Saturday, July 01, 2006

Close friends and cooperation...

People seem to be less connected than before. One survey indicates many people have no close friends at all. There are such strong correlations between health, longevity, happiness, and having friends that this finding is not hopeful.

Nearly a quarter of people surveyed said they had "zero" close friends with whom to discuss personal matters. More than 50 percent named two or fewer confidants, most often immediate family members, the researchers said. "This is a big social change, and it indicates something that's not good for our society," said Duke University Professor Lynn Smith-Lovin, lead author on the study to be published in the American Sociological Review.

The problem is likely time. We work more than any other developed nation - doubtless to achieve the American dream of wealth, and squander much of the rest of our lives with TV or the Internet (he said while posting to his blog). There are only so many hours and we still do not recognize time as our most precious asset.

Meanwhile, another article about how cooperation evolved as a human trait offers an interesting conclusion:

The results are intriguing. It turns out that the societies in which the player ones in the dictator game were willing to give more to the player twos are also the societies in which people were more willing to punish less generous players in the other two games. In other words, societies that punished strongly were also the most likely to have strong altruistic impulses. The moral of the story is that if you want to live in a world of caring generous cooperative people, make sure that you thoroughly thrash all the greedy, chiseling scoundrels you come across. It may cost you, but the world will be a better place.

Our bias toward fairness seems to be hard-wired, and would explain why some of us who claim to be free-market capitalists are growing increasingly restive about unequal distribution of wealth, especially here in the US.


JR said...

Mr. Phipps,

I believe it is correct that most of us are 'hard-wired' to feel uncomfortable with the increasingly unequal distribution of wealth in our society. However, I find it frustrating that I never see any serious discussion of the issue beyond a quick reference and the implication that it is a failure of capitalism and/or American society that is the root of the problem.

I certainly don't consider myself a deep thinker, but to me, it seems obvious that it is the success of capitalism (for those who both have ability and put forth the effort) that causes the perceived problem, not by allowing the top income earners to somehow take from the poor, as is often implied or inferred, but by allowing the talented and motivated individuals to channel their talents and toward high-payoff accomplishments that benefit all of society, e.g., Bill Gates, Sam Walton.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum is the group that simply 'gets by' economically. I suspect this group always has and always will be there. They are a manifestation of our individual freedoms in many respects. Many may be doing all they can and many may be making choices that focus on other aspects of their lives than economic success. Capitalism or American society isn't 'failing' these people, it's responding to a market assessment (and the market is ulitmately the rest of us, not some arbitrary system imposed on us) of their accomplishments.

Another huge contributor to unequal family wealth is working wives. I realize this is extremely politically incorrect to point out (and I don't intend to make any judgements here about it), but it seems to me to be objectively obvious that high-earner types tend to marry other high-earners, and the same is true for low-earner types....again a result of our free choices. This trend of marraige among those with similar income tendencies greatly exaggerates the issue of unequal income distribution.

Finally, when divorce became more socially acceptable and frequent, it tends to leave increasing numbers of people economically devastated, further exaggerating the disparity between families....again it's the freedom thing that seems to be at the root of this.

I don't mean to be critical of anything you've written, but since I greatly enjoy your blog, I'm interested in your comments on my observations.

thanks for your time...

John Phipps said...


Fair points and I generally agree with your conclusions. However, my issue is not so much exactly what the cause of maldistribution is but the consequences.

I will be posting soon on the elction results in Mexico. The surge of neo-Marxism in latin America could be a direct repsonse to preceived or actual ncome disparities.

Growing income differences may be achieved honestly and even fairly, but IMHO, they consititute a political and social time bomb for cultures. Looking a the numbers of have vs have-nots, the results tend to be pretty ugly.

Income redistribution has never seemed logical to me That does not mean it isn't necessary in the long run.