What should the next world look like?


If the economic crisis of 2008 and the election of Donald Trump in 2016 revealed the social and political divides in the United States (and elsewhere), the health crisis of 2020-2021 rocked the world. The suspension of social and economic life has suggested that another world is possible, even worse than the one before the pandemic. The explosion of inequalities, unemployment, the return of hunger, the resurgence of post-fascist populisms, the uncontrolled power of digital platforms, the opacity of logarithms and the damage of global warming show that industrial-capitalist societies cannot start again. as in the forties. A new social and political contract is on the agenda.

In this manifesto, Margaret Levi, director of the prestigious Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, and her young colleague Federica Carugati, specialist in democratic institutions in ancient Greece, start from the sinking of neoliberalism to rethink the moral and political foundations. democratic capitalist societies. The accumulation of crises shows that the social order is contingent and that economics and politics presuppose a normative vision of society. In a 63-page text, the two political scientists propose a reframing of the standard economy with its model of thehomo oeconomicus and develop the idea of ​​a political economy that is also moral, and that would redraw the rules and institutions that govern the choices and actions of citizens. As we can see, the project is ambitious. Even though it is primarily a question of redefining the discipline of economics by opening it more towards political science and ethics, the basic ambition is political, in the sense of Politics. By means of a reflection that seeks to reconnect with the old political economy in order to renovate today’s economic and political sciences, the manifesto aims for nothing less than an intentional revision of the “ framing »General of societies, revision which implies a conscious reformulation of the set of constitutive and regulatory rules which define the relations between institutions and citizens. The voluntarism of the authors is displayed from the first line: “ Economies – and the government institutions that support them – reflect a moral and political choice, a choice we can make and redo “. From the perspective of applied political economy, they propose an institutional overhaul of relations between civil society, governments and markets to stimulate cooperation between citizens and the self-determination of communities in an interdependent world.

Like the old political economy, this new political economy would be both political and moral. Policy, within the meaning of the political this time, because unlike neoliberalism which reduces all spheres of existence to economics, it takes into account the balance of power and the interests of the powerful, capable of slowing down social change and blocking the transition to a more just and democratic society. And moral too, because it is not limited to means and interests, but also defines the norms, values ​​and ends of the economy within a general framework of society. On closer inspection, one realizes that the new political economy also presupposes and offers another philosophical anthropology. It replaces the sad figure of thehomo oeconomicus, the solitary but rational actor who decides by calculating profit and loss, by a homo reciprocans, a woman or a man in the flesh, in solidarity who takes care of oneself, of others and of the community by orienting themselves towards the common good. Philosophically, the New Social Contract integrates John Rawls’ Theory of Justice, Amartya Sen’s Theory of Capacities, and John Dewey’s Theory of Democratic Participation in an arrangement that guarantees freedom, equality and solidarity for all in stimulating cooperation between citizens, the political autonomy of societies and their integration into a community of destiny enlarged on a planetary scale.

To flesh out their new synthesis of economics, politics and ethics, Lévi and Carugati review, in a schematic, but highly didactic way, three centuries of economic science, by Adam Smith, Ricardo and Marx via Keynes to Douglas North, Milton Friedman and Joseph Stiglitz. Against the marginalist revolution of XIXe century and the shrinking of macro to microeconomics, they seek to reconnect with classical political economy to bring economics closer to moral, social and political sciences. Reconnecting with the discipline’s past to reorient it towards society allows them to move forward on two points: the power structure and the motivations of the actors. First, political economy does not exclude the analysis of power and politics from its economic analysis. On the contrary, in their critical analyzes of economic policy, the great authors often attack the elites – the merchants (Smith), the landed aristocracy (Ricardo), the landlords (Marx), the bankers (Keynes) or civil servants (Hayek) – who put their own interests before the general interest. Then, the classics allow to reinsert the ends, the values ​​and the norms of the company, as well as the moral feelings and the motivations of the actors, in the analysis of the behavior. Thus, political and moral economy breaks with the simplified model of a hypothetical, selfish and calculating actor of the utilitarian tradition to join the social and political sciences.

