Being neither a professional scientist or teacher, and having to earn a modest living, eat, sleep, and relax on rare occasion, means that I am always just a little bit behind when it comes to the latest in research and discovery. Sometimes, even current events pass me right by into history before I am even aware of their happenings. My limited mental capacity is even further dampened by intellectual and emotional laziness. In addition, the vast amount of subject-varied reading material I sift through daily often leaves me without any context of time and place, as many repetitive and monotonous activities do. As a result, I end up running around shouting "Eureka!" over something that the rest of humanity has already completely forgotten. I suppose dedication does count for something.
Forgive me here if I'm doing it again.
In the February 2007 edition of Scientific American, there is a small blurb entitled, "Think of Money, Be Less Helpful", which discusses a study done by researchers at the University of Minnesota. Here is the the abstract from the study:
Money has been said to change people's motivation (mainly for the better) and their behavior toward others (mainly for the worse). The results of nine experiments suggest that money brings about a self-sufficient orientation in which people prefer to be free of dependency and dependents. Reminders of money, relative to non-money reminders, led to reduced requests for help and reduced helpfulness toward others. Relative to participants primed with neutral concepts, participants primed with money preferred to play alone, work alone, and put more physical distance between themselves and a new acquaintance.
The most interesting thing about this study is who did it. Only one of the authors was from a psychology department, and the others were from, get this, marketing and business! In retrospect it kind of makes sense. After all, who better to study the effects of money on people than those who study marketing?
From the Scientific American:
Money is an incentive to work hard, but it also promotes selfish behavior. Those conclusion may not be surprising, but psychologists at the University of Minnesota recently found that merely thinking of money makes people less likely to give help to others. Researchers subconsciously reminded some volunteers of money by showing them lucre-related words such as 'salary'..........When money is on the brain, people become disinclined to ask for help when faced with a difficult or even impossible puzzle. And, individuals who think, even subconsciously, about money are less helpful than others, as researchers report....."
(Now if you haven't figured out where this is going yet, you either don't know me very well or haven't been reading my blog.)
One has to wonder what the defenders of Capitalism and the lovers of money have to say about this study. I can imagine the followers of Ayn Rand, author of "The Virtue of Selfishness", gathered around pile of objectivist and libertarian writings, and wondering how, how, if possible could their world view be so wrong-headed. I doubt, of course, that the results of this study will slow down the Neocons, Wall St., or Madison Ave. in any way. There are both 'bulls and bears' in the china shoppe. Good luck trying to change their attitudes with the 'science' thing. It's never had much if any effect thus far.
Being infatuated with money is like addiction to anything else. Infatuation, like blind hatred, tends to create a mental and emotional image of a desired object or result that doesn't quite match reality. Until now, the defenders of free-markets and capitalism have told us time and time again that free flow and access to profit is key to solving all the world's problems. They tell us that if people are willing to pay enough, someone would surely be willing to help them out. Conversely, these capitalist cretins argued, if someone does not sense any significant monetary reward for their actions, then inaction or non-action will be the consequent behavior.
I am a supervisor in a blue-collar industry. Over the 15 years, I have seen many types of employees and managers alike, coming, going, and remaining under many different circumstances. One thing, and this required no university psychology department to confirm in my mind, is that employees whose preoccupation is with the time clock or the salary, are just plain lousy workers. They will work just well enough to be able to say that they did their job and now they're finished. Any extras that may need doing or perhaps some finishing touches that enhance the job will not ever be performed by such people. They also shy away from helping others and often evacuate the vicinity before anyone has the chance to request their assistance. By their non-action, they inevitably will leave work behind for others. Then, at the end of the day, they complain that other workers aren't doing enough, and they imagine themselves as the only ones working! Workers with this mindset shouldn't last long, but alas, the manpower is required and training a new idiot to replace an old one is a burden on everyone, despite the inherent behavioral difficulties.
I have also had the opportunity to witness those same lousy workers outside of the work environment acting selflessly without any expectation of money or recognition, and even endangering themselves in the process. One afternoon, while out on the road (moving and storage), we happened upon a serious auto accident. The car was on fire and the passenger was trapped inside, obviously unable to get out of the car. The lousy employee that I ranted about earlier, jumped from the passenger side of the moving truck onto a busy highway, right up to that burning vehicle, smashed the back window, climbed into the car, and pulled the driver to safety. He then walked back up to truck, lit a cigarette, and climbed in without saying a word. I bought that man a beer. He never mentioned the incident again, though he did want more beer. The man who wouldn't pick up a paper clip if it wasn't specifically stated in his job description, just risked his life to save another. (We ended up firing that fellow for doing drugs while on the job.)
I have always felt that money is not a primary motivator for those with healthy, well-socialized attitudes. There is something deeper, an evolutionary sense of community and interdependency that transcends the financial and monetary. It is how mankind survived in his evolutionary infancy and how mankind will continue to thrive in a world where we face mounting challenges of environment, ecology, resources, and cultural conflicts. Sure we need money to pay our bills and have some quality of life in terms of relaxation and recreation, but beyond that, is a personality or economic system that demands, or should I say craves, excessive surpluses and profits really a healthy thing?
I will quote J.M. Keynes again. Keynes knew many years ago what this study tells us today when he said,
Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.