Podcast

Dan Ariely: Why The Next Market Downturn May Quickly Become A Full-Blown Panic

The human factor has become extremely skittish
Sunday, May 17, 2015, 10:37 AM

Behavioral economist and author of Predictably Irrational Dan Ariely returns to explain the science underlying the continued mismanagement and mal-investment within our financial system, despite 7 years of opportunity to learn from and address the causal factors of the Great Recession.

Behavioral science shows we are our own worst enemies in this story. In a realm where everything is so quantifiable, measurable and trackable, one would expect exceptionally good decision-making. But it's our human wiring, our proclivity for seeing things as we want them to be rather than as they truly are, that makes us vulnerable to influences we often aren't even conscious of. And the bad decisions -- and bad outcomes -- ensue:

For me, as somebody interested in human behavior, there are two elements that worry me a lot. The first one is Conflicts of interest.

Conflicts of interest is one of those things that get to us without us realizing how powerful it is. Imagine that you invite me to dinner, and you buy me a beer and a sandwich and we talk more and we become friends. To what degree am I going to be able to see the world in an objective way without taking your perspective into account? It turns out conflicts of interest are wonderful because they allow us to create friendship really quite quickly. You can buy someone a beer and a sandwich and they become your friend to some degree. Once you marry this with a complex system like the financial system, all of a sudden some not-so-good things can happen.

I think we really haven't done much to address conflicts of interest in our financial system -- there are lots of places where people get paid in all kinds of ways that have conflicts of interest. There are companies that have divisions within them that create tremendous conflicts of interest. And human nature doesn't help. What happens is that you look at yourself and you ask: Do I have conflicts of interest? You say: No. Of course, not. I evaluate everything objectively; therefore, we don't need regulation. But I think we do, and actually to a much higher degree.

The second element that bothers me about which we have done to little is Trust. There are people who are active in the financial system and they understand it better. And there are people who are not. The people who are not have experienced this tremendous devastation. Many people lost lots of money, especially people close to retirement. Many people pulled out their money and basically have lost trust. Now the question is: Under what conditions will people regain this lost trust? This is extremely important for the financial system's long-term viability. If you think about the financial system as a way to accumulate wealth and be able to retire securely and so on, I think we've lost some of the capacity of that system to serve that function, because people are just not trusting anything.

Imagine if we have another beginning of a catastrophe happening, not something as big as we had, but something smaller. Is people's sensitivity right now is going to be so high that they're going to panic very quickly? I think the answer is: Yes. So we haven't done much to eliminate conflicts of interest, and we haven't done anything to earn back trust. And because of that, I deeply worry.

Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Dan Ariely (41m:53s)

Transcript: 

Chris Martenson: Hello, and welcome to another Peak Prosperity podcast. I am your host, Chris Martenson. Now, at Peak Prosperity, we inhabit the overlap between three circles—or try to anyways—those being knowing, doing, and being. Knowing what's going on in the world is essential to making good plans, but all the knowing in the world is useless unless it leads to doing. All of the best knowing and the best doing can be undone if your state of being—your emotional health and the ability to direct and control your efforts—is inadequate.

All of economics is meant to be about people's behaviors. Theoretically, people's behavior is the summed outcome of knowing, doing and being. Now traditional economics imagines a world populated by calculating, unemotional, rational optimizers. Clearly these are not good assumptions, at least not if you're assuming anything about me; nonetheless, they undergird the entire framework of traditional economics. Further, the standard economic framework ignores or rules out or conveniently ignores virtually all of the behavior studied by cognitive and social psychologists.

This framework is defended by some who claim that the model is right or at least right enough, while others simply argue that the standard model was easier to formalize, therefore, more relevant from a practical standpoint.

Behavioral economics blossomed from the realization that, at its very foundation, traditional economics is virtually untethered from the very things it purports to understand and be able to direct: human behavior.

Back with us again to discuss behavioral economics, the upside of irrationality, and possibly dispense some relationship advice is Dan Ariely. He teaches at Duke University. He's the founder of the Center for Advanced Hindsight and also the cofounder of BE (Behavioral Economics) Works. He is the author of Predictably Irrational, a fantastic book that you should read; The Upside of Irrationality, both of which became New York Times best sellers, as well as, The Honesty Truth About Dishonesty and a new book about which I'm hoping he'll tell us.

Welcome, Dan. It's great to have you back.

Dan Ariely: Oh, great to be back.

Chris Martenson: Well since it's been a while, can you begin by telling us how it is you came to be in the field of behavioral economics?

Dan Ariely: Yes. As you well know, I was badly injured many, many years ago. In hospital I realized that there were lots of things that the doctors and nurses were doing in the wrong way. The thing that bothered me the most initially was the question of how you remove bandages from burn patients. Should you remove them quickly as the nurses thought, or should you remove them slowly as I thought should be the case. It turns out that they were just wrong. I mean. It took me many years to prove that they were wrong, but it turns out that they were wrong. When I discovered lots of things that were wrong in the healthcare system, I had the urge to try and fix things. Originally I thought about becoming a physician. But my hands are so badly injured that I can't really hold a scalpel and it's not clear I can even check patients. The people said my desire to go into medicine was probably not the right direction.

I went to social science, initially, not because I thought of social science as a way to improve the world, but it's because [it was] something I could do without using my hands too much. I was still in the hospital.

Over the years I learned that social science is a great way to try to make the world a better place, to try to figure out all of the places where people have wrong intuitions and wrong behaviors and say "what can we do to improve what's going on?" It's been a tremendous joy.

We're working on lots of different projects that try to say where are people behaving badly, and what can we do to fix things. What are the mistakes that cause us to lose money, happiness, relationships and so on that we should try and fix them.

Chris Martenson: Fantastic. We've had a virtual parade of financial and economic experts on this program. In an excellent display of our selection bias, they have all been highly critical of the Fed's actions. One of their main points has been that the Fed is flawlessly running flawed models; that is, the Fed is tinkering with things about which it has very little insight, no experience, but seems quite confident that they know what they're doing. How would you score the efforts of the central bankers?

