Friday, April 1, 2011

Survival Strategy: the kindness of strangers

Hat tip MR.

If it were not bad enough that we will have the Greatest Generation 2 in charge, there are other reasons to be concerned about how unhelpful people are likely to become if our current society is put under economic pressure.

This paper considers the decision of Gentiles whether or not to rescue Jews during the Holocaust, a situation of altruistic behavior under life-or-death stakes. I examine the role to which economic factors may have influenced the decision to be a rescuer. Using cross-country data, and detailed individual-level data on rescuers and non-rescuers, I find that (1) Richer countries had many more rescuers than poorer ones, and (2) Within countries, richer people were more likely to be rescuers than poorer people. The individual-level effect of income on being a rescuer remains significant after controlling for ease of rescue variables, such as the number of rooms in one's home, suggesting that the correlation of income and rescue is not solely driven by richer people having more resources for rescue. Given that richer people might be thought to have more to lose by rescuing, the evidence is consistent with the view that altruism increases in income. From Mitchell Hoffman, Does Higher Income make You More Altruistic?  Evidence from the Holocaust, The Review of Economics and Statistics.
You cannot get a much more stressful situation then protecting Jews from the Nazis.  It is definitely a situation where you learn people’s inner qualities.  It appears that people within wealthier societies also learn how to be more altruistic.  I suspect it is linked in with our (biological?) propensity toward gift giving as a social mechanism toward status.

In our society, in monetary terms, the poor give more than the wealthy, and conservatives give more than liberals.  But this one is not a money issue.   My suspicion is that the working productive poor will by habit continue to me more generous within their group.  But would not too surprising to see the overall level of altruism go down.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Hoffman's view is rubbish. Poor people tend to be proportionately more generous than rich people. Rich people tend to be generous to a wider range of beneficiaries. I think it is a case of identification. The poor generally identify directly with the beneficiaries that they help, and the rich tend to identify with the idea of doing the right thing as a quality of their personal identity.

russell1200 said...

If you look at my last paragraph-granted not his-you will see that I am in sympathy with your view. I particularly like your comment on motivation.

But rubbish might be a bit strong. It may be worth considering that at the one-on-one level (versus money) the Jews were seen too much as competitors by the less wealthy and thus they were less likely to help them. It would be analogous to the reason why poor, previously non-slave holding whites in my part of the country did not always join together with the former-slaves who were in very similar situation to them. [Of course -then again- sometimes they did, but that makes certain power elites around here uncomfortable].

I am taking him at the holistic level as well as the individual. The United States is a very generous country (at times), but we also are more capable at all levels- rich and poor - of being generous.

So what I take from his research is a concern that, as our societies lose their wealth, there will be a tendency to fall apart, rather than work harder together.

It gives us some data. Data is not destiny.