sam bowles

sam bowles.png

intro’d to Sam via Michel’s fb share of this

great interview/presentation on the empirical basis for homo cooperans

wasn’t going to add page.. because.. as i loved where he was going with intrinsic motivations.. the almost there but not quite ness is killing us.. ie: 15 min – prizes vs compensation.. i say ugh to prizes

but he kept showing up.. (i’m thinking because of michel’s share to others and back).. so i decided to take him in here.. it’s a pickle (in my mind).. because sometimes it seems the ones closest to the setting free ness.. could be our biggest blockage.. like thinking partial is better than nothing.. when perhaps it keeps us closer to nothing than nothing (never nothing) because we assume the right path.. we don’t question deep enough.. ie: what if competition/prizes.. whatever .. are the same as money.. just a diff flavor/scent/color/degree.. ie: you can’t partially assume good (or eventually we’ll get right back to where we are/have-been).. and thinking you need prizes/competition.. is saying you don’t assume’s saying .. you assume good most of the time.. and the rest of the time you need extrinsic motivation et al.. which is saying.. you don’t assume good.

so .. adding while watching Michel’s video (20 min) share again:

The Death of ‘Homo Economicus’ (2015)

what’s remarkable is that the classical economists didn’t think this way.. people like adam smith.. and john stewart mill.. knew very well that people had a range of motivations.. from altruism to spite.. and they took those into account

1 min – what’s remarkable over last century is that economics shrunk to thinking that people could be modeled effectively as if they were uniformly self-interested in calculating their own individual benefits.. it’s a very radical idea.. it never had any empirical support.. it was thought to be a simplification.. one which helped very much in the *mathematation of the field.. but which really **didn’t help very much in terms of our trying to understand how human beings actually operate

oy.. *because that’s what we need – of math and men ..oh my math..measuring things..mona lisa compare law..making up money

*exactly.. science of people et al..

2 min – won’t be news to most human beings.. but will be to some economists.. if you think about your neighbors/friends.. plenty of ie’s of situations in which you did a very generous/brave thing in which you didn’t expect anything in return..

i think this is the basis of our human nature.. our human econ (Charles Eisenstein).. our human\e constitution.. this no strings.. non-obligatory ness.. that we can’t seem to embrace.. even in good giftedness.. we assume some reciprocity.. and that compromises the whole game..

we have to get closer.. listen deeper.. to find/see the same ness of crazywise (doc) – (Gabor MatéWill Hall, Phil Borges et al)

if we want to really see us.. perhaps begging for a rat park.. experiment.. let’s give it a go..

this is what sociologists/anthropologists..those outside of econ.. used to say to us.. that look you guys.. humans are a complex psychological entity.. both self-interested and altruistically inclined.. and economists said.. give me the data.. and in the last two decades.. the data was produced.. and it was produced largely by economists.. economists doing experiments.. ie: dividing up big pot of money.. showing how people are extraordinarily fair in dividing the pot.. and get very irritated at people who are *unfair. . and are willing to pay **good money to see that those people don’t get away with their unfairness..

*who decides unfair.. and isn’t that a string attached.. i don’t think that’s us..

**my evidence that this experiment is not rat park ness (at least not the one i’m envisioning – with no money).. because using made up money.. to decide how people act..

3 min – these are experiments that have been done all around the world.. 17 diff societies.. including hunters and gatherers..small scale farmers in the amazon and in africa.. as well as college students.. truck drivers.. warehouse workers

the evidence is overwhelming .. that people are .. *just as you would think.. complex psychological human beings given to all kinds of motivations..

*not me.. there’s a ginorm/small glitch here..  judging fair ness changes us..

4 min – when asked why hasn’t taken on then: economists had a 2nd line of defense.. well.. ok .. got these experiments.. and yes they’re persuasive.. but biologically speaking.. an altruistic human being.. a person given to helping others.. just because of sense that he ought to or the joy of doing it.. the kind of person that adam smith discussed in his book – the theory of moral sentiment.. that kind of a person is simply impossible biologically.. economists have said.. because natural selection… is going to favor the people who gain the most.. so the person who is selfish in that sense.. is going to win…

so the second line of my research.. which i began 2 decades ago.. was to explore this particular hypothesis.. that an altruistic individual.. or a cooperative species.. as i call us humans.. could not have evolved..

