Updated: Nov 20
Good balance in the I&We during mid-1950s and again mid-1970s: How do we get back to it?
Directly relevant to the 2020 US Election, Putnam and Garrett (2020) in The Upswing trace the continual and ongoing rebalancing in the I-We-I --- in Metaeconomic terms, balancing the I&We, which is also influenced by election results --- 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 toward a better balance in the mid-1950s, and again in the mid-1970s, and then back to the extreme into the early-2020s, with upper reaches of the curve representing:
Economics: More optimal inequality in income and wealth
Political: More optimal partisan cooperation
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 has 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.
It Really is About the Balance in the I&We
How do we make sense of all of it? What are the drivers? And, is there a way to find some optimal point in the swing, which as Metaeconomics makes clear, is never going to be at the extremes? In Metaeconomic terms, it is about the continual need to balance and re-balance as between the I&We, Self&Other-interest, and, writ large, the Market&Government, as depicted generally in Figure 2.
Figure 2 Balance in I&We, Individual&Community, Self&Other-interest, and writ large, seeing the essential need for balance in a joint Market&Government
Think of it as a problem in reducing injustice as the scale swings back-and-forth, searching for good balance in the I&We. And, overall, the task is one of continually reducing injustice, which requires solid investment in both the market&government. Insufficient attention to either one ensures the other cannot function well, and that injustice will increase. Also, like Adam Smith tried to teach us, eliminating injustice is the most important, essential pillar on which both capitalism&democracy, market&government rests.
I&We are Actually Joint, Interdependent, and Nonseparable
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. The optimal path 0Z is one where the primal driver represented in the “I” is sufficiently tempered and bounded by the “We” to achieve the happiness, peace, and economic efficiency of a well- balanced I&We. Yet, one cannot push it too far, as the “I” needs the space to freely choose. The fidelity of individual liberty is enjoyed on path 0Z with at least some commitment to widely experienced equality (actually, an optimal inequality, as some inequality is essential) and inclusion as represented in path 0M.
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.
Metaeconomics actually suggests another substantive side to the story, like in the notion "and now you know the rest of the story," like Paul Harvey used to say it. A MetaEcon would suggest it was more about the “I” than about the “We” per se, with the failure being one of not tempering the more primal tendency to the Ego-based self-interest (the "I") which resides deeply inside of every human brain, the core of the brain being reptilian in origin. As my colleagues and I have argued (Cory, 1999, 2000, 2006a,b, 2018; Levine, 2006; Lynne, 2002, 2006, and Wilson, 2006), the reptilian core of the brain gives rise to the Ego-based arrogance of self-love, the self-interest. The mammalian over-layer which came much later in the evolutionary process works to temper it, as reflected in an Empathy based other (shared with others, but internalized within the own-self)-interest (the "We"). The other-interest reflects that which everyone can go along with, reflected in the ethical (and legal) system. The reptilian “I” needs to be tempered by the mammalian “We” in order to maintain any kind of mental stability --- good balance in Ego&Empathy, in I&We, in Individualism&Community --- essential to every well-functioning person, and, writ large, to a well-functioning, joint and balanced Market&Government. And, it takes a great deal of self-control to bring it about. The cold blooded, snake-like, hedonistic core of the brain, which can also be quite narcissistic --- was fed and encouraged in the early-1900s, and again in the early-1960s, reinforced in the early-1970s, and especially pushed in the early-1980s --- with said reinforcement and push going too far. It assuredly is the most likely cause of all the turmoil on the economic, political, social, and cultural fronts in the 2020s.
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. 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, and, in everything a person does within both the Market&Community, 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. Each person, at least in a humane liberalism --- which the US system has tried to be, not with full success --- works at how the I&We is balanced and rebalanced over time. The person decides the balance within own-self, as influenced by the community, and driven by the empathy-based formation of a shared other-interest.
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.
In Metaeconomic terms, the dialectic is between the Ego&Empathy, the I&We, the Self&Other (internal own-self but shared with others) -interest. 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. Notice the inherent wrestling to find the appropriate balance of power, and, the sacrifice required in both domains of interest in order to resolve it, and, how the payoffs in both domains arise jointly, being completely nonseparable: 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 optimal path 0Z is a path with a bit of sacrifice in both domains of the dual interest, whether it is economic, political, social, and/or cultural. And, while Putnam and Garrett (2020, p. 166) refer to it as a swing in the pendulum between the self-interest and social obligation, a better metaphor is seemingly the balance scale of justice (reducing injustice) in Figure 2. Justice is served with a bit of sacrifice in both domains of interest, potentially leading to a synergistic gain, sum-greater-than-the-sum-of-the-parts payoff in both interests, overall.
The potential for that synergistic 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.
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. That 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. 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."
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.
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 (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.
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 provide wealth 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 believe that even Conservatives could be good communitarians with attention to the “We,” a view that has 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.
The 1920s that led to 1930s were all about the “I”, with free love, 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” creed 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” representing a dictator(s) and a small group of enablers. 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 Fascism. We can guess the Greatest Generation would be aghast at who their children and grandchildren are voting for.
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.”
