Agricultural Economics Department


Date of this Version



G. D. Lynne, Metaeconomics, Palgrave Advances in Behavioral Economics,


© The Author 2020


Metaeconomics is fundamentally about the problem of having too much emphasis on the Market or too much emphasis on the Government. It is about the essential need to bring empirical reality and ethics into finding balance: It is essential to achieving a good capitalism. Why? Well, because of the natural tendency to excessive Greed. As DeWaal (2009) would have it, we live in an age of Empathy: Ego based Greed is out. The Greed needs to be tempered, balanced, and perhaps bounded, with Empathy-based ethics. And, as Metaeconomics makes clear, it is because there is a dual nature of human nature, but it is an old story, from Smith (1759/1790):

How selfish so ever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it. Of this kind is pity or compassion, the emotion which we feel for the misery of others [Smith 1759/1790, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, quoted in Solomon 2007, p. 64, who adds: Without compassion (sympathy), there would be no foundation and no motivation for ethics].

As it suggests, expressing the moral sentiments is all about Empathy as the starting point, perhaps leading to Sympathy with (not for, but with), and then possibly to compassion (or not). Solomon (2007) agrees: There is something (empathy-sympathy- compassion based ethics, the moral and ethical dimension) beyond mere Self-interest at work. Yet, Self-interest is still the key feature of a viable and good capitalism, as Smith (1776/1789) made clear. And, reality, please. As the story about Metaeconomics unwinds, the case will be made that the something essential to tempering mere Self-interest is an Empathy (and ethics)-based Other-interest. And, that a viable and good capitalism requires balance in Ego&Empathy, selfish&selfless, person&people, person&community, Self&Other (the latter shared with others, but internalized within Own-self)-interest. Remember: Metaeconomics is about the person. At a larger scale, the balance needs to be in Market&Government. An integrated Smith (1776/1789) & Smith (1759/1790) represents it. As Smith tried to teach us, it is about seeking a way for each person to maximize their Own-interest in their own (humane and liberal) way, which includes both Self&Other-interest. It cannot be emphasized enough. The goal, the possibility for happiness (and peace), depends on Own-interest, not Self-interest only. Said Own-interest involves humanely including others, represented in the underlying ethic that gives content to the shared Other-interest. For the early analysis and claim that interdependency, jointness, and nonseparability of a dual interest is represented in Smith (1776/1789) & Smith (1759/1789), see Lynne (2006). For the latest claims about Adam Smith and dual interest, especially on how the moral sentiments relate to Empathy and Sympathy, leading to the moral and ethical dimension of the economy, see Lynne et al. (2016, esp. pp. 245–250). Dual interest reasoning can be used to provide new insights into solving old economic puzzles, resolving paradoxes and anomalies. It can be used to suggest and guide new empirical testing on a way to a more reality-based economics. So, hang on, here we go, on a potentially fun and productive ride toward an ethics-based, and, yes, a reality-based, economics.