May 20, 2016
Economists don't come out of this week's Greed Project reading well! Dan Ariely, author of the intriguing book "The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty," and co-author Aline Gruneisen tackle "The Price of Greed" for Scientific American Mind. (Reproduced with permission. Copyright © 2013 Scientific American, a Division of Nature America, Inc. All rights reserved.)
The authors acknowledge that greed has long had a bad reputation, but note that we tend to overcome the taboo by distancing ourselves from the abstract moral aspect of greed. For example, they determined that students with even modest training in economics view greed more positively. Shifting the discussion from morality to economics is all the distance that some people need to overcome their queasiness, it seems. They also found that people were more willing to enrich themselves at others' expense when they had the cover to claim that their actions would also benefit shareholders as well as themselves.
The authors’ three brief suggestions for promoting cooperation over selfishness:
1. Avoid letting "economic theory eclipse the fact that greed can be damaging";
2. Use examples (compliance professionals know the power of storytelling) to show the real impact of greed so we can't easily distance ourselves from the damage we do; and
3. "[C]ombat the rationalizations of self-interest, including the simplistic mantra that greedy behavior propels society forward..." as the familiar quote from Michael Douglas's Gordon Gekko suggests in their introduction.
- Alexandra Wrage
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