My reaction to this online “Moral Sense Test” (take it now if you don't want “science” to be tainted by prior knowledge of the experiment) was basically the same as Munger's (who freaks out about the fact that Drezner assigned any fines at all):
THE PREMISE OF THE TEST IS THAT GOVERNMENT SHOULD FINE PEOPLE FOR ACCIDENTS, AND TAKE THE MONEY AT GUN POINT FOR USE IN THE GENERAL FUND!
These are TORTS, not criminal offenses. It is important that the victims do not receive the payment. An average of $129? GOTT IN HIMMEL! I had an “average payment of $0.00! I thought that several of the scenarios (like the peanuts in the allergist's office) were clear negligence, and that there was a cause of action for a law suit. Any allergy sufferer knows, or should know, that peanuts can be deadly, and in an allergist's office one expects to encounter people with…..ALLERGIES!
But not a fine! Why put government in charge of collecting fines when one private person harms another accidentally? You are in favor of criminalizing private mistakes, when there is a private remedy. There is no deterrent effect here, and no pretense of making the damaged party whole.
(Sorry for the yelling. Mike is, well, special, and can't help it.)
I really, really hope that this is one of the experiments that pretends to be one thing while really studying another. For example, I hope they are really studying how many people are so morally stunted that they are willing to have the government fine people for causing pain through mostly unforeseeable, mostly non-negligent accidents, and not even as compensation to the persons pained! Or maybe they're studying how people's ordinary good moral sense can be railroaded into sharing some set of idiotic assumptions by embedding them in the instructions of an “experiment” run by “scientists” at a trusted brand-name institution like “Harvard.” Let's hope! (I would like to hear from Mixing Memory Chris on this one. Chris?)
Random thought about online experiments. I bet “Harvard” has a moralized aura for many people, it being the bastion of “right-thinking East Coast haute bourgeousie liberalism.” Do volunteers, seeing “Harvard” seek to please the moral arbiters therein? Seek to screw them over? Would you get the same results if the test was hosted at Bowling Green State? At Oral Roberts?