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Our Better Angels: What We Lose When We Assume People Are Bad

What are the costs when we design our public and economic policies to focus on the crooks and wrongdoers? Sam Bowles, a behavioral economist and author of The Moral Economy: Why Good Incentives Are No Substitute for Good Citizens, says it’s a mistake to focus on the bad, and to ignore the good in people. “Self-interest in markets and in relations with government isn’t going to be a good way to organize the future,” says Bowles. “[COVID-19] tells us that we have to rely on other things — communities, neighborhoods, obligations we have to each other — which are not self-interested. That’s what we’re seeing is fundamentally getting people through this.”

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