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Give Me Liberty, to Say and Do What?!

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

(Updated, May, 2023)

“… what is not protected by the 1st Amendment is the knowing falsehood, the calculated lie (Lee Levine, 1st amendment attorney, CBS News Sunday Morning, April 16, 2023)."

"(knowing falsehood, calculated lie is) ... actual malice ... knowledge that the defamatory statement was false or made with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not (SCOTUS in ruling on NYT v Sullivan)."

How is it that we have morphed into a country where people claim endless “rights” while fewer and fewer believe they have any “responsibilities” (Friedman 2022), referring in particular to free speech to spread misinformation and disinformation. In Metaeconomic terms, the bigger question is: How is it that being free to choose, including free speech --- a major frame of reference in Single Interest Theory (SIT) in Microeconomics --- has morphed into endless rights, including not only spreading but also acting on misinformation, and even disinformation, during a Pandemic (the focus of Friedman 2022)? It seems the claim of endless rights to freely say and do whatever wants are devoid of ethical reflection (and often devoid of fact content), and, people claiming same seemingly are even opposed to ethical reflection? And, in terms of being free to spread a life disrupting and too often a deadly virus, the famous claim by Patrick Henry to Give Me Liberty, Or, Give Me Death has apparently morphed into Give Me Liberty, To, Give You Disruption (including Disrupt the Economy) and, perhaps even Give You Death? What happened to the empathy-based ethical reflection inherent in true liberty and rights, and being free to choose, including free speech based on sufficient reason (after Bromley 2006; see reviews in Lynne 2007, 2009) holding both fact and ethical content, as represented by responsibility?

Essence of the Issue: Metaeconomic Sensibilities Point to a Path to the Solution

It seems the notion of free to choose to include free speech in general has become a problem that first needs attention, on the way to resolving the rights without responsibility problem. As is well known, the notion of free to choose was first framed by Milton Friedman (Friedman and Friedman 1980), and is still representative of the Chicago School of Economics in the Single Interest Theory (SIT) in Microeconomics, as taught in Econ 101 in every classroom. Problem is, as Dual Interest Theory (DIT) in Metaeconomics makes clear (as one would teach in a Metaecon 101): The free to choose frame has failed to give enough attention to the moral and ethical dimension of economic choice, including free speech influencing said choice. It has also produced economists (most if not all Microeconomists who apply SIT, but especially the libertarian branch) who are “… fiercely opposed to any ethical reflection whatever (McCloskey 2019, p. 93).”

Bring Ethics Back into the Analytical System

DIT clarifies that leaving ethics out of SIT in Microeconomics, even if not fiercely opposed, results in implicit support for people claiming to have endless rights, in that the lack of ethical reflection leads to not taking joint responsibility with the other. And, it is not just a problem within economics: The view of free to choose without limit has been mainstreamed in the language, the content of the free speech, framing the US economy, community, and government (see George 2013, esp. pp. 21-26). So, the “morphing” in liberty and rights is easily understood: Free to choose, including free speech, without ethical reflection based framing presumes the 1st Amendment gives rights for a person to be free-to-choose-to-do-whatever-you-want-to-do, i.e., without empathy with the other, and thus without ethics based responsibility shared with the other.

It seems the impetus for what turned into free-to-do-as-you-please-including-what-you-say-without-bounds started with the publication of the 1980 book, with Milton (and Rose) Friedman gaining widespread attention in documentaries and a wide variety of media outlets. The shift toward free-to-do-as-you-please-without-bounds was especially fed by the Reagan Revolution (using the Friedman academic credentials to make it sound like it had an empirical, scientific foundation), also starting in the early-1980s, built on the general notion that the market could do only good and the government only bad. The Public Choice School of Economics provided more seemingly academic credentials for the unfounded claim (i.e., lacking empirical, scientific content) that somehow the government can be reduced to focusing on ensuring people could do as they please without limits, including turning all property into private property for private good: There is, in effect, no public good, and, in effect even free speech is only for the private good. A key DIT in Metaeconomics sensibility, in contrast, points to the essential role of the public good, and, it is not a simple summation of the private good as SIT in Microeconomics claims (and, without empirical content to the claim).

Community Needs to Play a Role in Tempering Choice

So, the influence of bounds and limits historically provided by the community in the public good, including the content of truly free speech, with government representing said community, was deemphasized. It was manifested in many ways: Deregulation, even eliminating the good and ethical regulations focused on tempering bad choices, was deemed good. Underfunding the public good focused entities (e.g., underfunding public schools and public universities, who historically provided perhaps the most important place for fact based free speech), which ensured dysfunction, was purposely done, in order to move ever more toward commodifying and privatizing everything. Somehow the rhetoric used in the Reagan Revolution convinced people the private good is negatively affected by the public good and, even more wrongly framed, that the private & public good were actually independent and separable. Also, according to the Reagan Revolution frame of reference, apparently only bad, unethical, and incompetent people work in government while all the good, ethical, and competent people work in the market? Metaeconomics questions, again.

