Are human beings fundamentally good or fundamentally bad? Are people mostly generous, or are they mostly selfish?
Over the centuries, many of our leading lights have taken the view that people are basically selfish. Machiavelli argued that people are deceitful, ungrateful and covetous. Classical economics is based on the idea that people relentlessly pursue their self-interest. “The average human being is about 95 percent selfish in the narrow meaning of the term,” the economist Gordon Tullock once wrote. In his book “The Selfish Gene,” the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins argued, “We are born selfish.” In the public at large, only 30 percent of Americans say they can trust the people around them, suggesting quite a grim view of human nature.
But what if this dark view of our nature is not true?
In a recent experiment led by the psychologists Ryan J. Dwyer, William J. Brady and Elizabeth W. Dunn and the TED curator Chris Anderson, 200 people in seven nations around the world were each given $10,000, free, and then reported how they spent the money. Did they keep it all themselves? No. On average, the participants spent more than $6,400 of it to benefit others, including almost $1,700 on donations to charity. Of that prosocial spending, $3,678 went to people outside their immediate household, and $2,163 was spent on strangers, acquaintances and donations to organizations.
People used the money to take friends out for meals or to support families that had lost loved ones or to support an organization that provides construction training to marginalized people. Sounds pretty generous to me.