Updated: Feb 16
It is as though we "have been sent back in time—to the late 70s and early 80s (Reynolds, 2020)."
(Updated March, 2022)
Reynolds is actually Governor Reynolds (R) of Iowa, doing the Response to the State of the Union Address (Reynolds, 2022 commenting on Biden, 2022) delivered on March 1, 2022, by President Biden (D). And, it is a disparaging statement, framed by Right of Isle ideology, and, not necessarily having substantive fact content, as is the case for all ideology, Right or Left. In the case of going back to the Economic Narrative of the late 70s and early 80s, however, science based economic and political research suggests some serious mistakes made during that time, and, said mistakes supported by Single Interest Theory (SIT) in Microeconomics. Dual Interest Theory (DIT) in Metaeconomics makes clear the mistakes, and how to fix same, once we time travel back to the late 70s and early 80s, with Governor Reynolds' help.
Serious mistakes were made in the move to an extreme shift toward Market Liberalism started with a rather dramatic change in the Economic Narrative formed in the late 70s and early 80s, and continuing to the current time. The mistakes have contributed greatly to the populist protests and the move to authoritarianism arising out of resentment in not being part of the action in a perverse kind of crony capitalism. And, an aside, Cultural Liberalism has also been a contributing factor, leading to the culture wars: See the Why Liberalism Failed Blog, also here at this site, which gives more detail on how both Cultural and Market Liberalism, both representing the perverse version of Classical Liberalism which has evolved --- Adam Smith would not be happy --- have failed.
The failure of Market Liberalism is documented using empirical data in Putnam and Garret (2020), with the reasons why made clear in Bromley (2019; see the Review in Lynne, 2021) and Deneen (2018, see the Review in Lynne, 2022). And, if Reynolds actually has it correct, that the current effort on the Left is actually taking the economy back to the late 70s and early 80s, well, it may be the best place to be going based on the empirical reality of what works best. Going back to something more akin to that in the late 70s and early 80s puts the economy and government back onto a trajectory that could take the US back to the top of the upswing curve, which Putnam and Garret (2020) demonstrate occurred in the mid-1950s.
Using Dual Interest Theory (DIT) in Metaeconomics, it is about rebalancing the joint and nonseparable I&W, self&other-interest, market&government. And, because the balance in the US has gone so far to the Right --- even the language we use is The Rhetoric of the Right: Language Change and the Spread of the Market (George, 2013) --- there is, in effect, little to no Left, left. The only part left on the Left is a reduced form of Socialism, more akin to but still substantively Right of that in the Nordic and Scandinavian Economies. It is nowhere even close to the far left end of the spectrum, the pure communism, which some on the Right like to imply in inflamed political rhetoric calling out the supposed "Socialism" on the Left. It seems the Left, in tit for tat, needs to be calling out the "Scroogism" on the Right, right? Balance, please.
So, while moves toward the extreme of pure communism on the Left would be extremely bad, it is also true the Market (Neo)Liberalism of the Right which aspires to the other extreme of pure capitalism would be equally as bad, as experience since the late 70s and early 80s has demonstrated (2008 crash as case in point). In fact, the Economic Narrative that has been driving the move toward pure capitalism (Neoliberalism as the ideology, wanting to privatize and commodify, use the Market for everything, like privatize public universities and public education, privatize the post office, privatize the natural resources, like private property in water rights) is not necessarily leading to a good capitalism. It is leading to what might be best characterized as a Scroogism, which is not an economic term, but it needs to become one: A Scroogism is characterized by extreme disparity in income and wealth, and, the power it buys, leading ultimately to a crony capitalism, an Oligarchism, unless tempered to that which the other can go along with. Said Scroogism is a long ways from what Adam Smith had in mind, in the frame of a good and ethical (Smith was a moral philosopher, afterall) classical liberalism based humane capitalism.
Using the "get your attention" terms, DIT in Metaeconomics points to finding good balance in a joint and nonseparable Scroogism&Socialism. In Adam Smith framing, it is about finding good balance in Wealth&Sentiments. It is about Smith's two books, integrated, seen for what the books are really about, the joint and nonseparable pursuit of the Wealth of Nations (Smith, 1777/1789) tempered by the Moral Sentiments (Smith, 1759/1790). To Adam Smith, it was about the self-interest being tempered by the other (shared with the other, that which the other could go along with, ethics based)-interest. Adam Smith pointed to seeking and working to maximize the own-interest composed of good balance in the self&other-interest, balance in the joint and nonseparable I&We.