Private & Public Goods (and Bads) are Joint and Nonseparable

As DIT makes clear, the private & public good are joint and nonseparable, as in joint market & government, each essential to the other: The “&” means not only joint and nonseparable, but, also, it points to balance, and, it is not an “OR.” Also, then, another Metaeconomic Sensibility: It is likely not (an empirical question) about minimal government any more than is it about maximal market. Both are likely essential to the other, in good balance. Another Metaeconomics Sensibility: Claiming the government can only do bad has also apparently led to distrust of such entities as the US Center for Disease Control and the US Food and Drug Administration regarding the best way (science and ethics based free speech by representatives of the CDC and FDA) to deal with a Pandemic.

Being Free to Choose Including Free Speech Requires Being Mindful of the Public Good

So, using DIT in Metaeconomics framing, and as related to being free to choose, another Metaeconomics Sensibility: 1st Amendment Rights to free speech which relate very directly to being free to choose on all fronts have ethical content (because it resides in the shared other-interest, the public good), representing that which the other can go along with, like Adam Smith said it. And, even if some would claim it is somehow ethical to be free to choose to spread a deadly virus (e.g., sometimes expressed by a libertarian regarding herd immunity), especially using misinformation, it is shameful. As Friedman (2020) says it, regarding the Spotify-Rogan-Young controversy: When Rogan exercised his right to spread misinformation about vaccines, and when Spotify stood behind its biggest star, they were doing nothing illegal…They were just doing something shameful. Spreading misinformation is perhaps not illegal (albeit the law is supposed to be ethics based so it is clearly unethical), but it is irresponsible, and, yes, shameful: The conscience is not working. Also, science based fact is not being seriously considered, in that herd immunity is well served by vaccination.

All Facets of the Science and Experience Need to Be Made Explicit

As Friedman (2022) makes clear regarding the misinformation on Spotify, it was especially shameful because it generally did not present all the facts, including: … unvaccinated adults 18 years and older are 16 times more likely to be hospitalized for Covid than fully vaccinated adults… Adults 65 and older who are not vaccinated are around 50 times more likely to be hospitalized for Covid than those who have received a full vaccine course and a booster. …Unvaccinated people are 20 times more likely to die of Covid than people who are vaccinated and boosted…. (and, totally left out, not feeling responsible for) the emotional toll and other work conditions brought on by the pandemic contributed to some two-thirds of nurses giving thought to leaving the profession. It was also, then, an unethical podcast.

A responsible Rogan Podcast would have made clear the need to provide sufficient reason for the claim that such things as being free, in speech, to encourage people using anti-vaccine, anti-mask, anti-mandate, and overburdening essential workers, nurses, doctors is somehow a right, even though based largely in fantasy and unethical. A truly ethical podcast would help people find the sufficient reason. It would help point to the reality that behavior being encouraged on the Podcast was not only short on sufficient reason, i.e., short on facts and science, but also short on justification for being the right thing to do, a key part of sufficient reason. Said fact-based statistics (and the well-documented science such as the low risk of using a vaccine) along with that which the other can go along with (like, please don't spread the virus) --- an ethics frame pointing to shared responsibility --- would have led to tempering of the claims in the Rogan Podcasts.

Adam Smith Had a Great Deal to Say About the Matter of Free to Choose and Say

As Adam Smith admonished: In order to achieve the true Wealth of a Nation every person had to take reality along and mindfully go to the Station of the Impartial Spectator (i.e., to the conscience within each, as made clear in The Theory of Moral Sentiments) and ask “how-would-I-wish-to-treated.” Being free to choose required ethical reflection, and free speech would reflect same. In effect, being free to choose, including what one says, also meant first acting on a kind of volitional pragmatism (also after Bromley 2006) in going to and reflecting while at the Station, which is fundamentally about the search for sufficient reason. Smith had in mind that the conscience, which involved considering the other, would work to temper the excess of the primal tendency to the arrogance of self-love, the self-interest. Claiming rights to be free to choose, including free to say whatever one wants, without responsibility, especially when based on misinformation and even disinformation, is a demonstration of the arrogance of self-love, self-interest only, a free-to-choose without bounds.