Dan Ariely: It is really hard to say because I don't really know what they intended to do up front and what is the outcome at the end of the day. It's hard for me to give them a score on their understanding of human nature and what the regulation started by being. If you say, do I think the regulations we have right now are going to assure that we will not have a second crisis, the answer is no.

I think for me, as somebody interested in human behavior, there are two elements that worry me a lot. The first one is conflicts of interest.

Conflicts of interest is one of those things that get to us without us realizing how powerful it is. Imagine that you invite me to dinner, and you buy me a beer and a sandwich and we talk more and we become friends. To what degree am I going to be able to see the world in an objective way without taking your perspective into account? It turns out conflicts of interest are wonderful because they allow us to create friendship really quite quickly, right? You can buy someone a beer and a sandwich and they become your friend to some degree. Once you marry this with a complex system like the financial system, all of a sudden some not so good things can happen. I think we really haven't done much to conflicts of interest. There are lots of places in conflicts of interest. There are lots of places where people get paid in all kinds of ways that have conflicts of interest.

There are places where companies have divisions within them that create tremendous conflicts of interest. What happens is that you look at yourself and you say, "do I have conflicts of interest?" You say, "no. Of course, not. I evaluate everything objectively; therefore, we don't need to regulate against that," but I think we do and actually to a much higher degree.

The second thing that bothers me about which we have not done anything is to think about trust. There are people who are active in the financial system, and they understand it better, and there are people who are not. The people who are not have experienced this tremendous devastation. Many people lost lots of money, especially people close to retirement. Many people pulled out their money and basically have lost trust. Now the question is: Under what conditions would people regain this trust? This might not be that important for the financial system if some people don't save for retirement, but if you think about the financial system as a way to accumulate wealth and be able to retire securely and so on, I think we've lost some of the capacity of that system to be like this because people are just not trusting anything.

Imagine if we would have another beginning of a catastrophe happening, not something as big as we had, but something small. Will people's sensitivity right now going to be so high that they're going to panic very quickly? I think the answer is yes. So we haven't done much to eliminate conflicts of interest, we haven't done anything for trust, and because of that, I deeply worry.

Chris Martenson: Those are great points. I want to add a third one to that in just a second because, to me, a society's money, at least the type of money we use, is the ultimate form of trust. What I want to talk about though is that the Federal Reserve, though, has been monkeying with both the trust and the conflicts of interest.

Let's just look at one thing: the growing wealth gap. It's oft times presented as this mysterious thing. It's like a comet came and visited and we don't know from where it came, but the truth is that when you print money our of thin air and you shovel it into Wall Street, the most predictable thing that's going to happen is that the people who get to speculate with that money first get the most out of that. So there is a conflict of interest, I think, between the Federal Reserve, Wall Street, the regulators, all of this revolving door where they're printing money. The trust gets eroded because, here's the thing about money printing: It's a zero-sum game. So we can be very interested in the 21 hedge-fund guys who took home $25 billion last year and pretend like they made that money, but the truth is that it came from somewhere. Where it came from was really granny. All savers and all fixed-income people have really paid the bill on this. That's what I say when I personally give the Fed low marks. I feel like that's really not just playing money; it feels like they're playing with social cohesion.

Is that a fair way to look at it, or unfair?

Dan Ariely: There's no question that financial markets create some money, right? They create welfare by lending money. People can do more things and so on. There is also no question that they can actually take money out from one another or they can take money out from the government or from the Fed. I think that some of the recent changes have created opportunities for people to take money out rather than participate. If you and I have a bank and we lend money to a company and the company can do something with this capital, we've added something to the economy. Because of that, the economy is better; it's not a zero-sum game. What you're talking about is the fact that there are many cases in which the financial markets behave as a zero-sum game where the money is not given to anybody to make more something out of this, but in fact it's just transferring from one hand to another, and we certainly have too much of that. The beast of investing is that you're so large and sometimes it is so tempting to just play this game of taking money from one place to another that I think it is out of proportion.

This is a place where we could actually wonder: a.) what is the role of the Fed in this? And b.) what is the role of regulation in that, and should we allow that?

Have you read this book by Bob Frank on The Darwin Economy?

Chris Martenson: No I haven't. What's in there?

Dan Ariely: It's a great book. You should have him on the show at some point. In this book, Frank, basically talks about the cases in which competition can be devastating to society. Usually we think of competition as being good. If I tell my students "Everybody tries to get an A" and they all try to get an A, that could be great. But what if I said that I'm only letting one student pass the class; everybody else is going to fail? So now it's like a winner-take-all market. What is the role of competition now? In many cases, competition now is going to be devastating. It's going to create terrible incentives. It's going to create lots of misbehavior. People are going to stab other people in the back. They're going to do all kinds of things because in a winner-takes-all market, unless you're the winner, it doesn't really matter, so you're willing to do a lot to be the winner. Under those conditions, competition can be very bad. I'll give you the example of the elephant seals.

The elephant seals are these big animals. All the male elephant seal wants to do is to be the biggest elephant seal because then they get most of the females. If you were the second elephant seal, what do you care about? You just want to gain a bit more weight. Now the elephant seals are so big that they die at an early age from blood problems and vascular problems. Also sometimes, when they copulate, they kill the females. These are all really bad outcomes that come from this competition of the winner-takes-all. You basically are dropping kind of hesitation to the side way, and you basically say "well, I don't care about dying because really what I want is females. Let me sacrifice everything for that." Imagine this market in which we have a winner-take-all in the elephant seal domain. Regulation could be really good. It would say, "look, the winner takes all, but nobody is allowed to be more than, I don't know. I think right now they're about 800 pounds. Nobody is allowed to be more than 600 pounds," or something like that, and therefore, create the regulation that everybody will be in the same relative place and have no desire to sacrifice more.

I think in the financial market, we have this competition that is not always healthy. Sometimes we think that it's healthy, but it's not.

Chris Martenson: Now I'm wondering if you just didn't describe our electoral system, but that's a different podcast, because it is winner take all, right? One of the things that happens, particularly in the field of money printing, is that when the Fed prints—up oh, I don't know—a trillion dollars, and buys mortgage-backed security, you say from where did that money come? Well, they printed it out of thin air. Then they bought these mortgage-backed securities from a variety of financial firms. When those financial firms received that trillion dollars, was that real money? Oh, yeah. You bet. Could you go out and buy things with it? Yes, you could. Now what's interesting in this story is that the Fed just printed purchasing power out of thin air, but it's an accounting identity. That purchasing power can only be created through the actions of real people and a through a real economy.

