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Anti-social Punishment (lesswrong.com)
358 points by type0 on Oct 11, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 118 comments

Just to share anecdata - I grew up in Malaysia but am generally based in Australia, and have noticed a vein of this tendency in the Southeast Asian culture (not covered in the study).

It's only a small percentage, but there really is a type for whom public goods are a concept which only have a flimsy existence. Instead they hold the belief that the smartest people are the ones who try to grab the most for themselves, to an insane level. It doesn't really matter how much the damage their lack of cooperation does, and they get a personal satisfaction from "winning" or "being smart". If punished for that behaviour I would expect retaliation - they were just trying to do the smart thing after all!

Some extreme examples - I heard about uni students who upon graduation took out credit cards, bought a bunch of nice things, then moved home for good and skipped out on the bill. And they clearly didn't desperately need the money as they were medium rich overseas students. One guy I knew personally (who was eventually kicked out of our student group) would do stuff like grab giant stacks of napkins from restaurants and take home rolls of TP from public restrooms. So gross!

The people I met who had this tendency all had a poorer or working class family background, but were all middle class or higher now. My theory is this might be something to do with intergenerational experiences in these poorer countries that (1) the commons will definitely not look after you, and (2) if you didn't have enough you and your family might literally starve to death. And so the right thing to do is look after yourself first at all costs. Looking after the public good might feel like a luxury or foolish behaviour under these circumstances.

That kind of behavior is also common in Brazil, and used to be accepted (people would brag about it!), and yes people (sometimes as a team) would try to reciprocate any punishment they get from harming commons.

Then, suddenly something happened and the behaviors stopped being so well accepted. The revenge seeking after the punishment is still there, and the behaviors are still very common. That threw the country completely out of equilibrium.

That's so interesting. When did the change happen? Do you think the recent instability is a result of this? And would you have any theories as to why this nonacceptance suddenly kicked in?

I'm very interested in this topic as after living in both countries, it feels to me like this is one major factor which explains why rich countries are rich and poor countries are poor. Public goods create a ton of wealth. But you can't have them if free-ridership exists past a certain point.

It happened at between 2011 and 2014. It looked like a complete coherent change locally, but slower to move from one place to the other, like in a month you go to the market, people cut the line and others just shrug, then next month you go to the same market, people cut the line and everybody starts to complain immediately.

I imagine it was related to the corruption fighting that was all over the news. It clearly caused some social tension, but I don't believe it's responsible to most of current tension (I think most of the current tension was carefully fabricated by propaganda creators).

And yes. I think the change is a good one too.

This behaviour is also found in Denmark. It is not constrained to poor countries.

Fair point, I'm sure it exists everywhere. Free riding is never going to completely disappear (psychopathy seems to be evolutionarily stable after all). But when you look at the outcomes of the Public Goods with Punishment game in the link, there's definitely more free riding happening in the poorer countries studied. Maybe weak institutions and proximity to starvation result in a greater percentage of this behaviour in the population? The causality is tricky to figure out though.

According to the article it is less common in Denmark.

It's a fascinating experiment, but I don't buy the author's explanation for anti-social punishment. He's talking about punishing "rats/narks" (which is also a big social taboo here in USA), whereas all punishment in the experiment is completely anonymous.

I think a more plausible explanation is status envy. Someone who is publicly altruistic, is likely to gain compliments and plaudits from others. This would then boost their status, and bring down the relative status of others. This is likely to engender status-envy on the part of others, and they act upon their status-envy by inflicting punishment on the do-gooder. It's worth mentioning that I've personally seen such behavior here in America as well, especially when wealthy individuals or corporations engage in altruistic acts.

> especially when wealthy individuals or corporations engage in altruistic acts

I've found that rather than status envy, its cynicism towards the intentions of the person. If they believe the purpose of the altruism is to gain social standing rather than an actual belief in solving the problem they're likely to disparage them. For example - when a company spends $50k to send a sick child on a vacation and then puts down a $50 million marketing spend to show off what they did. It feels like 99% of politics in the US has the same problem.

That sort of leads to the question - what is an effective way to communicate that you want to be an effective do-gooder, without triggering the cynicism? Is attention truly orthogonal to people believing that you have good intentions? I'd argue not, but its been lost. It seems like we don't have many cultural heroes anymore. Einstein comes to mind - Bill Gates perhaps (though certainly not in the 90s)..

The cynicism is a mechanism for those who cannot do anything to relieve themselves of the guilt for not doing as much as those who can and do do things. Let it be. There is no value in winning over these people. They cannot contribute anyway.

Publicly pledging and giving away money is a good thing. The anonymous quiet giving misses out on the huge contribution of bringing attention to the cause. The cause always escapes the cynicism. You may not, but that’s okay. The end goal is achieved.

> what is an effective way to communicate that you want to be an effective do-gooder, without triggering the cynicism?

A more important question, I believe is: is there a way for such method to not be immediately perverted by those seeking to exploit the status bonus? I can't imagine there is; it seems to me that every honest signal that brings goodwill is soon coopted by scammers and marketers.

I think communicating your do-gooder status in a hyper connected society is highly over rated. Its like trying to figure out who is the best ant in the ant-hill. Not because there is some value to it to the ant hill, but because the data allows us to count and rank things.

We have all this data pouring in and so have ant rankings. But if Bill Gates gets hit by a bus tomorrow world history isn't going to change much. Wasn't the case in a less connected world in the past.

> what is an effective way to communicate that you want to be an effective do-gooder, without triggering the cynicism?

