UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

June 2, 2009

ECONOMISTS FINALLY DISCOVERING ALTRUISM

Jeremy Mercer, Ode Magazine - The City of Yonkers, New York, wound up in a distressing predicament early this year. The municipal budget was running a deficit and the economic crisis was sorely aggravating the problem. Layoffs were needed and among the casualties were six firefighters, including, most regrettably, a young man who'd recently rescued several children from a burning apartment building. The job cuts were due to go into effect the first week of January.

But then something remarkable happened. The men and women of the Yonkers Fire Department offered to work days free for six months so the city could save money and their colleagues could save their jobs. The deal was approved by 75 percent of firefighters and the layoffs were avoided. "Everyone is aware of what is going on with the economy," explains Patrick Brady, president of the local firefighter's union. "We banded together and voted to save our brethren."

Amid the job losses, the home foreclosures and the bankruptcies of this crushing recession, these sorts of stories provide a rare glimmer of hope. Across the country and around the world, people are sharing jobs or accepting reduced wages in order to help their colleagues and prevent wider unemployment. . .

Indeed, this selflessness is heartening. But such altruism is also evidence that the standard economic theory our financial system has been built upon is hopelessly flawed. For the past 50 years, economic policy has been poisoned by the cynical premise that people are innately selfish and materialistic. This is what has been taught in economics classes; this is what has informed government decisions such as bank deregulation; and this is what has spawned the Wall Street culture of "greed is good."

Now the basic tenets of economics are being reconsidered. A growing body of experimental work by behavioral economists proves altruism not only exists but is one of our primary motivations, even in financial affairs. And if some progressive economists have their way, we may be on the cusp of a more humane era in which altruism, not avarice, becomes the trait our economic system nourishes. "It is increasingly obvious that people are motivated by morality; people are motivated by ethics," says Herbert Gintis, an emeritus professor at the University of Massachusetts and one of the leading economists studying altruism. . .

It was evolutionary biologists, with their penchant for field observation, who started to explore the question in an empirical manner. It began with Charles Darwin, who was amazed by the cooperation among bees; moved to William Hamilton, who studied altruism among rabbits; and went on to include Robert Trivers' work on sharing among vampire bats. Once altruism was established in the natural world, the same analytical eye inevitably turned toward the human sphere. . .

The reality is that for most of history, economists have preferred theory to experimentation. This changed when the field of behavioral economics began to take shape in the 1970s. The movement adopted insights from psychology along with the empirical methods used in other social sciences to bring a fuller picture of human motivation and decision-making to economics. . .

Much more. . .

1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Later at the 1992 Bilderberg Group meeting, Henry Kissinger said:

"Today, Americans would be outraged if UN troops entered Los Angeles to restore order; tomorrow, they will be grateful. This is especially true if they were told there was an outside threat from beyond, whether real or promulgated, that threatened our very existence. It is then that all people of the world will plead with world leaders to deliver them from this evil....individual rights will be willingly relinquished for the guarantee of their well-being granted to them by their world government."

June 2, 2009 1:46 PM  

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