The rise of Asian Americans

The Fairness Trap

Slice-of-pieI've been out of the country and am just now catching up on my reading.

One of the pieces I missed is James 's New Yorker column, "The Fairness Trap."  In less than 1,000 words, he explains how our instinctual need for "fairness" is so strong we'll actually sacrifice our well-being to achieve it. 

Dozens of experiments have demonstrated that people will walk away from an offer of free money if they think the offer is unfair even though they would be better off if they simply accepted it.

I put "fairness" in quotation marks because other experiments have shown that our concept of what is fair and unfair is often self-serving, especially when it involves people we don't consider part of our immediate community, i.e., the "other." 

Evolutionary psychologists speculate that this lop-sided sense of fairness was critical to keeping pre-historic clans together and punishing freeloaders. Ironically, as Surweiki suggests, these days it may be making it more difficult to solve political and economic problems that have no perfectly good solutions, only "less bad" ones.




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