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A Good That Is Common, and Build Back Better

Updated: Nov 17

The first part of the title is from Deneen (2021). The second part refers to the frame represented in the current Administration, to in effect Build Back the Common Good, which is the main content of the Better. Metaeconomics also sees the need to bring the common good into play with the private good, as in seeking balance in private&public(common)-good.


On the Matter of Common Good, and Building Back the Good


Deneen (2021) --- revealing his deep understanding of both Catholic and Western philosophy --- sees the common good perhaps more like a Thomist (more Catholic) than a Hobbesian (more Protestant), which is to say, people need not experience only the payoff from a private good, but also a payoff from the common (public)-good jointly arising jointly with it. A person as an “I” needs a “We” to Be; and, the “We” needs a viable “I” else there is no “We” which is the essence of a Thomist frame, with the main emphasis on the "We." In a very materialistic example, it makes little sense to own a modern automobile without the public (common) – good of a public road: So, automobile&public (common) - road makes sense. In terms of the family, each person "I" in the family is not fully functional without the "We" of the family. The Thomist believes that the focus needs to be on building the "We" especially using Christian framing. The Church is to play a substantive role. In contrast, in a Hobbesian frame, there is only an “I” in a war of all against all, so any resemblance of a "We" breaks down, which ultimately can only be managed with a Leviathan, a forcefully controlling, generally national/federal Government. To a Hobbesian, the "We" needs a strong and ever engaged Government.


Using Metaeconomics framing, and empirical reality (science based testing as a big part of it, but also real-life experience: Just look around), it is perhaps too idealistic to rely on the "We" evolving out of the local community and the church within it. Said "We" may not always be adequate to the task of tempering the primal arrogance of self-interest within each person, whether in a family or not, with the shared other-interest (the "We") of the local community, religion involved or not. The key point, though, in agreement with the Thomist frame Deneen uses, is the real possibility (an empirical question to a MetaEcon thinker) that the common (public)- good --- the "We" --- is part of each person. It likely (Metaeconomics research suggests so) cannot be separated out from the private good side of a person, the "I". So, it needs to be addressed, and Deneen (2021) sees a main way to do it is through prayer, and other religion related frames and actions, which in Metaeconomic terms, is about mindful empathy.


In citing a book by Danielou (1965; Kindle ed. in 2021), Deneen (2021) makes the case that the move away from prayer and the religion framing of it at the local community level in the US is contributing to the political (economic) problem. Yet, in a counter frame, the content and focus of said prayer can actually cause substantive political (and social, cultural, as well as economic) problems, as Hedges (2007) makes clear.


The Blog goes into details about what is meant in the notion of the common good, which serves to frame a quick look at the Build Back Better frame, which is also about mindful empathy on the way to the common good. Investing in both hard structure capital (e.g. public roads) and human capital (e.g. education through the community college level) is empathy driven, walking-in-the-shoes-of-the-other and asking how-would-I-wish-to-be-treated. It is all about tempering the excesses, in order to ensure everyone can develop their own capabilities to express their own self-interest, tempered by what is shared in common. Build Back Better is fundamentally about finding balance, finding a better expression of that which the other --- all others, everyone --- can go along with.


Deeper Analysis


The first section presents a Metaeconomics based analytical system for thinking about the common good. The remaining sections go more deeply into the Deneen (2021) frame, as well as drawing on Deneen (2019 a,b,c) wherein his deep knowledge (see the Metaeconomics Blog Why Liberalism (Actually Did Not) Failed for the details) of both political and Christian philosophy, all intertwined with Western philosophy, is demonstrated.


Metaeconomics Has a Placeholder for the Common (Public)-Good


Figure 1 depicts how Metaeconomics, using dual interest theory, helps makes sense of the notion of a common (public) – good. For those of you have taken a basic MicroEcon 101 (Microeconomics) course, normally only 1-indifference curve set, around path 0G, would be displayed, as it is presumed there is only autonomous self-interest of a Hobbesian oriented person. So, ignoring the common good --- ignoring the Thomist frame --- as in Market (Neo)liberalism (and MicroEcon 101), is to move on an egoistic-hedonistic self-interest path 0G, with a material life-style of the rich and famous.


