Tag Archives: groupthink

Greed, groupthink, and the housing/debt crisis


This week I heard a great program on “This American Life” (NPR) regarding the housing and mortgage crisis and how the heart of this problem is simply greed. Well, the problem is pretty complex. But, what is clear is that all involved–from the homeowner, insurance agent, Wall Street broker, to Banking Organizations looking to invest–everyone either turned a blind eye for personal gain or knowingly sought something that was too good to be true. You hear the stories of individuals choosing massive loans because they can (without any income verification), agents making 100,000 dollars per month selling loans that they knew couldn’t be repaid, large brokers who felt they HAD to satisfy larger companies desires for these bundled mortgages because they could get such a better return on investment. And everyone conspired to think that it was all going to work out. They had data on their side (unfortunately telling them about the predictions of loan worthy individuals repaying their loans but assuming that those completely unable to pay back loans would act like those who could pay them back), they had larger corporations demanding to invest and willing to offer mortgages too good to be true. A classic case of group-think!

If these kinds of situations interest you and you are wondering, “how in the world did anyone fall for this kind of thing?” then you should check out the link above and listen on-line.

As an aside, greed and group-think doesn’t just happen on a secular level. Years ago, many Christian organizations (along with some large Philadelphia organizations like the Academy of Art, UPENN, etc.) got sucked up into a ponzi scheme better known as New Era Philanthropy. It was a classic case of nonprofit greed (give .5 million dollars to Mr. Bennett and get back 1 million in 6 months). It was too good to be true but most only focused on the good part. Lots of well-meaning folk, including my own Biblical Seminary, came out quite wounded.

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Filed under Cultural Anthropology, news, News and politics, self-deception

Are you a social loafer?


How involved do you get in advocacy? My most recent Pennsylvania Psychologist magazine explores the need for political and social advocacy by psychologists. Most of us Psychologists want our state organization to fight the evil empire of Managed Care but few contribute or work personally toward the cause.

Social loafing, says Ed Zuckerman, is when, “Members of a group make less effort to achieve a goal when they work together than when they work separately.” He goes on to say, “We appear to contribute less energetically when cooperating on a committee than if we had the same parts of the task to do alone. Why do we loaf? The main explanation is that people feel unmotivated because they think that their contributions will not be evaluated separately from the group’s and they require individual rewards for effort.”

Does that explanation ring true for you? It does seem that we sometimes have the, “someone else will do it” mentality and so place responsibility on others that should be our own. I see that in class group projects sometimes. Second, we sometimes have the “what will I get out of this” short-sighted mentality.

But what explains the way some groups get things done where individually, they probably could not succeed? A compelling goal, an awareness of need, a heightened sense of expectation for self and other, and active choice. When roles are assigned, complaints, passivity, procrastination increases says Zuckerman.  

Where do you loaf? Work? Tithing and other financial gifts? Volunteering at church? I know for me it is when my local Y wants me to participate in fundraising to help support my son’s gymnastics team. I pay a nice monthly fee. I buy his uniform. I pay my part of the coach fees for meets. So, it feels like I have already “given at the office. Let others do it.

Or what about church volunteering. I’m in full time ministry (teaching at a seminary, counseling part-time). Its all for God. So, do I have to also be willing to teach Sunday School, serve on committees, etc.? Despite my temptation to say no, I believe I must support the local church with my time. Uh, is 1x/month duty in the pre-k class enough? Someone will surely pick up the slack…

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Filed under Cultural Anthropology