Said balance also points to the essential need for both a viable Market and a viable Government, as in a joint and nonseparable Market&Government. Government does not bring intervention and distortion to the Market any more than does the Market bring intervention and distortion to the Government. Both are essential in good balance in order to achieve peace (minimal to no political economic chaos), economic efficiency, and the happiness from achieving efficiency&peace.
Empirical Evidence for the Need to Balance the I&We
Empirical evidence for the need to recognize and seek balance is provided in Putnam and Garrett (2020) in the notion of The Upswing. It is about the continual and ongoing need for rebalancing in the I-We-I --- in Metaeconomic terms, balancing the I&We --- in the American system, looking over the period of the early-1900s through the 2020s, which shows
… that Americans in the first two thirds of the twentieth century enjoyed both rapid economic growth and greater equality and community—the best of both worlds—and conversely, Americans since the Sixties have had both slow growth and less equality and community—the worst of both worlds (Putnam and Garrett, 2020, p. 340).
The amazing similarity in path of economic, political, social, cultural measures of the American situation found by Putnam and Garrett (2020) needs attention. The analysis documents the extremely high correlation in the swing in all the measures --- the changing balance in I&We --- over time from I to We and back to I. The question is: What is the best balance in I&We, which clearly is not the best at the current time, and how to move toward the best balance that works for everyone?
The I-We-I Cycle
The amazing pattern in the data and high correlation among different forces are depicted here in Figure 1, from Putnam and Garrett (2020, Figure 1.1, p. 9). The curves represent the upswing from the early-1900s (a time when the Scroogists flourished) toward a better balance in the mid-1950s, and again in the mid-1970s (balance, as in Scroogists&Socialists both got their due) and then back to the extreme into the early-2020s (Scroogists once again dominate the system, with any attempt at tempering it branded as come extreme move by Socialists, when in fact it is nothing of that order), with upper reaches of the curve representing:
Economics: More optimal inequality in income and wealth (see the Optimal Inequality Blog)
Political: More optimal partisan cooperation (see the Empathy Politics Blog)
Social: More optimal citizen involvement and participation in everything from bowling clubs to religious, social, and fraternal organizations
Cultural: More optimal communitarian tendencies, better balance in the I&We
Figure 1. The I-We-I Cycle in Economics, Politics, Society, and Culture
Source: Figure 1.1, p. 9, Putnam and Garrett, 2020
But, be careful here: It is not necessarily the case that the very top is the best. Rather, the very top is simply a turning point, with the optimal point more likely being somewhere on the way up to the top (no matter which direction one goes, in both cases working to temper the “I” with the “We” --- and, for more about the need to temper the “I” see Lynne, 2020).
In light of the 2020 US election, we can see that Political turmoil, the Partisan conflict, was high in the 1900s, and returned in the 2020s. Intriguingly, the US went through a period of political, partisan cooperation in the mid-1950s, which was about the same again in the mid-1970s. Intriguingly, the correlation with arguably more optimal income and wealth inequality; more optimal social involvement; and more optimal communitarian tendencies are almost spot-on with the more optimal level of cooperation in partisan politics. It is amazing to see that all four measures are so much on the same track, a correlation which also surprised the researchers, who while “..tinkering with several obscure datasets— stumbled over an unexpected confluence of historical patterns (Putnam and Garrett, 2020, p. 343),” which led to the book.
The most important point, from a Metaeconomics frame of reference, is the play of the I&We. The US system starts out being extremely “I” (Self-interest only) oriented in the early-1900s, in the first Gilded Age. It then moves to a more communitarian --- “We” are in it all together, shared Other-interest tempering Self-interest, somewhat widely shared --- framing by the mid-1950s, reaches a peak in the mid-1960s, and is back to mid-1950s levels in the mid-1970s. It then returns to the mainly “I” (Self-interest only) frame by the early 2020s, a new version of the old Gilded Age. The frame of reference is the “I-We-I” cycle, and what to do about it, referring to what happened by the late-1950s, with the book concluding, referring back to the top of the curves:
…we didn’t set our sights high enough for what the “we” could really be, and we didn’t take seriously enough the challenge of full inclusion. Therefore, the question we face today is not whether we can or should turn back the tide of history, but whether we can resurrect the earlier communitarian virtues (N: Read “We”) in a way that does not reverse the progress we’ve made in terms of individual liberties (N: Read “I”). Both values are American, and we require a balance and integration of both (Putnam and Garrett, 2020, p. 341).
