Monkeys reject unequal pay

by on August 21, 2012 at 7:25 am in Economics, Science | Permalink

Greg Mankiw points us to this revealing video from Frans de Waal. This is an excerpt from a longer TED video, also excellent.

Turing Test August 21, 2012 at 8:37 am

So Hume was right. This is strong evidence that our sense of fairness and ethics is more biological and emotional than rational

john personna August 21, 2012 at 9:44 am

I liked “Descartes’ Error” by Damásio. Even Pinker’s “The Blank Slate” was not bad on this. There is a human nature, which can be viewed from an economic perspective, but I think the “rational” and “economic” labels can obscure the big picture. If we want a happy human society we shouldn’t try to constrain human nature first, as ideology.

Cliff August 21, 2012 at 12:08 pm

Seems entirely rational to me.

MD August 21, 2012 at 12:58 pm

It is quite logical.

Matt August 24, 2012 at 7:29 am

I find Korsgaard convincing on this point: evolutionary theories might explain why we react in the ways we do, but if that’s all there is to say about ethics then it won’t survive the explanation. Once you know that your moral responses are nothing but conditioned responses based on what was advantageous to (some of) your ancestors, will you be motivated to continue to act in accordance?

Brian Donohue August 24, 2012 at 3:26 pm

What happens when you come to grips with the illusion of free will?

Matt August 26, 2012 at 2:29 am

You either decide that the analysis that yields the illusion is wrong, or you come up with an account that allows us to continue to live as if we have fre will…

Robert August 21, 2012 at 8:39 am

Try it with a libertarian monkey.

Andrew' August 21, 2012 at 8:45 am

You mean one not in a cage? You’d better hope he signed the non-aggression pact. You know how primates roll, right? Face and genitalia.

john personna August 21, 2012 at 9:50 am

Libertarian-ism couldn’t be invented until there was a strong state to police civil contracts, so, impossible.

Andrew' August 21, 2012 at 10:07 am

Nah. The State, even in it’s obese state, is crap on policing civil contracts. They basically rely on mythological threats. We are pretty much on our own. What it does is increase the cost of anarchic resolution of disputes.

david August 21, 2012 at 10:45 am

Mythological? You do have decently reliable courts and commercial jurisprudence, yes?

A state that is crap at policing civil contracts looks a lot more like Central Asia today, where the only capital accumulation that occurs is that which can be protected via family and tribe.

Andrew' August 21, 2012 at 11:03 am

I have been involved with one civil suit in my life (and it was crap). The rest of the effect, if there has been any has been due to the threat of suit, not actual suit. For 40% of GDP, what we get is yes, mostly mythological and crap.

dereke August 21, 2012 at 12:20 pm

Yes mythological. A good rule of thumb is if you depend on lawyers to collect, you are out of business.

It is more a societal agreement that paying what you owe is moral and right. That is why this nonsense that we have seen over the last decade will have far lasting effects. Bailing out the banks and figuring out ways of getting people out of money owed sounds great until you end up with what are commonly used to accuse Libertarians. Broken societies with no unwritten rules of conduct resulting from usually left leaning policies taken to their natural conclusion.

john personna August 21, 2012 at 1:20 pm

When you get into “societal agreements” you need to look at tribal rules for wealth and/or bounty. Those actually look pretty “left wing” from the current perspective. He who brings down an antelope shares, because he may not be the one next time.

kebko August 21, 2012 at 4:00 pm

That must be why people we refer to as “tribes” live lives of routine abundance.

kebko August 21, 2012 at 4:02 pm

And, I agree with Andrew’. Small business already exist in an anarchic legal framework for the most part. If you get taken for less than $100,000 in a small business, every lawyer is going to tell you it’s not worth fighting. But contracts are routinely honored for other reasons.

john personna August 21, 2012 at 6:22 pm

Many tribes did live lives of plenty and leisure. Remember, before farmers, farmers did not have the best land. See the paleo-diet folks for a comparison in strength and fitness between pre-agricultural peoples and post.

kebko August 21, 2012 at 6:52 pm

Why did you move to past tense? Where are the wealthy tribes today?

john pesonna August 22, 2012 at 11:46 am

I started with human nature and human beginnings. I didn’t realize you’d changed topics. As far as current human societies go, I’d note that market democracies do well, but that American commentators have an unfortunate unwillingness to look at what works well in say Denmark or Germany. It’s a “pretend this is planet America and we make up our counterfactuals” thing.

