By running an experiment among Germans collecting their passports or ID cards in the citizen centers of Berlin, we find that individuals with an East German family background cheat significantly more on an abstract task than those with a West German family background. The longer individuals were exposed to socialism, the more likely they were to cheat on our task. While it was recently argued that markets decay morals (Falk and Szech, 2013), we provide evidence that other political and economic regimes such as socialism might have an even more detrimental effect on individuals’ behavior.
... If socialism indeed promotes individual dishonesty, the specific features of this socio-political system that lead to this outcome remain to be determined. The East German socialist regime differed from the West German capitalist regime in several important ways. First, the system did not reward work based to merit, and made it difficult to accumulate wealth or pass anything on to one’s family. This may have resulted in a lack of meaning leading to demoralization (Ariely et al., 2008), and perhaps less concern for upholding standards of honesty. Furthermore, while the government claimed to exist in service of the people, it failed to provide functional public systems or economic security. Observing this moral hypocrisy in government may have eroded the value citizens placed on honesty. Finally, and perhaps most straightforwardly, the political and economic system pressured people to work around official laws and cheat to game the system. Over time, individuals may come to normalize these types of behaviors. Given these distinct possible influences, further research will be needed to understand which aspects of socialism have the strongest or most lasting impacts on morality.
On a related note, I would add that there is a correlation between trust of (and care for) strangers and the degree to which a country is market oriented. It isn't clear whether trusting people are more inclined to engage in market exchange or market exchange makes people more trusting. One thought is that market exchange makes people interdependent and more attuned to the plight of others than does a centralized economy or a highly distributed economy where people are constrained to cooperating within face-to-face community.
Transforming agriculture is central to sub-Saharan Africa's development prospects. Three-quarters of people in extreme poverty – existing on less than $1.25 a day – live in rural areas, and crop yields across the region are often a fraction of those in developed countries.
Increasing productivity could help close that gap and increase farm incomes and food availability, in turn reducing hunger and poverty. But the transformation must go beyond raising farm productivity – it must also build resilience to climate change, which, in the absence of significant investment and adaptation, threatens to devastate African crop yields.
Biotechnology offers an important opportunity to improve crops. In particular, genetic modification (GM) enables plant breeders to increase the potential of crops and reduce the timescales involved. It is especially useful in the case of African staples that have narrow gene pools or are slow-growing or difficult to cross.
Governments, donors and philanthropic foundations have invested considerable resources in the development of GM varieties of staples such as sorghum, cassava, matoke and cowpea in an attempt to bolster nutrient content and resistance to pests, disease and drought. These crops are crucial to the food security and livelihoods of millions of sub-Saharan Africans, but are shunned by private-sector researchers, mainly because of the small market opportunity they offer.
This investment has yet to translate to anything more than successful field trials: no GM trait developed for African farmers has been cleared for release by a government. There are many reasons why this is so, but chief among them is the polarised debate about GM crops. ...
... But what typically determines whether a GM crop is approved for release in Africa is not a balanced, independent assessment of risks and benefits, but a political judgment shaped by distrust and suspicion of the technology. ...
... As a result, GM crops are stuck on a treadmill of continual field trials. Governments are in effect attempting to balance the demands of pro- and anti-GM lobbies: proponents have a pipeline of technologies; opponents are appeased by the failure of any to gain approval.
This balancing act may be politically expedient, but it represents poor value for money for the public bodies and foundations funding research and does nothing for the farmers and consumers who could potentially benefit from GM crops.