5 min – once again .. this was based on fundamental mistakes in biology.. and it ignored something fairly obvious.. selfish group vs coop group.. we know who’s going to win.. my research has shown.. quite clearly.. that this model of group competition could have accounted for human beings becoming not only culturally altruistic.. but even genetically pre disposed to do this..

6 min – and that’s why i call my book: a coop species.. i think we have genetically evolved.. so that we have the pre disposition to take on ethical positions and also .. the pure joy of helping others..

the third line of defense is actually a retreat.. what the economists now say.. ok .. we agree about the evidence.. and now see that natural selection could have produced a coop species.. but so what.. why would we do economics differently.. if we knew that *some people had these generous/ethical orientations

*dang.. ugh..has to be all of us.. look/listen deeper..

7 min – the fact of the matter is we’d do it quite differently.. ie: how would labor economics be different .. if we understood that people have a sense of dignity.. and if that is *offended **on the job.. you’re going to have a hard time ***making money off this person.. because they’ll do everything they can to make your life difficult


we can be *unoffendable..

too many **assumptions.. job for pay .. man made.. by some elites.. so messing with your experiment of science of people.. pretty gravely.. no idea what they are actually like..

too many ***abuses/oppressions/compromises.. ie: making money off people..

or suppose we were *studying public econ.. and we thought we were going to design a system of **taxation and how should we administer that..

more assumptions: *school.. *taxation/money

suppose we assume that every taxpayer was doing his/her best to cheat the system all the time.. that kind of system would require tremendous invasions of our privacy.. and it would not use the great resource we have.. which is that *most people … do feel badly about ripping off the system entirely..

more assumptions: *most people..

8 min – take health care.. only for money.. ignores fact that we have many professionals deeply committed to healthcare.. if they decided to work by book and only do what got them money.. we’d all be in serious trouble for our health.

already are.. dang.. so easy to say/see these things this way.. when you’re not on the end of.. ie: not getting health care.. because it costs..

we have evidence in all these areas.. attempts to turn hospitals into mini money making machines.. where everyone is doing it just for the money.. it doesn’t work.. so i think economics has to take on board.. all these changes .. in way in which we model human behavior

9 min – when we say.. joe is doing this because of something he’s trying to accomplish.. we should include the fact that it might be he’s trying to accomplish.. constructing himself as a decent citizen.. or helping his neighbor.. as well as.. he’s probably trying to serve himself well.

only way he can help others..  eudaimoniative surplus.. by one as one.. small is ginorm if authentic.. world needs people to be themselves.. aka: alive

interviewer: i guess the point would be that you can’t model that behavior .. as you pointed out earlier..

yeah.. we can.. we just haven’t yet given it a true go..

10 min – *the difficulty of modeling generous individuals has been greatly exaggerated.. if i’m trying to get as much bread/wine.. can also care for you.. the math is there.. so the difficulty is not that great.. we lack a lot of info.. but of course the great thing is.. is that reality is forcing itself into economics again.. just as it did during great depression..

*perhaps the difficulty is in letting go enough (ie: rat park) to let people be/model their authentic generosity..

11 min – in same facing problems we can’t address.. if we continue with this bankrupt and empirically ungrounded psychological assumption.. that we are simply these self-interest maximizers.. and this is not something which is going go go away.. because the econ into which we are moving.. econ of knowledge/info/ not an econ in which you can motivate people simply by appealing to their self-interest.. require a commitment to doing the job well.. you cannot extract that either by self interest.. or by fear of the whip or fear of the sack.. those things are out

12 min – we no longer have an econ which can be run on those bases.. so we better pay attention to the fact.. that for humanity/economy .. we have a lot of resources to draw on.. *we have to learn how to draw on them in ways which cultivate and empower and bring out.. the good nature of humanity.. and **allow the people who are acting that way to have a big role in determining the equilibrium in the econ and where it’s headed.. instead of letting the few that are just uniquely like homo economicus.. those who are just maximizing.. instead of letting them essentially ruin the thing..

