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Customer Review

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very good and very important book., March 25, 2011
This review is from: Cultivating Conscience: How Good Laws Make Good People (Hardcover)
The author critiques the common assumption, taught not only in economics but also in law, politics, and more, that humans are "homo economicus," i.e. rationally selfish utility maximizers whose primary (or sole) motivation is our own profit and well-being. Narrowly used, this model works well to describe our actions in a well regulated market, where the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker offer their products and services not for the well-being of their customers but to make money for themselves, but in so doing they benefit those customers. However, emphasizing our natural selfishness, and organizing our economy, laws, and politics to provide primarily or only external material rewards for behaviors we want to encourage and only external material costs to discourage other behaviors, ignores and unintentionally undermines our natural altruistic tendencies. Yes, we are naturally selfish, but we are also naturally altruistic, and social situations, laws, and expectations can influence which tendencies tend to motivate us and how. The author outlines results from experimental behavioral science showing that unselfish, prosocial behavior is common, crucial, and can be effectively encouraged and cultivated. (Even the fact that people take the time and effort to write unpaid book reviews for the benefit of others demonstrates this.) Ignoring conscience, and emphasizing only external rewards and punishments, sends the implicit message that we are expected to be and supposed to be solely selfish, thereby becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, and undermining the prosocial altruistic behavior and trust that is a necessary condition for a well functioning and prosperous society, including that market in which the butcher's selfish desire to be paid incentivizes him to work for the benefit of his customer.
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K. Hobbs
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