Integral Political Economy


by Kevin J. Bowman
Originally published in 2010

An integral political-economic framework is developed first with a quadrant analysis of the economy. The analysis contains a novel separation by quadrant of the effects that either encourage or discourage economic development. It is then shown what quadrant aspects are recognized or emphasized by liberals and conservatives. A review of the Integral approach to capital then allows for the integration of the radical view. Political-economic understanding is then proposed as a learning line of development where conservative, liberal, or radical emphasis in agents is associated with their political-economic personality types. Distinctions are made between less and more mature versions of each type. Finally, an immature/mature fallacy is discovered where more mature views are often mistakenly reduced to less mature versions of that type by less mature views of another type.

This JITP article also includes a critique by Robert Scott, as well as a rejoinder by Kevin Bowman.


We are living in a unique time in economic history. The American and global economies have just been tested by a severe financial crisis, what analysts are calling the worse shock to our financial system since the Great Depression. The financial crisis only adds to other challenging concerns of the day—worries such as income inequality, global environmental degradation from our production processes, the controversies of international trade, and polarized political decision-making. Workers are also expressing the desire for more meaningful work.

These issues bring to our awareness the necessity to examine our economic institutions and their relations to the world. The Integral approach teaches us that as the limitations of existing societal structures become more evident, new, powerful opportunities arise for the evolution of our collective consciousness. And there is no better time than a crisis to focus the public attention and generate political will for a way forward. But, a delicate balance is needed. Institutions must widen opportunities to benefits from our expanding, information-age technologies. They also need to discourage exploitation of resources and curb the motive for the short-run gain of the relatively few. Yet, this needs to happen concurrently with expanding the benefits of wealth creation and without endangering our unprecedented level of current global development.

Without a map to simplify these complex issues, there exists an inherent danger that the bewilderment and exasperation from these problems may bring out our baser urges—our less mature tendencies, no matter whether our political leanings are conservative, liberal or radical. As such, I will use the main components of Ken Wilber’s AQAL model (1995), namely quadrants, levels, lines, states, and types, to develop an Integral framework for, and expanded understanding of, political economy. This framework is developed first with a quadrant analysis of the economy in section 1, which discusses the quadrants emphasized by conservatives and liberals and provides useful background information needed for non-economists. A review of the Integral approach to capital in section 2 then allows for the integration of the radical view in section 3. Distinctions are made in section 4 between less and more mature versions of conservative, liberal, and radical views. Political-economic understanding can then be proposed as a learning line of development, where conservative, liberal, and radical are personality types. An immature/mature fallacy, a new variant of Wilber’s pre/trans fallacy, is presented in section 5, where more mature views are often mistakenly reduced to less mature versions of that type by an immature view of another type. The inclusion of types within a line of development shows that fallacies related to vertical development can be more prevalent than previously recognized, and it demonstrates the importance of reconciling paradoxical partial truths of a given level for vertical development. Section 6 concludes that the integral political-economic framework can encourage a healthier political-economic discourse.


I think this framing is a challenge we need to address if we want to really address the bigger picture of economic “progress” in an Integrals way.

Have there really been no other times of economic uncertainty or severe financial crises? Is income inequality a new development in human history? Is environmental degradation something the planet has not seen before? Has political decision-making never been polarized?

I think humanity likes to think progress is linear - that where we are now is the “pinnacle” and has never been achieved before, but this often leads to blindness to what actually has really happened before and is in all probability highly likely to repeat itself.

Lets look at an analogy - the Titanic. A pinnacle of human achievement up to that day. Technology had advanced so high that humanity believed that it was in a unique position - a ship that was too big to sink. They were completely shocked of course when reality forced them to realize that indeed - metal ships have sunk many times and will continue to sink. It’s a simple fact of reality - heavy things sink in water. It is possible to get metal to float in water under certain conditions, but this is not metal’s natural way of behaving in water.

