Once again, Thanksgiving rolls around at a time when many of us have much for which to be thankful.
I’m thankful for endless TV football on Thanksgiving. If you’re in that category, here’s a piece of advice: Sometime tomorrow while tunnel-visioning on football take time out to say something nonfootbally to a nonfootball fan in the room, preferably not something like, “Hey, I’m still hungry.”
I’m thankful for recently passing one of life’s most underappreciated birthdays. I’m now 59½, putting me in that once-in-a-lifetime six-month sweet spot during which I’m under 60 but can make withdrawals from my 401(K) without a 10 percent penalty. Anybody ever see a “Happy 59½ Birthday” card?
And I’m always thankful for studies that prove the obvious, studies that tell us things like, if it tastes good it’s bad for you. In that category is a new one from the National Bureau of Economic Research, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization “dedicated to promoting a greater understanding of how the economy works.” Wait a minute, the economy works?
The study was done by Rema Hanna of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and Shing-Yi Wang of The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. I’m told those are pretty good schools, though I don’t think either of their football teams are on national TV on Thanksgiving. The study is called, “Dishonesty and Selection into Public Service.” The researchers, to the shock of perhaps one person on Earth, found that folks with a propensity for dishonesty tend to select themselves for public service.
“In this paper,” Hanna and Wang wrote, “we demonstrate that university students who cheat on a simple task in a laboratory setting are more likely to state a preference for entering public service. Importantly, we also show that cheating on this task is predictive of corrupt behavior by real government workers, implying that this measure captures a meaningful propensity towards corruption.”
At this point, to save my inbox from inundation from Central Texas government workers, let me note that this study was done in India, and I’m sure a similar study done around here would show that everybody who goes into public service in these parts is a fine, fine human being.
The researchers based their conclusions, in part, on rolls of a die by 559 Indian college students. The method involved students self-reporting what came up on the die on 42 rolls. The higher the number, the higher the payment they got.
“Dishonesty as measured by the dice task is rampant,” the researchers reported, also noting that: “Students who cheated on the dice game were then 6.3 percent more likely to want a government job.”
Is this study statistically valid or societally important? Hey, if I knew that, I wouldn’t be pecking out columns for a legacy media outlet. With that caveat, some more excerpts:
- “We find that students who exhibit lower levels of pro-social behavior are more likely to prefer a government job.”
- “Overall, we find that dishonest individuals — as measured by the dice task — prefer to enter government service.”
What then do we do with this information? If people who cheat are more likely to want to become public servants, maybe we shouldn’t let anyone who wants to be a public servant become a public servant. This jibes with my long-held notion that anybody who wants to be a prison guard perhaps shouldn’t be a prison guard. Maybe we need a draft for prison guards.
Have a safe, fun and meaningful holiday weekend. And may all your teams win.