Updated: Nov 17, 2021
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.
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 practice mindful empathy: The idea is that the elites, the modern day aristocrats (in terms of money, power, and education) need to engage the populists. The “anywhere” people, the elites, need to engage the “somewhere” people, many of whom have shifted into a populist mindset because the common good has been ignored. Such hopefully healthy --- it would have to be empathy based --- engagement would work to find the common good between aristocrat&populist.
Deneen (2021) finishes out the case for the common good:
Liberalism (Note: Deneen is referring to Classical Liberalism, which led to Market Neoliberalism on the Right and Cultural Liberalism on the Left) offered to humanity a false illusion of the blessings of liberty at the price of social solidity. It turns out that this promise was yet another tactic employed by an oligarchic order to strip away anything of value from the weak. To those on the right and the left alike who insist that we need more freedom to cure the mischiefs of freedom, we should resoundingly respond: We won’t be fooled again. Instead, we will and must advance a vision and a practice of the good that is common.
In Metaeconomic terms, it is about mindful empathy going in every direction, with everyone working to answer the question of how-would-I-wish-to-be-treated if in the situation of the other. Social solidity must have the feature of facilitating an empathy based evolution and development of said shared other-interest: It needs to be flexible, not solid. As Adam Smith said, an Enlightenment thinker that fully anticipated the problem, it was only through such action that one could work to temper the arrogance of self-love, the arrogance of self-interest only, and find the common good defined by that which the other can go along with (for an elaboration of said ideas, see Lynne, 2020; Lynne and Saarinen, 2022).
Build Back Better
It seems the empathy framed approach of the current Administration here in 2021 is in the main about finding the common good and investing in same, in the notion of Build Back Better. As Deneen (see earlier quote) points out, it is the duty of the political order to do so, to help facilitate the common good. Metaeconomics, too, points to how investing in the public (common) - good is essential to achieving economic efficiency (as well as happiness, less political chaos, too) on path 0Z . It is about investing in infrastructure --- roads, bridges, airports, ports, and, yes, broad band in heretofore areas where it is difficult to even get basic access to the internet. It is also about investing in the people and families, and communities, with child-care, pre-kindergarten, health care, paid family leave, education paid through the community college level, and working to keep jobs in the US. It is also about better ensuring the Spaceship Earth system is sustained by working to start the shift away from the finite supplies of carbon energy toward the virtually infinite supply of Sun-based (wind, solar, hydropower) energy (at least for the next 3-4 billion years). So, in what sense is this not an investment in the common good on path 0M, helping to move toward happiness, peace (less political chaos as represented in populism), and, yes, economic efficiency on path 0Z?
The Left seems mainly “in” on said path 0M. The Right seems largely “out” on said path 0M, at least that part of 0M that tempers the free-to-do-whatever-one-wants-to-do in the Market (Neo)liberalism of an unfettered path 0G. A case in point: The fossil fuel industry wants nothing to do with tempering the use of the carbon fuels, and moving to renewable energy, no matter if same are destroying the very capacity of the Spaceship Earth to sustain life. Also, the Right is resisting most every move within Build Back Better to influence the Culture, as in not being overly supportive of public schools, especially if science is being taught: It seems something more akin to the Deneen version of political philosophy --- which demonstrates a heavy dose of postliberal philosophy (and theology), with Catholic Christian framing a main feature. And, perhaps even more than a Catholic frame, the Evangelical frame (which is often anything but a true Christian frame, as Hedges, 2007, makes clear) seems to be the main player in the culture war. As the story in Hedges (2007) makes clear about the US Evangelical movement, it is often more than a postliberal frame (which is fundamentally about denying the Classical Enlightenment emphasis on the autonomous, self-interest only person, and seeing the essential need for sharing in an other-interest, religion influenced perhaps) at work, with Fascist tendencies coming to the surface.