Communicating that you want to be one and being one is different. I'd like to think that the people who do great things will be eventually noticed whether they publicize it or not. Certainly if you communicate it then it may get noticed sooner, but having others notice shows a sense of being humble in addition to doing good things.

Certainly - actions must come before words.

Consider a billionaire who has steadily been giving millions away per year anonymously to a good chartable cause, but realizes the end goal can only be completed with more people. If at any point, the billionaire says hello - I have been donating to this cause for a while, and need help to eradicate it for all time, what happens? I'd guess that people think the billionaire never intended to keep donating in secret and it was generally a ruse. The second you go public, you already need to have a very large amount of "well-thought-of" supporters who are will back you to combat natural cynicism.

Another solution is to frame the problem as a common enemy one - thats what I think they tried with the "war on ___".

Start a foundation and just don't put your name on it.

"what is an effective way to communicate that you want to be an effective do-gooder, without triggering the cynicism? "

Be one and don't worry about telling people.

Anonymity means you can do good without any risk of questioning intent.

It's certainly possible to questioning anonymous' intent. For example who bought the weapons, not to metions all those Toyota Hilux trucks, for ISIS, and why?

Matthew 6:3 comes to mind:

>But when thou givest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth

I subscribe to the idea that if you proclaim your good deeds then they are no longer good; i.e., you are doing them for selfish reasons rather than out of a true sense of charity.

> I subscribe to the idea that if you proclaim your good deeds then they are no longer good

Why? And why is this important? What is good and what is the purpose of good?

I'd challenge you to deeper consider the value, and the implication, of "doing" or "being good", and try to not end up on selfish preference of cooperation somehow.

Of course, there can be more explanations

1/ Assuming the contributors can punish anyone, participants who contributed higher in 2-3 rounds would start punishing those who contribute less, given at some level, they are also free-riding though not to the extent of free riders.

2/ Free riders punishing the contributors hoping next time they do not get punished (cos punishment is a choice rather than an obligation, you may choose to enforce it.)

3/ A cynical way of playing this game is that when you know contributor is punishing someone, he loses a bit more, and free rider's profits are reduced(when overall pool < 20). Athens have a reverse effect when the rules are changed. A deduction is that I can risk to lose a bit of my gains, and can bully the contributors into not punishing me again and again.

Its much more likely that the critical or cynical response to alturism by wealthy individuals and corporations is political than psychogical. What I see is ordinary people railing against a system where millions of people work multiple jobs for starvation wages and no benefits while other have amassed wealth on a scale never before seen in human history. When our supposed billionaire entrepreneur betters and even those same corporations make "alturistic" charitable donations, the response is skepticism and political anger, not envy.

"Explaining" your political opponents arguments as an envious psychological response is a political smear, not a neutral analysis.

>Someone who is publicly altruistic, is likely to gain compliments and plaudits from others.

I suspect this is also the basis of the behavior of criticizing "virtue-signaling". In both cases, the punisher wants to be sure that the goodie-two-shoes doesn't get to benefit from others recognizing them.

I'd say that behavior is often called "virtue signaling" when it's mostly other people who have to pay the cost for someone's "virtuous" behavior.


Y Combinator notices how only 15% of their funded founders are women. Their fellow progressives call them out on this, and YC commits to fund more women. They will write posts about how they want more female founders. They will organize women only events. Perhaps, they will even actually favor female founders over more qualified male founders for funding.

Very virtuous of them to care about gender equality.

The problem is that the society doesn't consist of "men" and "women". It consists of individuals. When a man applies to YC, he isn't "men", he is a unique individual. An individual who has put enormous effort to build a product. An individual who has been long dreaming of founding a company, and finally built enough courage to take the leap. An individual who would be qualified by his merits.

But... he gets rejected because YC consists of virtuous people who care about gender equality, and unfortunately they have already funded enough men.

Now YC gets to post how they have funded more female founders, and their fellow progressives will praise them for caring about gender equality.

And what happened to the aspiring male entrepreneur after that? No one knows. No one cares.


In this example, it's YC who gets all the virtue points, while it's the aspiring male entrepreneur who has to carry most of the cost for their "virtuous" behavior. This doesn't mean that YC's behavior is wrong, but it does suggest that their behavior isn't as virtuous as it seems.

Thus, "virtue signaling".

This is not an example of virtue signalling.

YC invest their own money and so it is their cost.

The applicants applied to a program where they knew the rules. Because it's their money they make the rules.

And I reckon, they believe their rules get the best results.

This is not virtue signalling, it's taking action.

I like this analysis. I’d say the root problem is that it feels like there should be no trade-offs in doing “good”, when in reality there are always trade-offs. In other words, there is no way to solve the undesirable gender disparity issue that will meet the standard of YC’s behavior being “as virtuous as it seems”.

IIRC a number of ethical systems suggest to do good things clandestinely, or at least avoid bragging about them. Besides the internal benefits it provides, according to an ethical system, it may also help the system spread more easily because the status envy would not resist it.

> I think a more plausible explanation is status envy.

Elon Musk could announce the cure for cancer tomorrow and many would decry it as a "PR Stunt." Philosophers deploy the term "ressentiment" [1] to describe this complex behavior. This isn't exactly because they fear their own particular status falling, though that might've been the initial origin, by the time it reaches this stage you're talking about a cultural phenomenon, a "morality." Real "anti-social punishment" must occur because these people feel confident that others will not blame them for their anti-social behavior, indeed they likely believe that others will actually praise them for their anti-social behavior. It's misguided then to think this is a personal/economic or "rational" behavior and not an ideological one.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ressentiment

I don't buy any of the speculation. It's not scientific in the least. Anyone can invent a post-hoc rationalization of what's going on, but until you propose a test it's not worth much.

