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Moral Sentiments and Material Interests: The Foundations of Cooperation in Economic Life

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Moral Sentiments and Material Interests presents an innovative synthesis of research in different disciplines to argue that cooperation stems not from the stereotypical selfish agent acting out of disguised self-interest but from the presence of "strong reciprocators" in a social group. Presenting an overview of research in economics, anthropology, evolutionary and human bi Moral Sentiments and Material Interests presents an innovative synthesis of research in different disciplines to argue that cooperation stems not from the stereotypical selfish agent acting out of disguised self-interest but from the presence of "strong reciprocators" in a social group. Presenting an overview of research in economics, anthropology, evolutionary and human biology, social psychology, and sociology, the book deals with both the theoretical foundations and the policy implications of this explanation for cooperation. Chapter authors in the remaining parts of the book discuss the behavioral ecology of cooperation in humans and nonhuman primates, modeling and testing strong reciprocity in economic scenarios, and reciprocity and social policy. The evidence for strong reciprocity in the book includes experiments using the famous Ultimatum Game (in which two players must agree on how to split a certain amount of money or they both get nothing).


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Moral Sentiments and Material Interests presents an innovative synthesis of research in different disciplines to argue that cooperation stems not from the stereotypical selfish agent acting out of disguised self-interest but from the presence of "strong reciprocators" in a social group. Presenting an overview of research in economics, anthropology, evolutionary and human bi Moral Sentiments and Material Interests presents an innovative synthesis of research in different disciplines to argue that cooperation stems not from the stereotypical selfish agent acting out of disguised self-interest but from the presence of "strong reciprocators" in a social group. Presenting an overview of research in economics, anthropology, evolutionary and human biology, social psychology, and sociology, the book deals with both the theoretical foundations and the policy implications of this explanation for cooperation. Chapter authors in the remaining parts of the book discuss the behavioral ecology of cooperation in humans and nonhuman primates, modeling and testing strong reciprocity in economic scenarios, and reciprocity and social policy. The evidence for strong reciprocity in the book includes experiments using the famous Ultimatum Game (in which two players must agree on how to split a certain amount of money or they both get nothing).

55 review for Moral Sentiments and Material Interests: The Foundations of Cooperation in Economic Life

  1. 4 out of 5

    David

    I'll give this only 3.5 stars because it's too academic for many readers. A popular science book presenting the same case regarding conscience and modern economies would be of great value. Studies show that even a couple of mainstream college economics courses (whether or not the student majors in the subject) results a significant increase in a person's positive view toward greedy behavior. [See "Economic Education and Greed" - abstract , PDF download with 2 other related papers ] Intentionally o I'll give this only 3.5 stars because it's too academic for many readers. A popular science book presenting the same case regarding conscience and modern economies would be of great value. Studies show that even a couple of mainstream college economics courses (whether or not the student majors in the subject) results a significant increase in a person's positive view toward greedy behavior. [See "Economic Education and Greed" - abstract , PDF download with 2 other related papers ] Intentionally or not, even at an introductory level, mainstream economics promotes selfishness in material interests. (Of course, in one sense, this is understandable. However, mainstream economics promotes it in the sense of fighting over who gets the biggest slice of the pie, rather than focusing on making the pie bigger so all slices are larger - and maybe you get an even bigger slice for helping everyone else.) Even in society at large, we see a similar skew. For instance, Adam Smith is generally portrayed as being a libertarian purist. In reality, he wrote such things as: “It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.” In fact, Smith wrote a work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments . He saw "sympathy" played a role in human actions, but the recent research shows Smith did not understand how much conscience has played a role in human societies. Moral Sentiments and Material Interests is a collection of academic papers covering a number of aspects and perspectives which provide research evidence that pure selfishness is not natural for humans (and many animals) and that actions which at least in the short term appear to be altruistic can actually be beneficial to the individual and/or group. From actions which are cooperative to actions which punish free riders whose behavior could sabotage cooperation, being willing to make immediate sacrifices for the group actually has natural selection value (although sometimes ensuring a successful group rather than a successful individual.) But shouldn't economics speak to what benefits society rather than only what can benefit a few? Readers who have read other related material may wish to pick and choose articles depending on what topical areas they've covered in the past, which areas they'd like more details of data from studies, etc. The articles which will most directly deal with issues of moral sentiments and its implications in modern technological societies are: Chapter 10 - Reciprocity and the Welfare State Chapter 12 - The Logic of Reciprocity: Trust, Collective Action, and Law Chapter 13 - Social Capital, Moral Sentiments, and Community Governance A more narrowly focused chapter on modern society is: Chapter 11 - Fairness, Reciprocity, and Wage Rigidity This last one is more technical, and I felt it may have had more influences from standard economics. Chapter 10 discusses the old greed-envisioned view which tries to influence behavior with "bribes and threats" (trying to alter what is in the self-centered greedy interest of individuals), and the view of people motivated by a sense of fairness and reciprocity. The later doesn't cause people to always obey laws and rules. For instance, if a person thinks a lot of other people are breaking a rule, he will be more inclined to break the rule as well. Because the greed view acts under the premise people aren't trying to be fair, but are perfectly happy to be unfair to others to get selfish gains, the enforcement mechanisms can often leave people with the impression violations are common. And as previously noted, that can actually make previously-law-abiding people break the law. Chapter 13 deals with aspects which can be significant, but is sometimes redundant to other chapters or otherwise less practical. For my particular interests, one of the findings that stood out was that communities that are more economically stratified have less cooperation or actions by individual members to support the community. There was also an indication home ownership may play a role in causing a sort of boundary between people which reduces the potential sense of community. (I assume this last point had to be based on comparing similar home-types owned or rented, as it seems that larger urban areas can make neighbors be virtual strangers which can also reduce a sense of community.) These papers indicate that combining moral sentiments and reciprocity social mechanisms with social functions of government involves complexity we need to investigate further. Government regulation can result in breakdown of local social group practices which discourage problematic behavior. (I don't think this is relevant to government regulation of corporations and other cases where people familiar with each other aren't the main actors.) There may also be cases where people don't discourage violators as much as might benefit harmonious social conditions. A simple familiar example may be that people often don't give a polite rebuff to those who cut into lines. Reshaping both the individual and institutional behaviors would be needed to optimize the net results. A basic issue with reciprocity is the fact some people don't give as much as they take. Small groups tend to have practices to discourage this. When an individual gets problematic enough, a hunter-gatherer group will banish the person. That doesn't work as well in the modern world where that tends to mean the problem individual goes to another unsuspecting group. In dealing with the issue of free riders and other anti-social individuals, this book does not discuss people who literally lack a conscience (psychopaths). It seems to me efforts to use this new understanding of moral sentiments and reciprocity will be hampered if the role of psychopaths is ignored. Estimates say 1% of the population are psychopaths - and 4% of those in positions of great affluence and influence are psychopaths. There is another important scientific understanding which is significant here. The Scientific American article Why Greed Begets More Greed tells us that when we're harmed by greedy actions, we are likely to respond with acts of greed. Not only that, but we are more likely to respond to greed with greed than we are to respond to kindness with kindness. Our society is dominated by impersonal corporations which are shaped to only be selfish (their executives have a "fiduciary obligation" to act for the owners rather than on moral sentiments.) Under these conditions, the average person is very likely to feel they have been the victim of greed of an employer, a landlord, a bank, a retailer or other business. So, we are faced with the question of how to avoid a snowballing effect.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Gabe

