What Is Your Preferred Flavor of Freedom? — Recommended Readings

Anderson, Charles W. Statecraft: An Introduction to Political Choice and Judgment1977, New York: John Wiley & Sons.  Click here for snippets from the text.

Anderson, Charles W. Pragmatic Liberalism. 1990, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Anderson, Charles W.  A Deeper Freedom: Liberal Democracy as an Everyday Morality, 2002, Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press.

Click here for his free podcast-course on Political, Economic and Social Thought.

Freedom is a concept that is easy to understand.  Right?  Since we throw this important word around a lot, we must all be clear that we mean the same thing when we say it, right?  Not according to the late Professor Charles W. Anderson.  Referencing the classical use of the word “liberalism,” which comes from the same word as liberty or freedom, Professor Anderson distinguishes four schools of liberalism, each based on very different foundational assumptions about what freedom is, how it shows practically in the world, and how to support it.  The four schools he suggests are: classical, utilitarian, egalitarian, and pragmatic.  According to Professor Anderson, classical liberalism focuses on individuals living their own life as they see fit, with minimal interference.  In utilitarian liberalism, the individual maximizes freedom by maximizing the utility–the calculated net benefit of benefits minus costs–of the consequences of every decision.  In egalitarian liberalism, the emphasis is on the equal opportunity to experience freedom, based on equalizing starting points, rights, and access to opportunities.  In pragmatic liberalism, the individual engages in a world that is too complex to understand fully, so the task is to consider the practical impacts of an action, and to take that action to see what happens. In his podcast-course, which I highly recommend, Professor Anderson provides a very engaging, 54-lecture tour through the development and use of schools of political, economic, and social thought, highlighting the ebb and flow of definitions of what it means to be free, and how the different schools of liberalism have come and gone, multiple times.

This series of books shows how the application of these different understandings of liberalism lead to different politics, different institutions and roles.  “Political decision making takes place in a context of institutions, roles, and relationships” (Statecraft p25).  “To act politically is to attempt to impose direction and form on the course of human affairs…Everyone makes political decisions.  But often we do not recognize that this is what we are doing, even while we are doing it.  Political activity is not confined to the affairs of government.  It is present in every human association.  In essence, we act politically whenever we make decisions on behalf of other people and not for ourselves alone.  Politics means planning and organizing common projects, setting rules and standards that define the relationships of people to one another.” (Statecraft pvii).  Here he references the ecosynomic question of “who decides and enforces?” and power over the five primary relationships.  A further nuance in Professor Anderson’s book looks at the “tension between the values of liberty and equality.  All liberals endorse both, but classical liberals tend to emphasize the former and [egalitarian] liberals the latter” (Statecraft p20).

Within this framing of schools of liberalism, this book series lays out practical suggestions for statecraft: how to look at public policy, making choice on behalf of other people; political strategy, coping with power and influence; and political structure, the design of institutions.  I highly recommend these books and Professor Anderson’s podcast-course.


Ecosynomics and Why You Care


I propose ecosynomics (pronounced “ee-co-si-nom-iks”) as the social science of the agreements that guide human interaction.  The roots of ecosynomics are eco (current usage is “relationship,” historically oikos was “household”) syn (together) nomos (rules): the rules of relationship together or, reworking the terms, the principles of collaboration.[1]   This builds on the billions of human-years of experience in the past century in learning about economics, defined by leading economists, as the social science of the allocation of scarce resources.[2]  To this experience, ecosynomics provides a framework and a research tool for understanding human agreements; agreements people have with their own selves, with others, with a group, with nature, and with spirit. Ecosynomics explains the relationship between the level of harmonic vibrancy experienced in these relationships and the level of scarcity or abundance experienced in a group.

As a framework, ecosynomics shows how a set of fundamental assumptions and the agreements that come from them can explain the extraordinary outcomes being experienced in thousands of groups globally, where these groups are operating with a completely new and emerging paradigm, based on abundance, not scarcity.  As a research tool, ecosynomics suggests, therefore, how to identify groups experimenting with new ecosynomics-based agreements, showing how to discover how their innovations are leading to much greater and sustainable efficiency, effectiveness, and innovation.

