The pork barrel: What science says

To abolish or not to abolish the pork barrel?

In 2006, psychologists Katherine Vohs of the University of Minnesota, Nicole Mead of Florida State University and Miranda Goode of the University of British Columbia asked people to think about having big amounts of money.

Other participants thought about things other than money.

Results were troubling, but not surprising. Participants who thought about big money helped out less in small ways (they picked up spilled pencils less often) and big (they donated less to charity).

They were also less cooperative, sat farther away from others and worked on their own rather than with a team.

“People view money as both the greatest good and evil,” the researchers say in the journal Science. “Money enhanced individualism but diminished communal motivations, an effect that is still apparent in people’s responses to money today.”

The more people fixate on wealth and power, the less they tend to care about others and the world. In 2007, psychologists Tim Kasser and Steve Cohn of Knox College in Illinois, Allan Kanner of Wright Institute in California and Richard Ryan of the University of Rochester in New York studied responses of people from 15 countries about what they valued most.

Money and community seem to be incompatible. Amassing wealth satisfies external needs of praise and power; helping others satisfies internal needs of love and belonging.

Money and community can coexist, but often awkwardly.

“Of course we can care about community and money,” Kasser tells the American Psychological Association. “But as money becomes important … the desire to help other people tends to become less important.”

Valuing money to a huge extent makes people less inclined to “helping the world be a better place; having committed,

intimate relationships; feeling worthy and autonomous,” say the researchers in the journal Psychological Inquiry.

Greed, not generosity

In 2012, psychologists Kurt Gray of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Adrian Ward and Michael Norton of Harvard University tested the concept of paying it forward.

Based on the popular movie, the concept held that if people received kindness, they would be more inclined to be kind to others.

A hundred people played a money game. They were told that an anonymous person had split $6 with them, giving them either the entire $6 (generous split), $3 (half-split) or nothing (greedy split).

Participants checked an envelope with the share they got.

Afterward, they were provided another envelope and an additional $6. They were asked to split this second amount with a future recipient, paying it forward.

Receiving a generous share would prompt people to be more generous, wouldn’t it?  Not quite. There was no difference in the actions of those who got a generous or an equal share.

But those who got nothing the first time decided to exact revenge the second time: They paid forward either very little or nothing.

Women responded the same as men.

“We [have] highlighted a more sinister side of paying it forward—and hence human nature—that previous research and media attention … have ignored,” say the researchers in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.

Greed is more powerful than generosity. However heartwarming the movie might have been, “people should focus less on performing random acts of kindness and more on treating others equally,” say the

researchers, “while refraining from random acts of cruelty.”

In October 2012 in Psychology Today, US clinical psychologist Leon Seltzer wrote the article “Greed: The Ultimate Addiction.”  Although he targeted speculators who triggered the US and European financial crisis, he could just as easily have been talking about Napoles et al.

Tops in audacity

“Of all the things one might be addicted to, nothing tops the greed-laden pursuit of wealth in its audacity, manipulativeness and gross insensitivity to the needs and feelings of others,” says Seltzer. “Not to mention its extreme, shortsighted, irresponsible covetousness.”

Ten billion boggles the mind.  How can people steal that much money?

“Their ‘mega-fortune quest’

really has no end point,” says Seltzer. “They won’t be able to name the definitive ‘millionth’ or  ‘billionth’ that, finally, will do it for them. They can’t because the means by which they reap their riches has itself become the end.”

What is the use of wealth if no one knows about it? The need to flaunt is irresistible,

ergo the online posts of shopping sprees, sprawling mansions, lavish celebrations.

Particularly, psychology says, if deep down, people have a poor image of themselves.

“Material acquisitions can wondrously mask (both from others and from themselves) woeful deficits in their core self-image,” says Seltzer. “Ultimately, their heart’s desire—tragically unknown to them—isn’t for wealth at all, but for love, emotional intimacy, unconditional acceptance [and self-acceptance], and ‘rich,’ satisfying relationships. No matter how

obscenely wealthy they may

become, these … cannot be purchased with money.”

“The final debacle … isn’t simply that their monetary

accomplishments can’t ever bring them the lasting happiness and peace of mind they

secretly crave,” says Seltzer. “It’s that their futile quest generally causes all sorts of misfortune to others … and to our nation.”

So science says:  Abolish the pork barrel now.

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