This is textbook LessWrong. It started off interesting, but then started using this experiment to justify a pet social theory.

> It's not scientific in the least.

It's not purporting to be.

> This is textbook LessWrong. It started off interesting, but then started using this experiment to justify a pet social theory.

One other thing that's "textbook LessWrong" is the understanding that "anyone can invent a post-hoc rationalization of what's going on, but until you propose a test it's not worth much". It's like, half of what Eliezer wrote was about this.

This post is not a scientific paper, it's just some commentary and a starting point of discussion in the community.

A quote from the comment section:

I'm surprised nobody proposed : "This person is promoting a social norm more stringent than my current behavior, I'll whack him.".

The part about promoting social norms is accurate. Interestingly enough it translates to other areas of life making people fear things like "the promotion of homosexuality".

I guess societies that in the past were forcefully transformed tend to be conservative.

Interesting last point: who where a sizable liberal faction in Roman Empire around the year 300? Answer: early Christians, the same group with fanatical penchants who mercilessly eviscerated the Alexandrian mathematician/philosopher Hypatia. Under Constantine, Christianity became a recognized religion of Rome, with Constantine one of its chief advocates. Curiously, who are the most conservative block today?

> the same group with fanatical penchants who mercilessly eviscerated the Alexandrian mathematician/philosopher Hypatia.

IIRC, that's a bit of a myth. According to Wikipedia, she was murdered due to a political power struggle in Alexandria:


> Socrates Scholasticus presents Hypatia's murder as entirely politically motivated[95] and makes no mention of any role that Hypatia's paganism might have played in her death.[95] Instead, he reasons that "she fell a victim to the political jealousy which at that time prevailed.

This is also interesting:

> ...Hypatia['s] sudden death not only left her legacy unprotected, but also triggered a backlash against her entire ideology.[146] Hypatia, with her tolerance towards Christian students and her willingness to cooperate with Christian leaders, had hoped to establish a precedent that Neoplatonism and Christianity could coexist peacefully and cooperatively.[147] Instead, her death and the subsequent failure by the Christian government to impose justice on her killers destroyed that notion entirely[147] and led future Neoplatonists such as Damascius to consider Christian bishops as "dangerous, jealous figures who were also utterly unphilosophical."[147] Hypatia became seen as a "martyr for philosophy"[147] and her murder led philosophers to adopt attitudes that increasingly emphasized the pagan aspects of their belief systems[148] and helped create a sense of identity for philosophers as pagan traditionalists set apart from the Christian masses.[149] Thus, while Hypatia's death did not bring an end to Neoplatonist philosophy as a whole, Watts argues that it did bring an end to her particular variety of it.[150]

> Shortly after Hypatia's murder, a forged anti-Christian letter appeared under her name.[151] Damascius was "anxious to exploit the scandal of Hypatia's death", and attributed responsibility for her murder to Bishop Cyril and his Christian followers.[152][153] A passage from Damascius's Life of Isidore, preserved in the Suda, concludes that Hypatia's murder was due to Cyril's envy over "her wisdom exceeding all bounds and especially in the things concerning astronomy".[98][154] Damascius's account of the Christian murder of Hypatia is the sole historical source attributing direct responsibility to Bishop Cyril.[154]

And the ideologically-motivated myths seem build from there.

Agreed. Emotive contemporary documentaries and cinema paint Hypatia as an early feminist martyr for science but actual records of the political/social dynamics surrounding her death are sketchy.

Are you equating being conservative with engaging in anti-social punishment? That doesn't make any sense. Even after accounting for differences in income, conservatives (especially religious conservatives) contribute most to charity, and also engage in volunteer activities at pretty high rates.

Note that I'm not saying that engaging in anti-social punishment is liberal, just that I don't think it's clear how such behavior maps onto political values.

I would agree with the notions that societies that undergo forceful transformations may tend towards anti-social punishment, which is probably related to weak norms of civic cooperation and rule of law.

I wonder how much of this result is self-perception. For instance, people in Denmark are constantly told what a trusting society they live in, and that that trust is part of the reason why they are so wealthy. So a researcher comes by with an obviously contrived game, and the Danes play like they are supposed to.

For the same reason I wonder about the periodic happiness survey that makes headlines each year.

Self-perception of norms is culture, surely? Society is, after all, socially constructed.

But the question is how do people play the game when they're not playing a game?

Pretty hard to answer.

You'd have to look at some sort of natural experiment and adjust for a bunch of factors.

Agreed. All ‘commons’-style games are inherently iterative to infinity from the point of view of most actors, and that has game-theoretic implications that aren’t really present in a lab, to say nothing of the fact that communication is a constant backdrop for all of them in the real world.

>So a researcher comes by with an obviously contrived game, and the Danes play like they are supposed to.

Wtf? How is it a contrived game in any way? It's an extremely nice indicator of how developed the place is. Trusting and equality are hugely important factors so you start with that, as is logical. If someone freerides, you punish them.

It's the real world example of tit-for-tat strategy, which is (apparently almost) the optimal one.

How is it contrived? Have you ever run into a natural situation where someone invited you to pay a negotiation game with strangers for a limited amount of time?

Playing PUBG in a squad with strangers.

Having to deal with the tens of people involved in my home buying process and deciding how well to treat them based on their impact to the process and personal bias.