Why you care

Having looked at three levels – the three circles – of the five primary relationships and how people use these distinctions to describe the difference between the experience of scarcity and that of abundance, you might be asking, “Why do I care?”  This is a great question, as it forces me to pull everything together, concisely.

I will start with the definition of ecosynomics as the principles of collaboration.  Why would you want to collaborate?  Why not just compete?  After all, competition has led to many of the great developments in human evolution.  I take this question seriously.  When I look at “success,” as defined by the “competition” school, I find that the collaborators, as defined in these pages, are much more competitive.  These collaborators play the competitive game much better than do those who focus only on competition.  The collaborators work continuously with possibility, choosing to develop those capacities over time, out of their deeper potential, finding they can bring much greater capacities to the competitive game.  It is not that collaborators cannot compete – they can – rather that they see competition as a much broader game.  They compete with others in the moment of interaction. They also compete with themselves to continuously develop their capacities.  And, they compete with the infinite source to see how much creative potential they can embody.[3]  Thus, collaboration, as defined here, seems to lead to a higher level of competitiveness, especially in the terms of the “competition” school.

I have also found that the freer people are to develop their potential in these five primary relationships, the more abundance they experience.  Why do people want to be freer?  They just do.  Ask.  I suggest that you try asking others, and see what you find.  I too have asked, a lot.  I hear that people want to be freer in:

  • the experiences they have and the choices they make for themselves
  • the support they offer to others, in living into their talents, potential, and contribution
  • the contribution they can make to the group
  • the creativity that shines through them
  • the ability to make real a future they can imagine

In these freedoms, I hear the expression of the freedom to choose what relationships I want to be in and how I want to be in them.  This freedom means that “I choose.”  My relationships are not controlled by someone else.  This is why I think it is so critical to see that my interactions within the five primary relationships are guided by the agreements I accept in them, whether or not I am aware of these agreements.

What do the principles of collaboration (the definition for ecosynomics I gave above) have to do with being freer?  So far, I have found that people that seem to be freer are the same people that collaborate.  There seems to be a strong connection between greater freedom, greater collaboration, greater abundance, and greater harmonic vibrancy.

So, what are the principles of collaboration, as seen so far?  In this first conversation, I have already peeled back four specific principles of collaboration.

  1. People prefer abundance to scarcity, and higher levels of harmonic vibrancy to lower levels.
  2. People need all five primary relationships (self, other, group, nature, spirit).
  3. Higher levels of harmonic vibrancy require higher levels of all five primary relationships.
  4. People make different agreements and interact differently at different levels of harmonic vibrancy.

[1] The word “ecosynomics” acknowledges and builds on the word “economics,” derived from the Greek for rules of relationship, oikos nomos, which originally translated as “household management.”  Back 2,500 years ago, the rules of relationship for a home and a government of the people were seen as the same.  Historian of economic thought Roncaglia suggests that, “in Greek culture we find no contrast between the viewpoint of the family administrator and the viewpoint of the government of the polis.  Xenophon and Plato explicitly stated this fact,” according to economic historian Professor Roncaglia (Roncaglia, 2006, p. 25).  In 390 BC Xenophon, a student of Socrates, writes, “The management of private concerns differs only in point of number from that of public affairs.  In other respects they are much alike.” (Goold et al., 1997, p. 189).

[2] Nobel laureate in economics Paul Samuelson in his popular economics textbook (Samuelson & Nordhaus, 1995, p. 4) defines economics as “the study of how societies use scarce resources to produce valuable commodities and distribute them among different people.”  In Harvard economics professor N. Gregory Mankiw’s top-selling economics textbook, he defines economics as “the study of how society manages its scarce resources” (Mankiw, 2008, p. 4).  How long has economics been around?  While political economic thought dates back to at least Babylon in the 1700s BC, it was only recognized as a discipline independent of other social sciences in the early 1600s AD, and as a profession in the 1800s AD (Roncaglia, 2006, pp. 18, 23).

[3] Michael Porter, one of the fathers of modern strategy, coined the term “competitive advantage.”  Porter describes competition in similar terms, invoking the outcomes, the process, and the possibility (Magretta, 2011).