Sociopathic Economic Man

Morse provides a description of children with attachment disorder, and notes the other “person” they resemble:

The classic case of the attachment disorder is a child who does not care what anyone thinks of him. The disapproval of others does not deter this child from bad behavior because no other person, even someone who loves him very much, matters to the child. He responds only to physical punishment and to the suspension of privileges. The child does whatever he thinks he can get away with, no matter the cost to others. He does not monitor his own behaviour, so authority figures must constantly be wary of him and watch him. He lies if he thinks it is advantageous to lie. He steals if he can get away with it. He may go through the motions of offering affection, but people who live with him sense in him a kind of phoniness. He shows no regret at hurting another person, though he may offer perfunctory apologies.

As he grows into adolescence, he may become a sophisticated manipulator. Some authors refer to this kind of a child as a “trust bandit” because he is superficially charming in his initial encounters with people and can deceive them for long enough to use them. In the meantime, his parents, and anyone else who has long-term dealings with him, grow increasingly frustrated, frightened, and angry over the child’s dangerous behavior, which by this time may include violence, arson, and sexual acting out. As the parents try to seek help for their child, they may find that he is able to “work the system.” He can charm therapists, social workers, counselors, and later perhaps even judges and parole officers. This child is unwilling even to inconvenience himself for the sake of others.

Who is this child? Why, it is homo economicus–rational, calculating, economic man, the person who considers only his own good, who is willing to do anything he deems it in his interest to do, who cares for no one. All of his actions are governed by the self-interested calculations of costs and benefits. Punishments matter; loss of esteem does not. As for his promises, he behaves opportunistically on every possible occasion, breaking promises if he deems it in his interest to do so. [15-16]

It should go without saying, any economic theory which makes predictions, especially predictions in aggregate, based upon the assumption that everyone is a sociopath is probably not going to be terribly reliable.