Politics Runs on the Tramlines of Social Structures

An astonishing archive piece in the summer edition of The New Statesman (28th July – 8th August, 2013) in the form of an article written by DH Lawrence in 1928 entitled “A Letter from Germany”. Based on some travels he made in that benighted country as it reeled from the damage of the First World War, and the twin catastrophes of the hyper-inflation of the early 20s (“money becomes insane, and people with it”) and then the start of years of painful austerity (“economy, economy, economy that too becomes an insanity”), these two follies presaging the even greater psychopathology that was to come.

Lawrence’s letter is superhumanly prescient and filled with foreboding; in 1928 he has “something has happened which has not yet eventuated. The old spell of the old world has broken, and the old, bristling, savage spirit has set in” and even darker  “..not that the people are actually planning or plotting or preparing. I don’t believe it for a minute. But something has happened to the human soul, beyond all help…”  To the human soul beyond all help, Lawrence is eloquent and yet, amid his despair he able to sense something beyond the proximate mechanisms (austerity, political hatred, impoverishment) and points us to the underlying  breach and the consequential reversion to an atavism has taken place.

He says “the old flow, the old adherence is ruptured. And a still older flow has set in” and look at this for clairvoyance “…away from the polarity of civilized Christian Europe. This, it seems to me, has already happened. And it is a happening of far more profound import that any actual event. It is the father of the next phase of events.”  And if that isn’t startling brilliant enough then “there is a sense of danger. It is not the people. They don’t seem dangerous. Out of the very air comes a sense of danger, a queer, bristling feeling of uncanny danger”

Of course, part of this is the famous folk memory of trauma which both under girds the bi-partisan commitment to the current German welfare state and the right’s refusal to countenance any inflation risk inherent in monetising the Euro zone debt.   But Lawrence records that the damage wasn’t just to the social condition but to the social structure itself “but it feels as if, virtually, it were gone. The last two years have done it. The hope in peace-and-production is broken.”

The social anthropologist Fiske pointed out in his landmark Structures of Social Life (1991) that we only relate to everyone else in four ways:

1 They are either kin or a lover with whom we are genuinely prepared to share with unselfishly and this leads to Communal Sharing (CS)

2. We do what we are told by charismatic or legal or contracted authority.  We instruct others because of our dominance over them in a social hierarchy.  This is Authority Ranking (AR)

3. They are a friend or colleague or acquaintance or neighbour and we interact with them on an “I scratch your back and you scratch mine basis” this is basis of Equality Matching (EM)

4. Lastly you interact with someone on the basis of a contract.  All market relations are here as well as civil contracts such as between the local Council and the council taxpayers.  This contract he calls MP for market pricing so we have four neat distinctions.

Traditional societies where we lived for 200,000 years are shaped by CS and AR relations, and this illustrates three key points of Fiske’s, firstly, that CS and AR  have deep rich salience in our psychology, stronger then EM and MP which did exist back then but in weaker form ; all four however are deeply cognitively instantiated.  The second point is that there is a tendency to venerate or despise these social structures as they all contain virtues and vices as anyone familiar with the literature on traditional societies will attest, or anyone who has any knowledge of early 21st market relations (MP).  Good and bad, moral purpose, moral turpitude is in each social relation. His third point is that these social structures are the cognitive superstructure on which much modern phenomenon are built – the liberal revolution of the 18th century is Equality Matching (EM) – my vote is the same as yours, the growth of capitalism in our capacity to contract with strangers (MP).  A consequence of this last point politics references the four structures in profound and often wholly unconscious ways, and politics would be richer if this fact was more widely appreciated.

Lawrence’s reference to the “hope in peace-and-production is broken” is an acute perception of the civilising structures of Market Pricing (MP), the contracts which exist between people as economic actors and citizens being destroyed, and in Germany’s  case in the 1920s, in a particularly desperate way, with both the bourgeoisie and the workers in parallel despair.  This destruction of Market Pricing (MP) as a social structure “the move away from western Europe civilisation” (Lawrence) accompanied the discrediting of the democratic system which resides in the cognitive structures as Equality Matching (EM). Democracy was undermined by the consecutive discrediting of the governing forms of monarchism, militarism and then democracy accompanied by hyper-inflation and then incoherent political fragmentation and turmoil.

