Author of Give and Take
Published October 21, 2013
In 1776, Adam Smith famously wrote: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we can expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”
Economists have run with this insight for hundreds of years, and some experts think they’ve run a bit too far. Robert Frank, an economist at Cornell, believes that his profession is squashing cooperation and generosity. And he believes he has the evidence to prove it.
Consider these data points:
Less charitable giving: in the U.S., economics professors gave less money to charity than professors in other fields—including history, philosophy, education, psychology, sociology, anthropology, literature, physics, chemistry, and biology. More than twice as many economics professors gave zero dollars to charity than professors from the other fields.
More deception for personal gain: economics students in Germany were more likely than students from other majors to recommend an overpriced plumber when they were paid to do it.
Greater acceptance of greed: Economics majors and students who had taken at least three economics courses were more likely than their peers to rate greed as “generally good,” “correct,” and “moral.”