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Project of Metaeconomics

We must restore ethical reflection to the heart of economic reasoning, re-center policymaking on the common good, and re-embed ethical education in economics and business programs. Economics emerged as a subbranch of moral philosophy, and it must return to its roots  (Annett, 2018)

The overall Project of Metaeconomics is to bring ethical reflection into economics, as Adam Smith originally proposed. As McCloskey argues, "(Adam) Smith practiced 'humanomics,' an economics with the humans and their ethics left in (McCloskey and Carden, 2020, p. 176; also, see McCloskey 2021)." Metaeconomics is such an economics: It brings ethics back into view by introducing the other (shared ethic-based)-interest into a Dual Interest Theory (DIT), keeping self-interest primal, but now tempered by ethical reflection as represented in the shared other-interest.  Adam Smith would be a Metaeconomist, a MetaEcon, as Smith saw dual interest at play in Human nature: It was about seeking own-interest, made possible only by ethical (moral sentiments) tempering of self-interest, to bring the self-interest --- that of the Econ ---  down to something that the other can go along with (ethics).  Metaeconomics is about bringing economics back to its roots, seeing the Human not just the Econ, framed in a Humanomics not just an Economics. 

 

By bringing science & ethics back into economics, it also makes for a Real World Economics, not a Fantasyland and Imaginary World Economics.  It is about a Spaceship Earth Economics, seeing the Economy that provisions the Travelers as embedded withing the Spaceship system. It is about an economics for all the Travelers on the Spaceship flying around the Sun and through the Universe. 

As a result of bringing ethics back to center stage, and building on science & ethics,  the Project also resolves “the Adam Smith problem.”  And, it resolves the problems in  both the dominant Schools of Economics, including Chicago Economics applied to political economy, as represented in “the Chicago School problem” and “the Public Choice Theory/School problem.” Both schools put all attention to self-interest, and downplay the role of the ethics represented in the shared other-interest. Adam Smith saw the own-interest could not be achieved without the self-interest being tempered by the ethic, as in a joint self & other-interest, joint self & widely shared ethic: "das Adam Smith" problem never existed.  See What is Dual Interest Theory for more details. 

 

Overall, the project is framed by the contention in Institutional Economics (and supported by testing of DIT using Behavioral Economics framing):  (Micro)Economics … is just political ideology in disguise” (Bromley 2019, p. 28, who also makes the point that the ethic is key, and sufficient reason must support any particular ethic that is chosen). That is, Microeconomics is an ideology of ego-based self-interest only (Single Interest Theory, SIT), and the narrowly defined ethic that supports only self-interest.  And, especially in the Chicago School, Libertarian application of it, economists using SIT with that framing are  “fiercely opposed to any ethical reflection whatever” (McCloskey  2019, p. 93).   And, the formal courses training high school and university students also need to be changed, from Econ 101 teaching ideology and being opposed to ethical reflection, replaced by MetaEcon 101 courses based in science & ethics, in effect, seeing the jointness, nonseparability, and interdependence of STEM & Humanities: Time to rewrite the books. 

 

Metaeconomics has the following features (Go To or Return To the Metaeconomics book overview page):

  1. Dual Interest Theory (DIT)  in Metaeconomics, which transcends the limitations of Single Interest Theory (SIT),  which has become a political ideology, and returns economics to a facts (empirical, scientific-method sourced foundation for economics) & ethics based endeavor.

  2. DIT builds on the notion that ethical reflection starts in mindful empathy-with the other, in the search for what the other can go along with (ethics). 

  3. DIT sees ethics working to temper the self-interest, with outside (the person) influence --- sometimes needing regulation and control --- only necessary when self-control fails. 

  4. DIT  recognizes the Behavioral and Neuroeconomics (as well as Evolutionary Biology) science pointing to the dual (ego&empathy, self&other) nature of human nature.

  5. DIT brings ethics (extracted from economics with the move started in the 1930s toward a mathematical economics) back into view within the analytical framework. 

  6. DIT shifts attention to maximizing the own-interest, reflected in the best balance in ego-based self-interest & empathy-based other-interest representing the ethic, requiring a bit of sacrifice (altruism) in each domain, with the best ethic a subject for inquiry in a joint consideration of facts (scientific method sourced) & ethics.

  7. DIT clarifies a balanced self&other-interest is essential to economic efficiency, to peace (minimal political and religious chaos), and, overall, to happiness.

  8. DIT focuses attention on the need for constant rebalancing of the self&other, I&We (as in Putnam and Garrett 2020), always in search of sufficient reason to choose a particular balance. 

  9. DIT  sees a key role for Government, replacing the  frame of Market VS Government with Market & Government, giving analytical content to the notion  that “… classical liberals need to acknowledge the need for government, and get past the neoliberal era in which the state was demonized as an inevitable enemy of economic growth and individual freedom  (Fukuyama 2022, p. 146)." 

  10. DIT has a placeholder for community, religion, political ideology, and, in general, all institutions  and their transaction costs, each reflected in the shared other-interest.

  11. DIT is neutral to the position taken on any ideological and/or theological spectrum, while subjecting the search for the best position on the grounds of facts (scientific-method sourced) & ethics. 

  12. DIT is about pragmatism --- what works for real people, based in sufficient reason built on a foundation of facts (scientific-method sourced) & ethics --- and ethics are key.

References

Annett, Anthony.  “Restoring Ethics to Economics: Modern Economics Should Return to Its Roots.”  Finance and Development.  International Monetary Fund, March, 2018. https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/fandd/issues/2018/03/point2 )

Bromley, Daniel W. Possessive Individualism. Oxford University Press, 2019

Fukuyama, Francis. Liberalism and Its Discontents. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2022.”

McCloskey, Deirdre Nansen. Why Liberalism Works. Yale University Press, 2019.

McCloskey, Deirdre Nansen; Carden, Art. Leave Me Alone and I'll Make You Rich: How the Bourgeois Deal Enriched the World. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2020. 

McCloskey, Deidre Nansen. Bettering Humanomics:  A New, and Old, Approach To Economic Science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 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, 2020

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