Playing Euchre/board games with an unfamiliar group of people.

Trying to get laid in a bar.

> How is it contrived? Have you ever run into a natural situation where someone invited you to pay a negotiation game with strangers for a limited amount of time?

I run into these situations every day. Like the littering scenario mentioned in the article.

And this is a tiny version of real-life when dealing with pollution (which crosses national boundaries), climate change, and more.

So how would one attempt to do good (start a business/charity/what have you) in such an environment? I can feel my part of the United States inching slowly to this kind of social norm, is there anything regular people can do to counteract this?

I see this as a cultural problem, with a cultural solution.

If you think about "free riders" versus "cooperators" as a dichotomy, you won't find a solution. Everyone is both a "free rider" and a "cooperator", depending on social context. The issue is that our social fabric itself may be incentivizing people towards long-term destructive patterns.

So, how do we fix it? IMO, the best any one person can do is try to create an environment where people feel safe to cooperate. I believe human nature is fundamentally cooperative in large groups, but we are often "forced" into a competitive track by a lack of resources or other external pressures.

For example, many US workplaces pit employees against each other. It's perceived that there are too many workers for a limited number of jobs, so workers feel forced to compete for their "slot." If there was less communal anxiety about being fired, more individuals would feel comfortable to cooperate with their coworkers instead of competing.

Ofc, this is an insanely complex issue, so that's just a tiny facet, and I'm sure some of the points are debatable. But I honestly believe that "taking care of people" is one of the key ways to achieve more collaboration.

A sad aside is that if you want to force cooperation among a populace, the most effective way is to give them a common enemy to fight against.

To effectively do it with taking care of people, you need a social/cultural contract - but if people are unlikely to enter into one, being distrustful in the first place of anyone proposing such a thing, its a very hard problem - you have a prisoners dilemma which pits the zero sum game players against the win-win, and it only takes one zero sum to defeat the win-wins.

The US used to stylize itself a high trust society.

I’m not sure how much that was a fantasy dependent on horrific repression’s from slavery to Jim Crow, and how much it actually adhered even amongst groups of people that weren’t based on racial exclusion.

Regardless, I worry for US culture. Trust in institutions seems to be at an all time low; institutions take generations to build, we won’t get them back easily or quickly.

It might have been more high trust because it was less culturally diverse.


The US was always diverse though. Just maybe not so much culturally.

I mean, sure, everyone that a given person was likely to see spoke english, ate chicken, and went to some form of Christian church on Sunday. BUT, some of the people were white, some were native american, some were black, down in Texas area you even had hispanics. So the US was pretty diverse. Unless we're not counting racial diversity?

Yeah, I don't think racial diversity counts for the trust issue. Obviously there are some people that won't trust someone based on their race, but it seems like most groups are willing to accept anyone as long as they follow cultural norms; skin color just seems to be a quick proxy for "they look different, so they're probably culturally different". Just watch the aftermath of a local football team winning a big game. It doesn't matter if you're rich or poor, black or white, everyone in the city celebrates together.

What if your nation had laws that for a century forcibly excluded one race from the dominant culture? The idea that "acting white" is a "get out of racism free" card is a vicious myth.

The US was drastically less racially diverse 50 years ago. It was 90% non hispanic white in 1965 before immigration laws were changed.

And effectively segregated, making it even more white in areas.

That's almost a hilarious statement.

The same rhetoric used against those from Mexico or the Middle East today was used against those from Ireland, Hungary, Poland, etc. 100+ years ago.


Insular, bigoted, ignorant people is not a new phenomenon.

> Trust in institutions seems to be at an all time low; institutions take generations to build, we won’t get them back easily or quickly.

So what? I see nothing wrong with reliance on government being replaced with reliance on more local entities (i.e. one's friends, neighbors, church congregation, local government, etc) which is what happens in the near term when trust in higher level authority collapses. If the state doesn't think the feds will give them money for roads then they'll figure out a way to build it themselves. If the community college doesn't think they'll get federal grant money they'll get the state to give it to them or fund-raise it themselves.

Sure, if the federal government just stopped handing out SSI checks, highway dollars and research grands tomorrow it would suck a lot for a lot of people in the short term but in the long term you'd see towns and states running their own programs to compensate. Something always creeps in to fill the vacuum.

Edit: JFC people, I'm not advocating for some sort of near-anarchy where the only government is local. I'm saying that government action should always be performed on the most local level possible and I see no problem with an erosion of trust in Federal government as a means to that end.

> So what? I see nothing wrong with reliance on government being replaced with reliance on more local entities (i.e. one's friends, neighbors, church congregation, etc) which is what happens in the near term when higher level institutions collapse.

I think you have that backwards. One of the strengths of the US system is that you can buy something from someone far away and have a high probability you'll get it. Even for the first century or so of the republic that system didn't work so well (for example when you tried to use currency -- banknotes -- people were reluctant to accept money from far away banks in case it was fraudulent).

Governments are far fro perfect but they are more controllable than private corporations. Would you really prefer that companies regulated drug claims and manufacturing rather than the FDA?

> Sure, if the federal government just stopped handing out SSI checks tomorrow it would suck for a lot of people in the short term but in the medium term you'd see towns running their own food pantries and whatnot. Something always creeps in to fill the vacuum.

The idea of a shared effort is that we support each other: the local economies that can't afford food banks are helped out by those who can. If a hurricane hits your region all of the food banks can be rendered inoperable. The government is supposed to help everyone (Texas, Florida, California, Puerto Rico) even when individuals have suffered "help fatigue".

