Nation of Beancounters

Paragraphs to ponder

Posted in Quotable by Navin Kumar on July 25, 2012

Studying situations where someone has the upper hand often leads to pessimism about human nature.  It’s tempting to move from the truism that “When X doesn’t need Y, X treats Y worse” to “People are bad.”  Yet it’s a mistake to focus merely the direction of the behavioral change.  To really judge human nature, you have to look at the magnitude of the behavioral change.  When X has the upper hand, does he offer Y 10% less?  25% less?  80% less?  Does he enslave him?  Kill him for the fun of it?

Once you focus on magnitudes, pronounced pessimism about human nature is hard to maintain.  Sure, there are some cases where people with the upper hand turn to slavery or even genocide.  But these have long been rare, and keep getting rarer.  The world is full of militarily helpless countries that have no reason to fear conquest.  If you object, “That’s because the United States protects them,” just ask yourself, “Who’s protecting them from us?”

Bryan Caplan


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