Markets are not in any way tempered or bounded using common good considerations from path 0M, e.g., as in being at all concerned about globalism with jobs often shifted out of the US to lower wage areas. Sustaining Spaceship Earth, a part of path 0M, is also not considered of any value, as made clear in people ignoring the greenhouse gases (global warming, climate change) problem. Markets are also deregulated, as the free-for-all, no holds barred Market (Neo)liberalism proceeds, with the predictable outcome being extreme inequality in income, wealth, and power. Hobbesian framing, anyone?





In contrast, MetaEcon 101 (Metaeconomics) sees the common (public)-good set around path 0M as also real. Real Humans have dual interests --- we not only have a selfish gene but we also have a selfless gene --- as represented in the self-interest served mainly by private goods on path 0G and the shared other-interest served by the common (public)-goods on path 0M, with both private&public-goods served at every point in the space (as the curves overlap). Extreme inequality arising on path 0G is demonstrably inefficient: MetaEcon 101 clarifies that choosing to temper self-interest and operating on path 0Z is the only way to ensure achieving economic efficiency, but also happiness (reduces resentment) and peace (essentially eliminating political chaos). The shared, common good, matters, in contrast to what Market (Neo)liberalism claims.


Ironically, Cultural liberalism also puts the attention to the egoistic-hedonistic self-interest path 0G, but now more in the realm of free to choose, anything goes life-styles. Cultural liberalism is about doing as one pleases without general regard for norms, values, and mores in the Community of common good represented in path 0M. A Thomist sees moral decay, disagreeing on what needs to be the content of path 0M.


Intriguingly, in both cases, Metaeconomics clarifies that neither Market (Neo)liberalism nor Cultural liberalism will bring happiness, peace, and, overall, economic efficiency as each tries to operate on path 0G. As MetaEcon 101 clarifies, said outcomes are only possible on path 0Z with good balance in the private&common(public)-goods. And, notice that path 0Z requires a bit of sacrifice in self-interest (as well as a bit of sacrifice in shared other-interest related to the common good). So, both Market liberals and Cultural liberals must be willing to sacrifice self-interest for the greater, common good. In effect, path 0G is tempered, and perhaps bounded by the Community and/or a good Government representing said Community, using path 0M framing, especially when (not if, but when) people do not do it on their own (i.e., lack in self-control, self-discipline)


So, what is The Good that is Common on path 0M? And, is there some way to find common ground for everyone, representing both Market and Cultural (including Religion) frames?


Political Philosophy and Christian (Catholic) Religious Philosophy


Deneen (2021), who is a professor of political science/philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, has a specific version --- drawing on both political and Christian philosophy, the latter especially in the Catholic version of it --- of what is on path 0M:


a common good consists in those needs and concerns that are identified in the ordinary requirements of ordinary people. The common good is the sum of the needs that arise from the bottom up, and which can be more or less supplied, encouraged, and fortified from the top-down. In a good society, the goods that are “common” are daily reinforced by the habits and practices of ordinary people. Those habits and practices form the common culture, such as through the virtues of thrift, honesty, and good memory.


(it is the responsibility of) the political order not to deprive ordinary people of the ability both to participate in and realize the essential goods of human life. It is not enough to ensure their freedom to pursue such goods; rather, it is the duty of the political order to positively guide them, and provide the conditions for the enjoyment of, the goods of human life. “Religious liberty,” “academic freedom,” “free markets,” and “checks and balances,” etc., are no substitutes for piety, truth, equitable prosperity, and good government.


it is ordinary people – the “working class,” citizens in “flyover country,” “essential workers” – (who) increasingly … enjoy theoretical liberty and few of the substantive goods that are supposed to flow from their individual choice. As a political order, we have provided them “the pursuit of happiness,” but deprived them of happiness. … to advance the common good (there is the need to) attend especially to the profound ordinariness of the concept – how it can be tested especially by reference to an answer to the question, “how are regular people doing today?” The answer is: not good.