So, by the end of the book, Putnam and Garrett (2020) lament the fact that the US has deviated, once again, from having achieved a reasonably good balance in the I&We by the mid-1950s, repeating that level in the mid-1970s, at least for most groups, albeit racial and gender issues had not been given enough attention. So, ironically, Governor Reynolds intent to point at the late 70s to early 80s as some kind of bad time, the US was actually in quite good balance, at least leading up to it. It has gotten out of balance in large part because of the Economic Narrative started about that time, that Reynolds and others on the Right claim, without empirical evidence, some how works better. Empirical evidence, please.
And, big picture: It is about finding balance, not the extreme imbalance toward the Right, especially demonstrated in the 2008 crash.
In more formal terms, it is about finding path 0Z in Figure 3, seeing the communitarian virtues in path 0M and the individual liberties in path 0G. Metaeconomics clarifies it is about the jointness in individual-liberties&communitarian-virtues on path 0Z, the two being joint, interdependent, and nonseparable. And, most importantly, it clarifies that happiness, peace, and economic efficiency is only possible with good balance, perhaps something more akin to the balance in the mid-1950s (and perhaps in the mid-1970s), but not at the top of the 4-paths in Figure 1.
Figure 3. Joint fidelity to individual liberty along with commitment to equality and inclusion,
A tighter analytical system like depicted in Figure 3 (and, there is a Mathematics to go along with it; see the Mathematical Appendix in Lynne, 2020) helps clarify what is really at stake in the I-We-I conundrum delineated by Putnam and Garrett (2020). That is, while the empirical analysis behind Figure 1 is powerful, and gives many new insights, the analytical system represented metaphorically in Figure 2 and more specifically in Figure 3 helps point to what more exactly is going on. It also points to more exactly what can be done in moving back toward a more reasonable balance.
Relating the Upswing in the I-We-I Curves to the Metaeconomics Balance in I&We
The start and end-points of the Upswing Curves in Figure 1 arise on path 0G, the “I” path of mainly self-interest. Going too far on the Upswing toward the top of Figure 1 is to move too close to or perhaps even onto path 0M, a path of over influence on and control by the “We” over the “I.” The optimal path 0Z arises on the way, something more akin to that achieved in the mid-1950s in the US right before the peak, and, again, perhaps in the mid-1970s on the other side of the peak. Metaeconomics teaches that it is all about tempering the “I” with the “We” (and the “We” with the “I”) but not going too far.
What happened? Why did the US “go over the top” and then go too far down the “I” path again? A MetaEcon would hypothesize that the shift toward path 0M had perhaps gone too far --- perhaps better said, it went too fast for the times --- toward a “We" that was not widely embraced. The fairly rapid changes represented in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Great Society programs of the late-1960s all led to a kind of back-lash, especially in the formerly segregated South, contributing to the move to the “I” after the mid-1960s. So, a push to path 0M may have over-shot a bit, for the times, even though like Putnam and Garrett (2020) point out, in the quote above, even that push was really not enough on either the racial or gender fronts.
Hypotheses About the Driving Forces in the Rebalancing of I&We
So, what happened? What forces were at work that moved the balance back toward the “I” with far too much self-interest? Putnam and Garrett (2020, Chapter 5) address the question in the frame of Culture: Individualism vs Community (the book has 9-Chapters; we focus here on Chapter 5). Metaeconomics would change the frame of the Chapter, making clear it is not “vs” but rather it is about “&” as in the jointness and inherent interdependence in Individualism&Community. Reason?
Well, the Ego&Empathy, I&We, Individualism&Community is inherent in the way a Human brain is wired, so there is no “vs” but only an “&” at work within each person. It also extrapolates, showing eventually in everything a person does within both the Market&Community, Market&Politics, Market&Government.
So, we can now make Metaeconomic sense of the Putnam and Garrett (2020, p. 163) “…trace (of) the fluctuating balance between individualism and community in American culture over the last 125 years.” In contrast to Putnam and Garrett (2020), who eventually declare they do not see the primary cause and effect, Metaeconomics sees the drivers in the I-We-I cycle as very much coming from within the person, in the Human needing to balance the I&We, Ego&Empathy, which are doing battle, struggling within each person.