Sufficient Reason Must Be Presented if the Conscience Leads to an Unethical Position

Another Metaeconomic Sensibility: If after having been to the Station of the Impartial Spectator and one still freely chooses to act on arrogance based self-interest, including free speech to serve that arrogance, it seems (empirical question) sufficient reason has to be provided to make the case, which generally is not possible. Said reality suggests --- empirical questions here --- opt-out mandates for masks, social distancing, lock-downs, and vaccination would have worked far better than the approaches used, as the people choosing to opt-out would have to provide sufficient reason (including to their health insurance company, to emergency room and overworked nursing and doctor personnel when arriving unvaccinated, and to the neighbor or family member who now has the disease because of the opt-out). Free speech needs to contain sufficient reason, based in facts and ethics.

So, another Metaeconomic Sensibility: It seems (again, an empirical question) Rights without Responsibility are not true rights of the kind the founders who wrote the Bill of Rights, including the 1st Amendment to the Constitution, envisioned. Rights without Responsibility especially do not fit under the frame provided by Patrick Henry with the claim of Give Me Liberty, Or, Give Me Death. And, ironically the “Or” became “And” for many who acted on the misinformation. Having the Liberty to Be Free to Choose means to choose based on the right thing to do, the latter based in facts as well as ethics.

Not Taking Responsibility for That Which one Freely Chooses and Says is Part of a Larger Frame Which has Produced Scroogism Rather than Humane Capitalism

And, still another Metaeconomic sensibility: The give me rights without responsibilities frame of mind, whether in speech and/or action also needs to be understood as a general symptom of the larger problem of extreme inequality in income, wealth, power (plentiful empirical evidence around, see RealTimeInequality), and, at best the US becoming a Scroogism. The Scrooge frame of mind sees only rights and little responsibility. And, Scroogism generally morphs into an even worse “ism” as represented in the early stages as Cronyism and Oligarchism (See Munger and Villarreal-Diaz 2019), and, if it lasts too long, the worst “ism” of all, that represented in an Authoritarianism. It can go to Authoritarianism as people affected by the extremes of a free to choose without bounds economy become ever more resentful of what is going on. Predictably, the authoritarian politician then arrives to fix it.

DIT and Metaeconomics Raises Lots of Empirical Questions

So, it seems, overall empirical questions here, Metaeconomic sensibility based questions: Being free to choose, including free speech, without bounds is not only about best practices during a Pandemic, but is also about any number of bad “ism” frames? Being free to choose (including spreading and using misinformation of any kind) without bounds likely cannot lead to a Humane Capitalism as Adam Smith had in mind? It seems ethical reflection becomes the key, which is the most fundamental Metaeconomic Sensibility.

Details: Technical Analysis Using Dual Interest Theory (DIT) in a Metaeconomics

Preface: DIT in Metaeconomics is built on a foundation based in data and empirical testing. DIT is an empirical economics. So, the various conjectures in the arguments above need to be subjected to data and testing. DIT can be used to form testable hypotheses about the nature of the rights with or without responsibility issue. With the need to find the data to test the propositions, also keep in mind that in general much of SIT in Microeconomics has not been tested, although Behavioral and Experimental Economists are putting ever more effort into doing so: On that front, SIT regularly fails on many fronts (see overviews in Altman 2012 ; Tomer 2017 ). And, for DIT in particular, the null hypothesis of no influence from the empathy (ethics) based shared other-interest has been regularly rejected (see Lynne 2020).

DIT tends to do better at framing most economic questions most of the time as compared to SIT, because it brings ethics back into view. DIT has demonstrated the capability to explain many empirical anomalies that cannot be explained with SIT. Also, DIT is structured such that when testing fails to support rejecting the null, SIT is the default. So, with that in mind, here we go deeper to look for more ways to frame the empirical task ahead .

Big Frame

First, Single Interest Theory (SIT) in Microeconomics likely has little to say about the spread of the Pandemic virus caused by misinformation or any other reason. Why? Well, SIT presumes every person is independent of everyone else, so there is no such thing as a public (bad) good. The SIT frame is essentially impossible to apply in the case of a virus, as a virus lives, mutates, and is otherwise made successful by spreading. In contrast, with a Pandemic virus, as DIT clarifies, it is all about interdependent not independent people, and a public good (bad) is at stake because of the spread, and the ethic arises out of the public good, not the private good. The interdependence among people is inherent in a Pandemic scale virus, which has substantive implications for personal liberty, especially for the people infected who lose the liberty (lose their right) to be healthy because of misinformation.