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 the1980s, it was just a dim memory of the We that used to Be.
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 in full 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.
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 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 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 Microeconomic analysis of the day, and is still so depicted in the massive flaw of contemporary Microeconomics that sees only one-interest, the self-interest identically viewed as also the shared other-interest.
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).
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, 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.
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 social cost of doing so, including the very destruction of the Spaceship Earth Systems within which the business is embedded. The Right was 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 Libertarians, like Milton Friedman, still driving economic framing and policy in the 2020s, are “opposed to any ethical reflection whatever.”
The lack of ethical reflection continued 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 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.
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.
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. 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). 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 in framing how to solve a myriad of issues. The problem is, rather than seeing substantive issues as problems in the “We” said problems are reframed as “I” problems in “rights.” 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.
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.
Metaeconomics especially helps in seeing that altruism has new meaning, now meaning that everyone sacrifices a bit in each domain of interest. It is only with a bit of altruism --- a bit of sacrifice in both self-interest and in the shared other-interest, in both the “I” and the “We” spread widely that true happiness, peace, and economic efficiency can be achieved. It can only come with new balance in a joint I&We, a balance that sees the advantage of seeking path 0Z kinds of outcomes.
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 and again in the mid-1970s.
Right and Left Isle: Conservative and Progressive
First, as a point of reference: Microeconomics, the analytical engine of mainstream economics, can only speak of politics as something driven completely by self-interest. Microeconomics sees only self-interest.
Second, as another point of reference: Metaeconomics, one of the analytical engines of behavioral economics, sees politics as something representing our shared other-interest. Content of that shared other-interest various by each political persuasion. The other-interest is the holder of what ever political content being considered. That other-interest, in turn, works to give context to, and influence, the expression of the self-interest. So, Metaeconomics proves far more useful in making sense of political economics, which is about a joint look at economics&politics, and, even jointness in Conservative&Progressive framing, which actually works the best.
So, path 0M holds the political frame of mind. And, we would expect that a more Conservative content to path 0M might lead to expressions of self-interest along a path 0G focused on maximizing profit and wealth: In effect, path 0M becomes one with path 0G. For example, the Conservative framing on path 0M would work at eliminating environmental regulations so the fossil (carbon) fuel industry can maximize profits on path 0G, in that path 0G, is also now path 0M. In fact, the enabler for such kind of behavior comes from the framing and theory as represented in the Chicago School of Economics who use Microeconomics as the analytical system, which sees only path 0G. All considerations for the sustainability of the Spaceship would be set aside to maximize short term profits and increase dollar wealth and ignore the ecological wealth --- incommensurable with dollar wealth --- of the Spaceship.
Progressive content of path 0M, based on the consensus science on the fact that we are exceeding the capacity of the atmosphere and ecosystem on the Spaceship to hold and process greenhouse gases, would look more like it does in Figure 3. Path 0M being separate from path 0G would temper and perhaps bound that same carbon fuels industry to produce along some path 0Z. Said path 0Z would account for the social costs of burning large amounts of carbon based fuels, and work to sustain the Spaceship system. It is only with sufficient "We" as represented in an Empathy based shared other-interest that the Spaceship can be sustained (see Brown, et al., 2019), and, ironically, the only way economic efficiency be achieved on path 0Z. Operating on path 0G of self-interest only cannot produce economic efficiency.
Election: Autocracy or Democracy
Metaeconomics can also --- because it includes the shared other-interest --- help make sense of what is at stake in going to alternative kinds of political systems, with Democracy vs Autocracy especially pertinent in the US now in the 2020s. Metaeconomics clarifies that the political system, which is represented in the shared other-interest on path 0M, plays a key role in the ability to express the self-interest by each person. Metaeconomics also clarifies that self-control determines the path 0Z that is freely chosen in a Democracy --- influenced, perhaps nudged, but still freely chosen. Path 0Z can be close to path 0G in a Democracy, but will generally also reflect the widely shared considerations represented on path 0M. In an Autocracy --- especially a Dictatorship with Fascist Politics and Fascist Religion --- in stark contrast, the person has little free choice, being highly constrained. In an Autocracy, a person can even be forced onto path 0M by the Autocrats (often involving cronyism in Politics&Business&Religion), with little in the matter of free choice for people other for the few a the top.
And, specifically for the stark contrast in the recent US election: Voters had a clear choice between working to act with attention to Democracy or to nudge the system over to an Autocracy with Authoritarian rule. Metaeconomics framing makes it clear that in a Democracy everyone is to count. Every vote is to count. It is about a widely shared, hopefully universally shared, other-interest. It is about path 0Z: The American Flag flies for everyone. The potential for a truly humane liberalism is still possible, in a viable capitalism&democracy.