*hosting-life-bits via self-talk as data.. aka: facil the whimsy/curiosity of 7bn people.. everyday.. policy: gershenfeld sel

** has to be all of us.. or it won’t work.. ie: who’s deciding who’s acting *that way.. and who’s deciding what *that way is..

13 min – on policy change: traditional incentives as modeled by economists make a lot of sense for a lot of things.. ie: lot of jobs in econ that people don’t have great desire to do.. cleaning hotel rooms; chopping vegies in back of a restaurant.. whole bunch of things.. *if we’re going to motivate them.. they’re going to have to be well paid.. **there’s just no way around it..

oy.. *assuming.. we need those jobs..  **disengage from those jobs..

we’re not even going deep enough to imagine the day.. as free.. we trying all these things on top of a full day of assumptions..

but the second part is.. the kinds of things that we have to get done now.. have to be accomplished thru some combo of these monetary incentives.. and a sense of inclusion.. wide application.. whether policies for * relations w/in firms among workers/owners.. or in govt bodies..

*assuming we need any of those.. all the inspectors of inspectors..

policy change.. oy

let’s take a hard one.. the environment.. it’s obvious.. that incentives have to be changed.. so that the damage is something people pay for… is that enough..? i don’t think so.. we can’t design laws.. that will take into account all of our environmental effects.. because .. respecting the rights of the individual.. the govt can never know all of the choices we’re going to make that will have those effects

14 min – so the hard nosed policy.. let’s assume everyone is selfish and then try to make them green even though they’re selfish.. forget it.. it will never work.. incentives are part of the story.. but we’ve thrown away a vast resource of human ethical orientation if we think that we can get away with just the incentives..

policy: gershenfeld sel

and here’s the problems.. *sometimes incentives diminish people’s orientation to do things for ethical reasons.. there is a crowding out that goes on when people are offered money for something which they would have done anyway.. motivational crowding out.. and it doesn’t always happen.. **sometimes putting ie: a reward on will actually crowd in.. make things seem more important

this is huge.. has to be *all the time.. we have to find another way.. sans external incentives.. gershenfeld sel

**not buying it..  for humans.. buying it for what we are today.. which is not us.. but if we were all free.. underline all.. it would always be a crowding out

15 min – ie: think of a prizes.. a prize is a pay of some kind.. a subsidy.. why do we think of prizes as something that elevates.. *because prizes don’t look like a compensation for the job.. it looks like an honor.. so **we should have this distinction between incentives which crowd out moral motives and incentives.. like prizes and so on.. recognition which crowd them in .. that distinction itself would help us a whole lot in designing compensation schemes in public and in private sectors.. but also in thinking about an environmentally sustainable future.. and also making good use of the knowledge based econ


**k.. internal and external.. we gotta go there.. we’ve never tried/trusted that/us..

16 min – on improving incentives: that’s right.. and people want to do something about being green *as long as they’re not being ripped off by others.. so there’s always a role for govt intervention to essentially prohibit/limit the kinds of anti environmental activities that people can do.. and to *reward those for protecting the environment

*let’s save energy.. assume good.. w/in a system that is equitable.. based on 2 convos

**i thought you said this wasn’t doable..

deeper.. try gershenfeld sel

17 min – on charitable donations tax deductible: if you’re providing a financial incentive for a contribution.. it may endue some people to contribute who wouldn’t.. but problem is.. *it changes the value of the signal of the contributing.. ie: if neighbors and i both know i got a tax break..

*value report

as we go thru lives.. constantly trying to re constitute ourselves.. as a good person.. in the image we’d like to have.. *we’re constantly creating ourselves again.. and we do these acts like giving.. as a signal not only to others but to ourselves.. **having the money on the table.. often takes that away..

