Is capitalism inherently unfair

Do people naturally have a sense of fairness?

Despite all prophecies of doom, humans are not homo oeconomicus, but rather blessed with a fascinating sense of justice

For a long time it was assumed that children did not develop a sense of justice until they were six or seven years old as a result of their upbringing. In fact, a number of recent experiments show that clear signs of fair behavior appear much earlier. Even at diaper age, toddlers show a sense of justice when 6 to 10 month old children in an experiment prefer dolls to play with that helped another doll. As studies show, young children recognize the difference between fair and unfair distribution at the age of 15 months.

Early signs of a sense of justice

The willingness of toddlers to adjust their behavior according to their sense of justice is also evident early on. Harvard professor Felix Warneken conducted an impressive and sophisticated experiment to test the sense of justice and the related willingness to share. Two three-year-old children pulled a rope together to fetch a board and get a toy or candy in a transparent box. A child alone did not have enough strength to do this.

After the children were successful and they got the box, there were sometimes two holes in it and sometimes only one, so that regularly a child was tempted to secure the reward for himself or herself. But almost always the children divided the find fairly. Felix Warneken comments on this finding: "We were surprised that this rule was so strict that equality was so strongly favored. It was seldom the case that one child took everything and the other child had to say, 'Hey, this is not fair. '"Sometimes a child even pointed it out to his partner if he hadn't taken his part.

Selfless toddlers

In a different way, a sophisticated experiment by the research team led by Katharina Hamann from the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig tested whether children voluntarily forego their own benefit in favor of fair distribution: two three-year-olds received three rewards after working together, with one child two and the other only got one. The overreached child would have to make a sacrifice in order to ensure that the rewards were actually distributed fairly. Almost always the fortunate child shared with the hapless child!

In another experiment, six eight-year-old children preferred to forego a reward and toss it away to avoid creating an uneven distribution, even if they had received this additional reward themselves.

Just Infants

And finally, a fascinating experiment by the research team led by Katharina Hamann, which demonstrates the very pronounced feeling of fairness and justice: Two three-year-old children were asked to carry a wooden slat up a staircase together to receive a reward each. The special feature here, however, was that the device was designed in such a way that one of the children could receive their reward much earlier, while the other child still had to climb the remaining stairs. However, almost all of the children continued to help so that the partner could also receive the reward. Three quarters of the children even helped immediately without first going to the machine where their reward awaited them.

If these experiments are summed up, it can be said that the behavior of the child simply does not take place in the thought figures of Homo oeconomicus. Small children are no "blank slate", but rather are naturally blessed with an impressive sense of justice.

This text is an excerpt from the book "The Rediscovery of Man" by Andreas von Westphalen. Man is naturally selfish and lazy. In general, he is out to get the most benefit for himself and only performs at his best under competitive pressure. At least that is the prevailing opinion in science, business and politics - with far-reaching consequences that we all feel: for example in the failed educational and social policy or in an increasingly controlled world of work. The image of man in capitalism is nothing more than a fairy tale spread by the economy.

Another chapter from the book: The distorted image of man in capitalism. Why selfishness, greed and competition do not correspond to our nature.

Let us now go a step further and turn to experiments that analyze adult behavior. Central question: How pronounced do you feel for justice and fairness? Or, to put it another way: Does the child's impressive potential "survive" into adulthood or are adults unjust, each one himself next to one another and is there no room for fairness in an environment of greed?

Surprising adult world

Two experiments from game theory provide particularly important answers to these questions: the ultimatum game and the dictator game.

Werner Gürth first played the ultimatum game in 1982. Here, two people play with each other who do not know each other, but also cannot communicate with each other. Player A receives a sum of money, for example 100 euros. It is now up to him which part of this he offers to player B. Player B, who knows the initial amount, can now accept the offer (then both players receive the amount suggested by player A) or reject it (both players then get nothing).

The aim of this game is to find out to what extent people do indeed prove to be utility maximizers and the importance of fairness in their behavior. The economics professor Axel Ockenfels explains what behavior one should expect from a true Homo oeconomicus:

“Classical economic theory makes a clear prognosis: It says you will give me one euro - because that is what 'Homo oeconomicus' would do under the assumption that 'more money is better than less money'. If you give me one euro and I. I assume, then I get one euro. If I refuse, I get nothing. And since one euro is better than nothing, I assume. Since you are a 'Homo oeconomicus', you anticipate this behavior and can look forward to seeing you almost the entire cake and I get almost nothing. "

This would be the classic individual benefit maximization of rationally acting players. The investment is minimized. The profit is maximized. Greed would be enough. The experiment shows once again that people almost never behave as economics predicts.

It should be noted that this experiment has been repeated many times in many countries around the world. Most of the studies in the context of the ultimatum game come to the conclusion that the decision-makers offer the partner between 40 and 50 percent. Half of all partners reject offers that were less than 30 percent. So they would rather forego simply earned money than accept an unfair distribution. Ockenfels comments on this result: "You can also repeat the game 100 times, the result is always the same: People have an aversion to unfairness. They want to punish the other for being unfair."

Surprising results of the dictator game

A variant of the ultimatum game is the so-called dictator game. It also aims to clarify the question of human fairness. The basic situation here corresponds exactly to the ultimatum game, but with the subtle but important difference that the player's proposal, which quantifies the distribution of the money, is now definitive, so the partner is not granted any decision-making authority about accepting or rejecting the offer . 255 experiments on the dictator game were evaluated in a study by the Max Planck Institute in Bonn. On average, the decision-makers still gave up more than a quarter, although the unknown partner could not torpedo the division, so they could easily have given free rein to their greed and simply kept the entire sum.

This is extremely astonishing, because every offer above zero represents a concrete loss for the decision maker and is simply unreasonable from an economic point of view. Especially when you consider that even an extremely low supply would in no way be self-harming.

In spite of all prophecies of doom, humans are naturally blessed with a fascinating sense of justice that does not seem to vanish as much in adulthood than one might generally assume.

Additional literature used: Klein, Stefan: The sense of giving. Why selflessness triumphs in evolution and we get stuck with egoism, Frankfurt am Main 2011. Pickett, Kate; Wilkinson, Richard: Equality is happiness: Why just societies are better for everyone, Berlin 2009. Tomasello Michael: A natural history of human morality, Berlin 2016. Tomasello, Michael: Why do we cooperate? Berlin 2012.

Telepolis is a member of the Buchkomplizen partnership program, the politically correct alternative to Amazon.

Andreas von Westphalen: The rediscovery of people. Why selfishness, greed and competition do not correspond to our nature.

(Andreas von Westphalen)

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