Thursday, June 14, 2012

George Lakoff and Elisabeth Wehling — Economics and Morality: Paul Krugman's Framing

Krugman is right to bring these matters up. Markets are not provided by nature. They are constructed -- by laws, rules, and institutions. All of these have moral bases of one sort or another. Hence, all markets are moral, according to someone's sense of morality. The only question is, Whose morality? In contemporary America, it is conservative versus progressive morality that governs forms of economic policy. The systems of morality behind economic policies need to be discussed.
 Most Democrats, consciously or mostly unconsciously, use a moral view deriving from an idealized notion of nurturant parenting, a morality based on caring about their fellow citizens, and acting responsibly both for themselves and others with what President Obama has called "an ethic of excellence" -- doing one's best not just for oneself, but for one's family, community, and country, and for the world. Government on this view has two moral missions: to protect and empower everyone equally.
The means is The Public, which provides infrastructure, public education, and regulations to maximize health, protection and justice, a sustainable environment, systems for information and transportation, and so forth. The Public is necessary for The Private, especially private enterprise, which relies on all of the above. The liberal market economy maximizes overall freedom by serving public needs: providing needed products at reasonable prices for reasonable profits, paying workers fairly and treating them well, and serving the communities to which they belong. In short, "the people the economy is supposed to serve" are ordinary citizens. This has been the basis of American democracy from the beginning.
 Conservatives hold a different moral perspective, based on an idealized notion of a strict father family. In this model, the father is The Decider, who is in charge, knows right from wrong, and teaches children morality by punishing them painfully when they do wrong, so that they can become disciplined enough to do right and thrive in the market. If they are not well-off, they are not sufficiently disciplined and so cannot be moral: they deserve their poverty. Applied to conservative politics, this yields a moral hierarchy with the wealthy, morally disciplined citizens deservedly on the top.
Democracy is seen as providing liberty, the freedom to seek one's self interest with minimal responsibility for the interests or well-being of others. It is laissez-faire liberty. Responsibility is personal, not social. People should be able to be their own strict fathers, Deciders on their own -- the ideal of conservative populists, who are voting their morality not their economic interests. Those who are needy are assumed to be weak and undisciplined and therefore morally lacking. The most moral people are the rich. The slogan, "Let the market decide," sees the market itself as The Decider, the ultimate authority, where there should be no government power over it to regulate, tax, protect workers, and to impose fines in tort cases. Those with no money are undisciplined, not moral, and so should be punished. The poor can earn redemption only by suffering and thus, supposedly, getting an incentive to do better.
If you believe all of this, and if you see the world only from this perspective, then you cannot possibly perceive the deep economic truth that The Public is necessary for The Private, for a decent private life and private enterprise. The denial of this truth, and the desire to eliminate The Public altogether, can unfortunately come naturally and honestly via this moral perspective.
Read the rest at Huffington Post
Economics and Morality: Paul Krugman's Framing
by George Lakoff, Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, and Elisabeth Wehling, graduate student in the Department of Linguistics, UC Berkeley

I think that this summary of "conservative versus progressive"  — really contemporary American neoliberal conservative and contemporary American progressive liberal — is a bit stereotypical. Moreover, it fails to distinguish traditionally political conservatives from Rothbardian/Randian Libertarians, and indeed conflates them, even though there are significant differences. The same can be said for moderate to conservative Democrats, e.g., New Democrats, relative to progressive Democrats.

If I were stating this, I would make clear distinctions and aim for a more neutral characterization of the different frames. All factions sincerely believe that their frame not only represents reality as it is, but also as it ought to be.

Indeed, strange as it may seem, probably most people that are considered criminals do not see themselves as bad or immoral, but just realistic, operating in terms of the law of the jungle with positive law imposed over it as a thin veneer and in the interest of the have's.

However, I think that the point is well taken that the framing issue is at bottom philosophical, and that the different frames are based on differing view of human nature, as well as of morality and ethics. These presuppositions need to be clarified and examined in the light of both reasoning from shared principles, such as are expressed in the founding documents and laws, and scientific knowledge.