When the Fed actually creates purchasing power out of thin air, by definition, it means it's taking it from all of the other players out there, everybody who has money stored up and saved. It's really a transfer of wealth. We're seeing this very clearly in Japan, where they said, "we're going to drive our yen down and this is going to help our exporters." It did, but it didn't help all of the people who had to live on things they import. So it was directly a transfer from Mrs. Watanabi the retiree to Sony. Sony's profits look great. But this idea of transferring is really picking winners and losers. It feels to me when you talk about conflicts of interest and trust, those are really central to that idea of a group being empowered to decide that this group is going to donate, and this group is going to receive. How would we regulate that effectively?

Dan Ariely: Yeah. I don't know that there's a way to regulate it. Regulation needs to be a case where you have a theory about what should drive society. You're absolutely right that every time you print money, you're basically taking away value from the people who are holding cash, and you give it to people who hold stocks, for example. It does multiple things, but one of the things it does is to do these transfers. I don't think that you can regulate that. I think that it needs to be something that before people decide to print money, they would think about the costs and they will think about the benefits, and figure out what to do. I agree with you that inequality is increasing dramatically every time you print more money. Every time people print money, the people who have more of their money in cash are losing more than the people who have less of their money in cash. That's just how it is. It is very, very sad.

Chris Martenson: Great point. I'm going to get right back to inequality, but first to finish out this part about which I'm thinking, central bankers-- Here's the most interesting thing. I can't wait to hear what you have to say about this because I don't know how to analyze this yet. We live in a world where we have these things called negative interest rates. You want to lend money to Switzerland for 10 years, you have to pay for the privilege. In Holland they even had negative mortgage rates for a little while. These are so new and different. How would we go about trying to guess what the impact might be on, I don't know, investment decisions, time horizons, risk, any of that stuff. This feels so new, I don't know how to get my hands around it. How do I look at this?

Dan Ariely: Let's think about risk attitude and how much risk people are willing to take. Let's say, what would you prefer to do? Would you prefer to get 80 dollars for sure, or to take a chance, and there's 90 percent chance you'll get nothing and 10 percent chance you'll get 100 dollars. A hundred dollars is more than eighty, but you only have a percentage. Which one would you want to take? People say, you know what, give me the sure thing. I don't want to take the risk. Right. Not worth it. I don't want to come back with zero. Now we could do the same thing in the loss domain, and I could say what would you rather have? Would you rather lose 80 dollars for sure or lose 100 dollars with 10 percent chance? Now people say well, losing for sure 80 is too risky. I don't want to just lose. Let me take the chance. What happened, and I think this will happen, is that the moment you have this sure loss, it's going to be so aversive that people are going to be willing to take more chances. Individuals who are going to take more risk in the markets, that's not necessarily good for them.

You could say maybe institutional investors, we can argue whether they should take more risk or less risk and so on, but for individuals basically saying, "you know what, I don't want to pay this. Let me gamble on something else" might not be in their best interest. The strategy of negative interest rates might be valuable for some, but particularly currency, commodities, and it might be useful for some banks like the Swiss banks where institutions park money there and so on, but on the individual level it should really worry us.

Chris Martenson: I agree with that, and it's been part of my assessment of what I'm seeing in the equity markets right now. They increasingly fail to respond to fundamental data, but they really respond to what central bankers may or may not do, so that is, the field has really tipped away from an investing mindset and towards a speculating mindset. That feels to me like it comes just with higher degrees of potential risks, which in a negative-interest-rate world, I don't know how to calculate anymore. That's my personal untethered feeling in this story.

Dan Ariely: Yeah. I haven't seen much data. Have you seen much data about what's going on?

Chris Martenson: In terms of?

Dan Ariely: In terms of how people are reacting. How are financial institutions reacting and how individuals are reacting.

Chris Martenson: Yeah. There's a lot of risk out there, but that was with the central bank. The Federal Reserve even wrote Wall Street Journal editorials and said, "we want to foster an environment where people have a greater risk appetite." The idea is that you push people out the risk-appetite spectrum, they invest more heavily in equities. It creates a rising market. Then you have this wealth effect, and then people buy more. It's a long daisy chain of ways things are supposed to happen. The problem is that we're not getting the spending behaviors, but we're getting the speculating behavior. I'll give them like a 50-percent mark on what they were trying to do. They got the speculation, but they didn't get the behaviors they wanted, which was more spending. That's how I see it there.

Alright. I want to tie in now to this idea of the injustice, the inequality. I remember when you ran a study at our site, the survey was based on the philosopher John Rawls' concept of justice, famously defining justice as fairness. We noted the growing gap between the wealthy and everybody else. I would submit too that there's a growing sense or awareness that perhaps justice is not equally applied in the U.S.

Given that capuchin monkeys react really angrily when they're fed cucumbers instead of the grapes that their lab mates got, I'm wondering, are the people of Baltimore or Ferguson or anywhere else really reacting in an unsurprising way?

Dan Ariely: Lots of things to say there. One thing is to say about the monkeys. The monkeys are perfectly fine to get cucumbers, but what they're really pissed off is when their neighbor is getting something better, so that's the issue. Inequality in the U.S. has a few elements. One of the things is that in our study so far, including the one we did with you, we found that people don't understand correctly inequality. People don't understand the range of how unequal the society is. People don't understand how difficult the lives of the poor really are. We hear that people live on food stamps, but we don’t really understand that. I've been to some places last year where people basically have no kitchen, and the only cooking instrument they have is a microwave. If you start with that, and you use public transportation and you leave work at 5:00 and by the time you get home it's 7:30, what are the odds that you would eat healthfully? Basically very close to zero. And now what are the chances that you'll live a happy life in some meaningful way? Very, very hard, right? Lots of costs. You eat unhealthfully. You don't feel particularly well, and things just deteriorate from there.

