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Perhaps the Growth in Literacy is the Result of Better Eyesight

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One surprisingly common explanation encountered in even the best species of popular media is what we might call "the sudden and inexplicable change in human nature" explanation.

Are gasoline prices rising?  Must be the result of oil-company greed.  Are people starving in Ethiopia or Niger?  Must be caused by the selfishness of Americans and Europeans.

Today’s New York Times Book Review offers this review [2] of historian James Patterson’s new book, Restless Giant [3].  The book is about the U.S. in the last quarter of the 20th century.

Reviewer Charles Peters is appalled by the growth in income inequality, by tax cuts, and by high executive compensation.  He explains these things as resulting from an "increase in individual and group selfishness."

This explanation is the sort that I expect from my eight-year-old son.  It’s utterly childish.

Why does Mr. Peters (and, presumably, many readers of the NYT Book Review) find such an explanation compelling or even acceptable?  Would Mr. Peters explain population growth as being the result of an "increase in people’s sex drives?"  Would he explain the Enlightenment as resulting from an "increase in individual and group intelligence"? 

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