"Some Men Just Want to Watch the World Burn"
By Garett Jones
A claim confirmed repeatedly in experiments:
In the destructor game, players are randomly paired and assigned the roles of destructor versus passive player. The destructor player chooses to destroy or not to destroy a share of his passive partner’s earnings….15% of the subjects choose to destroy. This result suggests that, at least for some, destruction is intrinsically pleasurable.
Another paper shows it’s probably not just because they’re fighting inequality. If anything, they’re creating more of it:
[N]ot only do the richest subjects in the experiments by Fehr and Gächter (2002) punish other weakly poorer players, they do so even [more] than subjects who are not among the richest…
If confirmed, how should this influence our view of the global elite? The authors of this second paper provide this understated conclusion:
[T]he desire to equalize payoffs is not a major determinant of antisocial punishment.
Abbink and Sadrieh find that when people can hide their actions,
money is destroyed in almost 40% of all decisions. We attribute this behavior to a visceral pleasure of being nasty.
Anonymity boosts money-burning.
Sure, plenty of evolutionary psychology explanations are possible, but I’m interested in how this should inform public choice.
How much of politics is caused by the “visceral pleasure of being nasty?” Since voters might not be too honest about the topic if you asked them outright, this topic seems ripe for a neuroscience experiment. And note that this would be something a bit different from simply a “politics of envy.”
1. Does voting provide the kind of anonymity that boosts money-burning? I’d love to see the results of that experiment (If it’s been done, please note in the comments).
2. Do the complicated belief bundles we call “political platforms” let us delude ourselves that we’re not really trying to burn the other team’s money? This could be tested in experiments, but one could check to see whether voter referenda (typically limited to one issue) involve less money-burning than the typical party platform.
The question of how the urge to destroy wealth influences politics is still underexplored.