A good way to start the conversation is in reference to Putnam and Garrett (2020, p. 165):
Following the literary critic Lionel Trilling, “culture,” as we use the term, always entails a contest, a dialectic, a struggle. American history and myth have always contained elements of both individual and community—the cowboy and the wagon train. “There is no period in American history when thinkers have not wrestled with the appropriate balance of power between self-interest and social obligation,” observes intellectual historian Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen.
So, where is the cowboy and the wagon train in Figure 3? Actually, it is cowboy&wagontrain, with the best mix of the two on path 0Z. The cowboy strives to be an “I” on self-interest path 0G; the wagon train is the “We” represented on social obligation path 0M. Neither the cowboy by own-self nor the cowboy traveling with wagon train can go off into the sunset without losing something.
At point A, the cowboy trying to go off into the sunset by own-self maximizes self-interest IG3 but has to sacrifice IM1 < IM3 in the gains from being a part of the wagon train. At the same time, if the wagon train has too much influence (or perhaps control), the cowboy is now at point C, and self-interest has to be sacrificed with IG1 < IG3. A bit of sacrifice in both domains --- sacrifice on the part of the payoff to the cowboy from being part of the wagon train and the cowboy being off on the own path to the sunset --- leads to happiness, peace of mind, and economic efficiency at point B.
The potential for the synergistic, joint gain is illustrated in Figure 4. The possibility frontiers get progressively (no pun intended, but descriptive) further apart when the joint I&We outcomes are pursued at the same time.
Dealing with Slavery
Putnam and Garrett (2020, p. 166) highlight how Abraham Lincoln emphasized path 0M kinds of outcomes, as related to improving the ability of the former slaves to express their path 0G hopes and dreams of freedom. It was not to be, as the reconstruction relegated the former slaves to being largely controlled by former slave owners on some perverse path 0M. The path reflected segregation and extreme ways of controlling the former slaves lasting through the Jim Crow years.
The extreme control was a part of the white segregationist agenda of the South, and not really ending until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, with some vestiges of it still around, as in the systemic racism in US policing, and perhaps even within the law and legal system itself, as critical race theory hypothesizes for empirical test. Yet, as Putnam and Garrett (2020) make clear, some gradual gains were being made starting back in the 1870s, even during the segregationist Jim Crow period, and the fight for gender rights in everything from voting to abortion, all the gains started arising during the extreme “I” period of the first Gilded Age. The "We" was tempering the "I."
Gilded Age was Tough on Everyone, Even the Wealthy
Every race was affected very directly by the Gilded Age of extreme “I” framing, which lasted well into the 1920s, with upwards of 40-50% of the wealth being concentrated in 1% (mainly white) population the last years leading to the Great Depression in the 1930s. We are now back to the 40-50% range here in the 2020s. Metaeconomics makes clear that the Great Depression was indeed caused by it, as was the crash of 2008 and continuing economic malaise of the 2020s: Think of the “I” side of the balance scale in Figure 2 essentially on the floor, without hardly any consideration for the fact said distribution of wealth is not something that others could go along with. Too much inequality causes such crashes to the floor.
Social Darwinism was a Main Driver
And, what drove it? Social Darwinism was a huge player back in the 1900s (Putnam and Garrett, 2020, p. 166-167), the notion of the survival of the fittest: “…the haves deserved what they had, and the devil take the have-nots (which is back in vogue now in the 2020s, with Meritocracy in the rich and a Culture of Cruelty practiced against the poor: see Wise, 2015).” Intriguingly, Charles Darwin never favored such an idea, but it played well, among the Taking and Keeping robber barons and their enablers, the Conservatives: It justified keeping the balance scale tipped in their favor (as it is doing so once again in the 2020s, again, see Wise, 2015).
Said hyper-individualism did not play well with the Progressives, who proceeded to do everything possible to re-balance the scale toward a “We” that would work better for everyone, including the robber barons. The Progressives sought “…to provide a new, more communitarian narrative of modernization that could knit together haves and have-nots, immigrants and native-born Americans, and their views gradually gained ground (Putnam and Garrett, 2020, p. 168).” The idea of the need to build social capital to temper the use of private capital emerged. Current Progressives have been trying it again in the 2020s, pointing to such things as the need for more investment in public education and universal health care.
