Thursday, September 04, 2008

Dismal Science, dismal people?

Many economists argue that the guiding force, central principle and primary trait of human nature and human society is selfishness and self interest.

Turns out that might just be them.

In the course of researching my next novel, I happened upon this old paper by Robert H. Frank, Thomas Gilovich, and Dennis T. Regan, "Does Studying Economics Inhibit Cooperation?" Its conclusions: Economics grad students are more likely to free ride than the general public. Economists are less generous than other academics in charitable giving. Economics undergrads are more likely to defect in prisoner's dilemma problems. Students are less likely to return found money after studying economics but not after studying another subject like astronomy. No wonder they call it "the dismal science."
Of course there's an excellent argument to be made that this is only due to economics as it is currently taught. The rising popularity of True Cost economics may offer an alternative approach to the world and other people.

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