*equity – everyone getting a go everyday.. authentically/eudaimoniously.. not financially..or anything for show..prestige.. exterior

**10 day cares ness

18 min – whether we have it right.. if you think of highly successful funding drives.. there’s always an element of signaling your goodness by doing that.. and sometimes also an element of positive incentive

both are bad for us .. as human beings..

19 min – on selfishness in making yourself feel better about self: my understanding of how econ’s think of this.. we use preferences as reasons why people do things .. given what they believe.. given capacities.. ie: mother theresa.. happy to help kids in calcutta.. therefore mother theresa selfish because getting a kick out of helping.. doesn’t go thru.. selfishness/generosity has to do with the *effects of your actions on others.. if i’m willing to bear a cost to help you.. that’s an altruistic act.. now if i’m motivated to do that because i believe i should for religious/moral/joy reasons.. those are providing the reasons why i performed an unselfish act.. we also have to keep straight in our minds.. people are motivated by altruistic preferences.. the fact that they have altruistic preferences doesn’t cancel their altruism.. it’s the reason they’re acting that way

*who decides that..?


find/follow Sam:

wikipedia small

Samuel Stebbins Bowles (/blz/; born January 6, 1939), is an American economist and Professor Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he continues to teach courses on microeconomics and the theory of institutions. His work belongs to the Neo-Marxian (variably called Post-Marxian) tradition of economic thought; however, his perspective on economics is eclectic and draws on various schools of thought, including what he (and others) refer to as post-Walrasian economics


In 1973, the Economics Department of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where Bowles taught until 2001, hired him along with Herbert Gintis, Stephen Resnick, Richard D. Wolff and Richard Edwards, as part of a “radical package.”

Richard Wolff

Currently, Bowles is a Professor of Economics at the University of Siena, Italy, and the Arthur Spiegel Research Professor and Director of the Behavioral Sciences Program at the Santa Fe Institute in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Additionally, Bowles continues to teach graduate-level courses in microeconomics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.


Bowles has challenged economic theories that free markets and inequality maximize efficiency, and argued that self-interested financial incentives can produce behavior that is inefficient and violates a society’s morality. He has argued that economies with more equality, such as Asian countries, have outperformed economies with more inequality, such as Latin American countries.


On his website at the Santa Fe Institute, he describes his two main academic interests as first, “the co-evolution of preferences, institutions and behavior, with emphasis on the modeling and empirical study of cultural evolution, the importance and evolution of non-self-regarding motives in explaining behavior, and applications of these studies to policy areas such as intellectual property rights, the economics of education and the politics of government redistributive programs.” The second is concerned with “the causes and consequences of economic inequality, with emphasis on the relationship between wealth inequalities, incomplete contracts, and governance of economic transactions in firms, markets, families and communities.”

He frequently collaborates with his former colleague, Herbert Gintis (another Emeritus Professor of Economics from Umass Amherst), both of whom were asked by Martin Luther King Jr. to write background papers for the 1968 Poor People’s March.


In addition, he works with and is supported by The MacArthur Research Network on Preferences, The MacArthur Research Network on the Effects of Inequality on Economic Performance, and the Behavioral Sciences Program at the Santa Fe Institute.

He is the author of numerous scholarly articles and books, among which A cooperative species. Human reciprocity and its evolution (2011) and Schooling in capitalist America: educational reform and the contradictions of economic life, first published in 1976.

Selfishness vs. altruism

Bowles has recently studied the way that people are motivated by selfishness and the desire to maximize their own income, as compared to altruism and the desire to do a good job and be well regarded by others. Real-world experiments show that, contrary to traditional economic theories, market incentives destroy cooperation and are less efficient than voluntary, altruistic behavior “in most cases.”

People act not only for material interests but also “to constitute themselves as dignified, autonomous, and moral individuals,” he wrote.

