Howard Rheingold's 2005 TED Talk

By Robert Link, published at 1 October 2008 - 1:25pm, last updated 8 years 30 weeks ago.

Not the first time I've been late to the party, and if you haven't already seen Howard's 2005 TED Talk, take a look now.

Around minute 9 Howard says,

"The fundamental basis of neo-classic economics would tell you it's irrational to reject a dollar because somebody you don't know in another room is going to get ninety-nine."

I think Howard is right that this is accepted wisdom in some circles, but so is spontaneous generation. The experiment as described does nothing to counter deep, culturally ingrained drives toward fairness. Those drives in turn are born of reinforced fear of reprisal or reinforced reward to compliance or other such societal programming, but in any case these drives are not made ineffective by the terms of the experiment. To describe the result here as irrational really begs the question of what is rational behavior, illegitimately discounting the socialized preference for fairness as if such a widespread and verifiable phenomenon could exist separate from a structured system of reinforcements. It is no far stretch to say that adherence to social norms of fairness may well represent "more utiles" than the utiles represented by even the full one hundred dollars.