At the same time another totalitarianism destroyed Equality Matching (EM) and Market Pricing (MP) social structures as matter of principle and earnest policy. Attempting to return the people to the “idyll” of Communal Sharing (CS) required the world’s greatest ever structure of Authority Ranking (AR): the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and it millions of security staff.  The two great totalitarianisms of the 20th century, Fascism and Communism used the same two social structures Communal Sharing (CS) and Authority Ranking (AR) but in different ways with the Nazis (national socialists) conceiving of the commune as the nation for which sacrifice is required and the communists required sacrifice for the workers collective, usually, as it happened, by the workers.

These social structures as outlined by Fiske remain the tramlines on which all our politics run, they are seen at their most stark at the extremes but the undertow of CS  as an ideal is still the cognitive bedrock of most democratic left politics but made sensible by the equal commitment to EM and a grudging acceptance of MP.  Modern Conservatives reference and venerate MP social relations as a moral basis for politics which is strengthened by a commitment to EM and a weak reference to CS.  When Mrs Thatcher said that there is no such thing as society she was, with her customary aggression and disagreeableness, besetting the social structure of CS which she felt compared badly with the moral probity inherent in contract or Market Pricing social structures.  For Thatcher MP is “represented in the ideology of absolute freedom of rational choice, together with the sanctity of voluntarily negotiated contracts or promises “, that’s morality, CS, for her simply wasn’t at the (moral) races.

The entire political landscape is composed of references to these Fiskian social structures.  The difference between New Labour and old Labour?  New Labour references CS, EM and MP whereas traditional social democracy references CS and EM.  Both repudiate AR.  UKIP doesn’t, UKIP is CS and AR and some EM but is weak on MP.  Although if you want a left which does reference AR you can still go to Cuba, North Korea and Venezuela with CS and AR, no EM and little or no MP.  What of the CDU/CSU in modern Germany – strong EM, CS and weak MP, so weak in that a minor party the Free Democrats colonises that space on the right with its sole dedication to MP.  Parties which colonise only one social structure tend to be weak.  The UK Liberal Party venerated EM above all but when it merged with the SDP its political appeal widen by adding CS and some MP. The French Communist Party only references CS and hides the AR requirement that is required to deliver strong CS in an industrial country.  When the German SPD in power operated labour market reform in the early 2000s to the enduring benefit of all, it lost out on the left to Lafontaine’s new Party repudiating MP and re-referencing CS and EM strongly.

The new Labour government lost millions of votes to Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats as it attacked the New Labour MP policies (recall that MP ought to be called contract) of welfare and public sector reform as well as its pro-market bias.  In government, in part as a consequence of this MP repudiation, the Liberal Democrats now pick up and run with MP policies whereas Labour in opposition demands “one nation” and a good society (CS) and doing politics differently (EM).

Fiskian social structures are the emotional tracks upon which the trains of politics run shaping all discourse and the selection of individual policies.  Take the critical issue of European wide austerity as promulgated by the dominant right wing governments in Europe.  Why do Conservatives believe that debt is worse than recession? What is going on emotionally when debt is thought to be worse than economic decline?  Could it be that they are using the wrong social structure?  Debt is a problem (and it is a real problem) of contract and sits within the MP structure but if you conceptualise debt as a problem in CS then it is an excess of obligation.  In the 200 millennia when people lived in CS there was no economic growth but there was obligation to kith and kin, and a certain amount of this was necessary but an excess of this is dangerous and deceitful. It was morally wrong then and reputation diminishing  to take on obligations that you cannot fulfil.  Conservatives are applying CS thinking to an MP problem. Remember that when you hear the head of the ECB talking.

Using the wrong social structure reference can confuse and confound at the level of policy: take the UK welfare debate with both pro and anti-reformers both positioning themselves as the champions of fairness.  For the coalition the Household Benefits Cap is about fairness as proportionality, it is simply unfair that some households receive from the State more than many others in work do.  But this concept of fairness is rooted in the social structure of Equality Matching however, opponents of the Household Benefit Cap insist that needs are needs and they should be met.  Here welfare reform opponents are referencing the Communal Sharing social structure.  The political tower of Babel gets higher and higher upon the ignorance of emotional attachment to referenced social structures.