Second, some Microeconomists will on occasion admit SIT needs some adjustment, as in the use of the externality and/or the interdependent utility patch. Unfortunately, said patch is inadequate to the task of fixing SIT for the case at hand, in that a Pandemic virus is not external to a system within which every person is embedded. Everything is internal: There is nothing external, no externality. Also, a person cannot possibly know the utility of someone else (see Lynne 2020 for the details). And, said patching does not bring the moral and ethical dimension into play, albeit the patch at least acknowledges the fact of an “other” who needs to be considered. The patch still keeps the context for being free to choose, including free speech, in the hands of the Invisible Hand --- although in the case of interdependent utility, ironically, that construct is destroyed, as one cannot be invisible about knowing and acting on the utility of the other --- when in fact what is needed is a Visible Hand to sort out the ethics, and the facts, the reality.

So, third, Dual Interest Theory (DIT) in Metaeconomics helps in better framing the question on the way to finding the best way to fix the problem. DIT does so by clarifying the inherent, joint and nonseparable private & public good (or bad) in the case of a virus. DIT sees the key role of ethical reflection, which is always related to the public good. DIT also sees the matter of how a person relates to another person as addressed through mindful empathy, including what we freely say to or about the other, which is a kind of speculation more about how I would react and what I would do within the place of the Other. So, it is not about the utility or payoff in interest experienced by the Other: It is about the payoff in My utility and interest. In DIT, being free to choose comes with internalized ethical content represented in the shared other(moral and ethical dimension internalized)-interest, which also preserves the Invisible Hand construct. So, again, and sorry to repeat, but it is essential: SIT is silent on the ethical content of the notion of being free to choose and just what rights are appropriate.

Fourth, and perhaps most importantly: DIT not only sees the private & public good as a dual interest within each person, but also points to jointness in the private & public good, illustrated by overlapping private good & public good indifference curves (Figure 1). As a result, DIT better depicts how a virus works, keeping in mind SIT is limited as it only presents the private good set of indifference curves. SIT in effect ignores the ethics-based community of shared interest, in this case the public health, because it ignores the fact the public good is always jointly resident with the private good. And, free speech, too, needs to recognize the jointness.

Making Sense of Jointness and Nonseparability in Private & Public Good

To understand the jointness and nonseparability in the private & public good (and rights), think of Good g in Figure 1 as representing unproven drugs and treatments. It also represents acting on misinformation, non-science based information such as in the anti-vaccine frame of mind. It also points to moving along ego based self-interest path 0G seeking more of the private good, doing as one pleases, with little to no regard for the public good on path 0M. In contrast, Good m is about using science based vaccines, masking as needed, and other fact based approaches to dealing with a Pandemic virus, pointing to path 0M. And, most importantly: Notice that every point in the space produces payoff in both private good g and public good m. The private & public good (and rights) are joint and nonseparable. One cannot have one without the other. And, the best choice generally means some point B on path 0Z.

Also, each point in the space is characterized by sacrifice in one or both of the interests. So, achieving the best level of own-interest on path 0Z, on which DIT focuses attention --- meaning good (moral, ethical, and economic) balance in the private & public good, the self & other-interest --- requires a bit of sacrifice in each interest. And, on free speech: Well, one must sometimes sacrifice a narrow view that does not fit reality, and not serving both the private & public good.

Choosing the Best Path Means Balancing Emotion Based Value V (Emotions) and Calculation Based Price P (Rational Calculation)

Figure 2 shows the possibilities regarding balance in the private & public good. A possibilities frontier RoRo is found by moving along the resource (income) line RoRo representing the income level and the price ratio pm/pg in Figure 1 and tracing the frontier in Figure 2. The value V curves in Figure 2 arise mainly out of the emotions, regarding how it feels within the own-self regarding the best balance. Near point A in Figure 2, the person puts little to no value V on the public good. Near point C in Figure 2, the person puts little to no value on the private good. And, keep in mind, both the private and public good are within the own-self --- it is all about the person, what is going on inside the brain and mind. The public good means that which is shared with the other, based on how a person assesses that which the other can go along with. At point B in Figure 2, the emotions leading to value V point to a balance in private & public good that produces peace of mind, and happiness, from having done the right thing.

It can also now be clarified as to how the emotion based value V affects the analytical, calculated economic efficiency affected by price P. In particular, if after reflection (as Adam Smith said it, after spending some time at the Station of the Impartial Spectator, or, in this day and age, interacting on social media, including listening to Spotify podcasts?) one decides on point B in Figure 2, then the best point in economic efficiency terms is point B in Figure 1. Also, one would reasonably expect some feedback from price P space into value V space. In fact, observing the pain in suffering the real costs of the Covid virus from operating at point A in Figure 1 could influence increasing Vm toward that at point C in Figure 2, but, bearing the loss in private good payoff in moving from point A in Figure 1 to point C in Figure 1 may not be tolerated, so, the person adjusts Vm toward that at point B in Figure 2, and, thus, shoring up the economically efficient choice at point B in Figure 1.

