Down the Rabbit Hole to Economic Fantasyland
Updated: Mar 3, 2022
Metaeconomics clarifies that focusing an economy on ego-based self-interest ensures destruction of capitalism, and, the political system (e.g. democracy) which supports it. It also clarifies that a peculiar other-interest --- Fantasyland based other-interest --- one that puts self-interest in a bad context, can also create economic havoc. In fact, taking an economy onto a path with a Fantasy based other-interest in the background is like taking it down the Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole to a kind of surreal Economic Fantasyland (or, like Krugman, 2020, leading to pushing a kind of Zombie Economics, old dead economic ideas like trickle down, and voodoo economics to cut taxes to increase tax revenue --- no Behavioral Economic Science to support same --- keep coming back), where up is down and down is up. It is like entering an alternative reality, such as that evolving on the internet, the latter especially leading to all manner of peculiar shared other-interest framing. And, it all would probably not matter, except when it starts to hurt real people.
And, as Senator Moynihan said it, and integrating the Moynihan proposition with the importance of getting the facts right as related to consequences, emphasized by Thomas Jefferson, Andersen (2017, p. 439) integrates the Moynihan-Jefferson propositions and says it this way:
You’re entitled to your own opinions and your own fantasies, but not your own facts—especially if your fantastical facts hurt people.
Andersen (2017) in delving deeply into the American tendency to be a Fantasyland points to lots of examples where Fantasies now play a defining role in political economy and are hurting real people. Fantasyland type conversations are a major part of social media on the internet, but also in unregulated, free for all cable television and radio programming, with politicians often joining in with the balderdash. Fantasyland economics is especially prominent on the Economic Right, especially the unhinged Extreme Right. As Andersen (2017, p. 362-363) says it:
…starting in the 1990s, America’s unhinged right became much larger and more influential than its unhinged left. Moreover, it now has unprecedented power—as of 2016, effective control over much of the U.S. government. Why did the grown-ups and designated drivers on the left manage to remain more or less in charge of their followers, while the reality-based right lost control to its fantasy-prone true believers? One reason, I believe, is religion. The GOP is now quite explicitly Christian, the first time the United States has had such a major party. It is the American coalition of white Christians, papering over doctrinal and class differences—and now led, weirdly, by one of the least religious presidents in modern times. If more and more of a political party’s members hold more and more extravagantly supernatural beliefs, doesn’t it make sense that the party will be more and more open to make-believe in its politics and policy?
Given that supernatural beliefs related to religion are rampant, it is also easy to see how make-believing about the nature of the shared other-interest --- including fantastical fantasies in economics and politics, in political economy --- could also arise. So, just what are some of the make-believe elements --- fantastical fantasies about what we share, that which gives context to the market --- of economy policy on the Extreme Right, and, just how are such frames hurting people? As we will see, make-believe about our shared other-interest is contributing to the Right going too far, being too conservative, and people are indeed being hurt by it.
It looks like this, as we go back to the start of it all, with it all starting in the early-1970s, especially gaining momentum in the early-1980s with the Reagan Revolution. As Andersen (2017) makes clear, there are 3-major events that gave rise to Fantasyland, 1) the Reagan framing in the early-1980s about such things as mythical welfare queens and now the market can do no bad while the government can do no good, shifting the framing to self-interest only (as Metaeconomics clarifies, the main Fantasy which along with the Friedman Fantasy starting in about 1970, together driving all other Fantasies), 2) deregulating broadcasting stations in the early-1990s who no longer had to provide a truly balanced view, which resulted in such entities as Fox News (or is it, like a friend characterizes it, Fox Spews), who, along with talk-radio, effectively became ways to channel propaganda, and 3) the internet really starts to take-off in about the year 2000, so Fantasies could be fed and spread like a Pandemic virus. So, adding the move in the extreme right wing associated with Fascist like religious movements, and, we have the current Fantasyland in the political economy. Some specifics?
1. Grasshopper Mode tempered by Ant Mode (Andersen, 2017, pp. 86-87), Self-interest tempered by Other-interest: A less than self-controlled self-interest “--- wilder, faster, and looser side, represented in impatient, overexcited gamblers with a weakness for stories too good to be true” tempered by the shared other-interest in “… steady hard work, frugality, sobriety, and common sense.” Unfortunately, Fantasyland reduces the influence of said stabilizing shared other-interest, especially common sense, causing a fall out of balance in the arenas of “…fantasists and realists, mania and moderation, credulity and skepticism” as Americans have ever more become manic fantasists lacking credulity. Unfortunately, the latter framing hurts real people.
