Econ 101 teaches us that people are selfish and ruthless — but they only act that way because they’re taught to believe it

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Paul Constant is a writer at Civic Ventures, a cofounder of the Seattle Review of Books, and a frequent cohost of the “Pitchfork Economics” podcast with Nick Hanauer and David Goldstein.
On the latest episode of Pitchfork Economics, Nick Hanauer and David Goldstein interviewed Dutch historian Rutger Bregman.
Bregman argues that most people are pretty decent — but economic theories assume otherwise.
If you’re taught that people are inclined towards selfish and ruthless competition, you’ll behave selfishly and ruthlessly.
Imagine if social safety nets didn’t make this assumption, and instead made it easier for people to access benefits.
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Even if you don’t know Dutch historian Rutger Bregman’s name, you’ve likely heard him speak. In January of last year, you probably saw a viral video on social media of Bregman speaking truth to power in front of some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in the world at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Bregman’s speech, in which he told an audience full of CEOs, royalty, and heirs that if they really wanted to do good in the world, they should “stop talking about philanthropy and start talking about taxes,” made him an instant celebrity.

Bregman did the requisite TV and podcast tour to explain why rich people should pay a lot more in taxes, and then he went silent for a while. Now, he’s back making headlines with a surprising new book. On the latest episode of Pitchfork Economics, Nick Hanauer and David Goldstein asked Bregman to sum up the book in a few words. His response?

“Deep down, most people are pretty decent,” Bregman announced.

You might not expect a notorious bomb-throwing firebrand to follow up his big sensational activist moment with a manifesto about human kindness and cooperation.

Bregman admits that the premise of his new book, “Humankind: A Hopeful History” sounds like “it’s not really a threat to anyone,” but he explains that “it’s a really subversive idea if you really think it through, because throughout history a more cynical view of human nature has been used by those in power to legitimize power differences and hierarchy.”

To be clear, Bregman isn’t saying that people will automatically, fundamentally choose a path of kindness and sacrifice every time they’re given a choice. “But we are inclined to cooperate and we can actually trust each other,” he argues.

“Humankind” is full of data and historical proof that people are largely trusting and trustworthy. Bregman then takes that fact and extrapolates: if humans are largely cooperative and decent, why do our authority figures treat us as though we’re one step away from committing a crime at all times? Could it be that we are taught that people are innately selfish and cruel because it’s easier for people in power to manage us if we buy into that frightening worldview?

Bregman has a lot to say on the podcast about America’s current discussion on policing and prison reform, and what a more …read more

Source:: Business Insider


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