Governance for Human Social Flourishing

Paper by Jenna Bednar: “Government has become something that happens to us in service of the economy rather than a vehicle driven by us to realize what we can achieve together. To save the planet and live meaningful lives, we need to start seeing one another not as competitors but as collaborators working toward shared interests. In this essay, I propose a framework for human social flourishing to foster a public policy that rebuilds our connections and care for one another. It is based on four pillars-dignity, community, beauty, and sustainability-and emphasizes not just inclusiveness but participation, and highlights the importance of policy-making at the local level in the rebuilding of prosocial norms.

By many aggregate measures, the human condition has improved spectacularly.1 Life expectancy, gdp per capita, opportunities for self-expression, and the probability of not living in poverty have all surged over the last half century. This period of remarkable advances has scaffolded a neoliberal political economy that prizes self-reliance and prosperity. Yet for all of the successes produced by the prosperity frame, it has proven incapable of meeting the challenges of climate change and bungled a pandemic response, turning what might have been a moment to celebrate scientific achievement and human commitment to care for one another into a time of greater polarization and science skepticism. Racism persists and we are unable to lift people out of lives of despair.2

These failures call into question our focus on economic prosperity metrics like gdp and the constellation of institutions that supports that goal.3 Economic prosperity has a far from perfect correlation with the less material and measurable goals that create meaningful lives: feeling needed by and belonging to a community, having purposeful work and agency in one’s life, and having opportunities to feel satisfaction and joy.

By ignoring these other dimensions, the prosperity frame creates other harms. Its valuation of self-reliance subverts the human drive to mutualism.4 It casts government as a grabbing hand instead of an engine for collective action. In downplaying the importance of our relationships with one another, it undermines the social norms that support democracy, capitalism, and other social institutions.

For these reasons, many now suggest that our political economy needs to expand its frame beyond economic growth to include collective flourishing. But what is flourishing, and what would it take to reorient our political economy to value it?…(More)”.