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All Economists or Economics Students Are Selfish In Nature Stereotype

Updated on January 26, 2016

Yoram Bauman Environmental Economist Political Comedian

Yoram Bauman at the 2010 Texas Book Festival, Austin, Texas, United States. © 2010 Larry D. Moore
Yoram Bauman at the 2010 Texas Book Festival, Austin, Texas, United States. © 2010 Larry D. Moore | Source

Having My Say About Stereotypes

First, I will state that I am neither an economists, a statistician, a mathematician, a social scientist an anthropologist, nor do I have a PhD. For some reason, I started to write a reply to a special email from Yoram Bauman about his achievement having published an article in the New York Times, when I realized it was getting rather lengthy. What do you do when you seem to be writing an epistle? You write a Hubpages blog, naturally! So here it is, an introduction to this marvelously entertaining, funny and educational social satirist and economist.

Yoram Bauman is from the west coast

With his style of rapid speech, rattling off so much so fast, I thought he lived in New York City, but no, he hails from California and has a math degree from Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Yoram did his graduate Ph.D. in Economics in 2003 at the University of Washington. He calls himself an environmental economist, which sounds pretty classy to me. I love the environment and we need people educated enough to explain to others how important and VALUABLE our natural resources are to this country.

Yoram has talent

While at school, he became an entertainer to many audiences, including the internet venue on YouTube. That's where I found out about him. Remember, when you post on social networks, people may learn more about you and find your website, click to get your newsletter and a list of your events.

Yoram also co-authored "Tax Shift" which advocates switching taxation from income and property to resource consumption. To tell you the truth this is NOT my best subject in school and I easily get lost. But, just listening to Bauman can either make your head spin or laugh your head off.

The world's first and only stand-up economist makes a living

If you listen to his skits you will learn that he teaches economics and keeps the attention of his students quite well. I've posted one of his older videos for you to get the feeling of his work. When someone begins an argument, debate or storyline, they will need to set the tone. Yoram tells us that, "People are stupid!" One thing, we can all agree with his premise that, "People are stupid." GREAT! we all agree. A wonderful starting point to be on solid ground. Then he begins to elucidate the economics using diagrams and getting audience participation. I just realized that this blanket statement also constitutes a stereotype about people and maybe that's just what comedians do? That's the hook.

Broad Sweeping Statements

Yoram wants to help us understand how people are motivated to action. That is, how to get someone to make a purchase so that the seller can make a profit. I think that's "economics."

My Beef Is With Freedom of Choice!

Thus, Yoram teaches about the market place, trading and selling of goods and probably services. Something tells me that "Free Trade Economy" means that people should have choices. But, based upon his talk, I'm not sure that is true. We may be manipulated by forces beyond our control.

Are you still with me? Are you still reading?

Okay. Good, because my husband says the next part is dry and boring, but a deep thinking analysis about a student personality study completed by Yoram and his colleague Elaina Rose.

Ten Principles Of Economics Video by Yoram Bauman

Let's Learn All About This Economic Study

ScienceDirect | If you have a subscription you can read the entire report. If not, we can settle for the abstract from the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Volume 79, Issue 3, August 2011, Pgs 318-327

Selection or indoctrination: Why do economics students donate less than the rest?

This title implies that the theory of "nature versus nurture" determines whether people, but in this subset college students, donate to worthy causes and non-profit agencies. Using a large sampling of students from the University of Washington he was fortunate to have his results of the 3-year research study published in the New York Times; but there doesn't seem to be a comment section there, so go to his website for that option. I was not able to read the actual study, thus, I don't have all the facts to what information was gathered. Relying on the article and some of the analysis here's my take.

Editorial Opinion Piece on The Presentation

Telling The Concept In A Few Paragrapsh

Based upon background research of previous studies, Yoram concludes that, "... economists are less generous than other professionals and that economics students are less generous than other students."

Elaina and Yoram analyzed a collection of data from social programs on campus where the students had an opportunity to give a donation each quarter semester. A comparison to "indoctrination," which I assume means the economics class lessons as a means of nurture, or what I might call propaganda, depending upon how the teacher teaches and provides the freedom to debate on subjects or just spoon-feeds the students.

After tabulating the data of students from each class and quarter and the options to donate they came to some conclusions. They determined that:

  • economics majors were less likely to donate than other students
  • non-economic majors were affected by what they were taught in the resulting pattern to donate when given an opportunity each quarter
  • economic majors did not change giving pattern during the 3-year term each quarter
  • non-economic majors did change giving pattern during the 3-year term each quarter
  • Women economic majors were less likely to contribute to causes
  • Women non-majors are less likely to contribute than comparable men.

