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Friday, December 07, 2012

'The Gospel of Wealth Fails the Inequity Test in Primates'

Darwin argued "Those communities which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members would flourish best":

The Gospel of Wealth Fails the Inequity Test in Primates, by Eric Michael Johnson. Scientific American: Fairness is the basis of the social contract..., we expect that when we contribute our fair share we should receive our just reward. When social benefits are handed out unequally or when prior agreements are not honored it represents a breach of trust. ... But isn’t that the way the world works? Isn’t it true, as we were so often told as children, that life is unfair?
The American financial tycoon Andrew Carnegie certainly thought so and today’s economic elite have followed his example. In 1889 he used a perverted form of Darwinism to argue for a “law of competition” that became the cornerstone of his economic vision. ... In his “Gospel of Wealth”, Carnegie wrote that this natural law might be hard for the least among us but “it ensures the survival of the fittest in every department.” ...
While this perspective may be common among those primates who live in the concrete jungle of Wall Street, it doesn’t hold true for the natural world more generally. Darwin understood that competition was an important factor in evolution, but it wasn’t the only factor. Cooperation, sympathy, and fairness were equally important... In The Descent of Man he wrote, “Those communities which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members would flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring.” By working cooperatively, by sharing resources fairly, and by ensuring that all members of society benefited, Darwin argued that early human societies would be more “fit” than those societies where members only cared about themselves. ...
According to research published in the journal Animal Behaviour (pdf here),... chimpanzees have an expectation of fairness and will protest ... both in cases where rewards were handed out unequally and when a prior agreement was not honored. However, chimpanzees in this study went beyond the basic tenets of the social contract and demonstrated what could be considered the foundation of social solidarity. ...
What this also suggests is that we’ve been swindled. The Andrew Carnegies of the world have led us to believe that they are an exception to the social contract; fairness and equality may be fine for the little people, but for masters of industry it is best to leave such quaint ideas by the wayside. But he was as wrong... By emphasizing cooperation and sympathy with other members of our society we stand a better chance of success than each of us working alone. But if the situation is unfair we should refuse to perpetuate it, even if that means giving up a larger share of the pie for ourselves.

    Posted by on Friday, December 7, 2012 at 12:09 AM in Economics, Income Distribution | Permalink  Comments (11)



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