Why were the East Germans more likely to cheat?
In a recent Economist piece called “Lying Commies,” the authors report:
“Under capitalism”, ran the old Soviet-era joke, “man exploits man. Under communism it is just the opposite.” In fact new research suggests that the Soviet system inspired not just sarcasm but cheating too: in East Germany, at least, communism appears to have inculcated moral laxity.
Lars Hornuf of the University of Munich and Dan Ariely, Ximena García-Rada and Heather Mann of Duke University ran an experiment last year to test Germans’ willingness to lie for personal gain. Some 250 Berliners were randomly selected to take part in a game where they could win up to €6 ($8).
After finishing the game, the players had to fill in a form that asked their age and the part of Germany where they had lived in different decades. The authors found that, on average, those who had East German roots cheated twice as much as those who had grown up in West Germany under capitalism. They also looked at how much time people had spent in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The longer the participants had been exposed to socialism, the greater the likelihood that they would claim improbable numbers of high rolls.
But the authors make no attempt to explain why this is so. As you can see, they write: “The study reveals nothing about the nature of the link between socialism and dishonesty.”
Might we find at least clues to an answer in the work of Jane Jacobs? Specifically, in Systems of Survival, she offers the following heuristic to show us how different people arrive at different types of moral frameworks depending on how the incentives systems are set up to benefit their survival. (I would add that these moral “syndromes” are also good psychological dispositions for shoring up hierarchies or transitioning to networks, respectively.)
|Guardian Syndrome||Commerce Syndrome|
Be obedient and disciplined
Adhere to tradition
Deceive for the sake of the task
Make rich use of leisure
Be open to inventiveness and novelty
Use initiative and enterprise
Come to voluntary agreements
Dissent for the sake of the task
Invest for productive purposes
Collaborate easily with strangers and aliens
Promote comfort and convenience
Notice anything about guardian syndrome that unpacks both the behavior of East German socialists, as well as those involved in politics and bureaucratic hierarchies in general?
ABOUT MAX BORDERS
Max Borders is the editor of The Freeman and director of content for FEE. He is also co-founder of the event experience Voice & Exit and author of Superwealth: Why we should stop worrying about the gap between rich and poor.