would get wind of what was happening way before the mainstream media. The sector was already making drastic internal changes - they laid off about 25,000 people at that time to pre-empt the hit. At the same time, those in the management team were paid about 300m dollars in bonuses. Observing all of that, I decided to quit my job and pursue something else.

Following everything that happened, I took a keen interest in corporate governance. I wanted to learn how a system could come about in which corporations were able to create great benefits but also great harms. I ended up studying PPE to incorporate my interest in economics and moral philosophy. By the time I started my PhD, I had changed my focus towards working on corruption.

I saw this as a much greater evil to global economic development and prosperity because there are many opportunities for corporations to be exposed to it. I finished my PhD, started looking for jobs and, after working at St Paul’s School in London for a year, I found a job here at York.

Corruption is extremely corrosive for all parts of society

I felt a strong motivation to do something about corruption because, globally, it leads to immense losses in development and, ultimately, unnecessary poverty and death. It's an abuse of public resources for private benefit.

One way of tackling corruption is to think about legislation - what kind of laws and punishments do we have? Say you have someone who is trying to bribe an official, and that official accepts the bribe. There are various ways of approaching the problem. From the perspective of deontological ethics, one could say that both parties are as guilty as each other, so they deserve equal punishment. That's the case in many countries.

You can use different disciplines to shed different lights on these issues

I've used game theory to analyse the anti-corruption legislation. I found if you were to punish the two asymmetrically - a huge punishment for the official, but a small one for the briber - that wouldn’t be what we think of as “just” punishment. However, if this were the case, the official would need a huge bribe to make the risk worthwhile, which would make paying a bribe prohibitively expensive.

If it becomes so expensive to pay a bribe, it may deter bribery. So, even though it may look like an unjust punishment, the outcome might be to make corruption less likely. This means there’s less work for courts, less abuse of public money, less space taken up in prisons, etc. Prevention is better than punishment.

The School is a little different

Although we’re all part of the School, I’m also affiliated with Economics. Within the School of PPE, I am the Chair of the Board of Examiners, which means I’m responsible for taking you through your exams, through progression from one year to the next, and ultimately to completion.

I’m also Programme Leader for the three PPE courses that involve economics. I’m responsible for making sure the courses remain coherent, they work for students, and there are no problems along the way. I have to make sure everything fits together, and that you gain a degree that helps when you go out into the workforce.

It's a precious environment

The School offers an environment with lots of interesting, engaged and intelligent individuals. You’re exposed to different thinkers and theories from the three disciplines and beyond. You’re embedded in this environment to the point where it's almost impossible not to be thinking about the problems and theories you are exposed to when studying the different disciplines.

Of course, there are social aspects; there are lectures and seminars which also play their part. But, in my opinion, it's coming together and having the fertile ground for becoming an independent critical thinker that you just can’t replicate elsewhere. It's a precious environment.

I believe that the solution to everything is love

I believe that the solution to everything is love. It seems completely unrelated to the academic world on the face of it, but it isn’t really. It’s how you can become the best possible teacher, and it's the key to success in whatever you do.

If you have any questions about PPE at York, then please feel free to get in touch. We’re always happy to discuss your course, our research, or anything else you want to know about.