And, what are the fundamental drivers on the Right, especially in the culture war? The main thing seems to be an opposition to the personalist framing of an autonomous person (as in postliberal theology and philosophy, too) vs the frame that a person is first and foremost a part of the common good. Pechnold (2020), citing a De Koninck, says it this way: … that personalists refuted modern individualism with nothing more than the primacy of the person, “as if the common good were not the very first principle for which persons must act.” (who) maintained that this approach doesn’t really combat modern individualism, but rather reinforces it, and makes the common good into something alien to the person. In Metaeconomic terms, personalist framing makes path 0M identical with, determined completely by, and underlying path 0G at every turn. Said personalist frame dominates the Market (Neo)liberalism frame, too: There is only the self-interest of a person on path 0G; there is no common good path 0M to be concerned with, as the common good is a mere addition of all the private good on path 0G for each person. The person on path 0G is alien to that which is represented for the common good on path 0M.
The Pecknold (2020) frame, after DeKonick, is very Thomist, as in Thomas Aquinas framing. In simplest of terms, to a Thomist, there is more to life than the money produced by Market (Neo)liberalism on path 0G. A Thomist would also likely argue there is more to life in the Community underpinnings of path 0M than the Cultural liberals are willing to consider. And, it needs to be made clear that many on both Right and Left support Market (Neo)liberalism, and a few on the Right support Cultural liberalism (especially economic conservatives some of whom are also social liberals), but the Right that Pecknold (2020) and Deneen (2019 a,b,c; Deneen, 2021) support have a different path 0M influence in mind: It is all about the moral dimension, represented in Christian framing of how a person is to operate within a family, community, and, yes, the Christian church as a broader family with God.
As Pecknold (2020) says it, and, we might suppose Deneen, and at least the more traditional Conservatives on the Right, would pretty much agree (and it seems Deneen and others of said persuasion would argue that prayer, as depicted in the image at the outset, is part of it): The common good elevates us. While it is good for us to love particular goods, the common good of the family, the political community, or the church calls us to a much greater love of the good than the love we have for particular goods. We cannot invent the common good. It is something which we constitute, which in turn constitutes us. As De Koninck writes, “the common good is essentially one which is able to be participated in by many. Therefore, before this good every rational creature stands as a part. Free action must be ordered by the agent himself, towards a participated good… the common good (commonweal) has weight according to the common objects of love. The more common the object of love, the more loveable it is—and since God is the most common object of love, the one whose goodness is diffused through every particular and common good, God is the most loveable common good of all. This is why De Koninck insists that “the negation of the very notion of the common good and of its primacy is a negation of God. In denying the universality of the end to which man is ordered, one denies the dignity which man receives from this ordination.” It seems the shared other-interest also, then, for those so inclined, can include a God, a recognition of something larger than the own-self represented only in the self-interest. In Metaeconomic terms, one does not need to put a god or God into the content of that shared other-interest, but, if it pleases, the framework holds it.
So, why does not this part of the Right support the Build Back Better? Some perhaps do: There has been some minimal support from the Right, especially the investments in the hard capital, while not in the human capital. Most on the Right do not support it, however, and we might guess there are two reasons: Market (Neo)liberalism is a dominant frame on the Right. The Thomists are also likely playing a role, as in perhaps seeing Money&God, not just Money, and not believing the Left sees either one in sufficient quantity. Also, said Thomists do not seem to have much faith that a Government working to shore-up the liberty and freedom of autonomous persons (whether in the Market or in the Culture) is going to work to build back the desired Community, which seems to be something akin to what was around in the mid-1950s (see Putnam and Garrett, 2020)?
It is quite clear that the previous Administration (2016-2020) framed the common good strictly in the sense of summing up the ego based self-interest of each person, especially the persons already having substantive income, wealth, and power. It is clear from profile studies that President Trump had extreme narcistic-hedonistic-egoistic tendencies, which came to be reflected in the Market (Neo)liberalism he touted. It seems the current Administration is working to find a better balance, as in an empathy based other-interest being a driver in tempering self-interest, seeking better balance in the private&common(public)-good. Perhaps it is at least in part because President Biden, like Deneen, is a practicing Catholic Christian, with some mindful empathy based prayer a real part of Biden framing? Balance, please.
Who is to Decide What is the Common Good, and, What is the Basis for a Better Build?