And certainly reinforcing your own position by talking about it rather than talking down the opponent's position, which just calls attention to it, is the way to switch on one's own framing in other people's minds and to open those neural pathways.


Clonal also directs us to Manufacturing Public Opinion at Global Economic Intersection. Its not only about propaganda but also cognitive science, worldviews, and personality types. Good read.


Clonal said...

This article at Global Economic Intersection is interesting and relevant to this - Manufacturing Public Opinion

beowulf said...

Tom, have you read Ha-Joon Chang's "23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism"?

"The book was criticized by a reviewer as being Keynes’s General Theory written by Borges. Chang was very flattered by this. The chapters are named ‘Thing 1’ ‘Thing 2’ etc. in homage to Dr Seuss.
Thing 1: there is no such thing as a free market...”

Tom Hickey said...

Beowulf, I haven't read it yet, but it is on my (long) list. I've read a couple of reviews and some other short things. Sounds like a new wave of myth-busting to me.

Ian Fleming's review summarizes the 23 things concisely, for those interested in a quick overview.

Review: Ha-Joon Chang's 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism

Tom Hickey said...

Thanks, Clonal. Promoted into the post as an update so those who don't read the comments can pick it up too.

Matt Franko said...

From Clonal's link:

"Valery Hunt’s 1989 “Infinite Mind” shows that transfers of electromagnetic energy between people is a real measurable phenomenon, and harmonization of weaker em (electromagnetic) states with a strong coherent state actually occurs, so the idea of interneural harmonics is not science fiction.

Ideas are like notes and minds are like tuning forks. A dominant idea or mind resonates all the minds to the same note or a harmonic thereof, producing a harmonious group vibe that most people find pleasing and desirable; though individualists find the group vibe stiflingly cloying and even claustrophobic so they refuse to conform and resonate with the herd."

Ho-lee sh*t!

I thought it may have been hormonal and/or bio-chemical... looks like EM fields are involved too... I hope they keep studying these transmissions.

These perhaps are the transmission paths thru which the humans that occupy positions of authority in civil govt are corrupted/made morons. (We may need to require our "leaders" to wear tinfoil hats! ;)

One could conceptualize how an electromagnetic signal could shut down the brain neocortex of these people as brain function I believe is electrical. Perhaps it is a combination of bio-chemical AND electromagnetic effects (batteries/capacitors are like this)... very interesting.

And this is the group that most of the MMTers fit in I would conjecture:

"A small minority generate most of their sense of self internally. Members of this minority are "self possessed". They have a strong internal sense of who and what they are, and other people's opinions about who and what they are have little effect on their self image. They have learned to trust their own judgment over the judgments of others, because they have found that other people's judgment is most often wrong and almost always inferior to their own. It is no mystery why perceptual realists discount the judgments of people whom they perceive to be “deluded” and living in a fantasy world.

Because they don't need constant feedback from other people to maintain their sense of self, individualists are able to stand back from society and observe objectively; whereas most people neuropsychologically "need" close society so they develop coping mechanisms that allow them to put up with it."

Very interesting Clonal thanks... rsp

dave said...

Matt Franko said...


One thing I would point out is that the Koch companies are private as opposed to public companies I believe.

They may therefore look at them as their own personal "property" and hence the whole Libertarian thing.

This would be a different view than what a CEO of a public company should take imo.

"Reason" mag I believe is fully sponsored by the Koch people and this difference in the form of corporate ownership of the sponsor of that mag may permeate the entire editorial character...


paul said...


Balloon Juice has been on my blogroll for a few years now.

Every now and then I will comment on something heretic (having to do with MMT) over there but rarely get any responses or push-back.

Freddie deBoer seems like he may be on the same wavelength as MMT.

The blog reaches a lot of people so it has the potential as a place to get the MMT message out.

Tom Hickey said...

""Valery Hunt’s 1989 “Infinite Mind” shows that transfers of electromagnetic energy between people is a real measurable phenomenon, and harmonization of weaker em (electromagnetic) states with a strong coherent state actually occurs, so the idea of interneural harmonics is not science fiction."