The new moral political economy leads to a democratic economic policy which claims to be scientific. Indeed, the authors rely on comparative research of human behavior (from sociobiology to communication sciences) across time and space (from prehistoric societies of gatherer-hunters to virtual communities on the Internet. ) to discover the best governance formula that still best allows human beings to cooperate and self-govern in the most democratic way. “ We aim, they say, at the micro-foundations of governance. […] Our aim is to use the science of cooperation and self-governance to fabricate (engineer) inclusive participatory spaces compatible with the existing representative structures of modern capitalist democracies “(40). After analysis, it turns out that the maximum of cooperation compatible with the minimum of hierarchy requires both great clarity on the rules of engagement, combining flexibility in the normative articulation with firmness in the application of sanctions. The book ends with a thought experiment that transposes the model of Athenian democracy to solve contemporary problems. Imagine citizen parliaments at all levels of the planet whose members would be drawn by lot to deliberate and decide together on the allocation of the public budget (as in Porto Alegre), to draw up a new constitution (as in Iceland) or to regulate algorithms, as the authors propose.

Lévi and Carugati’s advocacy for a moral political economy is only a manifesto among all those who sketch the outlines of a post-neoliberal world. Unlike the Manifesto for social progress (Fleurbaey et al., 2019) or the Second convivialist manifestos (Internationale convivialiste, 2021), the book offers a new synthesis of economic science and political science which hardly takes into account moral and political philosophy, sociology and anthropology. The result is a reading that continuously activates the registers of the mentioned disciplines and encourages a reformulation of the proposals in more theoretical and conceptual terms. Let us take three examples. When the authors call for a conscious reformulation of “ framing »Moral and political economies, the readers of Lefort, Castoriadis and Rosanvallon realize that it is a question of going back from politics to politics in order to clarify the forms of the constitution of the company and to allow a collective and conscious decision on the way of living together. Then, by tracing the references in the footnotes to John Rawls’ theory of justice such as equity (note 5) or John Dewey’s theory of experimental democracy (note 6), we understand that it is It is above all a project of the left establishment to reactivate social democracy by injecting a dose of participatory democracy into liberal-parliamentary democracy. Finally, when the authors replace the selfishness of thehomo oeconomicus by the altruism ofhomo reciprocans, they not only rediscover the moral sentiments of the Scottish Enlightenment, but unknowingly approach the ethics of care (neither Gilligan nor Tronto appearing in the 20 pages of the bibliography) and other anti-utilitarian approaches which are inspired by Hegel, Mauss or Habermas to think about recognition, gift or communication.

Given the hegemony of the Orthodox in the field of economics, how can we not subscribe to the book’s call to open up the discipline of economics and reconnect it to political science and ethics? ? His insistence on the importance of an analysis of power, not to speak of structures of domination, is a breakthrough for economics, but seen from the social sciences, the moral political science that Levi and Carugati defend is indeed. mainstream, scientist and positivist. By introducing economic theories (such as game theory) into political science and comparative politics variables into economics, the authors nevertheless remain in the bosom of behavioral science. The longitudinal and comparative analysis of cooperation, as well as the language of institutional engineering, indicate that scientism is never far from a voluntary and enlightened technocratism. What is the use of going beyond utilitarianism if it is to fall back into positivism? ? For moral reasons, it would also be necessary to change the epistemology of political economy and replace a naturalistic vision of social and political sciences with a more humanistic one.

Reforming the economy is only the first step in reforming post-pandemic capitalism. The proposals for opening up economic science and re-embedding the economic in the social are reminiscent of the post-war positions of Karl Polanyi. But Polanyi wanted to be a democrat and called himself a socialist. His critique of political economy was not aimed only at economic theory, but at the system of production, consumption and distribution that makes it plausible. Like the other manifests mentioned above, A Moral Political Economy seeks to overcome neoliberalism, but at no time does it plead for a post-capitalist world. We can think that Levi and Carugati are primarily aimed at the US elites, leaders and decision-makers who certainly want to contribute to the advent of a more human and more democratic economy, which is also greener, but who avoid anti-capitalist anti-globalization activists. We are, in fact, very far from the social movements and the leading intellectuals of the anarcho-communist left (Hardt and Negri, Laclau and Mouffe, Laval and Dardot, Butler and Brown). But also more radical environmentalists who ask not so much to change society as to change society to preserve nature and humanity. We will be told that it is better to be realistic and pragmatic than utopian and critical. No doubt, but it depends on who you are talking to – the enlightened elites of this world or the activist-scouts of a new world. ?

Federica Carugati, & Margaret Levi, A Moral Political Economy : Present, Past, and Future. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2021

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