Student Samples

What Yoram's findings tell us is that students may or may not affect the change giving pattern based upon their experience taking economics classes. I'm wondering if a similar data sample was taken of students of other majors to see if giving patterns changed, either upwards or downwards? For instance, would a divinity student give more after taking a course of studies. But, of course, Yoram is an economics professor and this was his main thesis.

William James
William James

Stereotypes May Be Misleading.

What are Stereotypes?

A widely held, but fixed and over simplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing. The problem with stereotypes, besides generalizing about a group of people, is that they can be misleading, racists, have intent to harm through name calling, be a form of bullying or demeaning and not take into consideration each individual with compassion.

Cartoonist and Comedic Technique

Political cartoonists and comedians use this type of exaggeration of form in a culture or person's appearance, feelings, likes, dislikes, beliefs and behaviors to make a point, or get an outrageous response out of people. The problem with stereotyping results when people actually believe this typifies real people and causes hatred or violence against a whole group of people.

All Economists Are Selfish

The New York Times Article entitle, "The Dismal Education" by Yoram Bauman tells us about a commonly held stereotypic belief about his chosen career path. Do you agree that, "All Economists are selfish and don't read human interest stories?"

Testing the truth of the stereotype

In order to prove or disprove this theory he presents the study to economics students where they will have the opportunity to give. They are not asked to give a lot, just $3 per quarter when registering for classes. Yoram also proposes that this may have to do with their innate personality type, nature, versus the environmental effects of nurture, represented by taking economics classes.

Beginning Our Education of Economics Theory

The Theory of Public Goods. The Premise.

A key feature of these situations is that you can benefit from public goods even if you don’t contribute to them. You can watch PBS without making a donation; you can enjoy clean air even if you drive a car that pollutes.

The potential of these 'public good' may be what he calls the "free-rider" outcome. People acting 'selfishly' and going along for the ride without paying for the services. Such a person may say to himself or herself, "Why do I need to pay when someone else will take care of the bill?"

The problem with this thinking is that when a majority of people think this way, there may not be enough income to sustain the activity, service or goods. So, what "good" do we see in that? In the end, no one will be able to continue to reap the benefits. An example is forthcoming. *

Yoram says, "Public goods run counter to Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” theory in that self-interested behavior by individuals does not, as the theory would have it, lead to good outcomes for society as a whole. These situations flummox just about everybody — look at all the trouble that nations and individuals are having in dealing with climate change — but economists and economics students appear to be especially likely to free-ride and act in ways that are 'anti-social' rather than 'pro-social.' "

Parameters of The Research Study from 1999 - 2002:

The students were given an opportunity to donate $3 to either of these organizations at registration for courses each semester

  • WashPIRG *more information below
  • Affordable Tuition Now (ATN) *see below

Will You Give Today? *
The premise by the researchers that people, when given a chance, will let the other person pay for services that they can have for free. Think of any type of service in the public domain that you do not pay for, but a select few donate to sustain. Take the WIKIPEDIA donation website opportunity that you see every day when you search for information. Did you give? You had an opportunity. They will not be able to remain free for the public good if no one donates.

Outcome of students behavior in this study indicated a negative result, 'not in the pubic good, after attending educational economics college classes. Yoram concludes that economics teachers can improve their skills at teaching the importance in giving to sustain Public Goods.

Learning More About The Non-Profit Giving Organizations That The Economic Students Could Choose

The Washington Public Interest Research Group [WashPIRG], a student-directed, non-profit, nonpartisan organization has worked for over 30 years at the University of Washington to put into action the solutions to contemporary social and environmental problems.

What does this organization do? Students volunteer and can become an intern. Over the years they develop new causes and their new activism regards instituting sustainability on campus, fighting poverty, protecting renters rights, educating consumers, and making education more affordable.

My opinion after learning more about WashPIRG non-profit voluntary organization has changed. This was an excellent choice. Do the students realize just how much value-added and by giving a small donation would do?

Since I have learned more about this organization, their community service and on-campus work, I feel this was a reasonable giving choice within the study. The students can feel they would be improving their own lives and the lives of others.

I would love to hear the reasons that students chose NOT to give each semester. Here is a list of a few areas the student organization accomplishes:

  • Fighting Poverty in Seattle and Beyond
  • Energy Service Corps
  • Citizens United
  • Sustainable U
  • Healthy Foods
  • National Parks
  • Transportation
  • Health Care Reform
  • New Voters Project
  • Hunger Campaign
  • Higher Education
  • Textbooks
  • Consumer Action
  • Energy Service Corps
  • WashPIRG at UW

The UW-based Affordable Tuition Now!