Civic, Religious, and Social Gospel Framed Organizations Tempered Self-Interest
Civic, religious (especially seeing the role of the Social Gospel), and social organizations started to grow back in the early-1900s, with a focus on tipping the balance toward the “We” and less emphasis on the “I.” Using the Google search engine Ngram (which facilitates word searching old books and documents), by 1920 the use of the phrase “survival of the fittest” was fading while “social gospel” was increasing rapidly, the latter phrase rising substantially in frequency of use right up to 1960 (Putnam and Garrett, 2020, p. 169). By the 1970s, the latter had essentially disappeared, as the attention to the “I” started to be restored to levels not seen since prior to the 1920s.
New Deal Rebalanced Toward the "We"
Yet, from the early-1900s the Progressives, represented in Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklyn Roosevelt gradually helped in changing the balance toward the “We” especially with the New Deal of the 1930s. Words and phrases like (Putnam and Garrett, 2020, p. 171-172) “Christian socialism,” “neighborliness,” and “community” were common terms, as well as “association” (or “associationism”) and “cooperation.” Said rebalancing toward the “We” led to “…progressive legislation on child labor, the eight-hour workday, the estate tax, and a more progressive income tax (Putnam and Garrett, 2020, p. 172).
Even Hoover --- the President when the “Hoovervilles” appeared across the US landscape, the shanty towns, illustrating the failure of the Market to adequately ensure everyone had a piece of the action in the (not so humane) capitalism system of the day, except for the top 1% --- framed the matter in (Putnam and Garrett, 2020, p. 173) “… good progressive fashion that laissez-faire was irresponsible, and that individualism without equal opportunity was repressive. The only individualism worth having—American individualism—must combine personal initiative with a deep spiritual commitment to the value of public service and the importance of cooperation.”
Hoover believed that even Conservatives could be good communitarians with attention to the “We,” a view that has largely vanished from the “I” focus of Conservatives (especially the Libertarian and other Extreme Right elements) in the 2020s. Unfortunately, he did not practice what he preached, instead giving into “I” oriented economic policy which just exacerbated the Great Depression. American Individualism if done correctly would have ensured no Hoovervilles, with everyone having a piece of the action on path 0Z rather than only the 1% having it all on path 0G, and, even the vertical axis of extreme greed.
Roaring 20s Saw Mainly the "I"
The 1920s in transition to the 1930s were all about the “I”, with partying, live for the day mindsets, a free-for-all mindset perhaps stirred by a kind of nihilism arising out of the flu Pandemic in 1918 (Putnam and Garrett, 2020, p. 174). The “I” narrative was not the solution, however, and led to the 1929 crash, and fed the Great Depression. It also did not work during the 1940s, with the need to pull together in a “We” to address the fight against Fascism, an extreme kind of “I” represented in Authoritarianism. Ironically, US voters have been supporting Autocracy with a Fascist twist in recent years here in the US, ironic in that current US voters are the children and grandchildren of the World War cohort --- the Greatest Generation --- who put down Authoritarian Fascism. We can guess the Greatest Generation would be aghast at who their children and grandchildren are voting for.
The "We" Evolves in the 1930s-1950s: American Dream Becomes Real
The American framing of the “We” in the late-1930s and into the 1950s showed in contemporary books, movies of the day, represented in the Grapes of Wrath, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and It’s a Wonderful Life. By the early-1950s, it was all about living the American Dream, made possible with good balance in I&We. Also, the American Dream meant far more than an extra car and a bigger house: It was about a balanced I&We, balanced Individualism&Community, as well as strong investment and support for the essential balance in Market&Government. As Putnam and Garrett (2020, p. 177) characterize it:
The term “American Dream” had originally been popularized by James Truslow Adams in 1931, who explained, “It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of a social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of their birth.”
Cooperatives and Labor Unions plus Government Regulations Made the Dream a Reality
Labor unions, cooperatives, banking and finance regulations, and other ways to bring offsets to power to help support the opportunity to achieve the American Dream were all part of it: It was Market&Government in good balance. The notion of the Common Man --- a “We” in a "we are in it together" philosophy --- also evolved in consort with it (Putnam and Garrett, 2020, p. 175). The Dream lingered into the 1960s, and was used as a guiding light in the Civil Rights movement. It was about both material&moral considerations, not just another car or better house. Unfortunately, by the late-1970s and into the early-1980s, the system was put on a path which now has only a dim memory of the We that used to Be.