2. Massive rebalancing to the Self-interest (the “I”), and moving away from much if any universal concern for the same shared other-interest (the “We”), becoming very polarized starting in the late-1960s to early-1970s: The Left having won major concessions in (Andersen, 2017, p. 173) “… many social and cultural zones—civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, ecology, sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll, natural foods and medicine, … and people on the political and cultural right still demonize the decade from around 1963 to 1973 as the source of everything they loathe (Andersen, 2017, pp. 173).” Yet, the Right got “free-markets” wherein “… capitalists … would be unshackled as well, free to indulge their own animal spirits with fewer and fewer fetters in the forms of regulation, taxes, or social opprobrium.” Unfortunately, the balancing to the Self-interest also opened the doors --- everyone became freer to do whatever they wanted to do --- leading to all manner of fantastical activity in the arenas of “… extreme Christianity, full-blown conspiracism, libertarianism, unembarrassed greed, and more (Andersen, 2017, p. 173).” The shared other-interest is no longer widely shared. Historically, America was always striving for finding it, a process that is now being resisted especially by elements on the extreme right who act on conspiracy, extreme libertarianism (like denying the science of even simple things like wearing a mask until a Coronavirus vaccine and therapeutics are found; and, denying the not simple but quite compelling climate science), and, overall, outrageous greed (CEOs making $300-400M /year: Seriously?). People are being hurt by said Fantasy.
3. With regard to entities such as the Spaceship wide entities, that deal with the shared other-interest at Spaceship scale, like the United Nations, World Health Organization, and the Climate Accord “… the right-wing vision of (such entities as a kind of ) villainous master plan for world domination is mad (also a Glenn Beck obsession; see Andersen, 2017, p. 364).” Such madness is hurting people and the very Spaceship on which we Travel together, as in not dealing with the Coronavirus Pandemic, and not dealing with the fact the Spaceship atmosphere and ecosystem is overloaded with greenhouse gas. As Andersen (2017, p. 364-365) points out, specifically on Spaceship system concerns: In 1992 the UN held an Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro to start getting everyone on the same page concerning the environment and the new notion of sustainable development, especially concerning CO2 emissions. It adopted a voluntary blueprint called Agenda 21. And then nobody outside the environmental do-good sector paid attention. From 1994 to 2006, there was exactly one reference to Agenda 21 in The New York Times. But then the far right discovered it—exposed it!—and refashioned Agenda 21 as a secret key to the globalist conspiracy. Andersen (2017, p. 368) goes on to point out that by the 2020s, The Republican position is now to oppose even studying climate change as well as any and all proposals to reduce carbon emissions. Fantasy, indeed, which is already hurting lots of people as represented in extreme weather events --- winds, droughts, cold and heat, wild fires --- even the Republicans who have not yet been raptured off the Spaceship.
4. Complete denial of the shared other-interest in dealing with the greenhouse gas problem: Andersen (2017, p. 369) points to it: Senate Environment Committee chair James Inhofe is from Oklahoma, a big oil state, so he has rational political reasons to belittle climate change. But he also argues, in his book on the subject, The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future, that it’s just God turning up Earth’s thermostat a little, and he condemns “the arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate,” which “is to me outrageous.” Amazing lack of understanding of scientific reality and how the Spaceship functions, in this Religious Fantasyland, and, the Chair of the Senate Environment Committee thinking like a religious zealot? Even God would not be pleased.
5. And on science in general: “… that science is really just a state religion, scientists our culture’s version of wizards (Andersen, 2017, p. 181).” The idea actually has played on both the Left and the Right, but has especially come to play on the Extreme Right. Scientists are just in it for their own ego-based self-interest driven greed, furthering their research funding to work on Pandemics and climate change. Right wing shifting it to a conversation about excessive greed sounds like projection and extrapolation of Extreme Right framing.
6. Regarding the domination by some entity at the Spaceship level, even the European Economic Community, composed of 25-smaller countries, is suspect. Peculiar, in that 50-disparate States in a US Community is totally reasonable, while 25-such entities in Europe under some coordination in a similar kind of Federal system, are to be disdained. Like Andersen (2017, p. 206) describes, any such evolution anywhere on the Spaceship leads to some kind of Extreme Right, generally mixed with Religious overtones conspiracy, or, “documenting” old biblical stories, looking back to the early-1970s when this all starts to really take-off:
With conspiracism suddenly on the rise, The (book) Late, Great Planet Earth purported to reveal the details of the evil über-conspiracy—how Satan and the Antichrist and False Prophet and their minions in all their respectable disguises were taking over the world. For instance, those confusing references to “Gog” throughout the Bible? Obviously the Soviet Union. And the “beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns”? The new European Economic Community! (Even though in 1970 it had only six members.) What’s more, the EEC was created by the Treaty of Rome—and in Revelation, of course, “the great whore” Babylon is Rome! And so on. Fulfillment of prophecies, anyone?
