The Empathy Gap: Building Bridges to the Good Life and the Good Society

J. D. Trout, Author . Princeton Univ. $24.95 (306p) ISBN 978-0-670-02044-7

In this dramatic challenge to cherished American concepts like individualism, free will and laissez-faire economics, Trout (Epistemology and the Psychology of Human Judgment ) presents “an alternative story grounded not in the abstractions of political theory or economics, but in the moisture and grit of human psychology.” Studies by cognitive scientists and psychologists reveal an “empathy gap,” where individuals repeatedly make biased and selfish choices despite their best attempts to the contrary. The author posits that government can bridge the gap and cites vaccination, estate tax, helmet laws and food safety as issues that government has successfully handled for the greater good. For fighting poverty: “the best hope... is amending the Constitution to guarantee an above-poverty income to all citizens.” Trout recognizes that government may not always make the right choices, but suggests that if it depended more on automated processes and the advice of social scientists, it might recover the trust that it has lost. For some, Trout’s book will seem a panacea for a selfish world, but others may question whether it is really possible to prevent the same biases that affect individual decisions from affecting larger, governmental entities. (Feb.)

Reviewed on: 10/27/2008
Release date: 02/01/2009
Genre: Nonfiction
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