I was in Chicago in some places where the amount of cockroaches and rats is just incredible. One of the things that happened when you live in those condition is that asthma develops very quickly, so you have kids who live in a very bad situation, and then develop terrible diseases. They need to take medications. The medications are expensive. It's hard to take medication on time. Nobody is helping them. From time to time they get to the emergency room, and things are just incredible. We hear about those cases, but we don't understand how prevalent this is. The number of people in the U.S. that, if you said you need to borrow $2,000 to pay for some emergency, that they could actually do that, there are 40 percent of Americans who said they couldn't get $2,000 to pay a medical bill or to fix a car or to do something in a 48-hour window. When you realize this is the situation, you realize that the potential for civil unrest is incredible.

Just imagine yourself that you grew up in that environment, and you realize that it's basically impossible to get out of this. You're basically working all of the time. It's minimum wage. The schools where you live that you can actually go to are terrible. The grocery stores have nothing but unhealthy food. How are you going to get out of this?

Chris Martenson: It's very difficult.

Dan Ariely: Very, very difficult. Yes. I think that the celebration around all of the amazing things that the U.S. is doing, is restricted to a very small subset. I would not be terribly surprised that, if things continuing going the way that they're going, there will be some real civic unrest. It might come on race lines eventually because I think that the race lines are a little easier to understand than income lines, but eventually it's not just a race war. It is a wealth war and a desperation and an inability to get out of a bad situation.

Our financial system is actually quite abusive for the poor. If you don't have much money in your checking account, you're paying a lot for everything. You're paying a lot for cashing your checks. You know how much it costs to put money on a pre-paid debit card? They charge you $5 a time to just put the money on it. Think about that. Imagine every time you go and you put $50 on your prepaid debit card, and then you use it. You basically are paying 10 percent just to put money on this, not to mention your transportation costs are higher, and even electronics costs more for the poor than for the wealthy. Why? Because the poor basically can't travel as easily. Electronic stores that are in area of the poor basically can charge a higher premium because the poor cannot as easily go and check the prices somewhere else. Everything becomes more complex, even shipping. If you have an office, and you buy something on Amazon, and they ship to your office, that's easy.

But what if you don't have an office or if they can't ship to your office? What if you don't have a place at home that they can drop the package in? What are you going to do? All of a sudden, all of the things that we enjoy both in terms of financial discounts and quality of life are just not available to lots and lots of people.

In the Rawls questions by the way—this we asked your listeners as well as lots of other Americans—we asked the question of what level of wealth inequality would you like there to be in a country where you would be willing to join the country in a random place? That's kind of the Rawls constraint, the veil of ignorance. It says you don't know where you'll end up in society, in what society would you want to be so that you're willing to join it in any random place? Americans basically paint a picture of a very just society. Americans want a level of inequality in this imagined country that is more equal than Sweden.

If you think about it, and you say, okay, let's think about the benefit of inequality and the down side. The benefit of course is motivation for people in society. If you have inequality, you have a reason to try and push forward. You have a reason to try and invent, promote, create, and do all kinds of things. If you have inequality, on the negative side you have social issues. You have privileged and non-privileged. You have people who might be unhappy. You don't have good social services. All kinds of things can happen. The balance between them—people often want a much more equal society.

A statistic I heard recently was that in Africa, 70 percent of the police force is private. Think about it. That's what happens in a case where you have very high inequality. The wealthy basically pay for their own social services including police. But think about what that means for society. What it means for society where people are so segregated that we don't even enjoy the same basic abilities like same police force. What happens if you have a different-- Right now we have different schools, and right now we have different hospitals, but what else are we willing to have different for different people in different income brackets?

Chris Martenson: I guess we would say it's a tolerable, but becoming—for a larger segment—intolerable sense of injustice. But to skip forward in this story, when I was down in Acapulco a couple of years ago with a very wealthy person, he had to spend a lot of money 24-7, 365 to protect his family from kidnappers. That's just a part of life. But he felt lonely because most of his friends had exfilled and were living in Miami or in Houston or in some other place, so they up and left. That's I think an underappreciated component of the trajectory that we're on in this country with now the largest wealth gap that we've seen ever, since the robber barons.

At least the robber barons, we call them robber barons, but they were building railroads and making oil and stuff like that. Most of today's wealthy are financial people who are in the business of playing in the financial sphere. We can argue about how useful that really is to larger society, all of that.

Here's a very important question because it's something with which we're wrestling at my site. Assume, hypothetically, that one wanted to start a movement to really shift the cultural narrative that seems to be working out less and less well for more and more people, if not the natural world, which is a focus of ours. So, perhaps a movement like Occupy Wall Street, but with better staying power, and maybe a bit more focus. Any rules from your field of work about how to go about starting and/or sustaining a lasting movement?

Dan Ariely: Listen. This is a place where I actually believe in capitalism. I think that the chances that we will change the regulators is very low. It would be nice, but I think it's very low. I think that we need to start different financial institutions. Right now, all of the financial institutions we have basically operate in the same way and create the same type of problem. In the financial world, I would say let's create a competing bank. I actually thought that in the 2008 financial crisis it was a good opportunity for the credit unions to take a leadership position, which sadly they did not, but I think that it's time to create new institutions for banking as a starting point. I think banking are probably the easier institutions to create.

I think then we need to move to education because the two things that create the most inequality are banking and education. Education is much, much tougher to do because you need to be geographically located. You need to be in many places. With money especially being digital and transformable, we can do lots of things with banking in great ease. I would start by trying to figure out what kind of revolution we can start with banking, and doing it by creating a bank rather than by waiting for the regulators to do something. From there I think that the other banks will have to follow, so something will have to change in that regard.

Chris Martenson: Well, the good news is I'm hearing more and more about exactly that happening, people who are rethinking the whole process of banking. Certainly the state of North Dakota rethought it a while ago. It's worked out great for them. That would be a way to start. What I'm interested in too is this idea of—we live into the stories that our culture gives to us into which we were born in many way. The stories drive our behaviors. If we have a cultural narrative that basically says-- Let me put it this way. I believe that the current cultural narrative of the United States has a very high degree of risk associated with it geopolitically, with respect to the ecology. We don't have an energy plan beyond we're going to just keep drilling and it'll all work out. There a are a lot of things where what I would want is for the nation to sit up and go "oh, let's have an adult sized conversation about some very important things."