What an opportunity for groups of University of Washington students to attend sessions of Congress to meet their district representatives to influence their decisions for affordable tuition and against institutional control over the tuition-setting authority. State legislatures have stressed budgets and increase tuition to help balance budgets. Interestingly, ATN! is the largest student group at the university with 5,000 contributors.

For these reasons, I wonder whether many of the students had already given to one or both of these non-profits, whether they have had some experience with these groups, or want to be part of the others who have participated in giving. I also wonder if some students have participated in their activities and events and they feel that is sufficient participation.

Leo Rosten
Leo Rosten

Who Donates The Most?

Check out the ABC study on who donates the most? During the "Season of Giving" this winter it might be nice to know who donates toys, meals, coats, a warm room, blankets, etc. to the needy.

Rich versus Poor

Three quarters of American families donate to charity, giving $1,800 each, on average. Of course, if three quarters give, that means that one quarter don't give at all. The article busts the myths that the rich give more than the poor. People with less proportionately give 30% more!

Religion versus non-religious

Religious people are four times as likely to give more than non-religious people.

Another hypothesis or research study for someone's PhD?

If economists truly do give less, then could we extrapolate out to suppose they are non-religious? Would more economists be atheists? Can we connect the love of money with economists who are non-religious? That would be a leap of faith!

Here Is My Response To This Study

Congratulations Yoram for getting published into the New York Times. The complicated economics theory of the Public Goods can be developed even further. The three-year study brought a lot of interest to the issue of free-will giving at a time when we live with economic depression or you might call extended recession.

My Questions For the Study Participants

I wonder whether the economic milieu will have an effect on the giving nature of people, in the coming years? Was data gathered on what these students were taught growing up, whether they consider themselves "Christians" or of another faith, and whether they were taught it is better to give than receive? Were they taught about their responsibilities to contribute to community, society and government?

Who gives?

Giving to charities is certainly taught in Sunday school and in some homes as a weekly or holiday ritual. I don't know of all the stereotypes of economists nor believe that they don't read human interest stories. Wouldn't say so. Everyone reads them. We are living in the social networking era of ALL human interest stories.

What about learning that organizations do not give a high percentage to the purpose of the non-profit, but a proportion to paid telephone fund-raisers, administrative costs, mailings and other extraneous purposes, and possibly to line the pockets of CEOs.

  • The 2010 Charity 100 | Money Sense Guide | The MoneySense Charity 100 is meant to be a tool for potential donors researching which charities to give money to
  • Listen to Leo Rosten Interview with Hayek about public giving and serving.
    You will love it.

My Understanding About The Results Of Yoram's Research Study

Let me see if I understand. I'm not a statistician, by any means.

  • People with a naturally selfish nature have a high propensity to be attracted to go into economics as a career path
  • Those who are attracted to becoming economists are selfish by nature
  • In the theory of Public Goods everyone benefits, but only a few actually give to sustain the organizations, services or goods
  • If the majority of people do not give, then there will not be enough funds to sustain the benefits which will then decline. [unless philanthropists and celebrities give large amounts to sustain the public service projects]
  • Adam Smith's theory of the 'invisible hand' states that self interest behavior does not mean everyone will benefit from the action of a few
  • The social climate creates a troublesome situation today because we are dependent upon this idea that when a few behave selfishly then all will benefit. This truly confuses me and for some reason sounds like the trickle down theory.

After data crunching the research observes that:

  • Economists and students are most likely to be selfish in nature and not likely to give to sustain non-profit projects

Further questions about the parameters of this study

I question the premises upon which these conclusions are reached and whether it is fair to stereotype these people. Finally, I wonder whether by stating this, it will become a self fulfilling prophesy?

  • Freedom of Choice to Give to Non-profits
    Does it not make sense that a student may have a preference to give to an organization of their own choosing? Were the students given a choice to give to an animal shelter, the development of third-world workers, the investment of better roads on campus, NPR, the creation of day-care on campus, etc that they may have be more likely to give with a broader selection of giving organizations?

Results of the Study

  • Each quarter semester 10% of the students gave $3 supported WashPIRG
    Since I have not read the full report, I do not know whether that is $12 per year.
    I also do not know whether they were all the same students who gave or some gave one quarter and others gave another quarter. Would that add up to more students?
  • Each quarter semester 5% of the economic majors donated to WashPIRG in a given quarter, compared with 8% of other arts and sciences majors donated to WashPIRG.
  • Each quarter 10% of the economic majors donated to ATN in a given quarter, compared to 15% of other arts and sciences majors donated to ATN.

