Updated: Jul 17
Packer (2021) points to how we now have four Americas --- with two especially prominent tribes as we will see --- huge splits between and among Americans and no apparent way to arrive on common ground for a truly widely shared American Discourse. There are four rather distinctly shared other-interest frames of mind, and, no apparent move to one that every American can go along with. What caused it? Like Metaeconomics also makes clear, in a word, inequality … extreme income and wealth inequality and the near impossibility of moving ahead for way too many Americans, in that the American Dream is essentially dead except for a favored few: “Inequality undermined the common faith that Americans need to create a successful multi-everything democracy (Packer, 2021, loc 715).”
It all starts to take hold after the 1960s, especially with the Friedman Revolution starting in the 1970s and the Reagan Revolution in the 1980s. The Friedman Revolution dramatically changed the framing of corporate incentives to focus almost exclusively on return to shareholders and compensation to the CEO who maximize it. The employees (especially the labor that makes things work, such as on a factory line), the consumers (other than to treat them as Phools, as Akerlof and Shiller (2015) highlight), the community, the environment --- none of that matter. The main means was to lower labor cost, moving factories to low wage areas, in places like China and India, or simply buying product from said factories.
The Reagan Revolution went along with all that --- encouraging big business to become dominant, especially by eliminating the offsetting power of labor unions (recall how Reagan fired all the air traffic controllers for going on strike) --- and, made the unfounded, no empirical evidence, claim that the market can do only good while the government can do only bad. The balance was shifted to market-only, dominated by big business, and to dismantling government, rather than seeing the crucial role of building (as Metaeconomics teaches) a strong and viable, joint mix of market&government, building on what each does best. As Metaeconomics teaches, each is essential to the other … the “&” working overtime, carrying the heavy load of jointness, interdependence, and non-separability of market&government, rather than framing in a Flawed Economic Narrative that claims it is all about market vs government. That Flawed Narrative has contributed dramatically to massive inequality, and, the emergence of Four Americas.
What are the Four Americas? Packer (2021) points to:
Free America, an extreme version of “Give Me Liberty,” even to give you death by not wearing a mask or getting vaccinated during a Pandemic. All manner of government guidance and regulation is to be eliminated, which does nothing to ensure Freedom, the latter only possible with good content in a widely shared other-interest (as Metaeconomics teaches). The Free America frame is rampant in many Red States.
Real America, an idyllic frame rather unrealistic frame of mind perhaps harkening back to a small town, actively engaged community of farmers and small shop keepers in the 1950s or some such. The movie “Pleasantville” comes to mind, where nothing changes, it is 70-degrees every day, and everyone is continually (at least it appears that way in the beginning of the movie) contented and happy. Many in the more rural states, the Red States, seemingly want to return to that supposedly more Pleasant time.
Smart America, another extreme view, with the claim that the only relevant body of information and knowledge is that embedded within the highly educated, well-read community. And, while the scientific method does better ensure facts and the possibility that reality is the main play (in contrast to misinformation and conspiracy), it also cannot assure that everything we need to know to have a viable democracy and a humane capitalism can be ascertained by said methods. Some things can only be known outside the regimen of the scientific method. A kind of meritocracy has grown in this part of America, with only the more highly educated respected and, then, also given unprecedented advantage in the Flawed Economic Narrative that favors said America: It is essentially the only group that has ready access to the American Dream, in a kind of Tyranny of Merit (Sandel, 2020).
Just (without Injustice) America is perhaps the most challenging, in that injustice is generally in the background, systemic, deep in the invisible hand of the market. It needs to be made visible brought into the open, examined with empathy based ethics. Also, injustice changes in content as other conditions change, especially in knowledge and science (e.g. finding out that LGBTQ people have sexual preference based in biology, such that what is now injustice was at some earlier time considered within the bounds of justice, with scientific facts demonstrating that being LGBTQ is not a choice). Slavery was not considered an injustice for hundreds of years, even characterizing some slaves as not really human, but rather really no different than other beasts of burden: Science and experience eventually changed that understanding, so the invisible hand of slavery was eventually changed through visible action --- including a civil war --- in order to evolve what would then be considered justice for all.
Packer (2021) also points out that sometimes the Types get combined in voting blocks, as in the 2020 election where the main tendencies were for coalitions of the Free&Real to favor candidates on the Right while the main tendencies were for coalitions of the Smart&Just to favor candidates on the Left. It is not as clean and simple as all that, but you catch the flavor of it.
In Metaeconomics, each of the Types of America form a unique other-interest. So, there are at least four different (yet overlapping to some extent) shared other-interests that work to influence the expression of self-interest in each case. And, what is needed? Well, the Last Hope, as Packer (2021) refers to it, and Metaeconomics framing agrees, is to find common ground among all four Americas. We once again need --- perhaps we were reasonably close to it in the mid-1950s, as Putnam and Garrett (2020) would have it, with better balance in the I&We, the We holding better balance in all four dimensions) --- better balance widely shared in Free&Real&Smart&Just, a shared interest that everyone (although there were severe gender and race issues in the 1950s that not everyone) could go along with. The New Metaeconomic Narrative would see every person seeking self-interest in the context of, and being tempered by, the same Free&Real&Smart&Just shared other interest.
Lots of work needs to be done to make this reality. A good starting point is to change the incentive structure of corporate (and privately owned) companies, especially to bring labor unions back into positions to offset power over compensation packages. The other starting point is to change the infamous phrase from President Reagan to one based in reality, that when someone from the government is here to help, that said help is more often than not something that is essential to making the market work better.
Packer (2021, loc 2221) has several specific recommendations, including fixing the “… safety net so that workers and families are no longer at perpetual risk of falling through and drowning, as millions have in the pandemic. This means essentially extending the New Deal to more Americans in more areas of their lives: universal health care, child care, paid family and sick leave, stronger workplace safety protections, unemployment insurance that doesn’t fail in a crisis, a living minimum wage.” As already noted, but extremely important, so here it is again: More economic power must also be built within the labor force, especially in bringing the labor unions back. Economic power can also be re-balanced by bringing in more labor owned cooperatives, and labor representation on boards of directors. The estate tax must also be expanded (Packer, 2021, loc 2264), to keep from forming dynasties of wealth. Packer (2021, loc 2272) also calls for state and federal funding of public education, such that locally wealthy areas cannot have extreme advantage over less wealthy areas. Also, Packer (2021, loc 2297) points to wider-based education in the humanities, starting at the earliest age: It is about ensuring every person better understands human history, about what works better for real people as has been learned through the centuries. Such education might also be helped by asking young people to do a year of service to the country, to help them better understand other people, and the true needs. It is also essential to return to encouraging investigative journalism, freely done by many people, facilitating a free press which is so essential to a democracy.
All such dimensions need to be part of a new Metaeconomic Narrative. It can be done. There is hope.
Akerlof, George A. and Shiller, Robert J. Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015.
Packer, George. Last Best Hope: America in Crisis and Renewal. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, Kindle Ed., 2021.
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, Kindle Edition, 2020.
Sandel, Michael J.. The Tyranny of Merit. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition, 2020.