“Altruism” Reseach has produced a number of very counterintuitive results. Cooperation and concepts of fairness and justice are provoked by irrational elements like spite and revenge. People cooperate because other people are mean.

The Nobel winning Economist Vernon Smith ran a number of psychological experiments to test economic decision making. Reason describes one test that produces irrational behavior.

The subjects like to believe they are acting altruistically, when they are really pointlessly cruel.

Rational decision making requires knowedge of costs and benefits.
You can spend money into four general ways.
1) Full knowledge of costs and benefits (Spending your own money on yourself)
2) Knowledge of the cost but not the benefits (Giving your money to a stranger to spend)
3) Knowledge of the benefits but not the costs (receiving money to spend from a stranger)
4) Little or no knowledge of costs and benefits (Taking money from strangers to give to different strangers to spend)

The fourth way is the least rational because it obscures the knowledge. You won’t know if the spending is harmful or if the money is well spent. Yet people get the same positive emotions as when they give away their own money. This emotions punishes some strangers and randomly awards a different set of strangers.

Here’s the test:

Here’s one of Smith’s experiments: Two total strangers are placed in separate rooms. They never meet, they never learn each others’ names, and they come and go by separate entrances. One of them is selected randomly to receive 10 one-dollar bills and an envelope. He can put any number of bills in the envelope and send it by messenger to the other subject. Then everyone takes his money and goes home.

Simple economics predicts that no money ever goes in the envelope. And that prediction is borne out about two-thirds of the time. The remainder of the time, the prediction is still not far off. When there’s anything in the envelope, it’s most often a single dollar bill.

This does not mean people are “selfish.” It means they do not randomly hand out money to complete strangers for no reason.

When you go to a hotel, do you randomly slip money under the door of room next to you? There’s a good reason for this. There’s no rational reason to give money in this case as there is zero knowledge of how the money will be spent or if the stranger even needs the money at all.

The experiment was repeated, but the next time people were observed. The average amount of money given increased from $1.08 to $2.66. Perceived social pressure and judgment may encourage people to be more giving. This is not true altruism, although it approximates it.

Then it gets really bad.

Now we come to the dark and unsettling part. James Cox, one of Smith’s colleagues at the University of Arizona, has been running a variant of this experiment where subjects know that everything they put in the envelope will get tripled by the experimenter before it’s sent to the other room. If they give up a dollar; the other guy gets three. If they give up 10, he gets 30.

In the Cox experiment, even with elaborate anonymity procedures, subjects gave up a lot more money. In fact, virtually all of the subjects put at least a dollar in the envelope, and instead of $1.08, the average envelope contained $3.63 (so the other guy got $10.89 on average).

People freely give away stranger’s money. They maliciously and randomly harmed one stranger to benefit another stranger without cause just so they may feel good about themselves. The subjects just shifted money around arbitrarily. Here they harm one stranger’s welfare by taking their money without their permission, then give it someone else without knowing if the money will improve the stranger’s welfare.

this isn’t altruism. Altruism means personally paying for the privilege of enriching a total stranger. That’s not what these people are doing at all. Instead, they’re paying for the privilege of taking money away from one total stranger — namely the taxpayer who’s funding the experiment (through the University of Arizona and the National Science Foundation) — and giving it to another total stranger who happens to be in the next room. There’s no sense in which that makes the world a richer place. And the subjects do all this without knowing anything at all about either stranger or having any reason to believe that one is more deserving than the other.

Indeed, they could be stealing from impoverished single mothers and giving the money to Donald Trump for all they know. But it feels good anyway.

It’s like the perverse Robin Hood parody from Monty Python, where he steals from the poor to give to the rich. Stupid bitch.

Dennis Moore: Wait a tic… blimey, this redistribution of wealth is trickier than I thought.

Redistribution is not about improving the welfare of others in society, it’s about making yourself feel good about stealing other people’s money without reason.

Economist Mark Bils: “That’s a pretty ugly instinct. It scares me to think I’m living in the same world with these people.”

Indeed, who the hell do these people think they are? Oh right, it’s us.

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