- Series: Economic Learning and Social Evolution
- Paperback: 416 pages
- Publisher: The MIT Press; New Ed edition (August 11, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0262572370
- ISBN-13: 978-0262572378
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,542,872 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Moral Sentiments and Material Interests: The Foundations of Cooperation in Economic Life (Economic Learning and Social Evolution) New Ed Edition
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Amos Tversky's research on preferences and beliefs has had a shattering and yet highly constructive influence on the development of economics. The vague complaints of psychologists and dissident economists about the excessive rationality assumptions of standard economics, going back over a century, had little impact. It required the careful accumulation of evidence, the clear sense that Tversky did not misunderstand what economists were assuming, and above all his formulation of useful alternative hypotheses to change dissatisfaction into a revolutionary change in perspective.(Kenneth J. Arrow, Professor of Economics Emeritus, Stanford University, Nobel Laureate in Economic Sciences (1972))
This book presents social science at its interdisciplinary best: an exhilarating mix of game theory, evolutionary biology, experimental economics, cultural anthropology, primatology, and policy analysis. It will change our views of how biology and culture together determine social behavior.(Daniel Kahneman, Princeton University, Nobel Laureate in Economic Sciences)
This outstanding book provides an extraordinary set of insights into the nature and effects of cooperation. Not only does it demolish the view, widespread in the social sciences, that people are selfish; it goes beyond demolition to delineate the uses and limits of cooperation in human behavior. One of its many virtues is that it extends the theoretical debate directly into the realm of law and policy, showing how an understanding of cooperation bears on employment practices, street crime, environmental protection, welfare policy, and even the behavior of taxpayers.(Cass R. Sunstein, Law School and Department of Political Science, University of Chicago)
This is the wave of the future in social science research: the dissolution of disciplinary boundaries, a unified conceptual framework, and rapid feedback between theoretical and empirical inquiry.(David Sloan Wilson, Binghamton University, author of Darwin's Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society)
This work synthesizes the elements of the burgeoning, transdiciplinary field of study on the evidence of cooperation in human behavior, economic and otherwise. The hypothesis of strong reciprocity -- of willingness to both punish departures from norms, even at a cost, and to contribute, even in the absence of direct gain -- is tested in the field and in experimental studies. The papers in this book, and the studies on which they are based, represent an important new direction for social research, one with important policy consequences.(Kenneth J. Arrow, Professor of Economics Emeritus, Stanford University, Nobel Laureate in Economic Sciences (1972))
Where once human economy was viewed abstractly, as a mere reflection of market forces, there is increasing interest in how it derives from natural human tendencies. We do not come into this world as rational profit-maximizers, but as bonded, group-living primates. This volume sets the stage for new economic thinking that takes this thoroughly social heritage into account. With its attention to moral implications, it is the perfect book for the post-Enron era.(Frans de Waal, author of Our Inner Ape)
About the Author
Ernst Fehr is Director of the Insitute for Empirical Research in Economics at the University of Zurich.
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Book discusses an issue which is very central for "being a human being" - co-operation. Book is very informative, very well written even if there are many writers with heterogenous background. Also after the book you kind of get more optimistic about the prospects of humananity.
I am without any formal education in antropology, biology and economics but have read "everything" by Boyd and Richerson - my understanding on economics is based on Microeconomics by Samuel Bowles.
The book was to me a good further reading after the Bowles Microeconomics book. But the book can be read even by someone who does not know about economics even that much as me. The book is not too formal - easy to read actually.
If all we had to worry about were grassy fields then I would side with the libertarians. But there are many cases where the common good cannot be divided up. Two of the most important types are (1) firms and (2) governments. A firm is like a common good. If everyone works hard then their jobs will be secure and they will get raises as the firm grows and expands its business. Free riders shirk on the job and/or steal from their employer. Too many free riders and the firm fails - just like any other commons. Governments are like firms but with less competition. Corrupt government bureaucrats are arguably much nastier than corrupt workers at private firms. The police, judges, politicians, and bureaucrats have more power that they can abuse. (For more on how firms can fall to free riders see _The Wisdom of Crowds_. For more on governments see _Beyond Politics_).