The miracle of Lawrence’s German letter prescience is that he saw beyond the proximate causes to the ultimate cause sensing the loss of MP and EM in German society and the reversion to earlier models.  Famously, in that moment when “ the soul went beyond all help” – the accession of Hitler to power in 1933, in the last free parliamentary session the leader of the leader of the Social Democrats, Otto Wels said “At this historic hour, we the German Social Democrats pledge ourselves to the principles of humanity and justice, of freedom and Socialism… You can take our lives and our freedom, but you cannot take our honour. We are defenceless but not honourless”  But it was too late EM and MP had died ten years earlier.

The UK welform reform debate and competing types of fairness

Supporters and opponents of the coalition’s welfare reforms have each sought out one particular piece of moral high ground to defend their conflicting positions: the lofty mountain peak that is fairness. If the famous shopkeepers in philosophical arguments of old, used to argue from different premises, these retailers of outrage and reform appear to be in the same shop, operating with the same premise, the same high moral purpose both claiming fairness as their motivation.  Callers to talk radio, newspaper letter writers, newspaper columnists and politicians have built a modern day tower of Babel on the application of the word fairness to current welfare reform policy.

Three aspects’ of the Coalition’s welfare reforms are particularly fair and apparently, simultaneously, not fair:

  • The bedroom tax
  • The decision to reduce benefit levels by not uprating for inflation
  • The household  cap on the amount any household can claim in total

Each of these is defended by the Coalition in the name of fairness: the household cap is fair because people who are not working shouldn’t get more than those working, the cut in real terms in benefits a reflection of the fact that workers who fund benefit payments have seen some of the biggest ever falls in real incomes, and the bedroom tax justified by treating those in social housing in the same way as those in the private rented sector. Opponents of these reforms simply state that making poor people poorer is unfair, per se and that’s that.

Now one explanation for the apparent disconnect on the word fairness advanced on the left is that the Conservatives don’t really believe in fairness and that they are using Orwellian speak to promote their traditional assault on the poor.  It was however,  the Conservative Bismarck who founded the first welfare state in late nineteenth century Germany by creating a system of insurance to protect workers during periods of sickness and from the effects of industrial accidents.  Curiously, at the time this wrong footed the German socialists who had not develop this type of proposal.   Bismarck thought a system of insurance where you take out what you put in, subject to certain eligibility rules, a form of fairness, Conservatives still do as evidenced by the continental Christian Democrat support for the insurance based model of social welfare.

So are there two types of fairness one to which the right subscribes and one on the left?  Left and right are often sheepish on this matter as each can see that the other’s usage of fairness has some justification.  The left can see that treating social housing and private renting differently in respect of the total amount of benefit received violates a certain type of fairness and most of the right will acknowledge that people receive benefits not just to survive  but as an indicator of fairness as redistribution.

The cognitive linguist George Lakoff in his Moral Politics is interested to enumerate the ways in which language and metaphor appear to give an advantage to the political right, in doing so he considers the moral values that underlie political discourse and finds that in respect of fairness we have ten types (Moral politics P129)

  • Fairness as redistribution
  • Equality of opportunity
  • Procedural distribution – playing by the rules
  • Rights based fairness  – you get what you have a right to
  • Needs based fairness – the more you need the more you have right to
  • Scalar distribution – the more you work, the more you get
  • Contractual distribution – you get what you agree to
  • Equal distribution of responsibility – we share the burden equally
  • Scalar distribution of responsibility – the greater your abilities the greater your responsibilities
  • Equal distribution of power – one person, one vote

Now Lakoff despaired of the inability of the left to frame issues to their advantage but he will have taken delight in the “bedroom tax” which is an incredible description of a benefit cut.  A rare framing success for the left.

Jonathan Haidt founded political psychology in 2012 with his landmark ‘The Righteous Mind’ by not finding out the underlying psychological traits which go to make up political attitudes but instead identifying the “moral foundations” which make up the superstructure of political action in a sample of tens of thousands of individuals.   Prime among these moral foundations is, as expected, fairness, mainly as redistribution but Haidt also observes that Conservatives are concerned with fairness as proportionality – taking out what you put in.  Haidt’s other key finding is that the moral foundations are strongly and weakly held by different individuals and for “fairness as redistribution” the right shares this foundation but holds it weakly which differentiates them from those on the left which hold it well, ferociously.  So to Lakoff’s list above add in fairness as proportionality.

