Hard Country (The American West Trilogy)

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9780451417145: Hard Country (The American West Trilogy)
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A richly authentic epic adventure of rough-hewn men and courageous women, set in the hard country of the American Southwest frontier.

Hard Country is a rare and extraordinary story of one family’s struggle to settle and endure in the vast, untamed territory of New Mexico.

In the wake of the death of his wife as she gives birth to his son, and the killing of his brother on the West Texas plains, John Kerney is forced to give up his ranch, leave his son behind, and strike out in search of the murderous outlaws and a place where he can start over. He drifts south until he meets a man who offers him work trailing cattle to the New Mexico Territory and forever changes his life.

Spanning the years of 1875 to 1918, Hard Country is the Western reinvented and enlarged into a saga that above all celebrates the people and the land of the great Southwest.

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About the Author:

Michael McGarrity is the author of the Anthony Award-Nominated Tularosa and twelve additional bestselling novels including Mexican Hat, Serpent Gate, Hermit’s Peak, The Judas Judge, Under the Color of Law, Nothing But Trouble, and Death Song. A former Santa Fe County deputy sheriff, he served as an instructor at the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy and as an investigator for the New Mexico Public Defender’s Office before turning to writing full-time. In 2004, he received the New Mexico Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts – Literature.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

CHAPTER 1

The Trust Game

From Short Cons to the Wealth of Nations

The scene of the crime was an ARCO station, in a sketchy neighborhood on the outskirts of Santa Barbara, where I had an after-school job pumping gas.

One day I was standing in the doorway to the office, feeling the breeze and waiting for the next customer to pull up to the pump, when a well-dressed but slightly worried-looking guy walked around from the side of the building.

“Maybe you can help me,” he said. “I’ve got a job interview up in Goleta and I don’t know what to do.”

“What’s up?” I said.

“Well, look . . .” He held out a small gift box from a fancy jewelry store in town. Then he opened the box, and inside was a pearl necklace, glimmering in the California sun.

“I just used your men’s room and I found this on the floor. Amazing, huh? Has anybody called?”

“Not yet.”

“Man, that’s a nice piece of jewelry. Somebody’s really going to be upset they lost this. What do you think we should do? I can’t just keep it.”

We both stood there for a moment, studying the pearls, which to my eighteen-year-old eyes looked very expensive indeed.

Then, as if on cue, the phone rang. I reached over to the desk and answered, and a man on the other end said, “I was just at your station. I had this necklace I bought for my wife and I think maybe it fell out while—”

“Hey!” I said. “I can’t believe it . . . the guy’s right here. He just found it in the men’s room.”

“That’s incredible,” the man on the phone said. “Look. Tell him to stay put and hang on to it. I can be there in half an hour.”

“Sure thing.”

“Let me give you a phone number,” he said. Which he proceeded to do. “And listen . . . tell him I’m bringing $200 for his troubles. He really saved my life. Or at least my marriage!”

I put down the phone and excitedly explained to my new friend that the owner would be here in half an hour with a $200 reward. But the guy in the station with me didn’t appear too excited.

“Oh, man . . . it’s not like I can wait. I gotta be in Goleta by then, and I really need to land this job.” Then he looked at me and asked again, “What should we do?”

I thought about it for a moment, and he watched me think.

“I’ll be here till closing,” I said. “I guess I can just hold on to it till he comes.”

“Would you?” He smiled brightly, then heaved a big sigh. “Man, that’d be great. So then we should split the reward.”

“Really?” I said, expressing amazement, even as the wheels in my head were already churning up ways to dispose of that cash.

“Of course.”

But then he bit his lip, seemingly troubled once again.

“Only problem is . . . I’m not coming back this way.”

“That’s okay,” I said. “We can divvy it up in advance. Here . . . I can give you your half right now.”

Which is what I did, actually “borrowing” $100 from the gas station’s cash register, and handing it over to this guy I’d known for all of five minutes.

As I’m sure you figured out long before this point, the “pearl” necklace was paste, a cheap string of beads in an expensive-looking box, and of course the guy on the phone was in cahoots with the guy who showed up at the station.

So how could anyone be so dumb as to go along with this scam, forking over what to me was real money on the basis of such a lame story and cheesy coincidence?

Was I simply overwhelmed by greed?

