The Durk Pearson & Sandy Shaw®
Life Extension NewsTM
Volume 18 No. 4 • August 2015

The Logic of Increasing Freedom By Appealing to the Scientifically PROVEN Human Desire to “Punish” Bad Actors

1. Increasing Freedom Takes Money

2. It is Difficult to Get People to Donate Money for Public Goods.

3. What If There Were an Easier Way to Get Money from Willing Supporters of Projects to Increase Freedom Because People WANT to Donate Money to Punish a Bad Guy DESPITE That Punishment Being a PUBLIC GOOD?

Raising More Money to Fight for FREEDOM

Scientific Data Points the Way to Raising Money By
Allowing People to “Punish” Bad Actors

How would you like to be able to take action against specific wrongdoers in government and not only would you not have to badger people into contributing money, people would flock to get their money into your hands PROVIDED they had reason to believe that you could deliver the results you promise. Sound unlikely? This is for real. Please read on.

As you know, nearly any action you bring against government is going to be a public good, which means that it is like pulling teeth to find adequate amounts of money to fund your project. (Why would people contribute when they will receive the same benefits whether they do or not?) We will describe to you here the results of scientific research that demonstrates robustly in study after study that PEOPLE WILL VOLUNTARILY PAY TO PUNISH WRONGDOERS EVEN WHEN IT MEANS THAT IT IS AT THEIR EXPENSE AND THEY KNOW IT. It is important to keep in mind that this will work ONLY if you target for punishment a specific wrongdoer who has angered people for his wrongdoing such as Governor Sandoval in the state of Nevada (who lied over and over about not raising taxes), not if you go after, say, an agency where there isn’t any SPECIFIC individual where the anger is focused. Recalling Sandoval, for example, would terminate his political career (a term limit with real teeth).

We are very enthusiastic about the potential for a part of human nature to be used to our advantage, to attract angry people who want to punish a certain politician. The program could have a name such as “PAY TO PUNISH.” This punishment behavior is called “altruism” in the scientific studies in which punishment experiments are reported. That is, the people who put in money are doing it despite the fact that they cannot privatize benefits that results from the use of their money for this purpose. People are apparently hard-wired for this. We’d love to see freedom-oriented institutions that are active in political campaigns (e.g., that support or oppose candidates for political office or who file suits against specific politicians for wrongdoing) take advantage of it.

We describe here two scientific papers published in Science and Nature, arguably the two most highly respected peer reviewed science journals, that have demonstrated the reality of people willingly paying to punish a certain bad guy. There is much more in the scientific literature. We cite a few more at the end of this article.

Hauert, Traulsen, Brandt, Nowak, Sigmund. Via Freedom to Coercion: The Emergence of Costly Punishment. Science .316:1905-7 (2007). Here the authors say, “Many experiments on so-called public goods games have shown that in the absence of such institutions [institutions that impose sanctions on defectors], individuals are willing to punish defectors, even at a cost to themselves.” “... this paves the way for the emergence and establishment of cooperative behavior based on the punishment of defectors. Paradoxically, the freedom to withdraw from the common enterprise leads to enforcement of social norms. Joint enterprises that are compulsory rather than voluntary are less likely to lead to cooperation.”

Fehr, Gachter. Altruistic punishment in humans. Nature. 415:137-40 (2002). Here, the authors say, “If those who free ride on the cooperation of others are punished, cooperation may pay. ... who will bear the cost of punishing the free riders. Everybody in the group will be better off if free riding is deterred, but nobody has an incentive to punish the free riders. Thus, the punishment of free riders constitutes a second-order public good.” The authors carried out experiments, games designed to elicit from human participants what they would willingly contribute to punish free riders (non-cooperators). “The punishment of non-cooperators substantially increased the amount that subjects invested in the public good.” “The average investment of 94.2% of the subjects was higher in the punishment condition.” Remember, these experiments allowed the participants to pay and receive actual money, so the outcome was not without some significance. Yet, in the final period of the punishment condition, 38.9% of the subjects contributed their whole endowment and 77.8% contributed 15 MUs [money units] or more,” whereas in the final period of the no punishment condition 58.9% of the subjects contributed nothing and 75.6% contributed 5 MUs or less.” They further reported that when a subject was actually punished (for not cooperating), there was an increase in the amount of investment subsequently made by those funding the punishment.

We could go on—there is much more published research—but perhaps this will have intrigued you as it did us to think how this human desire to punish specific bad guys can be used to promote freedom. See the end of this article for citations to other studies of “altruistic punishment.”

