Computer Programmers and Teamsters: Muscular Men And Self-Interest
Thumb sailer
June 03, 2013, 04:41 AM
Print Friendly and PDF

Here`s a recent paper by Tooby and Cosmides et al that strikes me as pretty plausible: muscular men tend to favor governmental policies on redistribution that are in their own self-interest.

My late father-in-law was a classical tuba player, maybe 6`1" and 220 pounds, who was regularly chosen by his weedy violinist colleagues to negotiate union contracts for them. Why? Because he looked like (and was) a hard man for Management to buffalo.

As a weedy young intellectual, I was struck by how my father-in-law`s union career didn`t seem to fit into my standard intellectual categories — Was he on the Left or the Right? Was he Right or was he Wrong? — and that he didn`t care. He wanted to redistribute wealth from Management to Labor, not because he thought it had the better case in the abstract, but because Labor was his side. The irony that Labor in this case was not precisely the poor (the Chicago Symphony Orchestra recently went on strike because their base union contract only paid $144,000 annually) did not concern him.
Upper-Body Strength Regulates Men’s Assertion of Self-Interest Over Economic Redistribution 
Michael Bang Petersen1
Daniel Sznycer2
Aaron Sell2,3
Leda Cosmides2
John Tooby2


Over human evolutionary history, upper-body strength has been a major component of fighting ability. Evolutionary models of animal conflict predict that actors with greater fighting ability will more actively attempt to acquire or defend resources than less formidable contestants will. Here, we applied these models to political decision making about redistribution of income and wealth among modern humans. In studies conducted in Argentina, Denmark, and the United States, men with greater upper-body strength more strongly endorsed the self-beneficial position: Among men of lower socioeconomic status (SES), strength predicted increased support for redistribution; among men of higher SES, strength predicted increased opposition to redistribution. Because personal upper-body strength is irrelevant to payoffs from economic policies in modern mass democracies, the continuing role of strength suggests that modern political decision making is shaped by an evolved psychology designed for small-scale groups.

I`m not sure that the blanket statement that these days "personal upper-body strength is irrelevant" is true. Guys who lift things for a living largely operate in the "non-tradeable" sector of the economy.

The irrelevance of upper body strength is true in some jobs. For example, computer programmers don`t have to lift anything heavier than the lids of their laptops. And, perhaps not coincidentally, programmers are notoriously prone to self-defeating universalist ideologies like libertarianism and open borders. The Gang of Eight openly conspires with the billionaires of Silicon Valley to lower the pay of programmers, and what do programmers do about it?

In contrast, consider one set of guys who lift things for a living: blue collar workers on TV sitcom sets in Burbank. (Here`s Homer Simpson meeting his role models on the set of Radioactive Man: "I always wanted to be a Teamster: so lazy and surly.")

They are in the "non-tradable" sector so their jobs can`t be easily outsourced to Foxconn in China. Their jobs, however, could be easily insourced and gradually replaced with, say, immigrants, illegal or even skilled foreign set workers via H-1B visas. And yet the entire concept of granting visas to, say, Mexico City`s television set workers to lower Hollywood`s costs has never, as far as I know, been publicly aired.

One reason is that the guys who lift things on sets in Burbank don`t want it to happen. And, unlike computer programmers, they aren`t wracked with guilt over it not happening.

If set workers don`t like, you know, who the producers had started hiring, things could get, just hypothetically speaking, dropped. I`m just saying. And little accidents on the set could be really upsetting to the neurotic stand-up comedian who is the star of the show. And if he`s upset, his timing could go off, and the show`s ratings would drop. So, maybe we don`t want to mess up this nice little set we have here by trying to chintz on pay for the guys who lift stuff. Understand?

In contrast, Mark Zuckerberg has organized a coalition of billionaires and near-billionaires to  lobby Congress to grant more visas to lower the pay of his programmers. You might think that Facebook`s current programmers might have a certain amount of leverage in this situation. For example, Zuckerberg`s current employers could, just theoretically speaking, sabotage his campaign to lower their pay by inserting code that would, say, reveal embarrassing personal details about their owner on his Facebook page.

But this would never occur to them. It would be unsporting. What would Ayn Rand say?