The Benevolent Market — Also

The Benevolent Market — Also in Reason, check out Ron Bailey's piece on some cross cultural experiments conducted by anthropologists and economists. It turns out that people experienced with markets are nicer. The experiments are part of a fascinating larger project to develop a realistic alternative to the startlingly silly homo economicus model of human behavior.

Experimental economics is a fantastically interesting field that I think is finally beginning to get some of the recognition it deserves. If you are on the Nobel Committee, you should nominate this man:

Herbert Gintis, who is featured in Bailey's piece, has always struck me as a very cool, intellectually open guy. He occasionally makes great contributions to the big evolutionary psychology email listserv. And he writes very useful Amazon reviews. And outstanding books on game theory. I declare Gintis my favorite leftist! (Everybody should have one.)

  • Greg N.

    I think I’ll use this in my econ. class tomorrow. Nice job, Will!

  • Maddog

    If you have not done so you should speak to your doc about this problem at your next visit. Chronic heartburn may be a sign of an underlying physical problem like a hiatal hernia (http://www.mayoclinic.org/medical-edge-newspaper-2006/oct-16.html) and may also lead to pre cancerous issues likes Barretts esophagus (http://www.mayoclinic.org/barretts-esophagus/).

    Mark

  • Caring about distant injustice does not, of course, require a life of comfort. And while I know that you care about suffering and wish to alleviate it–I truly do– this is just another in a long steady stream of posts that try to cast aspersions on anyone who makes it their moral business to care about suffering of people they don’t know. And what I always wonder is, why? Why can’t an economic conservatism rely on believing that there are hard choices to be made about when to attempt to alleviate suffering, rather than constantly taking shots at “liberal guilt” or “liberal idealism”?

    There are principled conservatisms, but none of them rely on constantly assuming the bad faith or intellectual bankruptcy of people who feel it is their duty as democrats and moral beings to remind the affluent of the reality of human suffering. I wish you could avoid the temptation, more often, to treat caring as an unforgivable character flaw.

    • “this is just another in a long steady stream of posts that try to cast aspersions on anyone who makes it their moral business to care about suffering of people they don’t know.”

      What are you talking about, man? You insist on reading me completely backward. I also write incessantly against moral chauvism and the imperative of opening developed labor markets to people from less developed economies, because there is nothing that even comes CLOSE to alleviating the suffering of people we don’t know. I WANT people to think about distant injustices. Discomfort makes people self-centered, which is why decreasing discomfort enables the expansion of moral sympathy.

      I AM a liberal idealist. I don’t have a conservative bone in my body. My aim in this post is to urge people to better appreciate how market societies alleviate suffering, so that people will stop stupidly getting in the way of the development of markets and their massive humanitarian benefits.

      I DO often take shots at people who CLAIM to care about suffering, because if they actually gave a shit, they’d bother to learn just a bit about how suffering has historically been ameliorated.

      • I disagree about how to ameliorate that suffering.

        http://lhote.blogspot.com/2008/10/conservative-teleology.html

        • Freddie, Fair enough. And an interesting post. But I just don’t think I’m the guy you really want to be grinding your axe against. I’m a pro-safety net classical liberal, not a “destroy the welfare state” libertarian. My position is that if we maximize growth rates, the percentage of people who need government social insurance goes down and the ability to comfortably finance it goes up. But government assistance is in fact completely trivial in humanitarian terms compared to basic economic development and improving access to developed labor markets. Have you read Lant Pritchett’s “Let Their People Come”?

  • JPC

    It’s a good point – just because things aren’t perfect doesn’t mean that they aren’t better than they ever have been [for most]. An interesting thing to ponder is that people seem to be as sensitive to the time derivative of well-being as it’s absolute level. Even if things broadly defined are pretty good, if they aren’t getting better rapidly, or even at an at an increasing rate, that seems to leave many dissatisfied. I think this is as important as distributional sensitivities.

  • adina

    That’s the underlying problem in the vaccine debate. Because widespread vaccination is so effective at preventating certain pandemics, we in the U.S. (luckily) don’t see anymore the horrors of polio, diphtheria, or other illnesses. The negative part of being spared from illness, is that people only see the so-called “negative” effects of vaccines, without considering their unseen benfits.

    • Greg N.

      Not much of a relative cost, that.

  • I’ve just discovered your blog and now find out that we share a chronic heartburn complaint. For me, it’s acid refulx and an OTC drug does the trick. And yes, I think about how lucky I am for that little bit of comfort and a whole lot more. Like a job the has guarantied lifetime employment that is not tied to the local economy.

  • Cool Cal

    I have often taken time to marvel that at any time of day, whenever I want, I can go to the grocery store, nay, SUPER-market, and buy relatively cheaply priced food that I would otherwise have to grow / harvest / fight for and in much greater scarcity. Those simple conveniences of modern living tend to elude the affluent, who more often than not complain about the profligacy of choice and that insidious non-word, “consumerism”.

    In regards to your first point, I too suffer from chronic heartburn, and have always been slightly miffed at its recently being dubbed “acid reflux”. Does this somehow legitimize it? Does it lift the malady from hitherto medical folk arcana into the mainstream? Is it more politically correct – were hearts complaining that they were being wrongly maligned for a disorder which they bore no actual connection to? “Acid reflux” my left foot!