    Truly brilliant

  3. 4 out of 5

    Luis

    Excellent for what it is - very academic, very dry, but the only general summary I'm aware of on the research into this fascinating topic.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Nelson Amaya

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jakob Jørgensen

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mark Passey

  7. 4 out of 5

    Zhiyuan

  8. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Zollman

  10. 4 out of 5

    HilbertSpace

  11. 5 out of 5

    John

  12. 5 out of 5

    Maria Silvia Possas

  13. 5 out of 5

    Michelle Schwarze

  14. 5 out of 5

    Matsini1

  15. 4 out of 5

    Héctor Sáez

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

  17. 5 out of 5

    Angela

  18. 5 out of 5

    Peter Jacobsson

  19. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Feist

  20. 4 out of 5

    Rachit

  21. 4 out of 5

    Duncan Brown

  22. 4 out of 5

    g.lkoa

  23. 4 out of 5

    Pseudoerasmus (Econ History Only)

  24. 5 out of 5

    Homa

  25. 5 out of 5

    Andres

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jukka Aakula

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sbacelar

  28. 4 out of 5

    Georgios

  29. 5 out of 5

    Mateus

  30. 4 out of 5

    Katharine

  31. 5 out of 5

    Mary

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    Matthijs Krul

  33. 5 out of 5

    psb

  34. 4 out of 5

    Will

  35. 5 out of 5

    Ipublishcentral

  36. 4 out of 5

    April

  37. 5 out of 5

    Renato

  38. 4 out of 5

    Jon Morgan

  39. 4 out of 5

    Shellie

  40. 5 out of 5

    Chris

  41. 4 out of 5

    Arjada Bardhi

  42. 5 out of 5

    Joseph

  43. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

  44. 5 out of 5

    Aaron Bonham

  45. 5 out of 5

    Mike

  46. 4 out of 5

    Henrik

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    Jack

  48. 5 out of 5

    Sri

  49. 4 out of 5

    Laissez's Faire

  50. 5 out of 5

    Scott Bloodworth

  51. 4 out of 5

    Jamie Pratt

  52. 5 out of 5

    Adam

  53. 4 out of 5

    Scott

  54. 5 out of 5

    Jorge Marrao

  55. 4 out of 5

    !Tæmbuŝu

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