Would You Kill a Mouse?

On May 10, 2014 the Wall Street Journal ran an article on market economics  and its negative effect on morals.  To actually test this commonly accepted idea two German economists, Falk and Szech conducted an experiment in which they gave participants ten euros (about $14.00).  Once participants had the money in hand they were told that as part of lab protocol a healthy, young mouse would be killed unless the participant bought the mouse with the money they’d just received.  If they paid for the mouse it would live out its life in health and comfort.

Forty-six percent of participants chose to keep the money and let the mouse die.  The other 54% of participants chose to save the mouse.  There was more to the study, but it always included the option to allow the mouse to live or die.  And somehow the entire study demonstrates that yes, the market is immoral.

Wait a minute!  I live in a rural area.  We have mice here; I kill mice every week in my garage.  I trap them in a not very nice way and then I scoop up their little bodies and toss them over the wall.  (I don’t like to poison the mice because I am afraid the poison may affect the birds that eat the dead mice.)  So I have a hierarchy of values.

Would I let a mouse die for $14.00?  Of course.  I kill them for free.  Mice are pests, not pets.  They spread disease, sometimes horrible diseases like the plague and hantavirus.  But they also chew things up like the wiring on the underside of my car which was not cheap to repair.  They gnaw on the valuable stuff in my garage, and if I wasn’t busy trapping them they would soon be inside the house.  If they would stay outside I would leave them alone.  But mice and humans don’t share space well.  Mice are vermin–vectors for disease and death.  And you’re offering me $14.00 to let you kill one?

I don’t think I am a heartless person.  My point is that the study is flawed at the most basic level and to draw any conclusions on man’s morality or lack thereof based on mice is not going to give valid results.

You want to know whether market economics dilute our moral values?  Offer your subjects $14.00 to kill a puppy.  The results will be way different.  Given that choice I’d take the puppy home with me.  And so would 99% of the people in the study.

Falk and Szech may be brilliant economists, but this study missed the boat  when it comes to human nature, economics, and moral choice.


About Karen Hopkins

Karen Hopkins (1949-) was born in Los Angeles and raised in Martinez, California. At seventeen she moved to Talcahuano, Chile. After completing her university degree she worked in London, England for Pan American Airlines and traveled extensively throughout Europe, the Middle East, and India. For twenty-six years Karen taught Spanish and English as a Second Language in a variety of settings including a private school in Panama, the "most remote school in the United States" in Ticaboo, Utah, the Navajo Reservation, and a teacher exchange in Hermosillo, Mexico. Karen and her husband traveled extensively throughout Mexico and Central America, spending many summers in the highlands of Chiapas and Guatemala . Karen currently lives in Southern Arizona, near the Mexican border.
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