Mockulation ®: Regulating Wall Street Using the Psychology of Public Mockery

by cv harquail on December 31, 2009

What does it take to rein in the outrageous compensation of CEOs? The absurd bonuses of Investment Bankers? The “bail us out so we can award ourselves bonuses”-behavior characterizing Wall Street this year?

Do we need more transparency? More shareholder oversight? More whistle-blowing? More government regulation?

How about just a little bit more public mockery?


Reflecting on soon-to-be-published research by Lammers, Stapel & Galinsky, it seems that maybe all we need to regulate Wall Street is a bit more public derision.

Yes, public derision. Your mom might not approve, but it makes good sense. Read on.

In their study of how Power Increases Hypocrisy, these scholars demonstrate in a lab setting* that “powerful” actors condemn other people’s cheating and are more strict in judging others’ moral transgressions, all while cheating more themselves, and judging themselves more leniently.

These scholars also found that what causes this effect is not ‘having power’ but rather believing that one’s powerful position is legitimate. As long as people think that their their power is legitimate, they engage in self-serving, hypocritical behavior.

Deep in their last paragraph, these scholars suggest that the way to break this link may simply be to undermine the reputations of these so-called powerful actors:

Our last experiment, however, found that the spiral of inequality can be broken, if the illegitimacy of the power-distribution is revealed. One way to undermine the legitimacy of authority is open revolt, but a more subtle way in which the powerless might curb self-enrichment by the powerful is by tainting their reputation, for example by gossiping (Keltner, Van Kleef, Chen, & Kraus, 2008). If the powerful sense that their unrestrained self- enrichment leads to gossiping, derision, and the undermining of their reputation as conscientious leaders, then they may be inspired to bring their behavior back to their espoused standards. If they fail to do so, they may quickly lose their authority, reputation, and— eventually—their power.

This regulation strategy is a nice market-based solution …. it doesn’t require any government intervention, or labor union activity, or extra taxation. All we need are a few more Keith Olbermans, a Rachel Maddow or two, and a reincarnation of Molly Ivans.

And, a little more truth-telling by business journalists, a little less “objective” instruction by business school professors, and a few more of us willing to find that sweet spot between being dismissibly strident and submissively polite.

Regulation by Public Mockery: Mockulation®

Regulation by Public Mockery might also work to curb unethical and just plain unseemly behavior by organizations. If this tendency of individuals to be more hypocritical if they also feel legitimately powerful also applies at the organizational level, and if organizations that believe their market/social/political power is legitimate will also engaging in self-serving, hypocritical behavior, maybe mocking whole industries might also be an effective regulation strategy.

Who needs Freakonomics ® when we can have Mockulation®?

Let’s regulate Wall Street and all manner of corporate gluttony with some plain old human psychology.

You might also be interested in these posts, about attitudes & responsibility by Wall Street and Leaders:

6 Reasons Why Taking Responsibility is Good for Your Organization
Homophobia and (In)Authenticity at Omnicom: What can a leader do?
An Authentic Response from Glamour Magazine


It’s a special delight to see, in research conducted by economists and business school professors, citations to Gramsci. Woot!

Lammers, J., Stapel, D. A., & Galinsky, A. D. (in press). Power increases hypocrisy: Moralizing in reasoning, immorality in behavior. Psychological Science.

Keltner, D., Van Kleef, G.A., Chen, S., & Kraus, M.W. (2008) A reciprocal influence model of social power: Emerging principles and lines of inquiry. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 40, 151-192.

* Results from lab experiments are always subject to concerns about ‘the real world’. YMMV.


Ryan Jones December 31, 2009 at 12:33 pm

awesome. fully agree, more mockery is needed. why have we become too beholden to the powers that be?

mockulation…lets get going.
.-= Ryan Jones´s last blog ..Ain’t no stopping you in 2010 (& beyond). Inspiration for the New Year =-.

Dandarius December 31, 2009 at 4:45 pm

We have always believed that ‘Power is BEAUTY descending into the realm of the visible’ (Nietzsche) and if that definition was adopted by the collective then most entities and structures that currently hold ‘power’ would dissolve from the collective simply no longer acknowledging their legitimacy. Humor and mockery would be a natural response that would emerge from the collective when faced with ‘impostors’ who posture and make false claims to power. Laughter dissolves self importance.

NJbiz January 2, 2010 at 8:55 pm

I know it’s early in the year, but “mockulation” is now my favorite word of 2010.

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