Matt, I was involved in consciousness research back in the mid-Seventies. It was cutting edge then but pretty well known and widely accepted now. We live in a field of consciousness at least on aspect of which is em, and there is resonance among nodes.

William James had suggested that consciousness is not produced as an emergent effect of neural complexity, but rather that that neural complex acts as a receiver of information already present in the system.

This is consonant with perennial wisdom as the teaching of the saints and sage, mystics and masters, and prophets and other holy ones who are regarded as teachers of humankind. The bringing together of modern knowledge and ancient wisdom is a key focus of consciousness research at present, and the next frontier is thought to be inner space.

Tom Hickey said...

The Koch Bros. are poster children for what's wrong with the view of market fundamentalism coupled with so-called fiscal sustainability. It creates a privileged class based on property ownership that is transferable across generations through inheritance. (Thus the push to "repeal the death tax.") Btw, the Kochs inherited their property and built on that base.

And yes, it is only a handful of super-rich that are funding the PACs that are pushing market fundamentalism and "fiscal sustainability" as core principles of American democracy, with the implication that anyone disagreed is not a real American. Not to mention buying influence through very sizable political contributions.

So the Tea Party, which is their proxy political cadre, is flush with cash, while Occupy gets the sharp end of the spear of the growing and increasingly active security state.

Matt Franko said...

"but rather that that neural complex acts as a receiver of information already present in the system. "

So it's like it is already there, but it has to be 'revealed'.

From the Greek Tom, this word 'apokalupsis' is "un-covering" or 'unveiling' and often translated "revelation" in English...

And to your point you see that word used often in the Scriptures...

I have to keep coming back tho to the pov that the problems in humanity seem to be centered in/around the authority of civil government... these people seem to consistently end up in bad shape mentally.

Pretty much in any other area, humanity seems to be progressing, and able to discern logic/math, contradiction, etc... whether IT, materials, medicine, transportation, energy, etc... all these areas seem to be fine and advancing.

There seems to be major malfunctions tho in the area of civil government authority. This may be an exclusive problematic phenom. in humanity ie brain malfunction of those in/around authority...


Anonymous said...

Greatas always as always Tom and Mike!
I saw Steve Keen leaved a new lecture lecture today on worth listen to.Best regards!

Tom Hickey said...

Matt: "From the Greek Tom, this word 'apokalupsis' is "un-covering" or 'unveiling' and often translated "revelation" in English... And to your point you see that word used often in the Scriptures..."

Yes, and the literal meaning of the word for truth in Greek (αληθια) is "unveiled."

This area is pregnant with possibilities for research, and the research is well underway into the next frontier as inner space as well as outer space.

Matt Franko said...


Any links on the electromagnetic measurements related to those previous studies would be of interest.

Or if you know the current labs/schools/academics that are doing the leading work in the EM area can you forward to me :)


Tom Hickey said...

Matt, The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot is a summary of the ideas of physicist David Bohm and neurophysiologist Karl Pribram. It's twenty years old now, but the ideas presented formed the scientific basis for further exploration in consciousness studies.

Another must-read is Rupert Sheldrake's Morphic Resonance: The Nature of Formative Causation, the 3rd edition of his initial A New Science of LIfe.

Here is a scientific paper about measuring for field effects. FieldREG II: Consciousness Field Effects: Replications and Explorations (1998) by R. D. Nelson, R. G. Jahn, B. J. Dunne, Y. H. Dobyns, and G. J. Bradish, Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research, School of Engineering/Applied Science, Princeton University

Here are some sites to check out:

The Global Consciousness Project —Meaningful Correlations in Random Data

Institute of Noetic Sciences

Quantum Consciousness

What the bleep? Documentaries that are fun to watch, too. It has interviews with a lot of the top people in the consciousness field.

This will point you in a direction with references. The problem is that nowadays most scientific articles are behind pay walls.

I should also add that there is no established theory of consciousness at this point and there are several different theories on the drawing board. It seems that there is intersubjective influence through field effects but how it works is a matter of debate. Here is an interesting debate on a physics forum around the conscious EM field theory.

EM fields: a plausible correlate of consciousness?

Anti Money Laundering said...

Fear is the mother of morality.