Back to Bismarck – he was employing three types of fairness in his social insurance scheme 1. Fairness as proportionality – workers take out what they put in when in need it 2. Fairness as playing by the rules – the social insurance scheme is a set of rules  3. Fairness as redistribution – is addressed in the state sanctioning and support for his scheme.

Now it can be noticed that all the concepts of fairness in the Lakoff list above are uncontroversial, broadly everyone can subscribe to them to some degree but so important to the left is fairness as redistribution that the other types of fairness are often simply dragooned along in support.  The right does this as well creating its own interlocking type of fairness set.  This differing emphasis on different types of fairness is part of the explanation for the talk radio late night chaos as well as the incomprehension on the floor of the House of Commons.

The confusion doesn’t end there: fairness happens in the context of social relations and there are four of these.  You have kin or lovers and you are disposed to regard their needs as similar to your own, this relationship mode has been called Communal Sharing by the anthropologist Robert Fiske, you are someone’s boss or an a position of authority over them at work, at the church, in the drug gang or at the scouts, you are also subordinate to others in some hierarchical arrangement, Fiske calls this Authority Ranking.  You have friends and colleagues and your relationship can be one of “you scratch my back and I will scratch yours” – Equality Matching according to Fiske.  There is a fourth relationship: that of contract, with your employer, with your employees, with your  rice supplier, a contract to supply and receive on a monetary basis.  For Fiske this is Market Pricing and each of the four are deeply cognitively understood, sometimes venerated.

Plainly some of Lakoff’s fairness types map to differing social relations with “Scalar distribution of responsibility – the greater your abilities the greater your responsibilities” clearly originating in Authority Ranking and “equal distribution of power – one person, one vote” grounded in Equality Matching.  In fact a matrix can be built of types of fairness, left and right and the social relations in which the apply:

Fairness   Type expressed strongly on the Right Social   Relation Referenced   Fairness   Type expressed strongly on the Left Social   Relation Referenced
Procedural distribution – playing by the   rules Equality Matching Fairness as redistribution Communal Sharing
Scalar distribution – the more you work,   the more you get Market Pricing Equality of opportunity Market Pricing
Contractual distribution – you get what   you agree to Market Pricing Rights based fairness  – you what you have a right to Equality Matching
Scalar distribution of responsibility –   the greater your abilities the greater your responsibilities Authority Ranking Needs based fairness – the more you need   the more you have right to Communal Sharing
Fairness as proportionality Equality Matching Equal distribution of responsibility – we   share the burden equally Equality Matching /Authority Ranking
Equal distribution of power – one person,   one vote Equality Matching Equal distribution of power – one person,   one vote Equality Matching

Several important ideas flow from the table analysis:

  • One type  of fairness is held in equal esteem – one person one vote but that has  little consequence for welfare policy
  • Fairness   types cluster on the right or left – It might be possible to argue that the left dragoons  all types of      fairness in support of the dominant fairness as redistribution type, and      the right venerates fairness as getting more for more effort and getting  what you to agree to as primary types with the others in support.
  • The  appeal of the left’s politics is heavily grounded in the social structure  of Communal Sharing leading to the continual use of that particular  framing and the emphasis on fairness as redistribution
  • The   appeal of Market Pricing on the right, in the described by Fiske as the “absolute freedom of rational choice,      together with the sanctity of voluntarily negotiated contracts” is  venerated, driving the right’s prioritization of fairness types such as  “Scalar distribution – the more      you work, the more you get” and “Contractual distribution – you get what  you agree to”
  • Both left   and right can agree with the entire list, to a degree

On the recent policy reforms each can be addressed by appealing to the fairness types and the way in which they play in differing social relations.

Policy Coalition   Fairness Type Reference Opponents   Fairness Type Reference
Bedroom Tax Procedural distribution – playing by the   rules

Aligning the rights of private and public   sector tenants justified by the law of contract which sits in Market Pricing

Rights based fairness  – you what you have a right to

Security of tenure for social tenants   should not be overturned by benefit reductions justified by (social) Equality   Matching

Household Cap Fairness as proportionality – aligning   the earnings of benefit payers to those of benefit recipients justified by   Equality Matching Needs based fairness – the more you need   the more you have right to

Needs are needs and fairness dictates   that they should be met strong Communal Sharing method

Benefits Not Uprating for Inflation Fairness as proportionality – aligning   the earnings of benefit payers’ declining incomes to those of benefit   recipients justified by Equality Matching Needs based fairness – the more you need   the more you have right to

Needs are needs and fairness dictates   that they should be met strong Communal Sharing method

So in conclusion, proponents and opponents of these reforms need to address each other’s notions of fairness and not dismiss the other as being engaged in Orwellian doublespeak.  Fairness really does mean many different things.