>*I see nothing wrong with reliance on government being replaced with reliance on more local entities..."

But then you just replaced one government with another. Worse, the one you replaced it with has fewer abilities. How does it get fuel for logistics. (ie - the food pantries get food from where? The federal government is gone, so the oil tankers don't dock anymore and the pipelines aren't full anymore.)

Sure, Chicago would be golden, it's on lake Michigan. But what happens if you live in Arizona? Where does your water come from?

Who helps if a hurricane guts Miami FL?

Who helps if a tornado guts Norman OK?

Etc etc etc.

Our way of life just doesn't support hyper local governments doing whatever they want, and hording resources from other hyper local governments. We, for better or for worse, are set up on the premise of bountiful energy, and through that energy, bountiful access to resources. That's just how we survive currently. No one has the stomach or the constitution to go back to being local farmers.

> *Our way of life just doesn't support hyper local governments [...] No one has the stomach or the constitution to go back to being local farmers.

Er... guys, your American states are as large as European countries (the largest ones being in the range of France, Germany, Spain down to UK, the smaller ones in the range of Switzerland down to Belgium). As bit less populated (and even that is not really a drawback since it typically means more available resources per inhabitant), but otherwise... why wouldn't they be able to support themselves? Furthermore, having different governments/countries does not block the flow of goods.

OK. I'm going to assume that you aren't American.

Imagine a European country...

a lot of space right?

Now imagine it's in the middle of a desert. Literally.

OK, do you have that picture in your head? Great!

Now... imagine that it's ALSO landlocked.

If you've followed along to this point, then I want you to answer the following question in as honest a fashion as you can:

How many, "resources per inhabitant", would that nation realistically have available?

Continuing with our thought experiment, imagine there was no federal government to provide the structure for, say, Texas, to share its energy resources with other states...

now, ask yourself why Texas would continue to give Idaho free energy resources? Should Texans continue the charitable practice, in exchange for a few Idaho potatoes? There are just better markets for those resources. And I wouldn't blame Texans one bit for availing themselves of the opportunities those markets present.

Governments, and common sense, can, and do, block the flow of goods.

What I'm trying to point out, is that I don't think you've thought this whole thing through.

What happens when an entire town is poor, or washed over by a hurricane? They pick each other up by each other's bootstraps?

What's your theory for the Great Depression, that persisted until WWII's nation-wide economic coordination?

The only way I can see to match your theory to experience is to observe that yeah, poverty evaporates when the poverty stricken people nearly all die off.

> when an entire town is poor, or washed over by a hurricane? They pick each other up by each other's bootstraps?

Those are cases when you need higher level help. For unexceptional, routine, stuff there's no reason to make a higher than necessary level of authority deal with it. Doing so is like having a CEO waste his time figuring out what office furniture to buy. Funding a food bank is something that can be done on a local level. Figuring out health insurance is something that can be done on the state level. Etc.

>The only way I can see to match your theory to experience is to observe that yeah, poverty evaporates when the poverty stricken people nearly all die off.

You know what else tends to evaporate? Tax dollars making the long trip all the way up the stack just to come back down it. Administrative overhead is nonzero. Better to just fund a locally if possible.

I think you're making some pretty good points overall about the benefits of state and city governments, but one thing I still have questions with is what we do as a country when one part of our country adopts some set of practices but other states refuse to do so. The clear example in this case is the abolishment of slavery, there were a ton of states that didn't want to do that. The answer isn't as easy as "just move if you don't like the conditions in your state" because the residents don't always have the means to move (especially the case in the slavery example). Nor can we afford to just ignore it "until they catch up" because there is no guarantee that they will catch up if the smaller governments are caught in a local maximum (in the mathematical sense, no pun intended) where the group that receives the most benefit at the expense of the oppressed has 0 reason to seek change.

Essentially, I think that the increasing power of the federal government comes (in some part) from a desire from the citizens of the country to have things be more uniform across the country. I personally think that based on some of the points you have made that more effective small government operations could help rebuild trust and the social fabric. The problem is that I'm not sure I'm willing to condemn the role of the federal government and stop trying to help those in states that would seek to oppress them.

As a side note, as far as I'm aware, the state's rights argument in recent history has largely been used as a dog whistle to signal racism [0] and other forms of systemic oppression for just this reason. "Let all the states decide for themselves" is coded language for "You know you're part of the majority in your state and we won't tolerate the Fed. Gov. mandating that we abolish slavery/legalize abortion/legalize gay marriage etc."

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dog-whistle_politics

As per Europe: if you have a monetary union, you need a redistributive fiscal union, because otherwise the money will concentrate in the net-exporter states.

What's the trade deficit of, say, Arkansas?

Trust is like a rainforest: a resource that takes years to build up and provides benefit to the world, but can be looted for profit - once.

Ultimately the question is "why don't I just wire the contents of the treasury to my bank account, bribing my cronies in the ruling party along the way?" People routinely get away with massive theft from the state in less developed countries, but they rely on being able to move the wealth to somewhere more stable so they can keep it.

Most immediately is the question "why don't I just de-register all the opposition voters?" ...

> People routinely get away with massive theft from the state in less developed countries, but they rely on being able to move the wealth to somewhere more stable so they can keep it.

For those not super tuned-in to international politics, Putin's regime in Russia thrives on exactly the type of behavior, and the Maginitsky Acts passed by the US and several other countries are designed to fetter the kleptocracy by taking away the safe places to keep stolen cash.

There are different America’s depending on where you live and who you are. Some are high trust and some are not.

