When Honesty Is Disincentivized, Don’t Be Surprised That Trickery Abounds
Appreciating cultural nuances is difficult without understanding the stories that provide insight into a society’s soul. Stories reflect a nation’s values, aspirations, and ideals. Songs, poems, and literature illuminate the tastes of citizens and even political and economic preferences. Economist and polymath Deidre McCloskey in her bourgeois trilogy argues that the evolution of a promarket rhetoric was central to the wealth explosion in the West.
Indeed, economists are becoming amenable to cultural explanations for differences in development. However, few explore how engaging national tales can aid the development process by availing information that fills the gaps in official narratives. Stories help to bridge the gap between experts and locals by tackling sensitive issues.
The failure of reforms in some countries exhaust international experts, but if they read stories extolling the virtues of dishonesty and trickery, then they would appreciate why proposals to improve governance are usually futile. Tales of deception are universal, but trust is higher in countries where tricksters are rewarded. A story lionizing the escapades of a trickster may indicate that dishonesty is valued, and an effect of endorsing dishonesty is tolerance for corruption.
But on a deeper note, the implicit message of stories that laud trickery is that playing by the rules is punitive. Therefore, tales with tricksters as heroes are highlighting the rotten nature of institutions. So, the real problem is that people are badly incentivized in societies where trickery is embraced. When bad behavior is rewarded, decent people are discouraged from following the rules, since doing so is costly.
Article from Mises Wire