Rahul August 21, 2012 at 10:55 am

A libertarian monkey would probably believe that the other monkey deserved his grape because he was smarter or more hardworking or some such……..

Andrew' August 21, 2012 at 11:17 am

The monkey in the video is the libertarian monkey and what he is saying is “I reject your arbitrary fiat currency.”

Andrew' August 21, 2012 at 11:53 am

Rahul, here is Larry David explaining the question from yesterday

http://comediansincarsgettingcoffee.com/larry-david-larry-eats-a-pancake/anti-semitic-tipping

Rahul August 22, 2012 at 1:14 pm

Thanks! Very funny.

Kevin August 21, 2012 at 9:01 am

One might wish the median voter could have evolved past such base reactions in the preceding X millions of years.

j r August 21, 2012 at 9:18 am

Why? In a single iteration game, it is rational to take what you can get. Over multiple iterations, however, it is reasonable to set a precedent. It is especially reasonable considering that most of human evolution happened while living in small, pre-market communities.

celestus August 21, 2012 at 9:05 am

What is the per capita GDP of a capuchin monkey society?

Rahul August 21, 2012 at 9:08 am

An interesting offshoot would be to test how many times the monkey rejects the cucumber before it resigns to its fate. Even a cucumber is better than no treat at all.

Alex Tabarrok August 21, 2012 at 9:14 am

There is actually a hint of that in the video. de Waal says that he did this experiment using new monkeys who have never done the task “thinking that we would have a stronger reaction.” Thus, suggesting that the monkeys get used to inequality.

Rahul August 21, 2012 at 9:20 am

Gotcha! I didn’t make that connection.

Another perverse modification might be to reward the other monkey for a stone fetched. Wonder if they can figure out a quid-pro-quo strategy……

Brian Donohue August 22, 2012 at 12:24 am

Why do you express it that way? In a grape-free world, the monkey was perfectly happy to be paid in cucumbers, according to the video.

Jesus has a parable that is spot-on here.

Brian Donohue August 22, 2012 at 12:27 am

In other words: hedonic treadmill?

dead serious August 23, 2012 at 11:34 am

Everything’s relative?

derre August 21, 2012 at 9:26 am

Women and men with less testosterone tend to accept more unequal deals. Not accepting is an aggression. I think that unequal deals are accepted more often if they are more anonymous. On the other hand, if somebody earns her big part and the other is given a very small amount for free, that other one might be satisfied.

Andrew' August 21, 2012 at 9:27 am

Inequality or sticky wages?

sam August 21, 2012 at 11:41 am

+1
This is a perfect illustration of the same fairness “Animal Spirits” Akerlof and Shiller wrote about as one behavioral basis for sticky-wages.

Jonathan August 21, 2012 at 9:36 am

Less a distaste for inequality than an enforcement of the law of one price. The monkey withholds labor to arbitrage the price in a tatonnement procedure.

john personnaa August 21, 2012 at 9:46 am

I agree with “the law of one price” but I’d guess the monkey sees it as a rank/status demand.

fckw August 22, 2012 at 6:46 am

It doesn’t withhold labour, it still returns the stone every time.

Ray Lopez August 21, 2012 at 10:08 am

Anthropomorphic projection. In fact, the monkey is simply upset that it is getting less attention from the human, it has nothing to do with rewards. Try it with a robotic feeder and see if there’s a difference. In other news: how would you like it if you got a 2000x return on your money in 8 years? Ohhhh hoooo hooo hooo ha ha ha ha!

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Bill S. August 21, 2012 at 10:28 am

I wonder how much this has to do with the fact that these monkeys are Franciscans.