So, while SIT in Microeconomics sees only rational calculation in price P space of Figure 1, including not seeing the public good other than identical with the private good, DIT opens the possibility for the role of emotion and the public good. Behavioral Economics (especially the Experimental Economics branch of it) has demonstrated in test after test that real humans tend to operate mainly from emotions, while post-rationalizing the choice. DIT makes clear such a process would mean starting in Figure 2 space and moving to Figure 1 space, within the mind. DIT also clarifies (suggesting hypotheses to further test in the laboratories) the analytical, rational choice and price P (generally in the market forum) space of Figure 1 could also influence the emotions value V (generally in the other forums of community and government) space of Figure 2, with a person going back and forth on the way to an emotion influenced rational choice at point B.

It is now also possible to make sense of what someone who is in the intensive care unit of a hospital about to be intubated with the outcome not likely to be good, regretting not getting vaccinated. Often the decision to do so was based on misinformation and/or disinformation. So, the person who now may die from acting on same, while at emotion point A in Figure 2 prior to becoming infected, now finding own-self, emotionally speaking, wanting to be closer to point C. Importantly, emotionally connecting with point C is also about payoff in the shared public good with others, including the nurse doing the intubation. If the person dies, and several hundred thousand did, with many doing so only because of misinformation and disinformation (often from leading politicians, not only social media pundits), it seems the only person benefiting is the undertaker? It seems the emotional toll of not having the liberty and right to fact-based and ethics-based information is huge. So, it is not only about the dollar cost of hospitalization, lost wages (general disruption in the economy), and, burial costs all in price P space of Figure 1 but also about emotional cost in value V space of Figure 2. Both emotional (peace of mind) and rational (analytical, dollar costs and prices) choice plays in happiness (meaning selecting a point B in both Figure 1 and Figure 2).

And, as an aside: DIT suggests both Neoclassical Economics and Public Choice Economics, both who use SIT, miss the key role of the public good in economic and political choice. Both schools of thought also miss the key role played by emotion in value V space. A truly rational person operating in the market and/or in the government has to consider not just the self-interest driven private good, but also must consider the shared other-interest driven public good. And, again, important to emphasize: Emotions play a substantive role not only in producing peace (including far less political chaos) in value V (Figure 2) space, but also economic efficiency in price P space (Figure 1), with happiness possible only if both conditions are satisfied. It is especially the case for people in government, as government (representing the community) is mainly about the public good, and emotions play a key part in finding that which the other can go along with, which is a main task of government (especially if each person fails in self-control to empathize widely with the other).

DIT or SIT: Which Better Explains the Empirical Anomalies of Choice During a Pandemic?

DIT potentially works better in representing the issues relating to a Pandemic virus because people simply cannot be independent, including States not being able to operate independently of the Federal (as in the Federalist position). The reason? Well, a virus does not see nor honor State lines. So, using the free to choose notion as suggested in SIT framing makes no common sense, given the biology of a virus and how it spreads. Instead, people are interdependent with each other across all boundaries, including State lines. So, the idea that a person or a State has the liberty, the right, to be free to choose including free speech without responsibility in addressing the spread of a virus only works if the person or State ignores (has no empathy with) the other person or State. Also, said person apparently must believe (empirical question) to be truly independent of a person (State) who has the virus, or, if one attracts it, will not spread it to the other (person or State).

To illustrate how the DIT model works (albeit each an empirical question), one can now think of path 0G as most representative of the early months of the US, when it was downplayed as a public (good) health issue, and everyone was to run on ego based self-interest. Said self-interest only framing was encouraged by US leaders in the political party in control at the time: Empathy with the other was not a player (at point A in Figure 2), and feeding the Ego based self-interest was all that mattered. Ego trumped empathy, which likely led to over 200,000 unnecessary deaths. The unnecessary deaths are the result of seeing the virus as strictly a private matter, a private good, strictly to serve the ego. The same is true with the spread and use of misinformation, as in “I can believe whatever I want, and say and do as I please (again, feeling it was right to be at point A in Figure 2).” Not: It is arguably not the best to feel that way, and, thus, not reasonable to choose point A in Figure 1, when the shared (with the other-) interest in public health needs to be considered.

Point A in Figure 2 and Path 0G in Figure 1 is still being encouraged, here in 2022. It is still being downplayed as a public (good) health issue by many (feelings at point A in Figure 2 leading to "rational" calculations at point A in Figure 1), as made clear in the Spotify-Rogan-Young controversy highlighted in Friedman (2022). Path 0G choice --- and, for perhaps far to many, the path represented in the vertical axis --- is the reason the US has the most deaths from Covid/capita for all the developed countries on the Spaceship.