An interesting question would be to posit which type of welfare policy could satisfy as many possible notions of fairness to allow broad-based support for reform.

The Confirmation Bias has its Woodstock

In the landslide of comment following the death of Margaret Thatcher one remark stood out for me from Dame Mary Archer in the Telegraph

 “Dame Mary, herself a scientist by training, describes how the former prime minister drew her convictions from a mastery of “the facts”. In an interview with The Telegraph, Dame Mary said: “She always exhibited the mindset of a scientist, by which I mean her approach was evidence-based, a wish to understand things thoroughly, never to skate over the surface.” “Many distinguished politicians would go on gut and instinct, which isn’t the scientific way. Baroness Thatcher was different.”

 Recall that Baroness Thatcher, despite her scientific training, failed to spot that she lived in a society, so I am uncertain about the scientific acuteness that she could have brought to any assessment of “the facts”.  Mrs Thatcher’s degree in chemistry may have taught her the scientific method as it applies to atoms and molecules but her spectacular failure to spot were she lived (in a society) suggests that Thatcher, like all other politicians couldn’t escape, what Mary Archer calls “gut and instinct” but which this blog is going to call Moral Intuitions.  The reason I suspect that Mary Archer thought Mrs T’s political analysis to be exceptionally scientific was that she broadly shares her own Moral Intuitions and therefore inherits a similar confirmation bias.

Warren Buffet gave a succinct description of the phenomenon:

What the human being is best at doing is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intact”.

Haidt (The Righteous Mind) is not the author of the Confirmation Bias by any means but he sets it in the context of his theory of moral intuitions, and it is his claim that these intuitions are spectacles from which we look out and see the world.   Haidt takes this old idea, but adds it into the coalitional psychology upon which politics is founded.  The interaction of this Binding (coalitional psychology) allows the confirmation bias, to apply as if it is hyper-charged with mass, simultaneous, coordinated “Blinding”.  So he has the notion that Politics can Bind and Blind us.

I prefer the description of motivated social cognition rather than the Confirmation Bias, with the social being the set of social facts that it is possible to see, the motivated being the subset of social facts that it anyone is motivated to process via our intuitions, and the cognition is that way that we process it.  If you fail to see that you are in a society then your Confirmation Bias is working just fine.

The obituaries and commentary around the death and legacy of Thatcher are the Woodstock moment of the Confirmation Bias with TV/Radio and newspapers, panelists and interviewees and interviewers able to dumbfound each other, the one capable of leaving the other open mouthed in disbelief that they could be discussing the same subject.  The other day on the BBC the Tory Cecil Parkinson winced in shock to be reminded that Mrs T was able to pay for mass unemployment with North Sea Oil money (he recalled a short temporary elevated level), and the Labour Peer Helena Kennedy was speechless to hear that tax had been reduced from 83% to 40% and that Price and Exchange controls had been abolished (the relevance exchange controls for goodness sake).

The violence in the differing perspectives: saviour of the Nation – The Prime Minister, an evil woman – Ann Scargill.  The Economist – Freedom Fighter, The Scottish Daily Record “£130bn of Scottish Wealth axed”.  There was a claim that she had saved £75bn in obtaining a rebate from the EU, who knew?  Well her acolyte William Hague knew alright and was able to recall this from memory.

A veritable Glastonbury then of Confirmation Bias with the Economist headlining on the main stage and left blogs playing to the more sophisticated types on the cooler but more obscure stages.  Something then about the Economist’s dedication to dispassionate rationality affords it this pride of place at the top of the bill.  Haidt’s intuitive model would assert that all this clever reasoning, all this rationalisation has a purpose: to disguise the fact that Thatcher and the Economist share the same Moral Intuitions.


What exactly were Thatcher’s Moral Intuitions?  I will blog about this shortly….

