Thursday, July 9, 2009

Altruism is dead

In school I learned something pretty interesting about opportunity cost. One of the first cases we did was about a blood bank that was dispensing contaminated blood. It turns out that this was happening due to financial incentives tied to increasing the amount of blood processed. In order to increase their pay, the workers ended up taking short cuts which lead to a higher percentage of contaminated blood. The point of the case is not that the workers are inherently dishonest, but that the new financial incentives imposed an opportunity cost for acting honestly. Before, their honesty costs them nothing, now it cost them the increased money they could get by being dishonest, "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves..."

Altruism, according to Merriam-Webster, is the "unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others." Well, it's really not. We all do things because they make us feel good and the NY Times is finally starting to see the light:
Perhaps this is because, as some research suggests (emphasis mine), people give in large part to feel good inside.
Every thing has a price. It just turns out that doing good often pays that price and more. That's a great thing and I for one feel pretty good about it. (selfish bastard).


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