Behavioral experiments suggest that “economic incentives may be counterproductive when they signal that selfishness is an appropriate response” and “undermine the moral values that lead people to act altruistically.” Bowles gives the example of *day care centers in Haifa, where a fine was imposed on parents who were late picking up their children at the end of the day. Rather than avoiding late pick-ups, parents responded by doubling the fraction of time they arrived late. After 12 weeks the fine was revoked, but the enhanced tardiness persisted unabated. According to Bowles, this illustrates a “kind of negative synergy” between economic incentives and moral behavior. “The fine seems to have undermined the parents’ sense of ethical obligation to avoid inconveniencing the teachers and led them to think of lateness as just another commodity they could purchase.”

*day care centers

Bowles cites research by Ernst Fehr and others establishing that behavioral experiments modeling the voluntary provision of public goods show that *”substantial fractions of most populations adhere to moral rules, willingly give to others, and punish those who offend standards of appropriate behavior, even at a cost to themselves and with no expectation of material reward”.

*i would say.. the other (of substantial fractions and most pops) due to us thinking we still only have means.. for public consensus (which always oppresses someone).. and so those others aren’t not willing.. it’s just they’re being asked .. or only have means .. to be voluntary complianced.. so.. not a case for: it can’t be all of us.. rather a case for.. most of us are not us ness.. ie:  we perpetuate a broken feedback loop by assumptions/supposed to’s based on what we’ve boxed ourselves into..

today we have means.. for a nother way.. we can’t not give that a go..


Inequality vs. economic success

“What is the relationship between inequality and the economic success of nations, firms, and local communities?” Bowles asks. At University of California, Berkeley, he and other researchers have challenged two views long held by most economists: Inequality goes hand-in-hand with a nation’s economic success, and that reducing economic inequalities inevitably compromises efficiency. For instance, he wrote, “East Asian countries with relatively level distributions of income have dramatically outperformed Latin American countries with less equal income distributions. Investments in the nutrition, health, and education of poor children have produced not only more economic opportunity but higher *economic performance.

*talking.. econ performance.. income.. et al.. we are compromising us.. we are doing day care center ness

Indeed, emerging economic theory suggests that inequality may have adverse effects, blunting productive incentives and fueling costly conflicts between haves and have-nots.”

bets we get back to equity to mean: everyone getting a go everyday.. now that we have means to facil that chaos..

The traditional debate has been polarized, Bowles said, between ideal models of equality that overlooked the role of incentives, and idealized models of the private market that overlooked inequality.

The Berkeley group studied four questions:

  1. How does inequality affect cooperation in local communities, and impact the local environment and other public goods, like irrigation water, neighborhood safety and other residential amenities, fisheries, forestry, and grazing lands?
  2. How do inequalities affect the efficiency and productivity of farms, firms, and other entities, and are there more efficient forms of governance that can be promoted?
  3. How do economic disparities among citizens affect bargaining, policy making, and economic performance at a national level?
  4. What principles can guide the design of efficient and politically viable policies to alleviate poverty and enhance economic opportunity for the less well off?


perhaps we’ve not yet seen equity because incentive for a human being to be/become authentically themselves.. (which is what we need .. 7bn+ alive/awake people).. begs to be 100% intrinsic..

perhaps (via 10 day cares thinking) we need a rat park experiment for humans.. to detox us back to us/sync.. before we started ie: making up money et al and started losing/compromising our indigenous bearings..


via michel fb
“Sam Bowles talks to Jim about his book, A Cooperative Species: Human Reciprocity and Its Evolution, co-authored with Herbert Gintis. They start by exploring cooperation in hunter-gatherer living: how human cooperation is different from other species’, collaboration needed for big game hunting, egalitarianism & competition, hierarchy myths, impacts of weapons, how far cooperation goes back in history, the size & make-up of cooperative groups, altruism, and prerequisites for group selection. They then talk about collaboration in cultures more broadly: the wonder of nationalism, the pros of external threat, cultural progress, leadership, paradoxes of the prisoner’s dilemma, differences in cultural cooperation, the “civilizing force of markets”, game theory, punishing free-riders, the limitations of unconditional generosity, and more.”


total skim listened.. like.. not even

re re reading debt (book) – so.. yeah.. not even