The background to this finding, that living under socialism makes you more likely to cheat, under capitalism to be honest, should be obvious. Under socialism the appalling inefficiency of the economy means that cheating is the only way to either survive or get ahead. Even, that when everything is decided by politics then you’ve got to become a politician to do well and what’s more cheat-like than politics.
On the other hand under capitalism – which we should read here as being more free markets than capitalism itself – the method of getting ahead is to be honest. Producing value for other people does indeed lead to gaining value for yourself. Gaining a reputation as doing what you say you will is valuable to other people – it gains value for you too.
So, socialism begets cheating, capitalism honesty:
Using an artefactual field experiment, this paper tests the long-term implications of living in a specific economic system on individual dishonesty. By comparing cheating behaviour across individuals from the former socialist East with those of the capitalist West of Germany, we examine behavioural differences within a single country. We find long-term implications of living in a specific economic system for individual dishonesty when social interactions are possible: participants with an East German background cheat significantly more on an abstract die-rolling task than those with a West German background, but only when exposed to the enduring system of former West Germany. Moreover, our results indicate that the longer individuals had experienced socialist East Germany, the more likely they were to cheat on the behavioural task.
We can run this the other way around too. As has been pointed out often enough socialism would have a chance of working if all humans were in fact empathetic and socially rather than individually minded. Capitalism works to make use of that innate human greed, aims to tame and direct it.
But the finding here is interesting, no? It’s often claimed that socialism is a more moral system but that’s difficult to square with the manner in which it makes us less moral.