April 30, 2011
Lynn Stout on Cultivating Conscience
I just came across a recent new book from Lynn Stout: Cultivating Conscience: How Good Laws Make Good People. Here's part of the summary:
Drawing from social psychology, behavioral economics, and evolutionary biology, Stout demonstrates how social cues--instructions from authorities, ideas about others' selfishness and unselfishness, and beliefs about benefits to others--have a powerful role in triggering unselfish behavior. Stout illustrates how our legal system can use these social cues to craft better laws that encourage more unselfish, ethical behavior in many realms, including politics and business. Stout also shows how our current emphasis on self-interest and incentives may have contributed to the catastrophic political missteps and financial scandals of recent memory by encouraging corrupt and selfish actions, and undermining society's collective moral compass.
Given that one of the reviews describes it as "a blistering attack on the 'law and economics' school," I have to admit that I'm quite looking forward to reading it.
So we just have to make laws that encourage unselfish behavior. Easy enough. But how does Stout plan to encourage anything without using any sort of self-interest-based incentives? Maybe if we just talk about being unselfish long enough, people will stop being self-interested.
Posted by: Scott | Apr 30, 2011 4:40:29 PM
You might consider the impact of religions, all of which preach this same message, and offer the inducement of some future benefit to those who act properly. Easy for sophisticates to make fun of, but perhaps important in getting humanity's conduct to the level--bad as it may be--that it has reached. As Machiavelli noted, the prudent prince encourages religious belief among the masses, whether the price believes or not.
Posted by: Arthur O. Armstrong | May 1, 2011 9:30:45 AM