Neuroeconomist Paul Zak studies, writes, and speaks about the role oxytocin plays in trust. Trust, of course, is fundamental to productive societies and economies.

Below, find a 2009 episode of On Being with Krista Tippett featuring Zak, followed by a transcription of one of its many interesting passages.  The episode is especially interesting because the conversation took place during the market collapse often called The Great Recession.  The passage was chosen for its closing lines’ use of Aristotle’s virtue of magnificence and angle on prosperity and its “refudiation” of the idea that financial transactions and economic pursuits are unbecoming and base.

Farther below, find a 2011 TED talk on similar subject matter.


On Being | The Science of Trust: Economics & Virtue


Morality in Market Economies – A Transcribed Passage Starting at 40:00

“I think we’re of two minds on market economies. I think most of us have our retirement money in stocks and bonds, so we understand that as the economy grows, the stock market goes up in value and we’re happy about that.

On the other hand, there is this underlying sense that interacting in markets somehow degrades our dignity, is not something we should be doing, it’s not our best purpose as human beings. And that thought, which is associated with Marx, for example, predates that – goes back to Aristotle, perhaps before. It’s in Confucianism.

I think we are starting to take some shots from that by using this interdisciplinary approach in which we’re identifying the legal aspects of an innate sense of morality. We’re identifying the economic aspects. We’re identifying the religious aspects. So, by having this convergent evidence, I think we are taking a shot on economics as bad, a necessary evil.

And I think what we’re saying is this is a human endeavor and humans throughout history have traded with each other. And they trade because it can make both parties better off.

To the extent that I sell you something that you need and helps you, that in effect is a moral act. Even if I’m getting paid for it, it’s still a moral act because I have thought about how to make you better off, how to increase your welfare, your happiness.

And I think that is a different take. That’s not a unique view of the economy, by the way, but it’s a view we have not heard much about.

If we think about being magnificent as customer service agents, being magnificent as managers – if we think about doing the very best in terms of teamwork to serve those around us – serve the people we work with, serve our employees, then we have a very different view of what the economic endeavor is and why it creates prosperity.”


Timely and Nicely Related

At BombBomb, we’re getting started with the Net Promoter Score (NPS), so I picked up a book by its creator, Fred Reichheld, at my local library. In the preface, Reichheld pulled together many of these concepts in stating his purpose: “create a community of people who believe that the purpose of companies and other organizations is to enrich the lives they touch and to create relationships worthy of loyalty – and who think that an organization’s best chance for long life, prosperity, and greatness requires measuring performance on this dimensions just as carefully as it measures profits.”


In Closing

There’s much more value to be had beyond the excerpt above; the full conversation is worth the listen.

In addition to magnificence, Aristotle’s virtuous mean includes courage, temperance, liberality, magnanimity, pride, good temper, truthfulness, wittiness, friendliness, modesty, and righteous indignation. See a table of those virtues here.


TED | Paul Zak: Trust, Morality, & Oxytocin?