What do?

Well, no easy answers, but no matter what is done, it must first be recognized, as alluded to earlier, that the best path 0Z is characterized by the sense of an adequate payoff in the self-interest private good while still serving the public (shared with, as each person benefits) good. A nudge to stir the feelings from Vm = 0 at point A in Figure 2 toward Vm > 0 at point C in Figure 2 (and, mandates with opt-out when the nudge fails), leading to a move toward path 0Z in Figure 1 will lead to better outcomes. On path 0Z, each person is sacrificing a bit of self-interest (inconvenience of getting the shots, perhaps some minor risk of side effects, some cost) with IG2 < IG3. People believing IG3 see huge cost in moving to IG2, and especially to IG1.

It is also important to realize, however, the perceived IG3 may be quite inaccurate if point A on the ego based self-interest path 0G is based on misinformation (empirical question, yet likely found to be the case). In fact, it could well be that IG2 is a much greater payoff (again, another empirical question) than the presumed but overstated IG3 from not going toward that which the other has found best at point C, especially if death is avoided from moving toward point C.

It is likely the empirical analysis would point to the most workable outcome for everyone, pragmatically speaking, is that represented at point B, a point closer to C. Notice the substantive gain in the shared other-interest, the public good, with IM2 > IM1. Notice, too, the public good is not maximized: A bit of sacrifice in the public good is essential to adequately serve the private good. It is about balance, a bit of sacrifice in both, and altruism at work overall. So, altruism, now understood as sacrifice in both interests, is essential to economic efficiency. Overall, both the person & community are better off at point B.

Constitutional 1st Amendment Rights on Something Akin to path 0Z

DIT posits that the Constitution gives 1st Amendment Rights on path 0Z, not path 0G. The Constitution suggests being free to choose comes with responsibility to the shared public good. It is about the Constitutional backdrop for shared interest in the public good which gives the content of a Humane Capitalism. Such an “ism” requires attention to that which the other can go along with (ethics). It must also be based in fact, and therefore in science. DIT suggests that he 1st Amendment Right is about facts and the ethic of responsibility. Misinformation which encourages people to operate in self-interest only on a flawed path 0G which is not fact based is absolutely unethical, and, yes, as Friedman (2022) says it, shameful. And, the founders of the US who wrote the Bill of Rights and the Constitution would likely not be happy with the distortion of the nature of true liberty.

Making Sense of Extreme Left and Right Frames on the Pandemic

Intriguingly, DIT also provides a way to think about the extremes on Left and Right. It has been said the Right underplays the impact of the Covid virus. So, think path 0G for the Right, who share a path 0M (with others mainly self-interest oriented ) close to 0G. The Left, in turn, is said to overreact, claiming Covid is far more dangerous than experience reflects. Also, the Left may be too prone to give the Covid vaccine too much, as in the vaccine may not be as effective as the Left claims. So, think path 0M for the Left, who see their path 0G essentially on path 0M

And, what does DIT have to say about it? Keep in mind DIT is empirical. So, DIT points to working with the best scientific and experience based information, and, applying same with fact based and empathy-based ethics (public good) working to temper the ego based self-interest (private good). DIT points to a path 0Z (so, both Left and Right have to sacrifice a bit, with the public good playing a substantive role) which needs to be found with good --- fact and ethics --- based conversation between Right & Left in the search for sufficient reason to move on that best path 0Z.

Postscript: Rights Without Responsibility Problem is Really Just a Symptom of the Deeper Possessive Individualism Problem

The rights without responsibility, including free speech without responsibility, problem in America (and in other democracies around the Spaceship right now, especially the United Kingdom, UK) actually is a symptom of a deeper issue. Bromley (2019; see the review in Lynne 2021) points to possessive individualism (first suggested in the 1960s by C. B. Macpherson, a Canadian political scientist), which simply means too much focus on a free to choose utility and profit maximizing individual (as in SIT in Microeconomics) without enough attention to the context represented in the underlying institution. Said institution holds the culture, the community, the rule and norms, the law that works best, that which gives content to our shared other-interest. Free speech, too, must fit that culture, that norm. As argued earlier, the institution is given content by volitional pragmatism (do what works) on the way to sufficient reason for said content. The law is to reflect the ethical system, widely shared, and does so as long as the free to choose only self-interest frame has not invaded the legal system.

