Matthias Sutter: Why Trump's confrontation tactics don't work here

12.12.2019

Today, one thing above all is expected of politicians: quick solutions to problems. Especially in uncertain times, we lose patience, says Matthias Sutter, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods. In an interview on the Academy of Behavioral Economics, he explains why excessive impatience can be harmful.

Matthias Sutter

What are you currently working on?

At the moment I am writing my new book. In terms of content, the focus will be on the implementation of behavioural economic insights in connection with professional matters. The book spans an arc from the start of the career to promotion to the board. It focuses on the analysis of human behavior patterns, which often lead to unexpected results. These include questions such as why whistle-blowing works so poorly, what role algorithms play in the recruitment process and how much freedom in decision-making we want to give machines, or under what conditions bonus payments have a demotivating effect instead of motivating. At the end of the book, I will talk about CEOs and what they do all day.

The topic of behavioural economics has definitely arrived in professional circles. Where are the academic results reflected in my everyday life?

The work of Ernst Fehr and other leading behavioural economists is becoming increasingly popular in everyday life. For example, Fehr has been able to show the influence of  corporate culture on moral behavior of employees. His work on the importance of fairness also plays a major role in the modern management consulting business, because it makes it clear to entrepreneurs and employees that people are not homo economicus who are solely focused on their own benefit.

The topic of this year's Academy is "Trust and Facts: Better Decisions in an Age of Growing Populism". As a researcher, you have worked hard on patience. Do people lose patience with traditional politics and therefore choose more policies that promise simple solutions?

Classical politics is an art of the tortuous paths to compromise. In most Western democracies, the Trump's confrontation tactics don't work, if only because most states are governed by coalitions. It takes patience to find compromises. However, we live in an uncertain world with many crises, for example in the areas of energy or the environment.  Many people want simple and, above all, quick solutions. But there are no such solutions. That is why some people lose patience with traditional, compromise-oriented policies.

Many of the speakers will talk about the topic of uncertainty and how it affects behaviour and decisions. Does patience help us to deal with it better, are patient people better equipped for uncertain times?

When I speak of the positive aspects of patience, I mean the ability to pursue long-term goals and to accept privation and current efforts. In other words, patient people do not immediately give in to every impulse, but can devote themselves to a long-term cause or goal. Uncertain times are characterized by the fact that general conditions change faster and more often; this can lead to losing sight of long-term goals. Patience can help you to keep striving for that goal. But patience can also lead you to pursue a goal that can no longer be achieved, precisely due to the changed conditions. Patience certainly helps us deal with uncertainties more calmly, but it can also lead to "oversleeping" important changes.

What are you most looking forward to at this year's Academy?

I am looking forward to the content part of the Academy and that the event will again take place at the GDI, which offers the ideal setting for this conference. I am also looking forward to meeting new and old colleagues again.

Matthias Sutter is a speaker at the Academy of Behavioral Economics, which will take place at the GDI on 29 January 2020.