Questions I would like to have answered in another study

  • What was the life situation of these students?
    Were they on limited scholarship? Did they come from wealthy families? Did they have jobs outside of college?
  • What was the natural tendencies or upbringing circumstances for these youth?
    Why does a person go into arts/science instead of economics? An economics student is concerned about finances, making ends meet, security. An arts student interested in culture, creativity, expression. A science student exploration. Science, math and religion closely tied and perhaps more concerned with spirit?
  • My question concerning the conclusion that was made with such a study.
    I do not feel resulting conclusions can be defined by the bottom line of simply numbers. The HUMAN INTEREST behind the outcome relates to many factors. Were these all taken into consideration? Perhaps the reason why people create and maintain sterertypes come from conclusions stated in one or two lines without any substance and understanding of the human issues related to the reason why a person or group behave one way or another.
  • Further exploration of the natural tendencies, personalities, needs and desires.
    Perhaps the study designers did ask a focus group which organization they would most likely give to if they had a choice and then present that as a possibility. Perhaps the students would have given if there was FREEDOM OF CHOICE of other organizations to donate?
  • Understanding of the education of students before provision of choice to donate.
    Were they given an explanation of these organizations and how the donated funds would be used?
  • Did they randomly question students to find out if they had given to other organizations?
    It appears the economics students are MISSING information or classes that could teach them the ethical value of giving. The non-giving students come from homes that teach giving is not a worthy attribute?

Part two of this study came to the conclusions that:

  • Economic student majors did not change their donation habits during 3 years of school.
  • Non-economic student majors reduced their donation habits during 3 years of school.

Interpretation or hypothesis not explained

  • Students who were not economic majors learned some new information that changed the way they thought about giving. The article calls it a "Loss of innocence."
  • Perhaps the students thought one way about giving previous to classes and then changed their minds after either getting an economics teacher who did not teach well or provide sufficient information or learning about the theory of the invisible hand.
  • I'm afraid without more information specifically about the details of this study, I'm at a loss to interpret where they come up with their conclusions. Maybe the New York Times only allowed so many words for this article and thus, we only were given half the story.

Students who were economic students were born guilty was the statement given. Someone tell me, "Of what were they guilty?" I have no idea.

  • The final paragraph concludes that students taking economics classes could use a better balance of information given to explain the outcome of giving and the nature of a free-market economy. Perhaps saying that if everyone knew if they did not give just a little, a mere $3, that they could lose an abundance of resources because if everyone relied on everyone else to give, then nothing would be supported. Please see my Hubpages on The Little Red Hen, which basically tells the same story to little kids.

About the Author

Debby Bruck, CHOM loves to write about various topics on Hubpages. As a graphic designer she loves to create compositions with the elements of design. Debby is the founder of Homeopathy World Community a social network of professional homeopaths enlightening the world to the healing powers of energy medicines. She hosts numerous radio shows each week on a variety of health topics. Debby believes that homeopathy is the wave of the future that provides hope and healing to those who have tried every other approach. Follow Debby on Twitter


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    • Debby Bruck profile imageAUTHOR

      Debby Bruck 

      8 years ago

      Hello Jack ~ One thing I can tell is you have a sense of humor, as you are laughing about this whole issue. I think Yoram would include you in his group of economists. But, does it not make sense that persons who involve themselves with the market place, finances, trading and money have a great concern with issues of security and spending habits? Therefore, they may choose to spend their money wisely and in a personal manner based upon what causes they are passionate. Alternatively, they may have such fears about losing money that they penny-pinch and tuck it away for a rainy day. Or, instead they want to invest to see their money grow. Which ever way it goes, that does not indicate they are selfish. They can be very generous to their children, giving gifts, putting them through college, sending them to camp, etc. They can be generous with their time giving pro bono work. Maybe Yoram could have spent a good deal of time defining what makes a person "selfish" and the opposite "generous?" Nevertheless, Yoram is a funny guy and makes us think about such issues that would never enter my mind.

    • j80caldwell profile image


      8 years ago

      LOL,,,well I'm not a Phd academic economist--as I would be considered more a market economist.. But I do know very well paid academic economist who, indeed, know how to hold on to a dollar. They don't spend much! Anyway, great hub Deb!

    • Debby Bruck profile imageAUTHOR

      Debby Bruck 

      8 years ago

      Dear Jack ~ As a professional economist, you would actually know about this topic! Wow! This hub attracted an expert in this field. [chuckle] I don't really believe this, or maybe I do. There are way too many variables in this study and the students personal situation to peg them as 'selfish' in nature.

      How do we know that they don't already give to many other institutions, or perhaps even WORK at those organizations, so don't feel the need to give 3 dollars?

      I also feel that upbringing has a lot to do with 'giving' and a person may even may a concerted effort to go against their nature in order to help another person.



    • j80caldwell profile image


      8 years ago

      LOL,, You know this could actually be true, I know a few economist (Phd types) like this...anyway I voted up, great read.


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