Leviathan and the Monkeys

Having spent a few painful hours reading through the Coburn-McCain report on the stimulus, I feel compelled to provide a few comments (I strongly suggest that loyal Pileus readers read the report themselves).

Although I have had some profound questions about the pork that was packed into the stimulus package, at least there is finally some evidence that it provided some real stimulus (good for monkeys—who receive cocaine—but bad for those who will inherit the debt).

Yes, one might poke fun at a stimulus program designed to stimulate monkeys with cocaine—the Club of Growth, after all, would have given the monkeys a tax cut. And the researchers at Wake Forest are receiving a mere $144,541, which might not be nearly enough if a comparable research project was planned for the Upper West Side.

Failed attempts at humor? Don’t fret: the stimulus has also provided $712,883 to a Northwestern University researcher for work on artificial intelligence to develop “machine-generated humor.”

But let us return to the monkey business.  There is serious and legitimate research to be done that may have implications for understanding one of the greatest problems of post-Reagan America: inequality. Consider the following program (worth a mere $677,462):

While much is known about how humans respond to inequity and injustice, researchers at Georgia State University are using almost $700,000 in stimulus funds to study why monkeys respond negatively to inequity and unfairness.“ Seven species of primates will be asked to make decisions about whether or not to accept rewards in a series of studies in which their outcomes vary relative to their social partners. The influence of social factors like group membership and individual factors like personality will also be investigated. The results of this research will clarify how decision-making is affected by unequal outcomes.” Previous research by the investigator on this project had found that “Chimpanzees respond with temper tantrums if they do not get what they desire,” and that “Capuchin monkeys and chimpanzees both respond negatively to distributional inequity.”

Having watched all of the Planet of the Apes movies, I could buy the claim that the complexity of monkey social dynamics is often under-appreciated.  But as a policy guy, my mind turns automatically to how this vital research will be used.

My predictions…

First, we will be assured that the crisis of monkey inequality–and don’t doubt for a minute that it constitutes a crisis–was inherited from George Bush and likely stands as an indictment of America’s 30 year experiment with radical deregulation.

Second, we will be scolded into accepting an obligation to overcome our speciesism and do whatever is necessary to remedy the situation. Congress will create a bipartisan commission to hold hearings on the root causes of monkey inequality and the long-term ramifications.

Third, rather than waiting to consider the commission’s report, Congress will move rapidly to produce a 2,000 page bill, including a Simian Economic Bill of Rights (nobody will read it, of course, but the bipartisan CBO will score it as revenue neutral).

Of course, none of this will reduce the unemployment rate.

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