How Much Have We Lost?

Monday, August 5, 2013

To Give and To Receive


There's been a lot of talk in Virginia lately about gifts with a lot of political-types saying that these gifts don't affect their judgment. That doesn't ring true for most ordinary people. Here's why.

One study found that when a waiter left candy with the check, the amount of the tip went up on average. When the waiter left the candy and told the patron that I threw some candy in there for you, it went even further up. Likewise, many nonprofits include address labels, calendars, or other items with their fundraising appeals. Responses go up when you give a gift.

There has been significant research into how gift stratgies are hard wired into our human brain reward pathways. Some researchers see human responses to gift giving and receiving as part of successful survival strategies that out-competed others through evolution. On an abstract level this is referred to as the norm of Reciprocity. Take this from Wikipedia:
Evolutionary psychologists have used the norm of reciprocity to explain altruism by emphasizing our expectations that “helping others will increase the likelihood that they will help us in the future.” The underlying justification lies in the human desire to reciprocate kindness and cooperate for survival value has enabled our continued existence in a hostile world. Thus, the norm of reciprocity ultimately has survival value. Furthermore, being as this sentiment is intrinsic to our evolutionary history and existence, adherence to the norm would constitute “natural” behavior whose neglect might necessarily cause a degree of dissonance in an individual who, among many other self-concepts, consciously labels himself a human being, perhaps leading to a reduction in self-esteem.
Gifting giving is greatest with romantic partners, next with family members, and then comes everyone else. Researchers have suggested that with family members this has evolved from food sharing, survival strategy. Gift-giving is a long-term hedge. Also, depending on which sex you are, gift-giving plays a role in mate acquisition strategies.

In the real, non-political world, people who give gifts do so with a purpose. They usually do so with the expectation of something in return either now or in the future. This is why when when a says that gifts or political campaign contributions do not affect their judgment, people don't buy that.

Gifting is also a much more complex phenomenon than this. Some people give gifts to charity or other causes because they can afford to and are motivated by more altruistic causes. Obviously, the entire campaign finance system is premised on giving and I am pretty sure that many donors to my campaign give without any expectation that I will help them with a problem or a specific issue.

However, few Americans contribute politically. Only 0.5% of the American population gave more than $200 to federal candidates in 2008. The Virginia Public Access Project shows 863 donors (people and businesses) in my zip code (22308) since 1999 and 12,737 people according to the US Census or 6.5%. Another zip code in the 44th District shows 32,326 people and 386 donors or 1.1%.

So few people identify with giving political contributions or gifts, they simply don't accept the explanation that campaign contributions or gifts are given with no expectation of anything in return.

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