AMok August 21, 2012 at 10:30 am

made my day, thx for share lol

Derek August 21, 2012 at 10:40 am

Reminds me of a unionized workplace I fled from as soon as I could.

Yancey Ward August 21, 2012 at 11:03 am

They should redo the experiment where both monkeys get grapes in equal amounts, but where the effort is unequal, and see what happens.

MPS August 21, 2012 at 11:07 am

I’m not sure how many people really think there should be equal pay for unequal work. But I also don’t think we should be taking social advice from monkeys.

Yancey Ward August 21, 2012 at 11:56 am

I am not sure either, but I do know lots and lots of people who object strenuously to differentials in pay between individuals with nominally equal job titles.

Zlati Petrov August 21, 2012 at 11:41 am

What happens if they do unequal tasks though, or perform them unequally well?

In this case they do the same thing about equally well. Why shouldn’t they demand about equal reward, especially given that a precedent has been set previously?

The researchers violated the precedent and the meritocracy.

These kinds of reactions make intuitive sense in the circumstances.

Alexei Sadeski August 21, 2012 at 12:18 pm

Woah woah woah.

This is horizontal inequality, not vertical! Horizontal is unequal pay for equal work, which isn’t really an issue in the OECD (unless you listen to feminists).

1% protestors complained of vertical inequality, unequal pay for unequal work, which is of course ridiculous and not something which monkeys or humans normally get fired up over.

Rahul August 21, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Fine. Let’s repeat experiment by giving one monkey red stones to fetch.

Think that’ll prevent the cucumber throwing rage?

axa August 21, 2012 at 12:33 pm

I was at a Frans de Waal talk last year. First conclusion may be right, moral behavior have a strong biologic component. Then you realize that research results based on 20-30 monkeys. Research results as they were presented, show that all the monkeys behave the same way and have a sense of fairness. Frans de Waal rejected to talk about inidividual differences among the monkeys. Problems arise when Frans de Waal based on this incomplete research and dishonest way of showing results tries to give advice on “economics” and how wealth should be distributed.

Scientists do research and publish papers. Frans de Waal quit doing research ten years ago and started a career as a book writer and speaker.

dswarts August 21, 2012 at 1:19 pm

The goal is teasing out the commonalities underlying behavior which can be construed reflect aspects of economics. You may disagree with his results, but he clearly is still doing peer reviewed scientific research.
For example:

1: Horner V, Carter JD, Suchak M, de Waal FB. Spontaneous prosocial choice by
chimpanzees. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Aug 16;108(33):13847-51. Epub 2011
Aug 8. PubMed PMID: 21825175; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3158226.

2: Romero T, Castellanos MA, de Waal FB. Post-conflict affiliation by chimpanzees
with aggressors: other-oriented versus selfish political strategy. PLoS One.
2011;6(7):e22173. Epub 2011 Jul 20. PubMed PMID: 21799788; PubMed Central PMCID:
PMC3140506.

3: Campbell MW, de Waal FB. Ingroup-outgroup bias in contagious yawning by
chimpanzees supports link to empathy. PLoS One. 2011 Apr 6;6(4):e18283. PubMed
PMID: 21494669; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3071812.

misterxroboto August 21, 2012 at 1:43 pm

I’ve seen this type of thing before and the experiment does not show what people seem to think it does. It’s not fairness. To test fairness, the monkey getting the grape should /also/ protest, in favor of the other monkey’s unfair treatment.

It does show that monkeys reject being slighted. They are self-interested, not fair.

Brandon T. August 21, 2012 at 10:01 pm

If philosophers regularly had children, we wouldn’t be surprised by this.

Vangel August 22, 2012 at 7:54 am

A perfectly good example of why government meddling is not required; a system where people who do the same things are rewarded differently is not stable.

Pete August 22, 2012 at 5:00 pm

Just like the Keynesian theory is short term minded, so too is the Keynesian interpretation of this experiment by Mankiw and Cowen.

If the experiment runs long enough, the monkey who is given cucumbers is eventually going to get hungry and it will start accepting cucumbers, even if he prefers grapes ceteris paribus.

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