Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Myth Of The Ring Of Gyges And Insider Trading By Congressional Staffers

See What Conflict of Interest? How Power Blinds Us to Our Flaws from The Wall Street Journal. As the article says "...prohibitions on insider trading generally don't apply to Congress." And they only have to report their trades once a year. They can make trades based on information most people don't have. Here are some exerpts from the article:

""Power makes people feel both psychologically invincible and psychologically invisible," adds Adam Galinsky, a professor of organizational behavior at Northwestern University's business school.

Power, explains Prof. Galinsky, focuses people on their own internal goals—blinding them, in the process, to how others may view them. In Plato's "Republic," Socrates invokes the myth of the ring of Gyges, which conferred upon its wearer the power of being invisible to others. If we wear such a ring at will, Socrates says, "No man would keep his hands off what was not his own when he could safely take what he liked."

Being in a position of power also may make people feel that they can do no wrong. In recent experiments, Dana Carney, a psychologist at Columbia University's business school, has found that acquiring power makes people more comfortable committing acts they might otherwise be reluctant to commit, like lying or cheating. As people rise to a position of power, she has shown, their bodies generate more testosterone, a hormone associated with aggression and risk-taking, and less cortisol, a chemical that the body generates in response to stress.

"Having power changes you physiologically, reducing your body's internal feedback that tells you which actions are good or bad," says Prof. Carney. "Power temporarily intoxicates you.""

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Being Able To Tell Stories May Help The Economy

I saw this in an article in The Chronicle Of Higher Education. See The Creative Campus: Time for a 'C' Change by Elizabeth Long Lingo and Steven J. Tepper. Here is the exerpt that I found interesting:

"Can administrators afford, amid the pressing demands on their funds, to reorganize their colleges around creativity? Can they afford not to?

First, there is a growing consensus that America's economy will be increasingly based on creativity, or what the writer Daniel H. Pink calls "high touch" and "high concept" skills. Many existing high-tech and white-collar jobs—basic computer programming, accounting, data­­base management, routine scientific work—may be exported abroad in the coming years. To stay competitive, America will need to draw on its ability to tell stories, create visually compelling messages and designs, come up with new ways to organize and synthesize information, and invent programs and businesses to solve complicated social problems or tap emerging markets. Business leaders are demanding those skills. A recent IBM poll of global CEO's ranked creativity as the most important factor for future success. And while there will always be jobs in service industries, many of the highest-paying jobs will be in the creative sector."

This reminded me of a story in the Chronicle from earlier in the year about the famous biologist E. O. Wilson, who had just written his first novel. Why did he write the novel? "He says it came to him as an insight about effective science communication that "people want a story, and you get a much larger audience when you tell a story, and the best way to tell a story is with fiction, a novel." But it was challenging for the life-long scientist to tell one." (See the May 30, 2010 issue, "For E.O. Wilson, a Lifetime of Science Feeds Into Fiction"-you probably need a subscription to read it online)

So stories help the economy and even scientists recognize that people want a story. Maybe evolution somehow shaped us that way.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mario Vargas Llosa, Nobel Prize Winner In Literature, Says Stories And Fiction Are Critically Important For Promoting Liberty And Fighting Prejudice

Myths are stories. So I enjoyed reading Emily Parker's article in the Wall Street Journal about Vargas Llosa. See Vargas Llosa and the Value of Literature: His work is a rebuttal to those who believe that fiction exists on the periphery of history and politics. He also has opinions on economics. Here are some excerpts from the article:

"In a New Republic essay in 2001, Mr. Vargas Llosa argued for granting literature "an important place in the life of nations." He wrote, "Without it, the critical mind, which is the real engine of historical change and the best protector of liberty, would suffer an irreparable loss.""

"Mr. Vargas Llosa's novels reflect his deep, personal hatred of dictatorships and his staunch belief in the value of individual liberty."

"He unsuccessfully ran for president of Peru in 1990, losing to Alberto Fujimori. During the campaign Mr. Vargas Llosa gained notoriety for his emphasis on a market economy, free trade and private property."

"As Mr. Vargas Llosa wrote in his 2001 essay about literature, "Nothing better protects a human being against the stupidity of prejudice, racism, religious or political sectarianism, and exclusivist nationalism than this truth that invariably appears in great literature: that men and women of all nations and places are essentially equal.""

I hope all this is true. It is possible that fiction could promote dictatorship and bigotry. Perhaps on balance fiction does more good than harm.

It is interesting that Adam Smith's personal collection of books did not contain any prose fiction (see sources).

Here is an example of the power of fiction. It is from Social Networking Affects Brains Like Falling in Love.

"Two researchers from Washington University in St. Louis scanned the brains of fiction readers and discovered that their test subjects created intense, graphic mental simulations of the sights, sounds, movements, and tastes they encountered in the narrative. In essence, their brains reacted as if they were actually living the events they were reading about."


Review: Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations
Author(s): Donald White
Source: Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 37, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec., 1976), pp. 715-720
Published by: University of Pennsylvania PressStable