Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Freedom of Worship

U of VA social scientist Jonathan Haidt has a book out arguing that, It's the sacredness, stupid (our words, not his).  In the New York Times piece he says;

Despite what you might have learned in Economics 101, people aren’t always selfish. In politics, they’re more often groupish. When people feel that a group they value — be it racial, religious, regional or ideological — is under attack, they rally to its defense, even at some cost to themselves. We evolved to be tribal, and politics is a competition among coalitions of tribes.
The key to understanding tribal behavior is not money, it’s sacredness. The great trick that humans developed at some point in the last few hundred thousand years is the ability to circle around a tree, rock, ancestor, flag, book or god, and then treat that thing as sacred. People who worship the same idol can trust one another, work as a team and prevail over less cohesive groups. So if you want to understand politics, and especially our divisive culture wars, you must follow the sacredness.
Which has recently received some supporting evidence from a surprising place; the often sensible MIT economist Simon Johnson, who just posted this on his blog, Baseline Scenario;

The Buffett Rule is a tiny tax, of little consequence to the people who would pay it or to the country as a whole.  The idea that $30 billion of additional revenue would tip the balance in any way is simply ludicrous.
But this is precisely what gives the Buffett Rule its powerful symbolism.
Which isn't the first time Prof. Johnson has admitted he's for symbolism over substance.  In his conversation with Russell Roberts at EconTalk, Johnson, whose co-authored 13 Bankers has no shortage of appeals to Glass-Steagall fetishism, says, at about the 12 minute mark that that too is largely symbolic (readers are encouraged to listen to the entire thing, most will learn a lot);
The end of Glass-Steagall is a symbol, but at that point a lot of the restrictions on big banks have gone away. 
Though Johnson hasn't made a career out circling the sacred ground, the way some have.

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