Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

The Economics Of Nice Folks

Date:
June 22, 2008
Source:
Santa Fe Institute
Summary:
A researcher argues in Science that a basic tenet of economics -- that people always behave selfishly -- can be wrong, sometimes badly so. He points to new experimental evidence that people do often act against their own personal self-interest in favor of the common good, and they do so in predictable, understandable ways. Poorly-designed economic institutions fail to take advantage of intrinsic moral behavior and often undermine it.

A basic tenet of economics is that people always behave selfishly, or as the 18th century philosopher economist David Hume put it, "every man ought to be supposed to be a knave."

But what if some people aren't always knaves?

Sam Bowles argues in Science June 20 that economics will get it wrong then, sometimes badly so. He points to new experimental evidence that people do often act against their own personal self-interest in favor of the common good, and they do so in predictable, understandable ways. Poorly-designed economic institutions fail to take advantage of intrinsic moral behavior and often undermine it.

Take this example: Six day care centers imposed a fine on parents who picked their children up late. The effect? Tardiness doubled, and it stayed high even when the fine was removed. Parents, it seems, stopped seeing lateness as an imposition on teachers, and instead saw it as something that could be purchased with no moral failing.

Another example is a study this year which showed that women donated blood less frequently when they were paid for it than when it was an act of charity.

These examples show that economists ignore human altruism at their peril. Standard economic theory assumes that incentives that appeal to self-interest won't affect any natural altruism that may exist, but that assumption is clearly wrong. Bowles discusses the research to date that helps to explain when and why that assumption breaks down.

As the world becomes more interconnected and the resulting challenges to humanity increase, learning to harness these altruistic impulses becomes even more important, Bowles says. So the economists' "holy grail," to learn to design institutions and policies to direct the selfish impulses of individuals to public ends, "will be necessary but insufficient," Bowles says. "The moral nature of humans must also be recognized, cultivated, and empowered."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Santa Fe Institute. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Santa Fe Institute. "The Economics Of Nice Folks." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 June 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/06/080619142115.htm>.
Santa Fe Institute. (2008, June 22). The Economics Of Nice Folks. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 17, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/06/080619142115.htm
Santa Fe Institute. "The Economics Of Nice Folks." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/06/080619142115.htm (accessed April 17, 2014).

Share This



More Science & Society News

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Small Reactors Could Be Future of Nuclear Energy

Small Reactors Could Be Future of Nuclear Energy

AP (Apr. 17, 2014) After the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the industry fell under intense scrutiny. Now, small underground nuclear power plants are being considered as the possible future of the nuclear energy. (April 17) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Heartbleed Hack Leads To Arrest

Heartbleed Hack Leads To Arrest

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2014) A 19-year-old computer science student has been arrested in relation to a data breach of 900 social insurance numbers from Canada's revenue agency. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Yahoo's Ousted COO Gets $58M Severance Package

Yahoo's Ousted COO Gets $58M Severance Package

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2014) According to SEC filings, Yahoo gave ousted COO Henrique de Castro a $58 million severance package. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Are School Dress Codes Too Strict?

Are School Dress Codes Too Strict?

AP (Apr. 16, 2014) Pushing the limits on style and self-expression is a rite of passage for teens and even younger kids. How far should schools go with their dress codes? The courts have sided with schools in an era when school safety is paramount. (April 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins