A smug atheist reading of [Richard] Florida’s number-crunching would be that people who go to church a lot are less likely than people who don’t to move up the economic ladder. But a more accurate reading, I think, would be that people who who go to church a lot are more likely to move up. It’s the people who bend your ear about how much they love Jesus who are less likely to move up (and who are also less likely to attend church regularly). The irony is that it’s these zealots who want to claim an exclusive right to call themselves Christian.
—Timothy Noah, from his post "Religion and Mobility" on The New Republic site.
You might want to read Richard Florida’s piece on The Atlantic Cities first and then follow it up with Noah’s reaction. Both are well worth reading and may lead you down all types of paths depending on your experiences and where you live, or have lived.
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
If you’re conflicted about whether to spend money on a material good (say, a computer) or personal experience (say, a vacation), the research says you’ll get much more satisfaction — and for longer — if you choose the experience. Most of us, it turns out, get more bang from the experiential buck. Indeed, when people are asked to recall their most significant material and experiential purchases over the previous five years, they report that the experience brought more joy, was a source of more enduring satisfaction and was more clearly “money well spent.”
This might seem counter-intuitive. The material good lasts while the experience is fleeting. But psychologically it’s the reverse. We quickly adapt to the material good, but the experience endures in the memories we cherish, the stories we tell and the very sense of who we are.
—from Gary Belsky and Tom Gilovich’s article in Time, “Want Happiness? Don’t Buy More Stuff — Go on Vacation”
This one article is responsible for convincing my wife to take a road trip to Montana in a couple weeks. After days of debate, I’ve learned that Belsky and Gilovich carry more authority and are more persuasive than the love of a good husband and 20 years of marriage. *grin*
Whatever it takes! Swan Valley, here we come! The Griswolds are on the loose.
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
The Economic Toll of Natural Disasters, but What about Other Manifestations?
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
"The estimated damage from Japan’s combined earthquake and tsunami make it the world’s most expensive natural disaster since 1965. The world’s second most costly natural disaster also took place in Japan, the 1995 Kobe Earthquake, whose losses totaled nearly 2 percent of the country’s GDP, according to this graphic compiled by The Economist."
These figures matter, but they lack personality. They don’t put a face on the psychological trauma and steel that pervades cultures for subsequent generations. How does one measure the impact and manifestations of these natural disasters on people who live through it and beyond it?
I’m sure there are data crunchers that try to account for ideas like this, and many others that often go unreported. Can somebody help point me to some of these sources?
SoundSeen: Chris Farrell Puts Neuroeconomics and “Cleansing” in Focus
Trent Gilliss, online editor
The production tour for this week’s program with Paul Zak was rather circuitous. After Krista’s interview in late March, schedules and time lines became hectic and we had resigned ourselves to the fact that it wasn’t going to make for an hour-long production. A couple months later, Kate, our managing producer, asked about the interview and thought it was worth reviewing with fresh ears. Fortunately, she did, and we now have a program.
"Economists talk of the cleansing effect of recessions. So recessions are necessary because they kind of cull out the companies that are not providing the best customer service, that are not making a profit, that are not providing some product or service that people need. And when those businesses go out of business, then those resources are redeployed to more important uses. The machines are reused; the people get different jobs. And so this keeps the economy kind of efficient. We don’t want to kind of limp along and have high levels of inefficiency just because we love the name General Motors or love the name of some company if they can’t kind of keep up with the herd. So competition drives that and that’s an important part of maintaining efficiency.
But I think the same thing can happen in individual lives. I think as we get towards the end of every boom period, today or two years ago, the end of the 1990s and dot-com bubble, the end of the ’80s and this kind of “me,” “greed” generation, I think we do get out of whack because human beings are adaptable and we are watching what other humans are doing. We also become adaptable to this sort of yuppie, ‘more stuff for me’ lifestyle.
So I think, from a spiritual perspective, that recessions are also cleansing. So I think it’s very important that we don’t shy away from recessions and we don’t try to outlaw them. I think we should say, ‘Hey, there were excesses. This is how the excesses are corrected. And the excesses were both kind of on the macro level and even perhaps in my own life. Maybe I got a little over-excited about the extra bonuses I was getting and the bigger car. And now I want to sit down and reevaluate what’s really important to me.’ So I think there are great analogies between the micro and the macro, and we should embrace that.”
These are bold statements that have implications. So, after our final editorial session, I suggested that perhaps Krista might ask Chris Farrell, APM’s resident expert on economics and all things financial, for a broader perspective on the field of neuroeconomics and its place within the larger world of economics. And, more explicitly, Krista asked Chris about his view of Zak’s perspective on moments of economic and moral “cleansing.” Chris’s historical and critical analysis I found helpful, and surprising.
I’m not sure if there are absolute right or wrong answers to this final point, but there are consequences. How do you think about this?
My Oxytocin Moment
Colleen Scheck, Producer
Our immersion into the world of neuroscience for this week’s program with Paul Zak has given me a label for one of the uplifting parts of my weekdays — my “oxytocin moment.” It’s the moment I exit work to pick up my 7-month-old son. Walking to the car, a rush of energy, excitement, and warmth comes over me as I eagerly anticipate how his smile widens when he recognizes me, and the giggle that bubbles up when I hug him and tickle him under the chin. I can’t get to him fast enough, and I’m certain one day a fender-bender will be the result of my mad dash to exit work and pick him up.
So now I interpret that rush to be a surge of oxytocin in my brain. The hormone has long been known for its role in childbirth and the mother/child bonding process that I acutely experience these days. But as Zak’s research is showing, it has other profound influences on broader social behavior, including our ability to trust. Since my brain fails to fire the neurons needed to comprehend neuroscience, I went looking for easily digestible descriptions of his work, and found a few helpful things.
His article, "The Neurobiology of Trust," in the June 2008 issue of Scientific American is a helpful overview, with simple visuals, of how he became interested in oxytocin’s relation to trust, how his experiment — the “Trust Game” — was conducted and its findings, and some of the implications of his research. Besides its impact on the field of economics, I’ll be curious to see if future insights emerge about oxytocin’s relationship to neurological disorders like schizophrenia or maladies such as social anxiety.
Also helpful, and fun, was a 2005 television segment from the Australian Broadcasting Company science program Catalyst. The reporter participates in Zak’s trust game as well as a related experiment using MRI imaging of his brain. He talks to Zak and other scientists about the biology of trust, from primates to humans.
And, given my current life status as a new mom, I enjoyed stumbling upon Hug the Monkey, a blog about the latest research and issues around oxytocin’s best-known function by science and technical writer Susan Kuchinskas.
A New Jubilee
Andy Dayton, Associate Web Producer
Just when I thought I’d had my fill of historical Jewish customs for the time being (last week I waist-deep in Scott-Martin Kosofsky’s The Book of Customs for our Hanukkah program), I ran into an interesting Financial Times article referencing a tradition of routinely absolving debts described in the Old Testiment and Torah.
Deuteronomy dictates that “at the end of every seven years you shall grant a release of debts.” After seven of those seven-year cycles (called Sabbatical cycles), comes the jubilee year — a year where material possessions and land are returned to their original owners, and servants are emancipated. The FT article suggests that one solution to the current economic crisis could be to have our own version of the jubilee year — not by absolving debts outright, but by converting them into government-backed, low-interest loans.
I was equally intrigued by the image that was selected to accompany this article: The Moneylender and His Wife, by Flemish painter Quentin Metsys (seen above). According to the description on the Musée du Louvre’s Web site, “the shiny gold, pearls (a symbol of lust), and jewelry have distracted the wife from her spiritual duty, reading a work of devotion.” The objects behind the two figures are also ripe for interperetation, but perhaps the most potent item in this painting — especially for an artist intending to send a moral message — is in the foreground: a mirror “reflecting” the world outside.
Find more of our coverage of the economic downturn, see our Web site for Repossessing Virtue.
Repossessing Virtue: Rebecca Blank on the Ethics of the Free Market
» download (mp3, 7:36)
Rob McGinley Myers, Associate Producer
The financial crisis has been a topic at all of our recent staff meetings, and we’ve been looking for different ways to address it. One idea was to begin conversations with thinkers in a variety of fields about the moral implications of what has happened and why. For the first of those conversations, we called up the economist Rebecca Blank, co-author of the book Is The Market Moral? She brings together a faith in the power of markets and her life-long Christian faith, providing a unique ethical perspective on the free market at a time when even Alan Greenspan has been expressing his doubts about it.
Give a listen and let us know what you think. And while you’re at it, share your story of how this crisis is affecting you, what you think the implications are, and where you’re looking for wisdom and strength in this shifting economic landscape.
(photo courtesy of PBS)
Editor’s update: Changed the title to include in our Repossessing Virtue series.