Uncommon Knowledge: Materialism, fiscal rules, and misogyny

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Your money or your life

Materialism is dehumanizing. In several experiments, people who were prompted to prioritize money subsequently felt more robotic, less emotionally deep, and were less interested in socializing. The reverse was also observed: People who were assigned to write about their humanity subsequently prioritized money less.

Ruttan, R. & Lucas, B., “Cogs in the Machine: The Prioritization of Money and Self-Dehumanization,” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes (November 2018).

Following the crowd

Psychologists at Georgia State University recruited heterosexual male college students for a study supposedly about “Gender, Emotion, and Foreign Media Attitudes.” Each participant ended up in a room with what he thought were several other male participants, who were actually in cahoots with the psychologists. The group then watched a supposedly live video of a woman in another room; she had to watch a sexually explicit film clip that the group (i.e., the real male participant) could stop at any time with the press of a button. The odds of the participant stopping the film were not particularly high in general, but approached zero for a participant who cared about his status and was in a group that made misogynistic comments about the female viewer.

Leone, R. & Parrott, D., “Misogynistic Peers, Masculinity, and Bystander Intervention for Sexual Aggression: Is It Really Just ‘Locker-Room Talk?’” Aggressive Behavior (forthcoming).


Turnaround artists needed

An analysis revealed that publicly traded corporations have been “almost two-and-a-half times more likely to hire Asian-American CEOs during periods of financial decline than during periods of non-decline.” This was also seen in experiments, where people were more interested in hiring an Asian-American manager during a stretch of poor company performance, an effect that was not seen for other races and was attributed to the stereotype that Asian-Americans are more self-sacrificing.

Gündemir, S. et al., “The Impact of Organizational Performance on the Emergence of Asian American Leaders,” Journal of Applied Psychology (forthcoming).


Agency contacts

Does ideological division in Congress lead to closer scrutiny of the federal bureaucracy? Probably not. A political scientist analyzed thousands of records of correspondence between members of Congress and federal agencies. “Contrary to the intuitive notion that ideological disagreement increases oversight, I find robust evidence that it has a negligible effect. Across a variety of measurement specifications, the substantive effect of disagreement is near zero with high precision,” in contrast to the effects of “district characteristics and committee roles, which have strong and substantively significant associations with the likelihood of oversight.”

Lowande, K., “Who Polices the Administrative State?” American Political Science Review (forthcoming).

Fiscal high

Colorado’s taxpayer bill of rights, or TABOR, “is arguably the most stringent set of fiscal rules in the US,” a team of economic researchers asserts. To see if it changed the way the state spends money, they used data from other states to simulate an alternate Colorado without TABOR; “both taxes and spending in the synthetic Colorado mimic the behavior of these outcomes in the actual Colorado in the period before TABOR was enacted. The path of taxes and expenditures in the synthetic Colorado after TABOR’s enactment then provides a counterfactual for what would have occurred in Colorado in the absence of TABOR . . . We find no evidence that TABOR influenced budget outcomes.”

Eliason, P. & Lutz, B., “Can Fiscal Rules Constrain the Size of Government? An Analysis of the ‘Crown Jewel’ of Tax and Expenditure Limitations,” Journal of Public Economics (October 2018).


Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist. He can be reached at