Behavioral economist and author of Predictably Irrational Dan Ariely returns to explain the science underlying the continued mismanagement and mal-investment within our financial system, despite 7 years of opportunity to learn from and address the causal factors of the Great Recession.
Behavioral science shows we are our own worst enemies in this story. In a realm where everything is so quantifiable, measurable and trackable, one would expect exceptionally good decision-making. But it's our human wiring, our proclivity for seeing things as we want them to be rather than as they truly are, that makes us vulnerable to influences we often aren't even conscious of. And the bad decisions — and bad outcomes — ensue:
For me, as somebody interested in human behavior, there are two elements that worry me a lot. The first one is Conflicts of interest.
Conflicts of interest is one of those things that get to us without us realizing how powerful it is. Imagine that you invite me to dinner, and you buy me a beer and a sandwich and we talk more and we become friends. To what degree am I going to be able to see the world in an objective way without taking your perspective into account? It turns out conflicts of interest are wonderful because they allow us to create friendship really quite quickly. You can buy someone a beer and a sandwich and they become your friend to some degree. Once you marry this with a complex system like the financial system, all of a sudden some not-so-good things can happen.
I think we really haven't done much to address conflicts of interest in our financial system — there are lots of places where people get paid in all kinds of ways that have conflicts of interest. There are companies that have divisions within them that create tremendous conflicts of interest. And human nature doesn't help. What happens is that you look at yourself and you ask: Do I have conflicts of interest? You say: No. Of course, not. I evaluate everything objectively; therefore, we don't need regulation. But I think we do, and actually to a much higher degree.
The second element that bothers me about which we have done to little is Trust. There are people who are active in the financial system and they understand it better. And there are people who are not. The people who are not have experienced this tremendous devastation. Many people lost lots of money, especially people close to retirement. Many people pulled out their money and basically have lost trust. Now the question is: Under what conditions will people regain this lost trust? This is extremely important for the financial system's long-term viability. If you think about the financial system as a way to accumulate wealth and be able to retire securely and so on, I think we've lost some of the capacity of that system to serve that function, because people are just not trusting anything.
Imagine if we have another beginning of a catastrophe happening, not something as big as we had, but something smaller. Is people's sensitivity right now is going to be so high that they're going to panic very quickly? I think the answer is: Yes. So we haven't done much to eliminate conflicts of interest, and we haven't done anything to earn back trust. And because of that, I deeply worry.
Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Dan Ariely (41m:53s)