Sunday, January 29, 2006

Things people know but conveniently forget

I'm just gonna jump right in here with a question for that's stumped me for a while. This is highly unscientific, so bear with me.

Ask anyone you know what they think of politicians in general. I'm betting 99% of the time the answer will be exactly what you'd expect...that they think politicians are shady, crooked, or downright evil. In fact, if you can find one out of 100 people who doesn't think politicians are at least somewhat dishonest, I'll eat my hat.

Now ask them what they think about business owners in general...small, large, multinational, whatever. This time I imagine you'll get more of a mixed bag. Most will probably say big business is bad and small business is good, but overall the impression of business and business owners will be less hostile than that toward politicians.

Next, ask them who they would be more likely to trust to end poverty in owners or politicians. And finally, ask them who they would trust more to educate their or government. My bet is that this time in most cases they will contradict their previous answers by saying they would trust government over business.

Or maybe not. Was there a difference between the answers when you presented "business owners or politicians" and "business or government" as the available choices? Did your victim favor business owners over politicians, but choose government over business? Is there a distinction in the unit of responsibility...individuals versus organizations or groups of individuals?

Why is it, that even though we believe the individuals within a group to be shady we still are willing to trust that group over a group to which we at least give partial benefit of the doubt? I think there are a couple of reasons:

1) When individuals are organized into a group, often the character of those individuals are abstracted by the group itself. I think people are more likely to trust government than politicians because the character of politicians is somehow overshadowed by the the view of government as a whole.

2) It's easier for people to believe that government is motivated by some higher purpose than profit. Profit is what motivates all businesses. Everyone knows this. When it comes to government, though, every onlooker is free to choose what he or she believes motivates government at any given time. The motivation of the State is a moving target, requiring much more effort to pin down. It's easier to just believe what you want to believe.