What should the world look like next?

In a short and ambitious manifesto, Margaret Levi and Federica Carugati call for redrawing our rules and our institutions by starting by replacing the presupposition of the selfish rationality of homo oeconomicus with the solidarity aspirations of homo reciprocans.

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 turned the world upside down. The suspension of social and economic life has given us a glimpse 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 populism, 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 year 1940. . A new social and political contract is the order of the day.

In this book-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 wreck 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 standard economics with its model ofhomo oeconomicus and develop the idea of ​​a political economy which is also moral, and which would make it possible to redesign the rules and institutions which 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 underlying ambition is political, in the sense of policy. Through a reflection that seeks to reconnect with ancient political economy to renovate the economic and political sciences of today, the manifesto aims for nothing less than an intentional revision of the general “framing” of societies, a revision which implies a conscious reformulation of the set of constitutive and regulatory rules which define the relationships between institutions and citizens. The voluntarism of the authors is evident from the first line: “Economies and the government institutions that support them reflect a moral and political choice, a choice that we can make and redo.” From the perspective of applied political economy, they propose an institutional overhaul of the relationships 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. Political, in the sense of there political this time, because unlike neoliberalism which reduces all spheres of economic existence, it takes into account the balance of forces and the interests of the powerful, capable of slowing down social change and blocking the transition to a more just and just society. democratic. 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. looking more closely, we see that the new political economy also presupposes and proposes another philosophical anthropology. She replaces the sad figure of thehomo oeconomicusthe solitary but rational actor who decides by calculating losses and profits, by a homo reciprocans, a woman or man in flesh and blood, united who takes care of themselves, others and the community by orienting themselves towards the common good. Philosophically, the new social contract integrates the theory of justice of John Rawls, the theory of capacities of Amartya Sen and the theory of democratic participation of John Dewey in an arrangement which guarantees the freedom, equality and solidarity of all by stimulating the cooperation between citizens, the political autonomy of societies and their integration into a wider community of destiny on a planetary scale.

To flesh out their new synthesis of economics, politics and ethics, Lvi and Carugati review, in a schematic but highly didactic manner, three centuries of economic science, from Adam Smith, Ricardo and Marx via Keynes to Douglas North, Milton Friedman and Joseph Stiglitz. Against the marginalist revolution of XIXe century and the reduction of macro to micro-economics, they seek to reconnect with classical political economy to bring economic science closer to moral, social and political sciences. Reconnecting with the past of the discipline to reorient it towards society allows them to move forward on two points: the structure of power and the motivations of the actors. First, political economy does not evacuate 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 land aristocracy (Ricardo), the owners (Marx), the bankers (Keynes) or the civil servants (Hayek). who put their own interests before the general interest. Then, the classics make it possible to insert the ends, values ​​and norms of society, as well as the moral feelings and motivations of the actors, into the analysis of 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 aims to be scientific. Indeed, the authors rely on comparative research on human behavior (from sociobiology to communication sciences) across time and space (from prehistoric gatherer-hunter societies to virtual Internet communities) to discover the best formula for governance. which still best allows human beings to cooperate and self-govern in the most democratic way. “We are targeting,” they say, “the microfoundations of governance. () Our goal is to use the science of cooperation and self-governance to make (engineer) inclusive participatory spaces compatible with the existing representative structures of modern capitalist democracies” (40). After analysis, it turns out that maximum cooperation compatible with the minimum of hierarchy requires 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. Let us 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 (like Porto Alegre), develop a new constitution (like in Iceland) or even regulate algorithms, like the suggest the authors.

Lévi and Carugati's plea for a moral political economy is only one manifesto among all those which outline the contours of a post-noliberal world. the difference of Manifesto for social progress (Fleurbaey et al., 2019) or Second convivialist manifesto (International Convivialist, 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 which continually activates the registers of the disciplines mentioned and encourages a reformulation of the propositions in more theoretical and conceptual terms. Let's take three examples. When the authors call for a conscious reformulation of the moral and political “framing” of economies, 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 society and to allow a collective and conscious decision on the way of living together. Then, by tracing the references in the footnotes to the theory of justice as fairness of John Rawls (note 5) or the theory of experimental democracy of John Dewey (note 6), we understand that 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 egoism ofhomo oeconomicus by the altruism ofhomo reciprocansthey not only rediscover the moral sentiments of the Scottish Enlightenment, but come closer, without knowing it, to the ethics of care (neither Gilligan nor Tronto appear 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 call of the book 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 mention structures of domination, constitutes 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 sciences and the variables of comparative politics into economics, the authors nevertheless remain within the fold of behavioral sciences. The longitudinal and comparative analysis of cooperation, as well as the language of institutional engineering, indicate that scientism is never far from benevolent and clear technocratism. what is the point of going beyond utilitarianism if it is to fall back into positivism? For moral reasons, we should also change the epistemology of political economy and replace a naturalist vision of social and political sciences with a more humanist vision.

Economic reform is only a first step in reforming post-pandemic capitalism. The proposals to open up economic science and embed economics 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 only aimed at economic theory, but at the system of production, consumption and distribution that makes it plausible. Like the other manifestos mentioned above, A Moral Political Economy seeks to overcome neoliberalism, but at no time does he plead for a post-capitalist world. We can think that Levi and Carugati are addressing above all the American elites, the leaders and decision-makers who certainly want to contribute to the advent of a more humane and more democratic economy, greener too, but who avoid the anti-capitalism of the alter-globalizationists. We are, in fact, a long way from the social movements and key 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 we are addressing: the enlightened elites of this world or the activist-pathfinders of a new world?