The "I`ll See You in Hell" Syndrome
June 01, 2008, 12:16 AM
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Dennis Mangan points to a WSJ article on a new behavioral economics study in which college students in 16 cities around the world played a positive sum game in which everybody benefited if nobody freeloaded.

Not surprisingly, players in all countries chose to give up some money to punish freeloaders. The difference was in how the freeloaders reacted to being punished. In prosperous countries, the cheaters tended to respond to punishment by mending their ways. In the more uproarious countries, however, the bad guys just got mad and hit back.

Among students in the U.S., Switzerland, China and the U.K., those identified as freeloaders most often took their punishment as a spur to contribute more generously. But in Oman, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Greece and Russia, the freeloaders more often struck back, retaliating against those who punished them, even against those who had given most to everyone's benefit. It was akin to rapping the knuckles of the helping hand. ...

Among those punished, differences emerged immediately. Students in Seoul, Istanbul, Minsk in Belarus, Samara in Russia, Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, Athens, and Muscat in Oman were most likely to take revenge by deducting points from other players—and to give up a token themselves to do it.

"They didn't believe they did anything wrong," said economist Herbert Gintis at New Mexico's Santa Fe Institute. And because the spiteful freeloaders had no way of knowing who had punished them, they often took out their ire on those who helped others most, suspecting they must be to blame.

Such a readiness to retaliate, researchers said, reflected relatively lower levels of trust, civic cooperation and the rule of law as measured by social scientists in the World Values Survey, which periodically assesses basic values and beliefs in more than 80 societies. In countries with democratic market economies, peer pressure goaded people to cooperate. Among authoritarian societies or those dominated more by ties of kinship, freeloaders instead lashed out at those who censured them, the researchers found.

"The question is why?" said Harvard political economist Richard Zeckhauser.[Revenge of the Freeloaders Study Finds Culture Influences Reaction To Reward, Rebuke, By Robert Lee Hotz, May 30, 2008 ]

This is not a big surprise. The Swiss, for example, have been playing positive sum games among themselves for centuries—If we all, no matter what language we speak, get together and defend our country from invaders, we can all live in peace and prosperity.

In contrast, lots of people around the world, like Jared Diamond's pal in New Guinea who got 30 people killed in order to avenge his uncle's death, seem to enjoy negative sum games—what I call the "I'll See You in Hell" Syndrome after what movie villains say when, finally thwarted by the good guy, they start the self-destruct timer on their volcano lair.

Really, the only unexpected result here is Seoul. This may be related to a strain of knuckleheadedness visible among the young in South Korea, who engage in possibly the world's largest and certainly best organized riots. The multitudinous South Korean riot police, dressed in Orc-like uniforms, don't attempt to prevent riots like other countries' wussy riot police—their job, instead, is to go out and do battle with the rioters. And a good time is had by all.