Afterthought in Response to Rentoul

I think Blair’s confusion on moving beyond left and right is his social relation of choice.  Blair is an MP sort of guy, valorising this type of Social Relations as a moral good,  remember him being mocked for suggesting “we do what works”.  That subset of the left and that subset of the right whose social reference point is MP may be able to work together and I think that is what he has in mind, but he should be aware that these are still minority political usages of a relational social model and even these do not converge at the level of moral intuitions.  Although a meeting across the “aisle” that acknowledged these constraints might be unusually productive.   To see how far away we are from unusually productive reference the current UK debate about welfare reform/cuts.

Published in the Independent Blog

When reading Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind I had the idea to create a blog which would promote his ideas and apply them to British, Scottish and European politics.  If he is correct about the moral intuitions which drive our politics then the most surely be a global phenomenon applicable everywhere and in every time in history.  It would be an interesting exercise to apply Haidt’s theory to an historical event such as the English Civil War, but as I was pulling together material for this blog, John Rentoul in the Independent asked two questions in his newspaper blog which go straight to the insight of Haidt.  Rentoul quotes Blair asking whether we can go beyond left and right to right and wrong and also wonders simultaneously asks why economist echo the left right split especially on the subject of austerity.

I replied to him and he was interested enough in my note to publish it as a guest blog on the Independent Blog site, here, and it is posted below.


Response to John Rentoul

Dear John Rentoul

Your Article (Left vs right vs or right vs wrong) in the Independent – Tue the 26th March

You ask at the end of the piece “what’s it all about”?

I think I know the answer to this as I have been thinking about and researching the issue for a little while now with the intention of blogging on the moral psychology which underpins all politics.  The answer to your questions is a little involved so I need a few words to make the explanation.  Interestingly Paul Krugman’s brilliant NYT blog asked the identical question the other day.

To answer we need pieces of insight from three thinkers: Haidt, Fiske and Lakoff

Blair is correct to say that politics is about what is right vs wrong but that is precisely why it is about left vs right: and the reason is that our individual politics are driven by our moral intuitions, a sense of right and wrong way way beyond the commonsense meaning of right and wrong which is don’t steal cheat or lie or physically harm others.

Harold Wilson referred to Labour as a “moral crusade or it is nothing” meaning that the Party’s concern with social justice was a moral matter.  Right there though you have the problem – one person’s moral crusade is another person’s imposition of punitive taxes, Thatcher thought Wilsonian social democracy plain immoral.

The brilliant 2012 book the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt “The Righteous Mind” transforms our insight into the moral structure of politics by basing his analysis on his Yourmorals.org research project.  He shows that we bring to politics a group six dominant frames of moral intuitions about the world which I paste at the foot of this note.

People on the left care strongly about three moral foundations: reducing harm (wear a seatbelt), social justice and anti-authoritarianism (negative liberty – freedom from oppression).   This is why Wilson made his famous comments about a moral crusade.  This what the left means by right and wrong.  The right mean something altogether different, for them moral worth is found in in-group authority, in-group loyalty, freedom and sacrality.  Left and right are never therefore going to agree upon what is moral behaviour when their conceptions of it are so profoundly different.  There cannot ever be a moving beyond left and right for this reason.

To answer your question about how austerity divides people politically needs a little more information. These “Haidtian” moral foundations operate against social models, and the social models in turn are moralised upon.  The anthropologist Fiske (Relational Models Theory book) has argued that there are four ways of interacting with other people and politics continually references and is informed from and by each of these models. I paste Fiske’s definitions below but here is a brief summary

Communal Sharing (CS) – we share resources with close kin and lovers

Authority Ranking (AR) – we do what our parents, elders and betters tell us, we do what the chief tells us to do, we respect charismatic authority – priests, gang bosses, Gods, etc….

Equality Matching (EM) – I scratch your back if you scratch mine

Market Pricing (MP) – contracts define who does what for what money – buying petrol, supplying consultancy services to HMRC, selling chocolate, going to work

The first two social relations were dominant in the 200,000 years since we have been human and that is also where our Haidtian moral intuitions were honed and shaped.  The social relation of EM gave us the Enlightenment and the Liberal Revolution of the last 200 years, and MP of course gave us capitalism.  CS and AR are richly salient and deeply embedded in our emotion whereas EM and MP are weakly salient, rooted somewhat in intellect.