Well, no doubt about it, I had dollar signs in my eyes as I looked at the jewelry and heard the magic word reward. But I was a reason

It also wasn’t as if I’d never been schooled in right and wrong. You think your parents were strict? Mine took me out of Catholic school because it wasn’t strict enough!. And although it sounds more like a punch line than the truth, before my mother was my mother, she was a nun. She had spent four years as a member of the Sisters of Loretto at the Foot of the Cross, and my upbringing, complete with Latin mass, years of breathing incense as an altar boy, and white-glove inspections of my room for dust, left no doubt that we are all born in sin and driven by base passions that have to be tightly constrained and relentlessly monitored to keep us from behaving badly. My mom’s view was the classic approach to governing human nature, the top-down approach filled with “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots” that’s held sway throughout Western history. She based her child-rearing on the assumption that unselfish, moral behavior was impossible without the ever-present threat of punishment, and the more terrifying the better. So cue those images of hell from Hieronymus Bosch.

But when I think back to the incident at the ARCO station, it’s not greed that I remember, or any of the other deadly sins that the philosophers and theologians (and my mother) worried so much about. I think I was motivated by a genuine desire to be of assistance. This poor guy had an important interview, and he looked flustered, down on his luck, almost desperate. With the first words out of his mouth he asked for my help, and he really looked like he needed it. But more than that, in everything he said and did, he appeared to put an amazing amount of trust in me, relying on a high school kid to get the necklace back to its rightful owner. Several times he asked me, “What should we do?” And then he left me in charge of doing it. After a show of faith like that—helping him just felt like the right thing to do.

When I went on to college, I majored in mathematical biology and economics, but questions about how we know the right thing to do stayed with me. I read a lot of moral philosophy and even theology along the way, and then after grad school, the math, the biology, the economics, and the moral concerns all came together in my early work connecting trustworthiness to prosperity.

So now let’s flash-forward to November 2001.

I’m up at two in the morning lugging equipment across town and into a lab I’ve borrowed at UCLA by convincing a UCLA post-doc named Rob Kurzban to collaborate with me. I’ve commandeered a couple of graduate students to serve as Sherpas, as well as to be official passengers so I can qualify for the carpool lane on the freeway. I’m a tenured professor of economics at Claremont Graduate University, but I’m starting a very atypical research program, stretching the boundaries of my field, which means I’m now having to do science the way indie filmmakers make movies—borrowing space, begging for funding, and hauling equipment around Los Angeles in my car. We’ve made maybe four trips back and forth between Claremont and Westwood today, and it’s at least an hour and a half each way.

I didn’t know it yet, but I was about to invent a new field called neuroeconomics, and I was going to do it by running the first vampire version of something called the Trust Game.

How the Trust Game Works

The Trust Game is a classic research tool in experimental economics, and we’re going to spend quite a bit of time with it, so here’s how it works. Let’s say you’re an undergraduate, and you need some extra cash, so you agree to take part in what’s described as a study of monetary decisions. You come to a big room, like the one I’d borrowed at UCLA, along with maybe fifteen or sixteen other people you don’t know, and you sit down in a small cubicle with a computer. You read the online instructions, which confirm that, just for showing up, you now have $10 on account, which is yours to keep. But soon you may receive more. That’s because the computer is going to ask some other randomly chosen and anonymous player—let’s call him Fred—if he would like to transfer some or all of his $10 to another anonymous player, which happens to be you.

But why would he do that? Because, according to the rules that you and Fred both just spent a few minutes reading, any amount he gives you will triple in value the moment it hits your account. But increasing your wealth wouldn’t be entirely altruistic on Fred’s part. The rules also say that if he transfers money to you, you then will be asked if you want to give some of your multiplied-by-three bonus back to him. The question is, will you? Can you be trusted to reciprocate?

The beauty of this test is that there’s no social pressure to be on your best behavior because the computers mask who is doing what. Even the experimenters know the individuals only by code numbers. So Master of the Universe or Mother Teresa—the moral model you choose to follow in giving something (or nothing) back is entirely up to you. Even when you’re paid at the end, no one else will know how much you made unless you tell them.

Let’s say that Fred takes $2 from the initial $10 bankroll he received just for showing up, and he transfers it to you. His $2 transfer triples to $6 as soon as it hits your account, which means that you’ve now got $16 (10 + 6) and Fred is down to $8 (10 – 2). So you’re doing pretty well. You don’t know exactly who you have to thank, but you do know that you’ve picked up an additional $6 and that an anonymous benefactor at one of the other computer terminals in the room is responsible. You also know that your benefactor’s decision was based on an expectation that you would be decent about it and share at least some of the wealth. After all, it’s really no skin off your nose to flip back a couple of bucks. It seems only decent—like tipping the waitress who brings you your coffee. That’s just what decent people do, right?

