• Michael Lewis


Excerpt #2/2 from 'Don't Eat Fortune's Cookie', the 2012 Princeton commencement speech by alumni Michael Lewis. He is the author of 'Liar's Poker' (Norton, 1989), 'Moneyball' (Norton, 2004) and 'The Big Short' (Norton, 2010).

'A few years ago...,a pair of researchers in the Cal psychology department staged an experiment. They began by grabbing students, as lab rats. Then they broke the students into teams, segregated by sex. Three men, or three women, per team. Then they put these teams of three into a room, and arbitrarily assigned one of the three to act as leader. Then they gave them some complicated moral problem to solve: say what should be done about academic cheating, or how to regulate drinking on campus.

'Exactly 30 minutes into the problem-solving the researchers interrupted each group. They entered the room bearing a plate of cookies. Four cookies. The team consisted of three people, but there were these four cookies. Every team member obviously got one cookie, but that left a fourth cookie, just sitting there.

'It should have been awkward. But it wasn't.

'With incredible consistency the person arbitrarily appointed leader of the group grabbed the fourth cookie, and ate it. Not only ate it, but ate it with gusto: lips smacking, mouth open, drool at the corners of their mouths. In the end all that was left of the extra cookie were crumbs on the leader's shirt.

'This leader had performed no special task. He had no special virtue. He'd been chosen at random, 30 minutes earlier. His status was nothing but luck. But it still left him with the sense that the cookie should be his.

'This experiment helps to explain Wall Street bonuses and CEO pay, and I'm sure lots of other human behavior.'

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