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Surprising Science

Is Wealth a Social Disease?

What are the real causes of social pathology—and can affluence actually be part of the problem? David Wilson says solving social ills by spending money rarely works.

Perhaps there is a set of psychological dispositions shared by all people around the world, but if so, it doesn’t result in a uniformity of behavior. … I worry that the affluence of modern society is eroding our capacity to cooperate at any scale, small or large, says David Wilson, director of Binghamton University’s evolutionary studies program. Those of us who can pay with our credit cards don’t need to cooperate, and so we forget how. When the need to cooperate arises, there isn’t a psychological module that becomes activated—we just fail to rise to the occasion. Working together is like the old joke about how to get to Carnegie Hall—practice, practice, practice.


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