My prediction is that we won't have that conversation in the next presidential election cycle unless Bernie Sanders gets further or somebody else is willing to open that up. It feels to me like status quo is saying let's just keep doing status quo. More and more people are saying that it's not working for me. I'm not happy. I want to belong to something in which I can believe. How would you go about shifting a narrative like that?

Dan Ariely: Yeah. I think one of the narratives that's so damaging right now is this idea of the invisible hand, right? That somehow competition is going to get the best out of people and eventually is going to be great. That's one thing. The second thing is that the U.S. is very big. I grew up in Israel. Being part of a small country has some advantages because I think affinity between people comes more naturally. In the U.S. when was the last time you really saw people hitch hiking or really picked people up who are hitch hiking? It just doesn't happen that much. We don't think of people as even being in the same country. Yes. We're all in the same country. Yes we all vote, but there's not a sense of cohesion. How do you create that? I don't know what the right answer is.

In Israel for example the military service I think really helps a lot. The fact that every boy has to serve for three years, and every woman has to serve for two years, creates this real melting pot in which you meet everybody from the country, and you realize that you're working together and that you have to work together. How do we get that feeling in the U.S. For example, it is rather shocking to see who are the people in the U.S. who joined the military. Clearly the military is a very important part of the U.S., but the people who join are one of two. It's either people who grew up to very patriotic families who go to West Point and the Virginia Military Academy and so on, or people who can't make ends meet, and they use the Army as a way to basically get a small salary. They look at it as a job just because they don't have another job. This is not the right way to think about the country. For me that's one of the issue. We're not one country that cares. We don't have a single agenda. We're not driving to the same things. I think it shows in many places.

Chris Martenson: I agree. I mean. For me a lot of the so-called organizing narratives of my dominant culture do not inspire me. Terrorism is not something that really inspires me. I don't enjoy being afraid. I don't like being marketed to as if I should be afraid all of the time. I don't like how I'm treated at the airports. I know statistics, so I know that my chance of dying of terrorism in this country is exceedingly low, so that's not something I choose to prioritize very high on my personal list, but my country does.

Also for me the dominant narrative that really needs to shift is this idea that we need endless growth, exponential growth in our economy. Everything is about how we're just going to grow and continue to grow, but if you wander over into the real world and you see the collapsed oceans and the fish stocks and the aquifers and all of that, it's clear that we need to have at least some room for additional dialogue. I don't know how to go about breaking into—like, having that dialogue before the crisis comes. But then when the crisis comes, everybody says "oh, it's too late," like, "what happened to Detroit?" "Ah. Too late." How do you have those conversations before it's too late? That's I guess the question.

Dan Ariely: Yeah. By the way, one of the biggest growth engines of the economy in the U.S. has been academia, and I'm saying that not just because I'm an academic, but academia has been a very interesting growth engine. I'm not talking just about-- It's not about the students paying tuition, it's about where innovation and ideas and inventions have been coming from. Over the last quite a while research in academia has been cut dramatically. We really have to think about as a society how do we want to invest in the growth engine of our society. It's not clear to me where it's coming from. We're trying to cut costs, and by cutting costs, I think we're losing lots of things.

Chris Martenson: Yeah. It's that sense of where do we get our priorities and how do we elevate those. The tried and true way is that you make it a big political battle, but for increasing numbers of people, particularly young people, I'm detecting a sense of disillusionment that that's a useful path, either to spend their time on or that the amount of change that they think we need can't happen fast enough. There's a sense of—maybe it's that idea of the country being too big that it leads to less sense of agency for the average person.

Alright. Here's a question. What would make a great Father's Day gift?

Dan Ariely: What would make a great Father's Day gift. In general great gifts are gifts that keep on giving, that remind people about the other people who are in their lives. A good gift is a particularly headphones, something that people feel guilty buying for themselves, but once they have it, they enjoy them, and they enjoy them continuously. Something of that nature.

Chris Martenson: Good idea. Well, Dan. Thank you so much for your time today. As always this has been a great pleasure. I'm wondering where people can follow your work more closely, and any upcoming events or projects of which you'd like to make our listening audience aware?

Dan Ariely: Yes. My website is DanAriely.com, D-a-n-A-r-i-e-l-y.com. On May 18th there will be a new book out. This is a book on kind of advice for life with a cartoonist. We have advice and cartoons. I think it's a fun book. It's called Irrationally Yours. Then on May 22nd, we have been doing a movie on dishonesty. I had this book on dishonesty, but then we talked to a lot of people who committed all kinds of white-collar crime. I've tried to document this story, and what started it, not where they ended up, but how they started. The movie is called Dishonesty: The Truth About Lies. It will be out on May 22nd. I think it's an eye opener in terms of what you're all capable for. It's not a movie that says "oh, these are bad people." It's a movie that says "let's look at human nature and see what's happening."

Chris Martenson: Excellent! Well, I'm going to look forward to that personally, and good luck with your new book, and thank you again for your time today.

Dan Ariely: Thank you. Great talking to you. Take care.

Chris Martenson: Bye.

About the guest

Dan Ariely

Dan is the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology & Behavioral Economics at Duke University, where he holds appointments at the Fuqua School of Business, the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, the School of Medicine, and the Department of Economics. He is also a founding member of the Center for Advanced Hindsight.

Using simple experiments, Dan studies how people actually act in the marketplace, as opposed to how they should or would perform if they were completely rational. His interests span a wide range of daily behaviors and his experiments are consistently interesting, amusing, and informative, demonstrating profound ideas that fly in the face of common wisdom.

He is the author of the New York Times Bestseller Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions and The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Ways We Defy Logic at Work and at Home. His research has been published in leading psychology, economics, and business journals, and is featured occasionally in the popular press.