It has always been that way.

The mere fact that pockets of America are high trust and others low trust, is obviously true. But the parent implies that how many and/or where those are has changed.

So "It has always been away" doesn't answer the parent's concern, except if you meant to add "and always to the same degree".

That would be astounding though. By what mechanism would this eternal (always) balance be achieved, while history marches on and culture changes?

I think the change is people are realizing things are different for other people.

Your still going to get treated differently for drunkenly making a scene in an upper class suburban neighborhood vs a white working class one.

NYC is as corrupt as it always was. The subway worked for a short while in the 90s but it’s back to its average level of grunge and disrepair.

I think the main problem is really that nothing has improved much since the 60s.

Based on 200 years history of Russia, you don't. You run away to places not yet contaminated.

On a more upbeat tone what has usually worked for countries like Russia (and what usually worked and still works for my Eastern-European country, too) was to set up a system of patronage, i.e. a system where you share part of your gains to those immediately bellow you in return for their service/trust, they in turn should share their gains to those bellow them and so on and so forth.

The key for this system to work for more than one generation is that all parts involved should keep their end of the bargain, meaning that you should be there for the person depending on you, financially and otherwise, whenever they need you, and in turn they should also keep their loyalty to you, no matter the circumstances.

I know that what I basically described is basically just a feudal system, and I can also say that I don't like it in principle, but I'm also well aware that this system has been one of the most resilient social systems over the last two millennia (at least), present in one way or another on all populated continents under all types of governments (democracy, monarchy, tyranny etc), and as such it shouldn't be discredited.

> I know that what I basically described is basically just a feudal system

Or, when nested within a society with a different formal government, a mafia.

In America, some restaurants are experimenting with profit or revenue sharing as a way to retain the top-end of the labor market for the respective positions.

That sounds a bit like what you're talking about.

What's wrong with feudalism as you described it?

Historically it has been seen as contradictory to the main principles of Illuminism.

How so? Illuminism/Enlightenment contradictory to tyrrany, not feudalism.

A monarchy can be enlightened, and healthy nations can be ruled by a monarch.


Monarchy and feudalism are not equivalent: it's totally possible to have a feudal republic.

Enlightenment was a response to feudalism. The fundamental thesis of enlightenment thought is that there are inalienable rights shared by every human being, and that unearned obligations and privileges, like those seen in feudal patronage cultures, are incompatible with just society.

The doesn't really counter feudalism though. Perhaps in mentality/ideology, yes, but in practice, it's possible for people to agree to such a system and be content with it. We do it all the time in a capitalist society, except here it's called a "corporation", and the "barons" are called execs of "subsidiary companies".

The corporation is not a person, and executives do not have privileges and rights greater than any other person by birthright.

In a feudal system, you owe tribute to your liege by virtue of the fact that they were born of a higher rank than you and you were born within their demesne. If you don't comply, or if you try to find a different lord, you get killed.

Feudal is not another word for economic inequality.

> The corporation is not a person, and executives do not have privileges and rights greater than any other person by birthright.

In theory, but not in practice. Lobbying obviously benefits corporations, as does the socio-economic status that literally lets execs get away with murder. Furthermore, the idea that corporation != literal person doesn't change the fact that the piece of paper is treated as a person in court.

> In a feudal system, you owe tribute to your liege by virtue of the fact that they were born of a higher rank than you and you were born within their demesne. If you don't comply, or if you try to find a different lord, you get killed.

Ok, so your understanding of feudalism is more comprehensive and definitely more rigid than mine. I'll concede the point here.

Exactly. When the cooperators all leave, the free riders suffer the collapse of the system. Only then can a 'reboot' stand a chance of succeeding.

...and then contaminate them with residues of your cultural anti-social meta-algorithms, shifting them towards resembling the environment you escaped, as some things "were just easier".

The toy games described, the variance in different countries, and especially the explanation of the psychology that might be at play here is startling.

I am excited to be able to add this to my toolbox of ways to understand public goods and their interplay with the surrounding culture.

My thoughts exactly. Except I'm excited/not excited. It's bittersweet, if that's appropriate.

It was definitely a compelling read, and I'm sure I'll end up thinking about it often.

I don't think the explanation covers it.

Wanting to punish people who cooperate with the state (because the state just takes everything away) doesn't imply wanting to punish people who cooperate in the contrived example game where the game does not take anything away. Unless OP means to imply that people can't mentally separate the machinations of the state from the rules of a game, I don't think the explanation is satisfactory. (Although I don't have a better explanation myself).

> Unless OP means to imply that people can't mentally separate the machinations of the state from the rules of a game

I think this is pretty much it. Behavior is learned. The participants were playing the game in a way that was irrational when viewed in isolation, but natural in the context of their lives.

If the commons takes more than it gives, it becomes irrational to participate. This tendency persists and spreads over time and people and eventually crystallizes into an aspect of morality, where collaborating with the (exploitative or oppressive) commons is viewed with suspicion and distrust (think "Party Officials"). Eventually this habit becomes so ingrained that it emerges even during simple games.

Unless OP means to imply that people can't mentally separate the machinations of the state from the rules of a game

Yes, I think that's exactly it. Lifelong behavior is internalized, subconscious, and incredibly persistent.

Agreed -- humans aren't reassessing the utility of a given pattern of action (e.g. group cooperation vs. selfish behaviour) every time they engage in it, they are building mental heuristics that permit quick decisions without re-evaluating the priors (system 1 vs. system 2 thinking, if you will).

