Social norms influence both the political and economic performance of a country. Behavior always matters

It is a pleasant experience to be surrounded by friendly people. But what is the probability that we will run into some nice people? A study carried out in a sample of 31 countries, including India, by Dutch academic Niels Van Doesum and his associates yielded interesting results. Top Japanese by showing small acts of kindness, described as mindfulness. The Indians came in third from the bottom, followed by Turkey and Indonesia. Mindfulness is a manifestation of a broader awareness of those around him. This seemingly insignificant thing feeds into the larger foundation of how societies are structured.

A large body of social science research has shown that culture and norms greatly influence not only the political structure of nations, but also economic performance. In politics, the most striking example is the United Kingdom. More than eight centuries after the creation of the Magna Carta, it still does not have a codified constitution. Norms are the invisible bonds that hold the political structure in place. Social norms, the implicit rules of a society regarding traits such as honesty and work ethics, have a huge influence on economic development. This is one of the reasons why blindly copying “best practices” produces mixed results.

Standards are not permanent. Over time, they change. Many economic successes after World War II were shaped by changing standards as much as by good economic policies. The norms that engender trust among the constituents of a society significantly influence both economic policies and general laws. A society with a higher level of trust operates with a light economic regulatory structure and largely avoids repressive laws. In this context, it is relevant that before Adam Smith proposed The wealth of nations who provided insight into the role of self-interest in a market economy, he wrote The theory of moral feelings, which relied on human sympathy.

The study of mindfulness is insightful because it studies behavior when it is not influenced by incentives or disincentives. It’s the friendliness quotient in people. Who doesn’t want to live in a society with a high kindness quotient? It also comes with the added benefit of better economic performance.


This article was published as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.


About Marjorie C. Hudson

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