Power Warps Judgment, Researchers Show

Some bits and pieces from here and there:

  • If you give a person power over other people, this may cause that person to judge other people more harshly and themselves more leniently, according to a set of experiments by behavioral economics and social psychology researchers. As Dan Ariely summarized:

    They simulated a bureaucratic organization and randomly assigned participants to be in a high-power role (prime-minister) or low-power role (civil servant). The prime-minister could control and direct the civil servants. Next, the researchers presented all participants with a seemingly unrelated moral dilemma from among the following: failure to declare all wages on a tax form, violation of traffic rules, and possession of a stolen bike. In each case, participants used a 9-point scale (1: completely unacceptable, 9: fully acceptable) to rate the acceptability of the act. However, half of the participants rated how acceptable it would be if they themselves engaged in the act, while the other half rated how acceptable it would be others engaged in it.

    The researchers found that compared to participants without power, powerful participants were stricter in judging others’ moral transgressions but more lenient in judging their own: “power increases hypocrisy, meaning that the powerful show a greater discrepancy between what they practice and what they preach.”

    This effect is stronger when the powerful people believe they have come by their power legitimately or deservedly.
  • Upward Spiral A tax I haven’t paid much attention to here is the campaign “donations” that are extorted from businesses, groups, and lobbyists as the price of obtaining access to, and favorable actions from, politicians who are or may be in office. In a promising development, the CEO of Starbucks announced that Starbucks and 100 other “major companies” have pledged to withhold any political contributions to current Federal officeholders “until a fair, bipartisan deal is reached that sets our nation on stronger long-term fiscal footing.” This condition is vague enough that I worry the campaign may fizzle out in ambiguity, but the idea that companies might mutually pledge to withhold campaign contributions is a marvelous one and one I hope will catch on.
  • Peter J. Reilly continues his series touching on war tax resistance at his Forbes.com blog. In this episode, he takes a second look at the court case in which William Ruhaak tried to assert a legal right to conscientious objection to military taxation, saying that Ruhaak’s argument isn’t so frivolous after all. In another post, Reilly looks at the “paper tiger” of IRS tax enforcement, and shows how most taxpayers, if they keep their tax debt under $10,000, can get away with letting the statute of limitations expire and never have to pay it.
  • Conscience and Peace Tax International has a good overview of the scope and history of war tax resistance internationally.
  • Cindy Sheehan has done a further write-up on her tax resistance: “I vowed that I would never, ever pay a penny to this government in the form of income taxes again, because: A) My oldest son was priceless to me and I feel this nation owes me and B) other people’s sons and daughters all over the world are precious to me and I refuse to fund their murder, torture, displacement, etc.… I will defer paying my taxes as long as slaughter abroad is the foreign policy of this government, economic terrorism is the paradigm here at home and the Bush mob continues to roam the world as unrepentant criminals.”