7. Welfare queens: Ronald Reagan popularized the term welfare queen—a powerful caricature, based on a single criminal case, that exaggerated the pervasiveness of welfare fraud and spread the fiction that black people were the main recipients of government benefits (Andersen, 2017, p. 253). It led to a Culture of Cruelty against all lower income people who more often than not were just in need of helping hand: It has been very hurtful if not downright cruel.
8. Voodoo economics regarding tax revenues (infamous Laffer curve, and, yes, it was laughable if it had not hurt so many people): (Reagan) fiscal big idea, cutting tax rates to expand the economy and thereby increase tax revenues, was famously mocked by his main GOP opponent as “voodoo economics”— crazy wishfulness, magical thinking … Reagan didn’t stick strictly to the voodoo path … sensibly tacked back toward reality … believers on the right maintained total belief in the voodoo (Andersen, 2017, p. 253). The true result: Extreme concentration of wealth at the top.
9. Over-emphasis on religion: Andersen (2017, p. 292) sees it as an economic conundrum, something economists cannot explain, “…the fact that, country by country, prosperity and a sense of security correlate with less religious belief almost everywhere—except America.” Metaeconomics easily explains it: The resentment and frustration of the loss of economic opportunity for most Americans caused by the extreme move to the right with the attendant concentration of income, wealth, and power in the hands of a very few easily explains the reversion to religion. Making for heaven on the Spaceship --- the American Dream --- no longer works: The only hope is for heaven in the afterlife. As Andersen, 2017, p. 363) characterize it: Republicans pooh-poohed rising economic inequality and insecurity; economic insecurity does correlate with greater religiosity; and for white Americans, greater religiosity does correlate with voting Republican. For Republican politicians and their rich-getting-richer donors, that’s a virtuous circle, not a vicious one.
10. Loss of a shared other (public) - interest in factual news reporting, on both Left and Right, but especially prominent on the Right: As Andersen (2017, p. 313) says it: During the 1980s too, television became cable television, and TV service in America turned from a shared public resource into another individually purchased product, its content freed from rules concerning truth or accuracy. The five-hundred-ring circus of cable TV became an important new piece of Fantasyland infrastructure, along with the Internet and talk radio.
11. Economic dreamtime leading up to the crash in 2008: Lots of fantasies at work in banking and finance, and real estate. As Andersen (2017, p. 409) says it: “From the 1980s through the ’90s and into the 2000s, the financial and economic fantasies that got such traction were happy happy happy.” It all crashed in 2008, largely because of removing government rules and regulations put in place the last time the economy crashed in 1929. Andersen (2017, p. 410) says it well. “The Great Depression had chastened people in the 1930s, but that was then—by the 2000s, everyone who’d lived through it was elderly or dead. We were ready and hungry to believe in financial and economic fantasies again.” In Metaeconomic terms, we freed the “I” (the arrogance of self-love, the self-interest) too much, removing too much of the tempering influence of the “We” (the shared other-interest, that which everyone could go along with). It was Fantasyland economics every day. It was all about an untampered and unbounded “I”.
Putnam and Garrett (2020) use lots of social science data to demonstrate how the US has moved through an I-We-I cycle --- which represented an upswing during the “We” part, that is now bottomed out because of too much emphasis on the “I”, and need to bring “We” back into playing a greater role. In Metaeconomic terms, it is a cycle starting with extreme Self-interest (I) in the late-1800s through the 1920s, dampened by the shared Other-interest (We) from the 1930s through the 1960s, and returning to extreme Self-interest (I) from about 1970 to the 2020s, and now the need to evolve a widely shared (We) other-interest that works for everyone, as argued in Lynne (in press). Unfortunately, the Fantasyland on the Extreme Right, along with Religious zealots, has formed great number of perverse forms of other-interest, which are hurting real people. Bringing some good shared other-interest formulations back on-board would be a good thing.
Putnam and Garrett (2020), too, call for bringing some of the good “We” back into greater prominence, into once again playing a more substantive role like it did during the 1930s-1960s period. In Metaeconomic terms, it is essential to bring the empathy-based Other-interest --- a shared Other-interest based in science and real experience, including ethics, not Fantasy --- back into playing a more substantive role: Science&Ethics, especially brining an empathy-based ethical system that works for everyone back into play.
The Extreme Right has gone too far, not only down the rabbit hole, but still wondering around in a Fantasyland, being both Anti-science (including not using economic science, as in Behavioral Economics)&Unethical. I t is time to crawl back out of the magical rabbit hole, and come back to Economic Factualand, as Metaeconomics makes clear. And, balance, please.
Andersen, Kurt. Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History. New York: Random House, 2017. https://www.kurtandersen.com/fantasyland
Krugman, P. Arguing with Zombies: Economics, Politics, and Fighting for a Better Future. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2020.
Lynne, G. D. Metaeconomics: Tempering Excessive Greed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, in press.
Putnam, R. D. and Garrett, S. R. The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2020.