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23 Comments

bwh1214's picture
bwh1214
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
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Posts: 38
Talk About Being Blinded by a Conflict of Interest

 I don’t know but it sounded like this guy wanted more collectivism, the solutions were in the government and how do we invest more in academia. Academia is no more of a growth engine than the oil industry has been prior to the major drop, and housing was before that.  Education is just a bubble that has yet to burst.  There has been more and more money thrown at education and that results in SOME real production, just like the money thrown at the oil industry caused more production, and the money thrown at real estate caused real houses to be built.  But in all cases it was mis-allocation of resources due to incorrectly priced money (low interest rates). 

http://www.debtcrash.report/entry/oil-price-drop-root-cause-analysis

Here is a great example of the root cause analysis in oil; the same could be said of academia.  He didn’t realize how ironic it was considering his earlier talk about conflicts of interest. 

kaimu's picture
kaimu
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Posts: 160
BUT IN GOD WE TRUST ... HUH?

Aloha! It says it on our "money"! In God We Trust, so that way because our money is blessed by our government and God it can't possibly ever be bad, right? Sorry, but if we did a pyramid of "financial trust issues" at the top would be "money". Without trust in money there is nothing! The reason the S&P 500 has risen so high for so long can be correlated to the value of our money and its purchasing power. In fact if you invert the S&P it becomes a chart of the purchasing power of our money.

Markets exist now to leverage your income and your retirement or at least that is the hope of every trader when they move funds into the market, whatever market it may be. It could be the S&P or the commodities or real estate or art. Lets face it 0% FFR for five years has destroyed the hopes and dreams of many elders in this country. The idea of company fundamentals as a "price discovery" mechanism has been destroyed. Once banks were allowed to enter the stock market when Glass-Stegall was repealed it was the end of fair market values and fair markets.

If only we had Le Chiffre on our side!!!

Uncletommy's picture
Uncletommy
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Posts: 455
Hmmmmmm?

If this guy ever loses his job at Duke U, he most certainly could find work at the Onion. It is becoming harder and harder to distinguish truth from fiction. The quick observation that Hindsight is 20/20 and foresight tends to be myopic is hardly Noble Prize territory (my recent patent application for a battery operated battery charger was rejected due to the fact that they're already on the market--mine was almost 72% efficient). Can I get an appointment at the Fuqua School of administration; I have 15 or 20 minutes to kill and heard land is going cheap over by the Love Canal. 

Does mankind make stupid decisions -- Duh? You need a Phd. to figure that out? In 1929, folks were extending margins based on using trusts to buy trusts. Sure history is destine to repeat itself; that's because we just don't listen. CO2 levels must be rising--lack of oxygen can have that effect.Entertainment value?--2 stars out of 5.

Arthur Robey's picture
Arthur Robey
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Posts: 3936
Thank you for bringing Prof.

Thank you for bringing Prof. Ariely back into focus. I Enjoyed the insight that we react differently to risk than to reward.

Somewhere in my past I recall that the largest a Society can be is 1200 people. Any bigger and it splits. The study focused on Paris. How many of us have abandoned our budding social group to move on? I do that repeatedly. The downside is that there is more alienation, the upside is that there is more homogenization.

To me the ideal is to travel with a home that one can go back to. This gives the correct balance. (Those are my ideals. I defend them on the grounds that they fit what we are.)

What chance is there that these ideals will eventuate? There are factors influencing the course of events. Facebook as a dummy society,  the breakdown of the notion of a Nation State with the need to interact with, for example, the Chinese. And they with us. 

Anyhow thanks Prof and Chris, but I am on another mission. I have to tend to my yacht.

AR.

Mark Cochrane's picture
Mark Cochrane
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Posts: 1216
About those tuition costs....

All,

There is a very reasonable angst about the ridiculous rise in tuition costs over recent years. I am a professor in academia and a father with a child getting ready to head off to university in the near future, so I get to see both the inside and outside of this problem. The issue is well summarized in this article (link) but the simple answer is that our current economic model is failing faster than the official rate of inflation.

Until recent years, public colleges and universities were subsidized substantially by their respective state governments (they still are although much less so). Why is this the case? Simple, each state benefits from an educated work force and, despite the statements made by a poster above, universities do end up generating many startup companies and inventions from their research (link, link). We (faculty and research scientists) are being pressured to do more of this and have had to sign away all rights to such intellectual property in recent years. Ultimately, state legislatures threw public education under the bus to make up for revenue losses and left colleges and universities to look like the bad guys when they raised tuition.

The sharp rise in tuition is a result of deep cuts in state funding to public colleges and universities after the recession hit. The vast majority of state funding for these schools has yet to recover. States provide about 53% of the revenue used to support public schools, according to the report. Without the funding, many schools are forced to make up the difference with higher tuition.

As a result, 47 states are spending less per student this school year than they did pre-recession, with only Alaska, North Dakota and Wyoming excluded.

The average state is spending 20% less, or $1,805, per student in 2015 than they did in 2008. (link)

It is actually worse than you think in the sense that not only are you having to pay more out of pocket for tuition costs, the universities are actually spending less per student. The way this shows up is having fewer professors per student or classes taught. More classes are taught by 'adjunct' faculty or graduate students. The one place that never seems to lack for money is construction with new buildings being put up even while university staff are being cut.

At sky-high priced private universities the tuition costs haven't increased at the same rate but they too have been going up fast. Why? Private universities rely heavily on 'gifts' from alumni and others. With the economy in the toilet, few are donating money to anyone and the donated amounts are way, way down.

The wildcard in this whole financial shell game is research dollars. Many public and private universities also conduct a large amount of research in addition to their teaching activities. As the financial screws were tightened, nearly all faculty were pressured to bring in more research dollars. This resulted in more and more people chasing fewer and fewer research dollars. Research dollars help pay faculty and staff salaries as well as graduate student tuition but the universities also collect their tithe (indirect costs - 1/3 or more) which support space and facilities on the campus.

However, government is also feeling the squeeze and so the opportunities and money for supporting research are drying up. In order to be competitive you need to leverage better facilities to support your proposals, which is a large driver in the university construction monster.

My sense is that the system is beginning to unravel. Over the years, I have been a cash cow managing millions in research dollars and bringing in more money to the university than I cost but I can see the hand writing on the wall. Going forward the money available for research will be much more modest and the constraints on how it can be used will be much greater. If you think the government is wasteful when its pockets are full, you should see it when it attempts to 'save' money. Penny-wise and pound-foolish is the old term for it.