That takes us to the central dilemma of the human condition. How do you get unrelated strangers to cooperate? Libertarians argue that self-interest will accomplish this, but as we've already seen, self-interest leads to free riding. That doesn't work. Progressive correct point to the need for moral behavior, but that has a different problem. In a world with free riders acting altruistically just turns you into a sucker. You can't solve the free rider problem by acting even nicer to people who are free riding. What we need is a free rider proof form of morality. We need a morality built on personal responsibility. Herb Gintis and his collaborators in the book dub this strong reciprocity. There are two key principles. The first is that strong reciprocators are conditional cooperators. They are willing to trust other people in order to cooperate. The second is that they are altruistic punishers. They will punish free riders even at a personal cost to themselves.
Suppose you have a group of ten people with one free rider and one strong reciprocator. The free rider will normally come out ahead of the rest of the group - but not after you factor in the punishment of the free rider. Of course, the altruistic punishment is costly for the strong reciprocator so he will also be a little bit worse off than the rest of the group. The good news is that the cost of altruistic punishment declines with the number of free riders. Consider a society with many strong reciprocators and very few free riders. Then strong reciprocators will almost never encounter free riders and have to punish them. By contrast, a society with many free riders and few strong reciprocators has the opposite dynamic. It is very costly to be an altruistic punisher.
Another running theme in the book is the power of culture. In _Not by Genes Alone_ Richerson and Boyd (who contributes an essay here) roughly define culture as information capable of changing how people behave. Thus culture is the solution to the free rider problem. Strong reciprocators are not born, but made. Richerson and Boyd (who reject the simplistic memetics of Dawkins) point out that cultures evolve and face selection pressures. Cultures that produce happy and prosperous societies will spread and those which do not will be weeded out. The challenge to successful societies is to create a culture which turns free riders into strong reciprocators.
The core of this long-running effort is Fehr's experiments with the ultimatum game, in which two people must share a sum of money (say, $10); Person A gets to propose a split, Person B can only accept or decline. Economists and politicians would expect every game to wind up with a $9.99/$0.01 split (or actually a 9-1 split, since bills are used), but in fact typical splits are more like 5-5 or 6-4, and in one place (Lamalera, Indonesia) people actually split something like 4-6, few A's ever claiming even half the money. This long-running set of experiments around the world adds to a vast, rapidly accumulating set of data showing that people are sociable, not "rational" in the folk-economic sense (i.e., dedicated solely to narrow material self-interest). The present book discusses the implications for economics and politics. If people are naturally concerned with fairness, narrowly economistic policies can be counterproductive; we all know cases of "crowding out," in which a material incentive actually makes people act worse, by crowding out moral incentives. If you reward people for being good, they will think it's all a cynical game, and will act worse. Punitive legislation to make people do what they do anyway (for moral reasons) is also counterproductive. Imagine what these realizations would do to American social policy.
The problem with this book is that it is too optimistic and upbeat. The downside of human sociability is confined to one page, late in the book (p. 388), where racism, honor killing, and the like get a quick mention. Alas, the morning radio brings a stream of accounts not only of such things but also of religious butchery all over the world--Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and even Buddhists (theoretically prohibited from killing but busily genocidal). This brings us back to Adam Smith's suggestion that greed may not be lovable but may be better than the noble, virtuous alternatives. I hope Gintis et al work on how to decouple fairness and interpersonal concern from the desire to exterminate everybody who is not in one's immediate social set. Until this is done, the hope purveyed in this work will remain thin.
The authors note that humans seem genetically programmed to have at least some sense of fairness and of self-sacrifice for the common good, but they wisely refrain from trying to unpack "hereditary" and "environmental" or "cultural" aspects. Heredity makes us do this, and learn it easily, and heredity gives us the ability to learn and develop cultures. No way to unpack. Still, more needs to be done on just how flexible these inborn moralities are. The range from Lamalera to certain parts of South America is pretty great. So is the range of murderousness in religious and ethnic settings. We need to know how to modify human behavior in these regards, and how much we can hope for.
That being said, this book is the best yet in the long list of books that devastate the selfish-individualist model of human behavior. People desperately want to be sociable, and be good members of their society. This may lead them to fairness and generosity, or to body-piercing, or to suicide bombing. This book offers hope for building new societies through use of innate human decency. At this point in time, any book seriously offering such hope is desirable.