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Frans B. M. de Waal Joint Ventures Require Joint Payoffs: Fairness among Primates WALL STREET IS SOMETIMES COMPARED TO A DARWINIAN JUNGLE. Nice guys finish last, it is said, and only the strong survive. This is an adequate enough description, but not entirely true, neither for the stock market nor for life in the jungle. When Richard Grasso, head of the New York Stock Exchange, revealed a pay package for him self of close to $200 million, there was public outciy. As it happened, on the very same day that Grasso was forced to resign, my team published a study on monkey fairness. Commentators could not resist contrast­ ing Grasso with capuchin monkeys, suggesting he could have learned a thing or two from them (Surowiecki, 2003). Obviously, in a social system built on individual strength, the strong have an advantage. But as soon as the system introduces addi­ tional factors relevant for survival, the picture changes. The present topic of fairness deals with the influence of cooperation: obviously there would be no need to worry about fairness if eveiyone acted inde­ pendently. Cooperation is widespread in the animal kingdom. Even the simple act of living together represents cooperation. In the absence of predators or enemies, animals do not need to stick together, and they would in fact be better off living alone. The first reason for group life is security. On top of this, many animals actively pursue common goals. By working together they attain benefits they could not attain alone. This social research Vol 73 : No 2 : Summer 2006 349 means that each individual needs to monitor the division of spoils. Why would one lioness help another bring down a wildebeest if the other always claims the carcass for herself and her cubs? One cannot have joint efforts without joint payoffs. With cooperation comes sensi­ tivity to who gets what for how much effort. When we became coop­ erative animals, we abandoned the right-of-the-strongest principle and moved on to a right-of-the-contributor principle. The latter is no less Darwinian than the former. Not all econom ists recognize our cooperative side, though. People are seen as profit maximizers driven by pure selfishness. In Thomas Hobbes’s words, “Every man is presumed to seek what is good for himselfe naturally, and what is just, only for Peaces sake, and acci­ dentally” (Hobbes, 1651, part iii). In this view, sociality is but an after­ thought, a “social contract” that our ancestors entered into because of its benefits, not because they were attracted to each other. For the biologist, this imaginary history is as wide off the mark as can be. We descend from a long line o f group-living primates, meaning that we are naturally equipped with a strong desire to fit in and find part­ ners to live and work with. This evolutionary framework is gaining ground within economics under the influence of a new school, known as behavioral economics, which focuses on actual human behavior rather than marketplace abstractions. Behavioral economists are the children of Adam Smith, but not the one who wrote about the pursuit of self-interest in The Wealth ofNations. They rather follow the one who wrote A Theory of Moral Sentiments. This is, of course, the same Adam Smith, but in this other major work, rarely read in business schools, Smith emphasized sympathy and the way kindness begets kindness (Smith, 1759). Animal behavioral economics is a fledgling field that lends support to the new theories by showing that basic human economic tendencies and preoccupations—such as reciprocity, the division of rewards, and incentives for cooperation—are not limited to our species. They probably evolved in other animals for the same reasons as in us. This is why Rawls (1972), who is so popular in the social sciences and 350 social research philosophy, actually asked the wrong question. Rawls explored assump­ tions underlying a fair society without showing much interest in the actual evolutionary trajectory that has led our species to its concern about fairness and justice. This concern was taken for granted. But the real question is not to what degree we care about fairness, but how we came to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-768X
Print ISSN
0037-783X
Pages
pp. 349-364
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-30
Open Access
No
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