The dominant theoretical framework in economics and several other disciplines assumes that people are deeply selfish. Yet many people refrain from cheating even when there is no possibility of being detected and punished. Such restraint, which appears driven largely by moral emotions, can be indirectly advantageous because external observers can often make surprisingly accurate character assessments. In situations that require trust, for example, someone believed to be motivated by moral emotions can be an extremely valuable team member.
Robert H. Frank is the Henrietta Johnson Louis Professor of Management and Professor of Economics at Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, Codirector of the Paduano Seminar in business ethics at NYU’s Stern School of Business, and Distinguished Senior Fellow at Demos. He received his B.S. in mathematics from Georgia Tech, then taught math and science for two years as a peace corps volunteer in rural Nepal. He holds an M.A. in statistics and a Ph.D. in economics, both from the University of California at Berkeley. His Economic View column appears monthly in The New York Times. His learned papers have appeared in the American Economic Review, Econometrica, Journal of Political Economy, and other leading professional journals. Books by Robert H. Frank, which include Choosing the Right Pond (1985), Passions within Reason (1988), Microeconomics and Behavior (1991), Principles of Economics (with Ben Bernanke, 2001), Luxury Fever (1999), What Price the Moral High Ground? (2003), Falling Behind (2007), The Economic Naturalist (2009), and The Darwin Economy (2011), have been translated into 22 languages. The Winner-Take-All Society, co-authored with Philip Cook (1995), received a Critic’s Choice Award, was named a Notable Book of the Year by The New York Times, and was included in Business Week’s list of the ten best books of 1995. He is a corecipient of the 2004 Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought and was awarded the Johnson School’s Stephen Russell Distinguished Teaching Award in 2004, 2010, and 2012, and its Apple Distinguished Teaching Award in 2005.