Friday, July 25, 2008

Thinking about Vengeance

Over time, economists have been trying to answer questions that revolve around incentives. The research has started to expand into many fields, and answer questions that go far beyond monetary policy. I know, what’s more exciting than monetary policy? But, hold on.


The further economists probe into the questions of incentives for wine choices, dating, crime, and other non-monetary venues, the more hatred is spewed upon them from other academic fields. Psychologists, ecologists, biologists…take your pick, and no matter how hard an economist has tried to garner them as co-writers, the hate will spew forth.


The man whom I predict will receive the latest in inter-academic wrath will be Naci H. Mocan, who has just released a working paper regarding vengeance. He writes in the abstract that:


Females, older people, working people, people who live in high-crime areas of their country and people who are at the bottom 50% of their country's income distribution are more vengeful. The intensity of vengeful feelings dies off gradually over time. The findings suggest that vengeful feelings of people are subdued as a country develops economically and becomes more stable politically and socially and that both country characteristics and personal attributes are important determinants of vengeance.


It is important we understand that while Mocan is speaking of crime, he is not writing about terrorism.


You see, recently we had a change in conventional wisdom about terrorists. We used to think they latched on to terrorism because they had no jobs. Then, we started noticing that acts of terrorism were being carried out by people who were not exactly desperate for money, per se. Even Osama Bin Laden has gone to college.


The separation between terrorist and vengeful poor guy really comes from a state of mind. If the information that has been coming out lately is right, then the vengeful poor are vengeful because of actual economic reasons. “Class warfare” is a term that everybody hates, so I’ll use it. It seems as though terrorists don’t have to worry about the same thing that the vengeful poor do, so they have time to develop religious psychoses regarding desert land whose wealth is defined by the supply of a substance (oil) that would have no where near the value if the rest of the world was not as “secular” as it is.


The “cause” is a piece of land roughly the size of New Jersey; of course I’m talking about Israel. So, we have sovereign countries in oil rich land that want to retake land that has only religious significance. I understand that my use of the phrase “only religious” is a bit underestimating considering that wars have been started over religious grounds.


I think what we learn here is that vengeance comes to those who feel slighted, or cheated in some way. People who feel that the current system is stacked against them will most likely feel vengeful. Their outlying of the system can come either economically, or religiously.
Maybe we need to look at what people everywhere see as unfair because those who feel that they are treated most unfairly will seek to remedy their situations in some of the direst of manners.


(By the way, I started writing a week ago on Thursday, July 17th, but apparently Stephen Dubner subscribes to the same email lists I do.)

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