So the big picture is that state funds and private donations are down by much more than one would expect in a 'recovery'. Tuition costs are a canary in the coal mine on the real state of the economy.

Mark

 

Arthur Robey's picture
Arthur Robey
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Touching up the Corporations for Education.

What do you think of the actions of the Chilean government when they soaked corporations for the cost of an educated workforce Mark?

Corporations are people too you know! 

http://www.attn.com/stories/836/chile-makes-college-tuition-free

EDIT:I wonder if market forces will cause students to go to Chile, and whether other countries will follow Chiles example in order to secure a well educated population.?

Mark Cochrane's picture
Mark Cochrane
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Fitting indeed

Arthur,

I had not seen this but it is appealing. As for corporations being people, as Orwell said, paraphrasing here:

Some are more equal than others.

They should pay as such too. The corporations eat and excrete our youth, it would make sense if they had a hand in educating them as well. I hold little hope of this though since our government is now a wholly owned subsidiary of the corporations at this point.

Mark

Arthur Robey's picture
Arthur Robey
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A Sociological Utopia.

We have done the experiment and the evidence is in. This is what Utopia is like.

Oliveoilguy's picture
Oliveoilguy
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Posts: 578
Military Service as a melting pot

Interesting that Dan grew up in Israel. My strongest takeaway from his interview is the idea of military service as a melting pot. He said "In Israel for example the military service I think really helps a lot. The fact that every boy has to serve for three years, and every woman has to serve for two years, creates this real melting pot in which you meet everybody from the country, and you realize that you're working together and that you have to work together. "

Everyone I've hired over the years with a military background has exceeded my expectations as an employee and many young kids without that experience were still trying to grow up and could not function as employees.. The service to the country should have "peace corp" type options as well as standard military pathways, but some core components could be hard work and learning to follow orders. Just getting kids out of the ghetto for 2 years might have a huge rehabilitative effect.  

 

 

debu's picture
debu
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Ain't the IDF Wonderful!

Given what Israel's military has been getting up to over the decades since its inception I am not inclined to take that as a vote of confidence in those that have been conditioned by their formative experience in it.

robie robinson's picture
robie robinson
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since the military has been found

wanting. The religious sect of Joseph Smith send there lads on two year missions. posit a guess as to their drop out rate in college,graduate and professional school? I ain't LDS, just an admirer of their success.

Oliveoilguy's picture
Oliveoilguy
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Posts: 578
Debu and Robbie

What is your objection to the Peace Corp?

jennifersam07's picture
jennifersam07
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Posts: 111
Buffalo-shaped swimming pool

At University of Colorado. Seriously. That seems to symbolize a lot of the bad budget decisions in academia. They spend a lot more money on administration and marketing because they are trying to attract students for the wrong reasons. I just scratch my head at the materials my kids get in the mail from these places. They are travel brochures! Ridiculous.

Dogs_In_A_Pile's picture
Dogs_In_A_Pile
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Posts: 2606
A good first step.....

Would be to lose the green market bias.  As we enter the summertime trading zone in the markets, trading volume will drop and volatility will spike.  Your time in a trade will necessarily shorten.
 

If/when the market turns down (as it historically does into September/October), don't let yourself be surprised by downturns and instead look to them for trading opportunities.  Just make sure you're trading in the right direction.

Selling naked calls and buying in the money puts in front of a downward move is a good strategy - but pull the trigger and close the positions if it backs up on you.

A full blown panic is a fantastic trading opportunity.........if you aren't one of the panicked.

Speaking of  Widespread Panic....

"Ain't Life Grand"........with Nicky Sanders of the Steep Canyon Rangers sitting in on fiddle.

robie robinson's picture
robie robinson
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None, OOG

I was spoofing on another post.

I liked the civilian conservation corps as well. they built half the ponds in Amelia county during the depression. CCC,LDS, whats in a name. get the adolescents busy

KugsCheese's picture
KugsCheese
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Posts: 1423
A true free market would not

A true free market would not allow winner-take-all outcomes.   Monopoly requires leveraging regulation to favor incumbent.  We also have the problem of Regulatory Disease where the regulators become myopic and miss big problems developing. 

No costs were cut in the developed world.  Debt levels are higher than in 2008.   What was cut?   A better question is what was transferred.  Ask the bankers.  

Where is the outrage?   The Public Schools System accomplished its job: A Comatose Society.

 

HughK's picture
HughK
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KugsCheese wrote:A true free
KugsCheese wrote:

A true free market would not allow winner-take-all outcomes.   Monopoly requires leveraging regulation to favor incumbent.  We also have the problem of Regulatory Disease where the regulators become myopic and miss big problems developing. 

No costs were cut in the developed world.  Debt levels are higher than in 2008.   What was cut?   A better question is what was transferred.  Ask the bankers.  

Where is the outrage?   The Public Schools System accomplished its job: A Comatose Society.

 

Hi Kugs,

I have a question regarding true free markets.  When and where has one existed?  I support many aspects of libertarianism, but when I hear purist libertarians talking about how such-and-such would not happen in a true free market, it seems very idealized, even other-worldly.

It reminds me of the sentiments of purist communists.  When shown the horrors of Stalin or Mao, some of these idealistic communists say that such oppression would never happen in a true communist society, because the proletariat would control the means of production fairly and equitably.

Since the 1980's, a lot of free-market ideology has found its way into policy.  Reagan's dereg. of airlines; the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, B. Clinton's support for free trade and less regulation of financial markets, Greenspan's & Summer's opposition to CFTC Head Brooksley Born's attempt to regulate derivatives.  Most of these steps were supported by libertarians at the time, and certainly Greenspan cited Ayn Rand while making policy on a number of occasions.

It seems that there is a pretty strong current of libertarianism in American public policy, although you are certainly right that certain corporations have taken advantage of this in the form of trying to form monopolities or by rent-seeking.  And that's maybe one of the problems with libertarian ideology, when taken to the extreme.  

