Free Markets Make People More Fair

Ronald Bailey at Reason Magazine comments on an interesting study that shows that free markets cause people to treat each other more fairly. Bailey has discussed similar ideas previously.

Are people innately fair-minded or is it learned behavior? A fascinating new study, “Markets, Religion, Community Size, and the Evolution of Fairness and Punishment,” that is a big step toward resolving this question is being published today in the journal Science [subscription required]. The researchers find strong evidence that market institutions cause people to treat each other, especially, strangers more fairly. The research is based on the results of behaviorial experiments in 15 different societies which have varying amounts of integration into markets.

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This is exactly the sort of argument that libertarian thinker and economics Nobelist Friedrich Hayek made, especially in his last book, The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism. Successful societies are those that adopt market norms and they tend over time to outcompete societies organized in more primitive top-down ways. The upshot is that efforts to extract people from markets (e.g., communism, socialism, fascism) encourage them to revert to the innate savagery of dealing fairly only with kin and fellow tribespeople.

Definitely worth the read: get the whole thing here, and the press release for the study here.

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