Monday, October 22, 2012


Worth remembering:
Norms matter. People work for money. But people also work for status, and people work because they take pride in a job well done. Ideas about what kinds of financial success merit high status and what kinds of jobs constitute a job well done are important. A doctor who bragged to you at a party about scoring a great deal on season tickets is doing something very different from a doctor who brags to you at a party about scoring season tickets after swindling a woman out of a bunch of money for unnecessary medical treatments. A doctor isn't supposed to be hustling patients. Everybody knows that.
I think that this tendency to neglect the focus on norms has been the major cost of having a very legalistic culture.  I remember this point being brought up in terms of the ability to "discover money" by acquiring a firm and then abandoning all of the previous cultural norms.  If it isn't written down then it doesn't count.  You might have joined ABC chemicals because they had a culture of being understanding when your children were sick.  But the new owners don't care that you took a lower salary because of this -- they ask if you have anything in writing. 

So we now need everything in writing.  But how do you run a culture with such low levels of trust? 

At a higher level, this is also a problem with the Randianism that has infiltrated our culture.  If you use money as a marker of worth, the doctor who swindled a patient (in the exmaple above) is actually morally superior . . . so long as they can't be sued.  How can this be a good way to govern interpersonal interactions? 

1 comment:

  1. Freshwater economists have been extremely hostile to the role that social norms and other cultural factors play in influencing behavior and the quality of their models have suffered as a result.