Not Everyone was Allowed to Participate in the American Dream
Also, “community standards” even in the time when the American Dream was possible for some often had a dark side, as used in the South by segregationists to keep the ancestors of the former slave population from joining the narrowly defined and guarded “insider” group of the old South. Those with that genetics, even if only “1-drop” of blood from the former slave population, were treated as the “outsider” group, something that came back with substantive force in the US for all people of color (“the immigrants,” especially when the religion and culture is different, too) now in the 2020s. The American Dream, even at the peak of it, was mainly for white people, especially white heterosexual men, as certain race and gender profiles were not often part of the favored We. It seems it is the case again, here in the 2020s, as Authoritarians with Fascism twist, in both politics and religion, and, too often, in a joint politics&religition, step-forward promising to fix everything.
Other dark side communitarian framing also started to come out in the 1950s, like the McCarthyism with the oft total distortion of the reality as related to another kind of We represented in pure communism. The McCarthy era purges of often completely legal “We” activities led to a kind of back-lash by freedom loving “I” framing. It is now back in the 2020s, with conspiracy theories and imagined legions of extreme Left wing instigators planning to take-over the system, a kind of Fantasyland especially prominent on the Right (Andersen, 2017).
The "We" Often Contained Both Racial and Gender Discrimination
The communitarian framing of the day often meant discrimination not only for political views, but was also based on racial and gender profiling. People started to move away from the subversion of the community standard “We” with deviance of the “I” encouraged (Putnam and Garrett, 2020, p. 180). The famous James Dean, and the movie Rebel Without a Cause, 1955 kind of thinking became ever more common. By the mid-1960s, the “I” was back on the stage, and the “We” was being relegated to history.
In technical terms, it came to be understood that the two sets of isocurves in Figure 3 did not exactly overlap; rather, they really look more like that in Figure 3, with conflicts between the dual interests, rather than just one set of isocurves and one set of interests --- self&other-interest identical, not disparate like illustrated. Only one-set was regularly represented in the Single Interest Theory (SIT) in Microeconomic analysis of the day, and is still so depicted in the massive flaw of contemporary SIT that sees only one-interest, the self-interest identically viewed as also the shared other-interest.
Moving Away from the Traditional "We" Starts in the late-1950s and Dominates the 1960s
The 1960s represent a drastic turn from even considering what was on the “We” path 0M toward an almost exclusive focus on the “I” path 0G. And, in extreme cases of the arrogance of self-love fed by a heavy dose of hedonism and narcissism, the vertical axis became the focus. That vertical axis is a common trajectory for path 0G in the 2020s (up the vertical axis without regard for any shared We-interest, like in not wearing a face mask during a Pandemic). See the Liberty to Say and Do What? Blog.
Shift is from Autonomy&Homonomy, to Heteronomy, and, then, to Autonomy-Only
So, the US starts with a good mix of autonomy&homonomy (the latter about nudges from the “We”, but not controlling, of a person’s “I” behavior) in the 1930s through early-1950s, but comes out of the 1950s with autonomy&heteronomy (the latter meaning substantive restrictions and social control). A kind of rebellion against heteronomy feeds the turning down of the curve, starting in the mid-1960s, encouraged more in the 1970s, and by the late-1980s it is strictly about autonomy. It became a kind of free-for-all, people believing in the right do as you please kind of “I” framing with lots of dark side outcomes. Life-styles on the Left changed dramatically, as the free-spirit of the “I” was encouraged. The Right changed, too, to a kind of free-for-all, no holds barred “I” on the economic front, while to this day still resisting the free-spirit social changes on the Left, some of which are now disparately referred to as woke. Culture wars are at play: Wars against Cultural liberalism rage on the Right; wars against Market liberalism rage on the Left. Balance, please.
Ayn Randians and Libertarians Played a Huge Role in Shifting to an "I"
Ayn Rand, Frederick von Hayek, and Milton Friedman --- Libertarians all --- came to play a huge role in removing the “We” from economic framing and theory on the Right. Friedman (1970) published the infamous The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits article in the The New York magazine, which went viral, like a nasty and destructive Pandemic virus. Suddenly it became fashionable and acceptable for American business to narrow the “We” to only the shareholders, giving short shrift to employees, communities, input suppliers, communities. It was also completely acceptable to resist any kind of environmental regulation, anything that reduced profits, no matter the environmental cost of doing so, including the very destruction of the Spaceship Earth Systems within which the business is embedded (as in releasing way too much carbon, other greenhouse gases). The Right was put on a very narrow “I” path, and the Economic Narrative to this day still reflects it. As McCloskey (2019, p. 93) says it, the Chicago School of Economics, especially the Libertarian branch, like Milton Friedman, still driving economic framing (the Market Liberalism Economic Narrative) and policy in the 2020s, are “opposed to any ethical reflection whatever.”
