economist

A lovely paper discovered by Paul Walker over in the land where Kiwis live standing on their heads:

Does an economics education affect an individual’s behavior? It is unclear whether differences in behavior are due to the education or whether those who choose to study economics are different. This issue is addressed using experimental evidence from the Trust Game where trusting and reciprocating behaviors can be measured. First, it is shown that economics students provide greater trusting investments and reciprocate more. Accounting for the selection effect, these effects are explained by those who choose to study economics and not directly from the education being provided. Thus, economists play well with others and these social preferences are not taught in the classroom.

We who have studied economics are thus morally superior because we do play nicely with others: the reasons being that playing nicely with others is the reason we went to study economics.

Well, Hurrah! for that.

However, this does pose a problem for us as we try to explain it to others. For we’re, in some manner, captivated by those very examples of playing nicely together than the market offers us. We can see how competition is the method by which we decide who to cooperate with and that the vast majority of economic activity isn’t in fact competition at all, it’s cooperation. The seemingly vast and impersonal market itself is simply a description of how we all, the many billions of us, choose to cooperate to our mutual advantage.

Great, excellent and it’s all true. But note what the paper is telling us. We’re, because we chose to study economics, inclined to believe all of that anyway as that’s the way our own personalities work. But our task is to get across the points about such cooperation to those who simply do not have those same basic beliefs about human behaviour that we do. No wonder it sometimes comes out as a dialogue of the deaf: we don’t get what they don’t believe at root, that humans are naturally cooperative beings and markets are the way that we do this.

Thus, we might posit, the existence of this idea that trade, the economy itself, is a zero sum game. We have one view of human nature, they another and the fact that ours is correct doesn’t matter so much as the fact that they don’t believe us or the main point itself.