Let’s say you decide to give $3 back to Fred. That leaves you with $13, and brings Fred up to $11—a go-ahead of $3 for you and $1 for him, which isn’t much, but still better than where you both started. Then again, you’re perfectly within your rights, if you so choose, to walk away with your original $10, plus the $6 bonus Fred made possible, without so much as a Thanks, chump.

As the amount being transferred increases, the potential pay

But here’s the $64,000 question: If you’re under no obligation to be trustworthy, and nobody knows whether you are or not, why would you ever reward trust from a stranger with a reciprocal gesture that takes real money out of your pocket? If no one’s ever going to know, what’s the problem with being a greedy bastard and screwing the other guy? Well, according to the economic theory that held sway over most of the twentieth century, that’s exactly what you should do.

Economists had fallen in love with a concept called “rational self-interest,” which assumes that each individual makes decisions on the basis of personal advantage, and also on the basis of a rational calculation as to exactly where that advantage lies. Economic theorists had been inspired by the ideas of theoretical physics, mostly in the area of thermodynamics, with its systems of inputs and outputs moving toward equilibrium. The beauty of rational self-interest as an organizing principle was that it allowed economists to vastly simplify the math in their models. If humans always make decisions (a) rationally and (b) on the basis of self-interest, then model builders don’t have to take into consideration emotions, personality quirks, or sudden flights of lunacy. Each person—or at least the theoretical person who lives inside the models—always sizes up her options and makes a logical choice based on what’s best for her.

A fellow named John Nash, the subject of Ron Howard’s film A Beautiful Mind, actually won the 1994 Nobel Prize in economics for his work refining rational self-interest into an even more elegant and hugely influential formula called the Nash Equilibrium. According to Nash’s theorem, your response in the Trust Game should be simply to keep whatever comes to you, even though you know some other person increased your wealth partly in the hope that you’d reciprocate. In the same fashion, the Nash Equilibrium says that this other person should have enough sense to expect self- interested behavior from you and not trust you with a dime. After all, you’ve never so much as said hello. Of course, the unintended consequence of such “rational” behavior—that is, looking out for number one—is for both of you to miss the opportunity to gain by creating a larger pie, then sharing it.

For more than a century, the idea that human behavior is fundamentally both rational and self-interested was presented as gospel to millions of students, including many of those who have gone on to run our most powerful businesses and government institutions. These are the people who often set the standards for behavior on Wall Street, in government, and in the boardrooms of global corporations. Yet with all deference to John Nash and his Nobel Prize, the Trust Game shows that rational self-interest is bupkis when it comes to real people.

In the United States the stakes in the game have been as high as $1,000, and in developing countries as high as three months’ average salary. With large sums or small, in dollars or dinars, participants almost always behave with more trust and trustworthiness than the established theories predict that they will. In my own experiments with the game, 90 percent of those in the A-position (the trusters, like Fred) send some money to the B-player (the recipients, like you), and about 95 percent of the B-players send some money back, based on . . . what? Gratitude? An innate sense of what’s right and wrong?

Or could the behavior possibly have something to do with a reproductive hormone with curious properties involving trust and reciprocal trustworthiness?

A Crackpot Notion?

One of my colleagues told me that this was “the stupidest idea in the world,” but to me it made perfect sense. At least it made enough sense that I wanted to check it out before I dismissed it as a crackpot notion.

Our human guinea pigs—the UCLA students who’d agreed to be tested in exchange for pizza money—began to drift in and take their seats around nine thirty in the morning. At ten o’clock I got up in front of them in my spiffy new lab coat to make a few opening remarks. I thanked them for agreeing to participate, and then I reminded them—we’d explained all this in a recruiting email—that they’d already earned $10 just for showing up.

I then gave a rough overview of what we were going to do—the same story about player A and player B that I related to you a couple of pages ago—but with an added feature. Just after the decision-making, we were going to strap tourniquets around the players’ arms and take their blood.

There was no visible reaction. They hardly seemed aware of me. They hardly seemed awake.

I told everyone to log into the computers in their booths using their identity-masking code, and to read the instructions. The protocol described in greater detail how their decisions could turn the $10 they’d already earned into more money, or how their decisions could cost them money.

Now I began to see some raised eyebrows and slightly more animated expressions. Everybody seemed to be waking up. It was as if they were thinking, So what is this? Who Wants to Be a Millionaire on a budget? Or maybe Who Wants to Be a Millionaire on a budget meets General Hospital?

I had to keep everyone occupied while we focused on each individual participant’s decision and blood draw, so I aske...

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