Ethical Reflection Vanishes: Markets Presumed Inherently Good
The lack of ethical reflection really got a boost in the 1980s, with the Reagan Revolution (and Thatcher in the UK) wherein it was erroneously claimed, without empirical support, that only the Market could and did good things. The empirical reality is that the Government can do good things, too, if good people are running it. The Friedman Doctrine and the Reagan Revolution gaining strength after the late 70s and early 80s led to dire consequences, especially for the economy, but also contributed to the downswing in the other 3-measures of the human situation, as illustrated in the move to a complete focus on the "I" by the 2020s.
Failure to See That Being Opposed to Ethical Reflection for Giving Context Destroys the Market
As Metaeconomics makes clear (see Lynne, 2020), the lack of ethical reflection means only the arrogance of self-love expressed in less than tempered and bounded self-interest prevails, a dominant feature of business and economy in the 2020s, just like in the 1900s. It is only through the first step toward an empathy based other-interest that ethical reflection arises to influence the choice. So, the first step is to empathize, which is to consider what is on path 0M, what is the ethical content --- that which is thought reasonable by a wide-array of others (all the stakeholders not just the shareholders and the overpaid CEOs), the ethic as it were --- before considering how to temper the primal tendency to move on path 0G. After said consideration --- as Adam Smith suggested, while in the Station of the Impartial Spectator --- one then tempers the self-interest on path 0G, moving to a path 0Z that works for everyone.
Cultural Liberalism on the Left and Market Liberalism Both Work to Destroy the "We"
So, overall, starting in the mid-1960s, and it is really the case now in the 2020s: “For the Left, constraints are on lifestyles; for the Right, constraints are on money … (in both cases, removing the constraints feeds the “I” as in ) If it feels good, do it (Putnam and Garrett, 2020, p. 188).” High individualization to an “I” causes both Left and Right to want the constraints, the “We” removed. Unfortunately, freeing-up the “I” without any kind of tempering or bounds causes negative consequences for both Right&Left, for both the I&We. For essentially the same idea, see Deneen (2018) and Bromley (2019).
Metaeconomics makes it clear that happiness, peace, and economic efficiency are not possible on path 0G, and certainly not on the vertical axis which has become to be the path in extreme lifestyles and extreme pursuits of wealth, and, sometimes both in combination as in wealth&lifestyle. For the latter, the combination destroys not only the person but everyone and everything the person touches (e.g. in extremely egoistic-hedonistic-narcissistic personalities who have managed to accumulate massive amounts of wealth and power, too, so it is imposed on others). As Cory (1999) makes clear, the homeostasis balance of Ego&Empathy is essential, and clearly missed when the focus is only on the arrogance of self-love without self-control by own-self, and without any kinds of bounds. Adam Smith also warned of the need to temper the arrogance of self-love --- the self-interest --- with that which everyone can go along with.
Intriguingly, as Putnam and Garrett (2020, p. 190) point out, this move to “I” in the New Right and New Left, for the “… most part the New Right had much more long-term success than the New Left. The Republican Party in 2018 was much more like the New Right of the 1950s than the Democratic Party was like the New Left of the 1960s.” The success on the Right especially shows in the massive and extreme inequality in income and wealth in the US, which has now become a wide-spread public health and social problem (Piff, 2015; Payne, 2018). In fact, it is likely the main driver in the turmoil in the political economy, in that it drives resentment, causing people to look for strongman --- fascists are welcomed --- political leaders that promise to fix their pain (after Payne, 2018).
Metaeconomics Points to a Better Path Forward
The shift in balance to the “I” has created a number of very serious issues. As Putnam and Garrett (2020, p. 192) frame it:
The emphasis on individual rights—civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, consumer rights, children’s rights, and so forth—has expanded steadily over the last half century and shows no sign of waning. Though initially framed as a progressive value, “rights” soon became a normative framework accepted across the political spectrum—“rights of the unborn,” “gun rights,” or even “white rights.”