Modern capitalists seem to want to ignore that capitalism is a naturally volatile economic system, and also one that is inherently “unfair” and also where the strong naturally prey on the weak. Economic Darwinism comes to mind. The philosophy behind Capitalism is that better companies will naturally succeed while “bad ideas” will naturally die out in a robust capitalist jungle. The idea is that economic “Might is right” and if an idea is successful, it is because it is a good one. Success is categorically proof that it is “good” - at least in the form of Capitalism developed in modern human history.

Liberalism attempts to mitigate this and create a more human version of capitalism.

But most importantly, since the 1970’s an ideology has been forming around capitalism where people believe that the Bulls can run forever, and if the Bulls need to rest, just pump them full of “steroids” in the form of government stimulus and get them running again.

The natural order of Capitalism is cyclical, as is most things.

We cannot transform Capitalism into a 2nd tier economic system when even the 2nd tier thinkers are unwilling to recognize, much less “Integrate” it’s shadows and “clean up”. And even when they do, they cannot force it on the 99% of the population who are still primarily first Tier thinkers and actors.


It’s just a euphemism for “oh shirt, that horrible idea didn’t work, who coulda known? @#$$%&^”

Pesky neocons, pesky neolibs, pesky kommies, pesky blah blahs.


I haven’t come across anyone who promotes communism and understands just basic economics. Making the radical left a non existing group. Also I haven’t come across a sophisticated economic knower that isn’t radical. Because it’s mostly historical and theory barely can see it. So all the categories start to fall apart in this work. It’s a skelton that is mostly Integral hedonistic writing. He just pucked rainbow on all the topics he brought up. Wonder what Bowden thinks now.


That’s not my experience at all. Very few in my graduate economics, finance, accounting, and strategy courses were “radical” at all. Some Lefies, some Righties. Frankly I haven’t met a “radical” of either sort that understands even basic economics, much less finance. Most radicals are trained in “being radicals” in my experience. Their foot soldiers are usually not what you might consider part of the cognitive elite.


I think there are different aspects of understanding, as well as depth.
Accountants tend to not understand economics, and economists probably can’t balance a balance sheet. Financial Officers are the worst, and tend to only understand a narrow field of finance for corporations in a narrow industry field.
There are also many sociological consequences of economic systems - so sociologists might have the most insight (understands) into if an economic system is “working” for the man on the street.
A soldier or police officer on the front line of a protest for Democracy or human rights will also naturally have opposing views of if the economic system is “working”. Yet both understand it equally. The police officer or soldier rarely has any more or less understanding of economics than the protester in front of him.


Just making sure everyone understands that there is a full 38-page article behind the link above, with both a critique and a rejoinder included in the pdf. The paragraphs above are just the opening of a much larger piece. I know that some in this group don’t have an active membership, so I just want to make sure discussions about this article are actually informed by the article. :slight_smile:


At a very gross level, perhaps. Most that take on Quantitative areas of study and professions have a much better understanding of directly adjacent areas and more importantly a good sense of personal insight into “knowing what they don’t know”.

You might want to take a look at the thread on Kahneman’s Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow thread. The idea that an “intuitive” thinker “knows better” than someone that can also “crunch the numbers” isn’t as valid as the “soft scientists” might like to think. Simply because someone has either not trained themselves (math is hard, racist, etc) or doesn’t have the quantitative ability to master specific areas (IQ), in no way gives them some ability to generalize and/or intuit at a higher level than those than can both “crunch the numbers” and “intuit” feelings.

I think we’ve discussed before. It’s EXTREMELY, particularly with the rise of Critical Theorists, common to see people “black box” extremely well understood, broad, deep, knowledge domains, make completely unfounded assumptions/assertions, then be perplexed at “why didn’t we see that coming” unintended consequences befalling.

The Model of Hierarchical Complexity is a simple Cognitive map, which is something not addressed directly by Wilberians.