Just as the communist expects that the proletariat will be good when it seized the means of production, the libertarian expects that corporations will act in their financial self-interest (the basis of capitalism) but at the same time that they will be good by not engaging in regulatory capture, unethical advertising (e.g. Joe Camel, targeted to kids), or unethical investment practices.  It may be that the extreme individualism found in libertarian ideology can also lead some entrepreneurs and business people to play the system and otherwise grab for things that they shouldn't....in a so-called true free market.

Hugh

pgp's picture
pgp
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Posts: 196
indeed

Yes, but humans are not animals. We have love, art, consciousness yada yada yada. I guess only time will decide if that is true.

KugsCheese's picture
KugsCheese
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
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Posts: 1423
HughK wrote:KugsCheese
HughK wrote:
KugsCheese wrote:

A true free market would not allow winner-take-all outcomes.   Monopoly requires leveraging regulation to favor incumbent.  We also have the problem of Regulatory Disease where the regulators become myopic and miss big problems developing. 

No costs were cut in the developed world.  Debt levels are higher than in 2008.   What was cut?   A better question is what was transferred.  Ask the bankers.  

Where is the outrage?   The Public Schools System accomplished its job: A Comatose Society.

 

Hi Kugs,

I have a question regarding true free markets.  When and where has one existed?  I support many aspects of libertarianism, but when I hear purist libertarians talking about how such-and-such would not happen in a true free market, it seems very idealized, even other-worldly.

It reminds me of the sentiments of purist communists.  When shown the horrors of Stalin or Mao, some of these idealistic communists say that such oppression would never happen in a true communist society, because the proletariat would control the means of production fairly and equitably.

Since the 1980's, a lot of free-market ideology has found its way into policy.  Reagan's dereg. of airlines; the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, B. Clinton's support for free trade and less regulation of financial markets, Greenspan's & Summer's opposition to CFTC Head Brooksley Born's attempt to regulate derivatives.  Most of these steps were supported by libertarians at the time, and certainly Greenspan cited Ayn Rand while making policy on a number of occasions.

It seems that there is a pretty strong current of libertarianism in American public policy, although you are certainly right that certain corporations have taken advantage of this in the form of trying to form monopolities or by rent-seeking.  And that's maybe one of the problems with libertarian ideology, when taken to the extreme.  

Just as the communist expects that the proletariat will be good when it seized the means of production, the libertarian expects that corporations will act in their financial self-interest (the basis of capitalism) but at the same time that they will be good by not engaging in regulatory capture, unethical advertising (e.g. Joe Camel, targeted to kids), or unethical investment practices.  It may be that the extreme individualism found in libertarian ideology can also lead some entrepreneurs and business people to play the system and otherwise grab for things that they shouldn't....in a so-called true free market.

Hugh

Hi Hugh,

I don't identify with the so-called Libertarians.  There is no perfect way to set up society.   The Federal Register is now almost 80K pages.  There is a difference between good regulation and regulation used to box out competition.  If the opportunity to lobby is small, there is not much to grab. 

I am also very worried about the conscription forces at work.  A bankrupt nation conscripting its human capital into the war machine would be a disaster.   Where would Israel be without the U.S. perpetually loaning it money to buy weapons?

Dan

pgp's picture
pgp
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Posts: 196
Behavourists as Policy Auditors

Clearly then we need behavourists to audit our regulators.

Perhaps there are too few (probably none) of the behavoural specialists and [economic] psychologists in the employ of our governments, accursed institutes and regulatory bodies.

Some people would call it "reductionism" to analyze humanity as if it were a simple animal, to audit policy using the rules of basic behavioural science.  However, it appears, when you put supposedly sophisticated people in a community, they indeed follow some very basic predictable rules of behaviour... quantum consciousness and will of God aside. 

Our 'leaders' are smart people and behaviour is something every human can understand but many people are unable to think clearly or clinically about the why and how of decision making.  The psychologist, behaviourist is trained to think in terms of how we function as animals (God forbid I should use the term "monkey-brain" yet again or mention anything at all about belief systems and culture).

Behaviourists prove that clinical analysis of our policy/everyday decisions is possible and can be learned. I would submit that the science is crucially important and completely under utilised.  We should teach it in schools, but sadly only in the schools where it would be allowed by religious leaders, perhaps the schools where evolution is accepted.

All philosophy aside, the appeal for wisdom and truth (science) through word-war is obviously futile.  Being able to accept futility (death essentially) is probably NOT very typical human behaviour.  It takes a special [disturbed/abnormal but not defeatist] mind but it may only be those minds, freed from emotion, hope/belief and longing that are closest to seeing the truth. 

Those minds might conclude that the human race is screwed, we can plan for a temporary escape, enough to save only our next generation, hope for a reprieve but recurring societal/human misery may be as inevitable as sleep - it cannot be "fixed".  We can philosophise about science and bash the bible to feel good about ourselves or wax lyrically to make some money but once futility takes hold little can change.  The best we can really do is accept and adapt to imminent misery or death.  For most people that will be hard to do, so taking up a "religion" (in the broadest possible sense of the word) is their only recourse.

Arthur Robey's picture
Arthur Robey
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
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Posts: 3936
The Anarco-Populist Pipe Dream

The problem is that even our remarkable brains (still more powerful than any existing computer) are overwhelmed by the complexity of keeping track of social interactions in groups larger than 100–200 

In this blog by Professor Turchin he dismantles the popular fantasy of anarchism. He also jogs my memory. The maximum number in your group is the famous Dunbar number. 

In short, going back to small-scale societies will mean an apocalypse in which more than 99 percent of people will have to disappear by hunger, war, and disease.

https://evolution-institute.org/blog/the-pipe-dream-of-anarcho-populism/...

Dunbar's number is a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is and how each person relates to every other person

 

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar%27s_number

Bobby's picture
Bobby
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Posts: 19
Incoherent But Useful

I thought Dan Ariely did not answer Chris' questions in the context they were asked but Dan's points are well registered.

pgp's picture
pgp
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Posts: 196
Well Found

I notice that the Dunbar number was proposed in 1990 suggesting to me that such behavioral science is still in its infancy. It's critically important stuff. Without a better approach to the way we "manage" society the human race seems doomed to rely on generalized rule-books for their ethics. That is: Bibles. religious documents and dare I say, constitutional declarations with all of their myriad misinterpretations.

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