Metaeconomics makes it clear the framing needs to put such matters into that of searching for common ground in a widely shared “We” rather than individual rights to be fought over between warring “I” frames of reference. Said wars --- a kind of tribal identity around a perceived right --- often leads at best to a very narrow “We” interest that cannot be resolved against another “We” interest.
Looking Forward: Hope for a Re-balancing of the I&We
Yet, there may be hope: As Putnam and Garrett (2020, p. 316) argue it:
America’s highly unequal, polarized, socially disconnected, and culturally self-absorbed late-nineteenth-century society experienced measurable and near-simultaneous upswings toward equality, inclusion, comity, connection, and altruism as the twentieth century opened.
So, we could try it again, now in the 2020s. Each “I” within the narrowly defined tribal group they identify with, e.g. the gun rights “We”, or the abortion rights “We”, needs to start the process of forming and otherwise finding overlapping “We” frames of reference --- seeking optimal inequality in income and wealth; seeking peace in political discourse; acknowledging reasonable gun laws and regulations that everyone can go along with; acknowledging the liberty and freedom of women to choose how they care for their own bodies; and, rebuilding social connections and organization focused on common goals.
And, the key, the missing part here, in a word: Empathy (see Lynne, 2020). The Ego is primal: It is deep in the core of every human brain. It is through mindfulness, engaging the Empathy, that each person tempers the Ego, leading to a better balance in the Ego&Empathy, the I&We in Putnam and Garrett (2020). It all works as long as a sufficient amount of Empathy is expressed: Without Empathy, the system crashes, going to the end points of the Upswing curve with huge and negative impacts for everyone, like it did in the early-1900s and now again in the 2020s. The hope rests in Empathy, which is all about that which everyone can go along with, like was possible in the mid-1950s, to some extent in the mid-1970s. So, sorry Governor Reynolds, but it seems we do need to go back to the late 70s and early 80s and reconsider just what the best Economic Narrative --- suggesting here (see the other Blog posts herein) it needs to be a Metaeconomic Narrative about balance --- might entail.
Andersen, Kurt. Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History. New York: Random House, 2017.
Biden, J. State of the Union, March 1, 2022. https://www.npr.org/2022/03/01/1083854104/biden-state-of-the-union-full-text-2022
Bromley, Daniel W. Possessive Individualism: A Crisis of Capitalism. Kindle ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.
Cory, G. A. The Reciprocal Modular Brain in Economics and Politics. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum, 1999.
Deneen, Patrick J. Why Liberalism Failed. Kindle ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018.
Friedman, Milton. "The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits." The New York Magazine, September 13, 1970.
George, David. The Rhetoric of the Right: Language Change and Spread of the Market. New York: Routledge, 2013.
Lynne, G.D. Metaeconomics: Tempering Excessive Greed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020. https://www.palgrave.com/us/book/9783030506001https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08NG1H7BT?ref_=kin_pc_dp&fbclid=IwAR3IldkmSZDGmBHtWh3YKnYphAgcAqs8NsN2d7_heki2aIFN0E3bVigNB3k
Lynne, Gary D. "Review of Bromley, D. W. Possessive Individualism: A Crisis of Capitalism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019." Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics 95 (2021).
Lynne, Gary D. “Review of Deneen, P. J. Why Liberalism Failed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018." Journal of Behavioral Economics for Policy In press (2022)
McCloskey, D. N. Why Liberalism Works: How True Liberal Values Produce a Freer, More Equal, Prosperous World for All. Kindle ed. New York: Yale University Press, 2019.
Payne, Keith. The Broken Ladder: How Inequality Affects the Way We Think, Live, and Die. New York: Penguin Books, 2018.
Piff, P. K. "Wealth and the Inflated Self: Class, Entitlement and Narcissism." Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 40, no. 1 (2015): 34-43.
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.
Reynolds, K. Republican Response to the State of the Union Address, March 1, 2022. https://www.npr.org/2022/03/01/1083855975/republican-response-iowa-kim-reynolds-text-state-of-the-union
Smith, Adam. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Edited by E. Cannan. New York: Random House, 1776/1789 (available at htttp://www.feedbooks.com ).
Smith, Adam. The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Macfie Rafael, D.D. and A.L. Indianapolis, Indiana: Liberty Fund, Inc., 1759/1790 (digital access at digireads.com).
Wise, T. Under the Affluence: Shaming the Poor, Praising the Rich, and Sacrificing the Future of America. San Francisco, CA: City Lights Publishers, Kindle Edition, 2015..