As Sen (1977, p. 318) says it, “ … between the claims of oneself and the claims of all lie the claims of a variety of groups - for example, families, friends, local communities, peer groups, and economic and social classes.” The point is, a free to choose maximizer needs to pay attention to the claims of the other, and must work to temper the claims of oneself, represented in the notion of responsibility. And, if not, one is a rational fool (Sen 1977), as is every person who claims rights without responsibility. Intriguingly, as alluded to earlier, libertarian economists like Milton Friedman (1970) have always pushed for the free to choose path of rational fools, people maximizing profits and utility on path 0G, a path without attention to the social responsibility represented on path 0M. A less than tempered free speech is also that of a rational fool.

As alluded to earlier, the Friedman frame of being free to choose without attention to the public good, along with the Reagan (and Thatcher in UK) Revolution (see Stiglitz 2019) that government can do no good and the market can do no bad, has put the entire system on path 0G: Rational fools claim rights, including free speech, without responsibility. It has led to the crisis of capitalism (Bromley 2019) and a failure of liberalism (Deneen 2018), especially the libertarian version of it as framed by SIT in Microeconomics. In contrast, path 0Z is about being a rational sentimentalist (a phrase used by Khalil 1999), a person accepting responsibility, among other things, and also avoiding being a sentimental fool (also a phrase from Khalil 1999) on path 0M

Deneen (2018; see the review in Lynne 2022) in Why Liberalism Failed claims the very essence of classical liberalism first framed in the Enlightenment starting in the late-1600s has failed. Deneen (2018) claims the failure has come from too much liberty without responsibility as represented in both cultural liberalism and market (libertarian) neoliberalism, both too extreme. The free to choose without bounds frame, including free speech based in less than factual information, and perhaps even propaganda, and, arguably, the extreme shift in framing and language to the rhetoric of the right in general (see George 2013), is destroying both capitalism and democracy within which capitalism is embedded. Empirical evidence? Well, just look at the political chaos, caused in part by distortion of reality, and the claim it is a right of free speech, in the US today. Balance, please, including balance in the language (again, see George 2013): The language including free to choose has taken on a tone, the rhetoric of the right, which needs rebalancing, as in right & left (see Lynne 2020).

Closing Thoughts

And, as I close out the Blog: Some are going to disagree with the treatment of Friedman and Friedman (1980, and the rather naïve early-1980s frame touted in the Reagan Revolution) as though ethics were ignored. It is true that Milton Friedman acknowledged the rule of law --- which if good law, holds the ethical system --- and that being free to choose, including free speech, and, also, to maximize profits for the shareholders without regard to social responsibility, actually meant some attention to it. The problem is: The rule of law and widely accepted social responsibility is not determined exclusively by the market, albeit the fact Young and others pulled music from Spotify in protest over Rogan (see Friedman 2022) does show the market can play a role. And, law is often taken over by the free-to-choose-do-as-I-please-including-saying-whatever-I-want-without-bounds frame of mind, which means it is not playing in tempering the more primal tendency to excess encouraged by free to choose without bounds framing.

Another way to say it: Interaction in the Market Forum in the domain of price P may have only limited influence on the true value V which evolves in the Other Forum(s) of community and government (including regulations and law), the latter also playing a key role in evolving and reflecting the moral and ethical dimension. The market has an extremely limited capacity (an empirical question) to represent said dimension (Whyte 2019). Rather, as Adam Smith made clear, and modern Behavioral and Experimental Economics supports empirically, empathy (ethics) based shared other-interest arises mainly outside the market.

The Station of the Impartial Spectator is not within the market; it is largely outside the market, and gives context to it. It is a bit incestuous to claim otherwise, that somehow being free to choose, including being free to say whatever you want to say, in exclusive interaction within said market forum is going to be the only essential force needed to temper that market. It has to come from reflection, mindful empathy at work, and, that goes on to give context to the market, going on outside the market in a variety of other forums --- community and government forums --- and cannot, logically, arise only within that which is to be tempered. It comes from making the content of the Invisible Hand of the Market --- well, make it Visible (after Samuels, Johnson, and Perry 2011), looking at the content it holds, and revising as needed. It is about viable interaction within and between a joint market & government (including law) system, each playing a key role. A free conversation about the content of free speech, in both market & government, is also essential

As Bromley (2006) argues, it is about a volitional pragmatism. It is about looking for the latest scientifically and ethically defensible content of sufficient reason to support the free speech and the content of free to choose as something that the other can go along with, on pragmatic grounds. It is said sufficient reason that gives context to free speech and to that which is free to choose. The task is to find the best reason for that which is now something that can be trusted in a free to choose reality that works for everyone. How accomplished?