Metaeconomics framing uses a general test arising out the search for sufficient reason within the frame of an approach defined by volitional pragmatism (see Bromley, 2006). Bromley (2019) also raises the problem of autonomous, individualistic self-interest only driven economic choice, framing it as the problem of possessive individualism, lacking concern for the institution (which reflects the common good) giving context to same. So, finding the common good is about building good institutions, represented in family, community, but especially in law. The content of the common good depends on what is best for the people sharing it, that which is in their best other (shared, yet internalized) -interest. And, what is best, depends on simply finding that which the other can go along with, going in every direction.
As Adam Smith fully understood, it is something that is essential. The (primal selfish gene based) arrogance of self-love, the self-interest must be tempered. Tempering works. It evolves over time. It is not fixed in time or content. The visible hand reconsiders what is often systemically hidden in the invisible hand of the common good within a family, community, religion, and state.
Social solidity --- the identifying feature of the common good as Deneen (2020) refers to it, and a main feature of a postliberal movement being driven in part (some Evangelical groups are also in the movement) by Conservative Catholics (see Zerofsky, 2021) --- is seemingly something quite different. The notion of solidity implies something defined outside the group of shared other-interest, inflexible in time and place, stuck in some presumed universal truth, perhaps even by a divine God?
It seems that Deneen (2019 a,b,c; 2020) and others of the postliberal persuasion would be far more likely to choose a particular content of the other-interest with little consideration for whether it would be that which the other, broadly spread, would go along with. The culture wars raging in the US come to mind, with postliberal framing (again, coming out of some Evangelical circles, too) pointing to Machiavellian, illiberal approaches such as being used in Hungary and Poland by leaders imposing the moral framing of Catholic Christianity on their countries (see Zerofsky, 2021).
That is, using the power and control of the Government (heteronomy) to bring about postliberal framing is becoming ever more the strategy, gaining ever more attention, and application by the Right, e.g. in controlling and banning teaching of critical race theory in the US public schools (again, see Zerofsky, 2021). The accusation is that the Left has been using the Government to drive Cultural liberalism; the Right now claims a need to do the same, with a different version of the Cultural frame, which seems to be more about control and not just influence of each person. The culture war is raging, and, the Right is taking bold action to win it.
The notion of the common good (homonomy) is well-taken and a key part of Metaeconomic framing, with solid empirical evidence supporting a key role for it. Metaeconomics, based in empirical research (see Lynne, 2020), sees the common good playing an essential role in the choices of an autonomous person, as in finding balance in autonomy&homonomy. In that narrow sense, it is also postliberal, but, based in behavioral (including Behavioral Economics) and neuroscience about the nature of human nature, not in religion. Yet, the way it is being implemented in light of framing by Deneen (2019b; 2020) and others of the postliberal persuasion, is likely not workable: Empirical questions, here.
And, a final point: Metaeconomics (again, see Lynne, 2020), because it is built on and depends upon an empirical foundation, does not favor any particular kind of content to the shared other interest, the public good, the common good. Metaeconomics only points to finding that which works, that which the other can go along with. So, it is patently impossible to pre-select the common good: Catholic Conservatism is just one of many frames to be considered. And, sure, it is possible a volitionally pragmatic approach to finding the sufficient reason to build back better in a certain way could include some Catholic (and perhaps other Christian frames, like in Lutheran theology, and maybe even some of the more reasoned Evangelical) considerations. Yet, the content of the shared other-interest in the common good, and, the basis for a building back better effort, is an empirical question, including how much of it is to represent religion(s). It also, then, does not fit on a specific point of the political spectrum, Right or Left: The common good evolves to that point which works best. Life is hard.
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Bromley, D. W. Possessive Individualism: A Crisis of Capitalism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.
Danielou, J. Prayer as a Political Problem. Edited and Translated by J. R. Kirwan. Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, Kindle ed., 1965/2021.
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Deneen, P. “A Good that is Common.” The Postliberal Order, November 8, 2021 (https://postliberalorder.substack.com/p/a-good-that-is-common )
Hedges, C. American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. New York: Free Press, 2007.
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