Under that model, it's expected that humans would have a similar attitude to group/commons cooperation in a game as they would in their real-world interactions.

Taking the next step from this observation -- I wonder how much meta-level discussion would be required to break this tendency? Could we apply such meta-level discussion to the real-world, too, and improve cooperation in the societies where these old strategies perhaps don't apply as much now?

You'll notice that many such systems deteriorate into a sub-optimal equilibrium because humans naturally have an "us" vs "them" or "me" vs "everybody-else" world view. You'll note that such experiments require the participants to be strangers.

I imagine this has an incredibly strong evolutionary origin, but I think it's interesting to note.

What's also interesting is that if you put a large enough bunch of strangers in a room and get them to play a game (or even do some work), they'll quickly divide into groups and start showing the "us vs them" dynamic.

Original paper here: http://www.umass.edu/preferen/You%20Must%20Read%20This/herrm...

The explanation in the linked article isn't fully convincing, IMO. The paper speculates about several more explanations at the end, and has some more data to support them, e.g. people seemed to be punishing low-contributors in an effort to make them contribute more.

If only the experimenters had conducted some interviews...

Robin Hanson wrote about similar experiments in 2010: http://www.overcomingbias.com/2010/07/looking-too-good.html

As others here have suggested (e.g. jpfed, Tade0), it seems that extreme generosity can be regarded as establishing an undesirable behavior standard. The post suggests a workaround, if your productivity/generosity greatly exceeds others: under-report your output and give credit to others.

I suspect sexual selection is partially to blame for this behavior subliminally. People who are "better" are a threat to finding good mates and a source of envy and thus despised.

While reading I kept thinking that cooperating in the game has a tendency to equalize everyone in terms of savings. If everyone has very little, someone with something may feel he's a bit ahead and cooperation would effectively erode that savings. This is of course just speculation on my part but it's what came to mind. Kind of like how people making a bit above minimum wage (even in the US) resent the idea of raising minimum wage because in some ways it puts them at the bottom.

I took part in this experiment. It was about 12-15 years ago.

The test was administered by the department of Economics of the University. They put flyers around the campus for volunteers, who would then get to keep any money they earned. Such experiments attracted students that wanted to make some money. Most students did not bother to participate .

The screenshots in the supporting material match what I saw on the computer screen. We were given the instructions and had some time to digest the rules. I calculated that the best reward would come if all were cooperating and I hoped that everyone else would figure it out. In that way, our group of four anonymous participants would get away with some extra money.

I was willing to cooperate, although I come originally from a country that did abysmally bad in this test.

During the first two rounds, I would put all funds into the pool. The rest of the group did not pick up the signal, did not put any funds or they put just a little. The game would work if everyone put all they funds in the pool, and in that case we would earn even more from the "bank". On the third round, I did not put any funds in the pool. I noticed though that some of the others players would persist in putting some small funds in the pool, as if they did not figure out what was going on.

Before reading this post, I thought that the experiment I took was rigged and you were playing against three computer players who on purpose were not cooperating.

During the next set of rounds with punishments, I did not contribute and neither did most of the others. There were some random punishments by the others which did not make sense.

Looking back, I can feel the inexperience of an undergraduate who could not understand that there could be a strategy that is beneficial to all.

Some comments said that communism can make people less willing to cooperate. I don't think so. The problem is the cultural attitude of the society, which transcends communism.

Just wanted to say thank you for taking the trouble to sign up to offer your first hand experience! It's both beautiful and little sad that your summary of the main finding (antisocial punishment) is "There were some random punishments by the others which did not make sense".

Reading the supplemental materials (http://science.sciencemag.org/content/sci/suppl/2008/03/06/3...) it looks like the difference in "reward" for a cooperative strategy was on the order of $10 USD. Does that seem about right?

I have the feeling that it has something to do with the fact that being too cooperative makes live easy for the non cooperators. There must be many equilibria and some cultures stay at some middle level, they don't aim at the most productive ones out of fear not to be pushed into the least productive.

Imagine being a cooperator with an evil dictatorship: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/X5RyaEDHNq5qutSHK/anti-socia...

Reminds me of the Ultimatum Game experiment[1].

1: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultimatum_game

Disclaimer: tangent/speculation ahead :-)

"how people from different societies deal with cooperation and punishment"

Whenever I read some writing from Sustrik I wonder how related it is to his experiences in the nanomsg/ZeroMQ debacle [1].

Similarly, maybe I'm completely wrong but when I learned about Hitjens' "The Psychopath code" [2], and because of the timing, it was hard not to make a guess whose psychopath Hitjens had in mind :-).

I'm kinda curious to know how deep did the grudge between these two Software Engineers / Philosophers go.

1: http://hintjens.com/blog:112

2: http://hintjens.com/books

Not sure if that game is really measuring a cultural effect in a relevant manner. Is that really cultural after all?

On top of this, it is really difficult to see if the politics translate this cultural selfishness or altruism well into policies that are doing what is expected.

It's a good time to remember that the replication crisis in social science still exists even if when a result confirms your preconceived notions, and that the bulk of the article is speculative brainstorming of hypotheses, not research.

"Why do you have to make us look bad?"

Could someone summarize this for people with reading difficulties (and for karma)?

In game-theory experiments, you can be selfish or altruistic. If being selfish wins, people act selfish. If you add a way to punish players, the altruistic punish the selfish, then people stop playing selfishly.

OR SO IT WOULD SEEM. In some cultures, the selfish punish the altruistic! This goes against expectations and is counter-productive. The author then explains, based on their experience in a formerly-communist state, why people punish the altruistic. TLDR because the altruistic government was horrible, and stealing from the commons was the right thing to do by your family.