In stark contrast, moving toward an Autocracy, is not only to move away from US Democracy, but also to move away from Enlightenment principles put in motion in the late-1700s. The US has been experiencing a shortfall in Empathy, the latter being a key feature of the Enlightenment framing. Enlightenment is about the empathy-based formation of a moral and ethical system that worked for everyone, not just for a favored few as in an Autocracy. The lack of Empathy (lack of "We") reinforces a kind of Culture of Cruelty (like described in Wise, 2015), in doing things like separating immigrant children into cages, and showing essentially no Empathy for people most adversely affected by the Coronavirus Pandemic. Also, by downplaying any role for Empathy, and relying only the Egoistic (with Hedonism-Narcissism also prominent, an extreme "I") frame, the Meritocracy of the rich and powerful is also reinforced, as though everyone else is vile and inferior to those favored. Such a system will crash, as Metaeconomics makes clear. Extremes do not work: Balance does work.
Another way to frame it: To choose an Autocracy --- especially one with a Fascist twist, not subjected to the law and order of a real Democracy --- is to abandon the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment, with Adam Smith one of main contributors to it, was all about tempering the excessive greed and concentration of wealth and power in a few people, and, again, and not to favor any particular group, and therefore to build a system that everyone could go along with.
The Autocracy that some Americans seem to be moving towards moves substantively away from the Enlightenment framing --- especially if it takes the form of an Autocracy with the Nationalist/Fascist twist --- reflecting a shift toward favoring both the Fascist Politics and Fascist Religion frame of reference, and, as a result, a system that only the Fascists can go along with. It is little wonder that an Anti-Fascist mindset evolved to address the Fascists. The Fascist frame means liberty and freedom only for the favored people who buy into the Fascist frame of Strongman politics and religion. An Autocracy is about a very narrowly shared other-interest, only favoring a few that have been selected for favor within the Autocracy, and who support the Autocrat. The American Flag in some circles is now narrowly flown only for those who support the Autocrat and the Authoritarian style Autocracy that seems to be favored within that mindset. In such framing, the humane liberalism in the kind of economy&government envisioned by Enlightenment thinkers like Adam Smith vanishes, as the system shifts to a kind of authoritarian capitalism and rampant cronyism in an autarky of political&business&religious control from which only the "favored" benefit.
Metaeconomics as an analytical system helps in making sense of the need for balance in the I&We, and helps in positioning own-self to make a best choice for family, community, market, and government. Choose carefully, and, do it on empirical grounds. Metaeconomics uses both scienceðics, and, both approached with data and empirical assessment.
Bringing the I-We-I cycle back into a reasonable balance requires more "We" which arises out of Empathy. It is about forming a new empathy-based other (shared widely)-interest that works for every American. It needs to reflect, like Adam Smith framed it, the need to "...humble the arrogance of his self-love (N: the 'I'), and bring it down to something which other men can go along with ( N: the 'We')(Smith, 1759/1790, loc 1714-1727; for more, see https://www.metaeconomics.info/speculation ). The arrogance of self-love, the self-interest, the "I" is dominant right now in the 2020s. The new political economy as influenced by the recent election needs to temper it (also see Lynne, in press), bringing empathy, the "We", into playing a larger role. It is time to start the process of turning the I-We-I, turning the current downward spiral to ever more "I" into an Upswing, with a new cycle of I-We-I-We, seeking the best balance in I&We.
Andersen, Kurt. Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History. New York: Random House, 2017.
Brown, K., Adger, W. N., Devine-Wright, P., Anderies, J. M., Barr, S., Bousquet, F., Butler, C., Evans, L., Marshall, N., and Quinn, T. "Empathy, Place and Identity Interactions for Sustainability." Global Environmental Change 56 (2019): 11 – 17.
Cory, G. A. The Reciprocal Modular Brain in Economics and Politics. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum publishers, 1999.
Cory, G. A. Toward Consilience. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, 2000.
Cory, G. A. "The Dual Motive Theory." Journal of Socio-Economics 35, no. 4 (2006a): 589-91.
Cory, G. A. "A Behavioral Model of the Dual Motive Approach to Behavioral Economics and Social Exchange." Journal of Socio-Economics 35, no. 4 (2006b): 592 – 612.
Cory, G. A. Delusions of Economics: And the Way Forward. Behavioral Ecology Press, 2018.
Friedman, Milton. "The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits." The New York Magazine, September 13, 1970.
Levine, D. S. "Neural Modeling of the Dual Motive Theory of Economics." Journal of Socio-Economics 35, no. 4 (2006): 613 – 25.
Lynne, G. D. "Review of Cory, G.A. “The Reciprocal Modular Brain in Economics and Politics: Shaping the Rational and Moral Basis of Organization, Exchange and Choice.” New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, 1999.". Journal of Socio-Economics 31, no. 5 (2002): 583-86.
Lynne, G. D. "Toward a Dual Motive Metaeconomic Theory." Journal of Socio-Economics 35 (2006): 634 – 51.
Lynne, G.D. Metaeconomics: Tempering Excessive Greed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020. https://www.palgrave.com/us/book/9783030506001 https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08NG1H7BT?ref_=kin_pc_dp&fbclid=IwAR3IldkmSZDGmBHtWh3YKnYphAgcAqs8NsN2d7_heki2aIFN0E3bVigNB3k
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.
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).
Wilson, D. R. . "The Evolutionary Neuroscience of Human Reciprocal Sociality: A Basic Outline for Economists." Journal of Socio-Economics 35, no. 4 (2006): 626-33.
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.