by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Three Duke researchers (Dan Ariely, Ximena Garcia-Rada, and Heather Mann) and a University of Munich colleague have an interesting new research finding, summarized here:
By running an experiment among Germans collecting their passports or ID cards in the citizen centers of Berlin, we find that individuals with an East German family background cheat significantly more on an abstract task than those with a West German family background. The longer individuals were exposed to socialism, the more likely they were to cheat on our task. While it was recently argued that markets decay morals (Falk and Szech, 2013), we provide evidence that other political and economic regimes such as socialism might have an even more detrimental effect on individuals’ behavior.
Zenon Evans reports on the new research findings for Reason‘s blog.
The results were that “East Germans cheated twice as much as West Germans overall,” leaving the researchers to conclude the “the political regime of socialism has a lasting impact on citizens’ basic morality.”
The paper discusses some potentially related reasons for the outcome, such as the fact that
socialist systems have been characterized by extensive scarcity, which ultimately led to the collapse of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in East Germany. In many instances, socialism pressured or forced people to work around official laws. For instance, in East Germany stealing a load of building materials in order to trade it for a television set might have been the only way for a driver of gravel loads to connect to the outside world. Moreover, socialist systems have been characterized by a high degree of infiltration by the intelligence apparatus.
The Duke-Munich team positions their work against a 2013 study, “Of Morals, Markets and Mice,” which concluded “that market economies decay morals” but “compared decisions in bilateral and multilateral market settings to individual decisions rather than an alternative economic allocation mechanism.” The new research finds that “political and economic regimes such as socialism might have an even more detrimental effect on individuals’ behavior.”
In another aspect of the study, the researchers note that “we did not observe an overall difference between East and West Germans in pro-social behavior,” such as donating to hospitals, the capitalist-influenced demographic does, in fact, donate marginally more.