Most Americans want to punish people when they harm the public good, but some cultures (especially former Communist countries) punish people that help the public good for some reason. There's more speculation on why that is in the comments, but as always be careful reading those.

I'm eastern european so I hope you don't mind me chipping in my opinion as a reply to you.

I just simply don't trust the 'public good', aka the government. When I'm looking at my payslip, 46% goes to the state in the form of taxes. Out of all that's left, no matter if I save or spend, at least 19% of it will go to the government again in the form of VAT. A lot more if I want to become an entrepreneur or buy something big like a house or a car.

I pay a lot in taxes. A lot of people pay a lot in taxes, yet things have always been the same. Add in the political scandals that happen pretty much on a weekly basis: money siphoning or laundering, weird law bills, election fraud etc. and it's easy to see why people are distrustful of the government.

Let's say you're running a board game night each week over the summer in ten different cities and it's a standing rule that the group buys pizza.

If everyone has to anonymously chip in to pay for pizza, everyone will eventually chip in less--"Someone is going to pay for the pizza, but I shouldn't have to pay for more than my fair share! I already paid for a night's pizza this summer!" This is true for all board game nights in all cities.

HOWEVER, if you pay attention to who chips in for pizza and allow people to anonymously steal from attendees to board game night, regardless of whether they were a freeloader, that uniformity between board game nights stops.

In some cities, after several weeks everyone starts pitching in money for pizza. Why? Because the freeloaders want pizza, but don't want to have more money stolen from them than the cost of pizza that they ate. Pitching in removes people's justification for stealing from them and they still get pizza.

In other cities, counter-intuitively to certain demographics, when people can see who's paying for pizza and anonymously steal from attendees, certain people start stealing from the person who's habitually putting in more than their fair share. This cancels out the gain from people stealing from the freeloaders.

To account for the latter cities, the study authors posit that it's because the freeloaders are punishing the people that bought the pizza because they're the people most likely to have stolen back the cost of the pizza eaten.

The author of this article posits a different reason: in certain cities, they used to have a collection for pizza at board game night, but the delivery was slow and the good pizza rarely showed up before the night was over. And the host got to keep the leftovers. And board game night was always at Keynes's house, conveniently.

So in these cities, people still remember Keynes and punish anyone trying to restart Keynes's bullshit way of getting free pizza from them. Everyone who attended Keynes's board game night in the past feels it's better to just eat leftovers when they get home than to pay New Keynes to get pizza 10% of the time.

And, coincidentally, if there's ever another board game night at Keynes's, you eat everything you can get from him, because he's an asshole that buys Little Caesar's Hot-n-Ready's when he's paying alone, but guilts everyone else to pay-up next week when he orders a giant fuckin' pizza from the stoner hole in the wall that he gets to eat by himself because he won't stop whining about "B-B-but I bought the pizza last week!"

Was surprised by the Melbourne result given the city is one of the most multicultural places in the world which you would assume give it a median result.

Done in 2008 so the current housing price blowout wouldnt explain everyone being totally out for themselves. Maybe tall poppy syndrome or the anti-dole bludger (freeloader) mentality would account for it?

Those graphs could be so much clearer without the key, instead just have a straight line linking the data line with the name of the country, ordering the country names appropriately to avoid too many crossing lines.

If you find this surprising you should check out "The Ugly Indian" TED talk.


This article made me go back and play with https://ncase.me/trust/ my favorite society simulator.

My only complaint about this presentation is the lack of forgetfulness and recovery of old strategies. In a word, it ignores context.

A world with only tit-for-tats effectively becomes a world of always-cooperate once the knowledge that defectors are a thing disappears from visceral collective memory.

And as an inevitable aftermath of that, the world of always-cooperate invites the return of always-cheat. Which invites the arrival of tit-for-tats.

However, the presentation's conclusion remains the same: viable actions in the world we inhabit are largely--but not totally--defined by the contexts that everyone brings to the table. And in most contexts, it pay out more to forgive than to retribute in the long run.

Voting for Trump might be an anti-social way of punishing those do-gooder liberals.

Hm I thought that conclusion was interesting, they should try this in any US ghetto then, instead of just Boston for their check-the-box US representation.

I think it would have similar outcomes as the Ostblock countries, and less similarities with "The West and its strong rule of law"

I think it would be even further along the axis of cooperation. I happened to be in Detroit for some work in the late 90's. I took the opportunity to do some volunteering and saw some really weird things. Like farms that were basically squatting in collapsed buildings out in certain areas of the city. Basically, "secret" farms, that were secret to no one in the area, and nearly everyone was using. (Both planting and harvesting.) How anything got coordinated was beyond me? That said, one thing they did have a handle on was who had done what, and people would argue when one of the "freeloaders" for lack of a better term, came along.

(I know. They were ALL freeloaders, as it was HIGHLY doubtful in my mind that any of them owned that property. But you know what I mean.)

I didn't really know the terms "pro-social" punishment, and "anti-social" punishment. But these guys were FIRMLY in the "pro-social" punishment camp. And I got the very real sense that you just didn't mess with that.

Another way to look at it is that none of them were freeloaders, as all (or most) of them were making constructive use of the property.

But that's not what happens.

I recommend reading "A Framework for Understanding Poverty" by Ruby Payne. It's a really insightful book on the cycle of poverty and the incentives at work... anti-social punishment really isn't part of it.

From Martin Sustrik a-la ZeroMQ.

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