Fascism for example, is indifferent to MP, contemptuous of EM, references the social relations of CS where everyone felt part of the “community nation” and everyone respected Authority.  Old Labour references CS “sharing and equality” and EM rights, liberty democracy, New Labour however references CS, EM and MP.  That MP reference by New Labour allows many on the left to accuse New Labour of being Tory as the sharing of the MP frame with Conservatives is seen as being just as bad.  Haidtian moral intuitions mixed with Fiskian Social Models give us the entire political landscape from Libertarian (Moral Intuition – Freedom, Fiske Social Model – MP) to Greens (Moral Intuition – Sacrality, Social Model – CS).  I can provide a more detailed analysis if you wish.

Next up George Lakoff the Author of Moral Politics.  Lakoff is a cognitive linguist and he claims we see politics in wholly moral, moralising terms based upon the metaphors we employ to discuss politics and these metaphors reside in a cognitive framework.  I don’t quite buy this myself but Lakoff convincingly shows that metaphors about morality as commonly conceived – be upright, act with integrity are salient in the right’s moral frame but weak on the left.  Lakoff shows how metaphors around prudence, thrift and good housekeeping are readily taken up the right but bewilder the left.

OK how know to go from these three moral viewpoints to austerity?  Conservatives are getting austerity wrong because they are referencing the wrong social model – they ought to be referencing MP as public debt is a brand new issue rooted in market relations, contracts and legal frameworks, however, when our moral psychologies evolved there was no Keynesianism, no liquidity trap, no money supply, no economic growth but there was debt in the form of obligation and obligations in communal sharing and too much of it was ruinous.  Conservatives should be using MP concepts to work the debt but debt is obligation, and obligations entered into excessively are a form of dissoluteness, they are a form of moral turpitude back in CS, across the 200,000 years were our moral intuitions evolved.

Haidt says that Conservatives believe in fairness as 1.  Following the rules  2.  Taking more out than you put in.  Large scale public debt looks and feels immoral to them with reference to these foundations, the Lakoffian metaphors which indicate moral behaviour and using the wrong Fiskian social relationship which CS instead of MP.

As for the left, their moral intuitions about the public space regarding obligation and dissolute behaviour are weaker (possibly worse) and in Haidtian terms nothing in their moral foundations prevents them applying the correct social model which is MP so they can think about the issue in proper MP terms – growth, demand deficiency, credit crunch, etc.

Your original question was why does economist’s attitude to austerity mirror those of politics?  Because economists share the same moral psychology as politicians, economists are people too.

Yours sincerely,

Martin Hutchison

P.S.  The same Haidtian foundations explain why your admiration for Blair causes so much hostility.  According to Haidt anti-authoritarianism, hating the boss, (technically called reverse dominance) is a moral foundation.  At birth, leftist believe with vary degrees of intensity that all in group authority is evil, corrupt and oppressive. Finding that corruption is their central motivation.  No wonder you have had such a tough time.  If you ask me why you don’t have reverse dominance as you are on the left my answer is that I think you do but weakly, reverse dominance strengthens as you track left until you come to the anarchists who only care about reverse dominance and abandon all interest in social justice

Jonathan Haidt’s claim about Moral Foundations is

1. Care/harm: This foundation is related to our long evolution as mammals with attachment systems and an ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. It underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturance.

2) Fairness/cheating: This foundation is related to the evolutionary process of reciprocal altruism. It generates ideas of justice, rights, and autonomy. [Note: In our original conception, Fairness included concerns about equality, which are more strongly endorsed by political liberals. However, as we reformulated the theory in 2011 based on new data, we emphasize proportionality, which is endorsed by everyone, but is more strongly endorsed by conservatives]
3) Liberty/oppression: This foundation is about the feelings of reactance and resentment people feel toward those who dominate them and restrict their liberty. Its intuitions are often in tension with those of the authority foundation. The hatred of bullies and dominators motivates people to come together, in solidarity, to oppose or take down the oppressor.
4) Loyalty/betrayal: This foundation is related to our long history as tribal creatures able to form shifting coalitions. It underlies virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group. It is active anytime people feel that it’s “one for all, and all for one.”
5) Authority/subversion: This foundation was shaped by our long primate history of hierarchical social interactions. It underlies virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions.
6) Sanctity/degradation: This foundation was shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination. It underlies religious notions of striving to live in an elevated, less carnal, more noble way. It underlies the widespread idea that the body is a temple which can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants (an idea not unique to religious traditions).