First, become mindful (empathize) of the content of the Invisible Hand (generally stirred irritation, protests come to mind), that which has in the past given context to free speech and being free to choose. Second, seeing the problems (like spreading misinformation and disinformation as though one has a right to do so, and too much freedom to choose, no ethics based bounds), reconsider the reasons, using the Visible Hand to fix it.

Finally, put the newly revised sufficient reason back into the Invisible Hand, using it until irritation (demonstrated in political chaos) again requires consideration of the content. It cannot just be presumed, as did Friedman and Friedman (1980), that it will just somehow magically be there for the taking in a free to choose sense. And, it takes good interaction --- including fact based and ethical free speech --- in a viable market & government (reflecting the widely shared interest in community).

Countering the Claim of Minimal Government

So, overall, DIT in Metaeconomics also points to perhaps countering the related Friedman frame (also coming out of SIT in Microeconomics) that claims minimal government is sufficient to counter maximal market (free to choose not tempered by community or government). It is likely essential --- empirical question here, as DIT in Metaeconomics suggests --- to recognize the legitimacy of each. It is about seeing a joint and nonseparable private & public good, market & government, each appreciated and applied in the way each is best suited, in order to make sense of free to choose, including what one is free to say.

Further Reading

For more on the matter of possessive individualism, liberty and rights, and the need to bring ethics (and facts) in the public good visibly (Visible Hand, here) back into view, see several of the other Metaeconomics Blog posts, but especially A Good that is Common, Why Liberalism (Actually, Not Totally) Failed, Synthesizing Classical Liberalism and Socialism to Save Capitalism, Now That the Election is Over (rebalance the I&We), and, Time for an Empathy Politics.


Altman, Morris. 2012. Behavioral Economics for Dummies. Mississauga, ON: John Wiley and Sons Canada, Ltd.

Bromley, Daniel W. 2006. Sufficient Reason: Volitional Pragmatism and the Meaning of Economic Institutions. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Bromley, Daniel W. 2019. Possessive Individualism: A Crisis of Capitalism. Kindle ed. New York: Oxford University Press.

Deneen, Patrick J. 2018. Why Liberalism Failed. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Friedman, Milton. 1970. "The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits." The New York Magazine, September 13.

Friedman, Milton and Friedman, Rose. 1980. Free to Choose: A Personal Statement. New York: A Harvest Book: Harcourt, Inc.

George, David. 2013. The Rhetoric of the Right: Language Change and the Spread of the Market. New York: Routledge.

Khalil, Elias A. 1999. "Sentimental Fools: A Critique of Amartya Sen's Notion of Commitment." Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization 40: 373-386.

Lynne, Gary D. 2007. "Review of Bromley, D.W. Sufficient Reason: Volitional Pragmatism and the Meaning of Economic Institutions. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006, 244 pp." American Journal of Agricultural Economics 89 (4): 1120-1122.

Lynne, Gary D. 2009. "Review of Bromley, D.W. Sufficient Reason: Volitional Pragmatism and the Meaning of Economic Institutions. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006, 244 pp." Journal of Natural Resources Policy Research 1 (1): 118-120.

Lynne, Gary D. 2020. Metaeconomics: Tempering Excessive Greed. Palgrave Advances in Behavioral Economics, John Tomer, ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Lynne, Gary D. 2021. "Review of Bromley, D. W. Possessive Individualism: A Crisis of Capitalism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019." Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics 95.

Lynne, Gary D. 2022. Review of Deneen, Patrick J. 2018. Why Liberalism Failed. New Haven: Yale University Press in Journal of Behavioral Economics of Policy (in press)

McCloskey, Diedre N. 2019. Why Liberalism Works: How True Liberal Values Produce a Freer, More Equal, Prosperous World for All. New York: Yale University Press.

Munger, Michael C. and Villarreal-Diaz, Mario. 2019. "The Road to Crony Capitalism." Independent Review: A Journal of Political Economy 23 (3): 331-344.

Samuels, Warren J., Marianne Johnson, and William H. Perry. 2011. Erasing the Invisible Hand: Essays on an Elusive and Misused Concept in Economics. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Sen, Amartya K. 1977. "Rational Fools: A Critique of the Behavioral Foundations of Economic Theory." Philosophy and Public Affairs 6 (4): 317-344.

Stiglitz, Joseph E. 2019. People, Power and Profits: Progressive Capitalism for an Age of Discontent. New York: W. W. Norton and Company.

Tomer, John F. 2017. Advanced Introduction to Behavioral Economics. North Hampton, MA: Elgar.

Whyte, Jessica. 2019. The Morals of the Market: Human Rights and the Rise of Neoliberalism. London: Verso.

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