Even before the onset of coronavirus, reams of data attested to the economic and social devastation upon less-educated, less upwardly-mobile, working class people. Economic globalization had deprived many in these communities of the sources of prosperity and stability that made flourishing lives possible. Attacks on social norms of family, faith, and tradition, in addition to these economic challenges, have contributed to the breakdown of family and communal supports, leading in turn to broken lives of addiction, crime, unemployment, and deaths of despair. Coronovirus has only increased the advantages of the laptop class and the desperate conditions of the tactile class….Those in positions of power and influence have vilified and demonized these fellow citizens as backwards, racist, recidivist, even too lazy to get up and move. This has been the consistent message of an elite class that transcends political categories, but is today the hallmark of the liberal gentry that runs the major institutions of modern liberal “democracies” (so-called).


Building on Deneen (2019a,b,c), Deneen (2021) is reinforcing the claim that too much liberty and freedom for each person --- both in the Market and in the Community --- has caused the problem. Deneen (2019a,b,c) actually lays the fundamental blame on Classical Liberalism, which worked to free the person from binding culture and government.


So, the Deneen solution is to bring back Community with a heavy dose of Christian Religion mixed in to give content to path 0M, to temper and restrain, give responsibility to, that liberty and freedom on path 0G. In Metaeconomic terms, it perhaps (it is a empirical question) is one way to nudge the system into path 0Z outcomes.


Actually, more exactly, in Metaeconomic terms, it is about bringing back a bigger role for empathy --- with the related sympathy and compassion that hopefully evolves from mindful empathy. Christian religion (as in most religions) has a heavy commitment to empathy, as in walking-in-the-shoes of the other, striving to find that which will work for the other. That theme was also a huge part of the framing in Adam Smith, one of the Enlightenment thinkers who did see the problem of too much liberty and freedom: So, not all who framed Classical Liberalism, as Deneen (2019 a,b,c) claims, had it wrong. It just has not been implemented in the best way over the last 250 years, in either the Market or the Community, nor in the Government being used to nudge and influence people in each domain.


Intriguingly, Deneen (2021) draws heavily on the Prayer as a Political Problem book by Danielou (1965/2021). While the reader will want to go look more directly at the book and what Deneen (2021) is drawing from it, the frame struck me, as a MetaEcon, as intriguing and suggestive of empirical testing that needs to be done. In particular, is praying bout connecting with the We, in this case with a divinity, as in God for Catholic Christians (like Danielou and Deneen), but also with other We elements in a community of shared interest? Also, is prayer largely about mindful empathy with others, which then could lead to sympathy and even compassion, the latter an especially key frame of reference in Christianity? So, using the frame of the title of Daniou (1965/2021), people not praying is a political problem because it leads to less in the way of mindful empathy at play in the political system? Empirical question, here, that a MetaEcon could test.


A caution here: Prayer also will not always be that which the other can go along with, writ large. It may be narrowly applied only within a narrow sense of shared other-interest, as in religious fascism (see Hedges, 2007): More empirical questions. So, while Danilou (1965/2021) sees the lack of prayer (and, in effect, Deneen, 2019 a,b,c and 2021) as a political problem, it is clear from Hedges (2007) that the kind of prayer ongoing in many religious groups in the US in recent years --- mostly in the Fascist branches of the Evangelical realm --- are actually causing political problems, not solving same. The focus of the prayer likely matters.


Overall, it makes complete Metaeconomic sense (i.e., an intriguing hypothesis that needs testing) that the lack of good (not fascist) prayer --- more generally, the lack of mindful empathy going in every direction --- could indeed be a political (economic) problem. Intriguingly, on a secular note here: The likely best way to fix the current problem in the US on said front is not inherently a problem in religion, but rather would be greatly ameliorated by developing multiple political parties (a convincing case for same by Drutman, 2020), perhaps something akin to the 6-party system in Germany. With multiple political parties --- Drutman (2020) recommends 4-6 parties --- there would have to be mindful empathy (a Real Christian, not a Fascist Christian, would frame it as empathy-sympathy-compassion framed prayer with the other political party) being expressed by each person in said parties, as it would be the only way to form coalitions to get anything done.


Deneen has also touted Aristopopulism framing, another way to pra