We hope to hear about the aggressive freedom fighting organizations taking advantage of this. Here in Nevada, we are sick and tired of politicians like Governor Sandoval getting elected by lying intentionally about what they intend to do after getting elected and then doing whatever they think is in THEIR interest. The political class simply lies whenever it is convenient and no longer seems to feel the slightest sense of restraint in doing so. This suggests to us that the political system is on the verge of collapse as people stop trusting the government and the perception that the government is illegitimate becomes increasingly acceptable to people. Being able to punish wrongdoers will at least restore a sense that people can exert some control over the politicians and allow more time for an extended period of orderly consideration of where we go from here. While many people have a sense of what they don’t like about the current political system, far fewer have any real understanding of what should replace it to result in a better system.

As the lyrics from the Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” shows, nothing much has changed. The sense of what is to replace our present disastrous political system still “ain’t exactly clear,” just as it was way back then (mid 1960’s)

“There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware.

I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down.
There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong...
What a field day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say hooray, for our side
It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look, what’s going down

— Buffalo Springfield (excerpts from “For What It’s Worth” by Stephen Stills. For complete lyrics, see

Raising Money By Allowing
People to Target Specific Issues
We Never Donate $500 or $1,000, But We Would If …

Our second suggestion is that people might be willing to donate a great deal more than they do if they knew it would be used for a specific purpose, not just a general donation to support unstated activities. We never donate more than $100 for a general donation even to the most favored organizations we donate to that promote freedom. We COULD donate more but would only do so if ... we could specify what the money is to be used for. It is the difference between a public good and a good where some privatization of the benefits in exchange for our donation is possible. Right now, we would be willing to donate $500 for a well designed (in our opinion) constitutional challenge to the Sandoval taxes and another $500 for a recall of Sandoval and his #2, Hutchison. As a general donation or a donation that MIGHT include the subject of a solicitation letter, there isn’t enough certainty regarding what the money would be used for to induce us to spend more of our limited funds.

Other Papers on “Altruistic Punishment”

(Altruistic Punishment is Where the Punisher Pays to
Punish Despite Not Getting Any More of the Bene
fits Than Those Who Don’t Pay to Punish)

Mussweiller and Ockenfels. Similarity increases altruistic punishment in humans. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 110(48):19318-23 (2013). Here, the researchers show, through the use of public goods games with human participants, that perceived similarity substantially increases altruistic punishment. An example could be two conservative organizations that are very similar but differ in certain respects. Those in one group might be more inclined to punish the group that is similar but not exactly the same as they are. The authors propose that anger could result from seeing the other group as sharing basic norms but the difference in their particular understanding of a shared norm might be seen as a deliberate violation of that shared norm. The anger might lead to an increased inclination to punish. (Doesn’t this remind you of the Muslim Sunni versus Shia wars?)

Baldassarri and Grossman. Centralized sanctioning and legitimate authority promote cooperation in humans. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 108(27):11023-11027 (2011). Here, “sanctioning” stands for punishment as in the U.S. has established “sanctions” against certain countries that involve restrictions on trade, for example. This study shows that such punishment can be used to promote cooperation when it is administered by “legitimate” authority. The problem, not dealt with here, is that centralized organizations such as the U.N. or the United States are no longer perceived as being very “legitimate” by rapidly growing numbers of people, but as more like “might makes right” type organizations. So the cooperation that the authors here find in public goods games are heavily reliant on participant belief in the “legitimacy” of the sanctioning authority and the likelihood that this would be forthcoming from centralized sanctioning and legitimate authority that are empowered by political systems built on lies are, we think, not likely to be forthcoming. On the other hand, reputable voluntary organizations such as Underwriters Laboratories or Consumer Reports that seek out fraud in commerce or government and then make efforts to punish the frauds (by negative publicity for example) might still, if they are effective in their policing efforts, increase cooperation.

Krasnow, Cosmides, Pedersen, and Tooby. What are punishment and reputation for? PLOS One. 7(9):e45662 (Sept. 2012).

Here, the researchers test the hypotheses that punishment favors the protection of group norms versus that it enhances personal gains from cooperation. Their results provided support for the enhancement of personal gains from cooperation. Subjects directed their cooperative efforts toward those they had punished. Rather than trying to expend their efforts to punish non-cooperators in an attempt to induce changes in their behavior, they focused their cooperative efforts on those they had already punished and who, therefore, still posed a risk to others but (because of being punished) represented a lower risk to themselves. Hence, the conclusion here was that punishment benefited punishers by providing more profitable cooperation with previously punished defectors (non-cooperators).

We mention this study because it is an interesting examination of the possibility that punishment may, under certain circumstances, involve benefits for the punisher, and therefore punishment may not always be, as it is generally claimed to be, “altruistic.”

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